Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

       As we watch events unfold on both the international and national stages, it is becoming quite clear that Jesus’ second coming could be just around the corner. Although the events are unnerving, as Christians we have a sure anchor that holds us to the unseen Rock of Ages. We have a glorious future awaiting us, and the season of testing and trials we may very well be embarking on at this time of our journey will be temporary and will give way to another season: that of glorious hope and expectation.

       The question is why is it that Christians can live in such expectation? The answer is clear because we believe and hope in a living God. However, our God is not just any God, He alone is God and He is Creator, all-powerful, immutable, and all-knowing. His attributes find their springboard in His holiness. They are wrapped in His goodness, held together by His mercy, and distributed by His grace. He knows how to give good gifts to those who are His, preserve the saints’ souls regardless of their testing, and ultimately bring each heir of salvation into the fullness of His redemption (Ephesians 1:11-14; 2 Timothy 4:18; James 2:17).

       Every attribute of God confirms our expectation concerning His righteous ways being carried out, His promises being fulfilled, and His perfect will being brought to full fruition. However, some of the Christian Church comes across as being divided, critical, and lacking vision and victory. Clearly, there are those who are caught up with what I call “non-essential” doctrines and lack concern about whether believers are being firmly established on the foundation of Jesus. These very same people often do not see the urgent need for believers to be prepared to be followers of Christ into the disciplined life of self-denial, cross-bearing, and reasonable service.

       As we study the end of the last days, there is one admonition that can be found concerning Christians: they must be ready, prepared for His coming (Matthew 24:42-44; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 21:34-36). We need to keep in mind that the Jewish people were watching for Jesus’ first coming, but were not prepared to receive Him (John 1:10-11). The reason is because they were looking for their Messiah to come as a victorious King and not as a suffering servant.

       Through the years I have heard the various takes on Jesus’ coming, but the one thing that seemed to be missing the most is what it would mean for the Christian to be prepared for His coming. It was often fudged over by assumptions that if you are a Christian you really do not have to be worried about being prepared. In most cases, the hope of His coming is being emphasized, but not the reality of what it means to be prepared for His coming in order to endure to the end. However, any responsible host or hostess knows when a visitor is coming to his or her home for an event, he or she can spend anywhere from a couple of days to a week in preparation for the person. My question is what are Christians doing to prepare for Jesus’ next great visitation?

       The one thing I have asked through the years is when are we as Christians going to agree with God about what He says about the matters of life, righteousness, and godliness in His Word? When are we going to believe it enough that we apply it to our life by assimilating it into our attitudes and actions? Certain aspects of the Bible may not be written to us, but every bit of it has been written for our edification, growth, and maturity (1 Corinthians 10:1-11). It is full of examples, instructions, admonishments, and warnings.

       Sadly, instead of approaching the Bible to simply believe its truths, apply its principles, and strive to maintain the intent of the spirit behind it, we take the bits of the Word that appeal to our preference towards something, while nitpicking the rest to death with an intellectual fervor. In essence, a person is going to interpret a matter to justify his or her confusion or unbelief towards a subject. This is how many piecemeal together theology they can agree with, and this is why we have a very sober warning in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” Romans 1:18 tells us why we must rightly divide the word of truth, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of them, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

       Everything in the Bible exists to bring us to a better understanding of who God is so we can rightly discern how to apply something to our lives. It is obedience to the full counsel, and intent of the Word that ensures an overcoming life, and exercising faith that ends in victory—and one might ask why. Hebrews 11:35 tells us so we can come out experiencing a better resurrection. The Word of God is clear there are no in-betweens as far as what constitutes godliness and no shades of gray when it comes to righteousness. The problem is it is easy to hide behind blurred lines and gray shadows, but I am often reminded of what my friend, Pastor Phil Skoog once said, “Casual Christianity leads to causalities.”

       We do not adjust the Bible to our way of thinking; rather, we are to adjust our lives to line up to the Word of God. We do not become the final authority as to what we believe based on how we interpret a matter; instead, the Word must reveal whether our understanding of something clearly lines up to the complete counsel of God’s Word. If it does not, we are not to hold to our own take on it, but we must let go of our stubbornness to be right (stiff-necked), and submit to the Word to ensure the integrity of what we end up believing.

       Through the years I have heard various interpretations and takes on different Scriptural subjects. To each person, his or her interpretation is right and in his or her mind any wise, clear thinking individual would have to agree with the conclusion. Oftentimes these people think, “If only they would listen to me,” or “If only I were allowed to present my case they would see that it is true.” The truth is even if people listen, they will most likely come out confused because personal interpretations often fly in the face of acceptable, fundamental, tried and proven beliefs. On the other hand, if such a person is not confused by someone else’s interpretation, but holds to the fundamental beliefs that have been scripturally tested and taught, such an individual comes out even more convinced about what has been established as fundamental truths. After all, truth will never change and if a matter has to be constantly adjusted, then it is not the truth.

       How can people know whether their understanding of God is reality (truth) or whether it is an assumption or presumption? How can they know if their conclusion about a matter maintains a right spirit that ensures the integrity of truth? How can each of us know if our insight about God is based on spirit and truth or if it is based on personal preferences that cannot stand under the scrutiny of proven Scriptural principles, theology, and doctrine?

       In order to properly answer this question, we must keep in mind that the hardest person to discern is ourselves. We perceive our conclusions are right, without realizing that we may be failing to discern or test a wrong spirit (motive, intent, and focus) behind our conclusions. We can rigorously stand for what we believe, while being blind to the simple fact that we are failing to stand on what is true. The question is can we know whether we are of a right spirit and standing on the true Scriptural foundation, thereby, assured of being upright in our life before God? After all, we cannot know how deceptive our fickle heart can be when challenged with the error of personal prideful attitudes, concrete opinions, and faulty foundations (Jeremiah 17:9-10 refer to Hebrews 2:13).

       I say all of this because as we consider a greater reality of God, we must know how to discern our own attitude about who God is and His truths to receive greater revelations about Him. Attitude determines not only how we will approach a subject, but the mood that will influence our approach. For example, if I am in a foul mood (prideful disposition) because my attitude about something is wrong, then my handling of the truths of God will prove to be incorrect because the spirit is incorrect. It takes the right spirit (Holy Spirit) to ensure a right attitude when approaching God’s Word in order to receive it by faith in the right way.

       The question is how can I discern the spirit behind me when I approach the Word of God? The first thing I need to honestly examine is why am I approaching the Word: to seek the truth of it or seek to adjust the teachings of the Word to my understanding? Am I approaching it because I love God and want to know Him and His will, or am I doing it out of some religious duty? Is the Word of God my food or is it a platform in which I promote my own personal take on theology? Is my desire to see people converted to be true followers of Jesus according to His Word, or am I like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who were trying to make converts to their own way of thinking?

       It is only after we have tested our motive that we can we properly discern our agenda. When it comes to the Word of God, there are two main agendas that determine the spirit behind our presentations: a burden for souls or personal causes. A good way to discern between the two is to reconcile whether there is a genuine concern for one’s spiritual standing that the Lord has impressed you to address or whether it is all about how something made you feel, and therefore, you are going to set the record straight to control the outcome of something. At this point the Lord is being tacked on at best as the target must be made to see the error of his or her offending ways and straighten up like a good obedient dog.

       Through the years I have had to discern my true agenda. As an immature Christian, most of my initial times of trying to straighten someone out about what I considered were wrong notions or activities were nothing more than personal causes. I cannot tell you how many times I failed to truly edify someone, and ended up causing great offense and division between the person and myself.

       It took a while for the Lord to teach me that causes are based on personal zeal, but often lack a true understanding of acceptable righteousness (Roman 10:2). When it comes to personal causes God’s take is not part of the equation; rather, it is assumed that it is also what He would naturally agree with because it has a religious bent to it. The truth is personal causes have nothing to do with God or His Kingdom. It is all about a person’s self-righteousness.

       Eventually, I realized that what distinguished the difference between my causes and God’s true concerns were the fruit. I remembered the Lord laying on my heart to share some things He had been teaching me to a Christian women’s group. The initial steps of obedience helped me learn about the first lesson: To ensure God’s presence in a matter, He must first ordain it.

       I approached the head of the woman’s group, expecting to be turned down. Instead the woman was receptive and set up the time for me to share. This revealed to me the second lesson: If a matter is ordained by God, He will prepare the way and right time for it to be delivered.

       As I wrestled before the Lord about what He wanted me to share with the women, I learned the next lesson: Self must be completely out of the way or God’s message will be defiled and rendered totally ineffective. It is important to realize the matters of God are not platforms in which we expound and promote personal causes with rigorous passion; rather, they serve as opportunities to minister the life of His Son to others to bring salvation and healing to lost and wounded souls.

       It was at this time I realized personal causes are a matter of the fleshly, carnal man. Anytime a person operates in the flesh, he or she will be in the wrong spirit. If the spirit is wrong, there is only death in the presentation because life will be absent. This is a vital lesson to remember in any presentation that has to do with God.

       Confusion often comes because the Bible is clear about such things as reproving sin along with how to conduct self in regard to other Church disciplines. However, in a world that emphasizes God’s love and tolerance, such stands can come across as too harsh or unloving to our soft, worldly palates (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5; Ephesians 5:6-13). It is at this point that the Christian can take hold of the reins and attempt to confront or deal with moral, spiritual matters in his or her own intellectual strength.

       At such times offenses often occur because people never respond the way we think they should; therefore, we take offense for what we consider to be rejection of the truth or instruction. However the offense we feel at such times is usually an affront against personal pride and not a matter of the sin of commission (trespass against God’s moral law). Again these two factors are something we must properly discern. When one is personally offended, he or she naturally wants personal pride to be placated, but to do so is a grave sin of idolatry that blinds the instigator to his or her own deviation of character and causes those who bow down to this idol to be partakers of sin.

       Pride is something we must all contend with, but few recognize it when it is prompting one’s ego to react to those things that have offended it. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:8 that love covers such offenses, but to assimilate God’s love at this point requires us to deny our pride any audience and apply the cross to our way of thinking so we can follow Christ in His example of love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. However, when a person is at odds with God that is another matter altogether. That person needs to be reconciled back to God through the brokenness of repentance and confession of sin to be cleansed from the unrighteousness working in his or her life and to be restored back into a relationship with God.

       The Bible is clear how we are to approach matters. If we are to confront sin working in someone’s life it must be done in the right spirit of meekness and always for the benefit of the person’s spiritual well-being (edification), in light of the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19; 1 Corinthians 8:1; Ephesians 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). As believers our foremost calling is to ensure that every person God entrusts us with is reconciled to God. If we have been knocked off our pinnacle of self-importance because of someone personally making us upset, uncomfortable, or offended, the problem and test will always rest with the mature Christian as to how it will be handled, and not the one who was unknowingly used like a sling shot (most likely by God) to reveal flaws in the inner character of the leader, preacher, teacher, etc. to bring him or her to a place of pliability before His feet in order to learn what He wants him or her to understand.

       This brings me back to the valuable lessons I had to learn. If God ordains it and self is out of the way, then God can show His approval by anointing what is being presented. It always has and always will be God’s work. If His stamp is not on something, it will prove vain and useless. It is the presence and anointing of the Holy Spirit that sharpens the edges of God’s truths to penetrate the sleepy, dull Christian in order to spiritually awaken him or her, and bring challenges, and changes. What will follow spiritual awakening is preparation for the Christian to become the salt of the earth and serve as a reflection of the true light of the world to those who are seeking the Bread of Life.

       Why is it important to ensure a right attitude towards God? The reason is because the truths of God cannot be properly received and assimilated into our lives unless we have a right heart attitude towards Him. I can’t know God if I am looking through a defiled or limited, controlled perspective. I must cast aside what I think I know about Him and truly seek God out so that I can know Him from the premise of a right spirit in order to receive truth with genuine faith that in turn will enable me to properly handle it.

       Next month we are going to consider how God presents Himself to man in order to ensure that we adopt a correct attitude about who He is and needs to be. Meanwhile, it is up to each of us to ask the Holy Spirit to prepare us to not only desire to know Him, but to be ready to receive what is revealed to our heart no matter how much it may challenge our present understanding.