Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, building yourselves upon your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life” (Jude 3, 17, 20-21). I am convinced we are living in a time of tremendous deception and apostasy and it scares me to death. If there was ever a time when the Biblical tools of discernment were desperately needed, it is now. We need to take these objective tools of discernment and apply them to whatever we hear being taught under the label of Christianity. In other words, we need to learn to question everything and to filter everything that comes our way through the grid-system of God’s Word. Jude wrote that although he had originally desired to write about “our common salvation,” he found it necessary to admonish his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith.” In other words, he wrote to defend the faith against false teachings that were arising in the churches of his day and our day as well.
It seems experience rather than God’s Word has become the basis for truth of many in Christian circles today. I guess to many, experience is much more exciting than God’s Word when it comes to truth. Therefore experience has become the basis for truth. This is very dangerous but very few seem to care. I suppose it is more exciting to go to a meeting and be “slain by the Spirit,” rather than read the truth of God’s Word about the only two people in Scripture who were slain by the Spirit and never got back up (see Acts 5:1-11, the account of Ananias and Sapphira). I guess it is more exciting to experience forty days of purpose with other seekers than it is to open the Bible and discover the rich truth of God’s holy Word. I guess it is a powerful experience meeting Christ in your subconscious mind through the new age practices of contemplative (centering) prayer and prayer labyrinths rather than appealing to Him in heaven where He cannot be seen, touched or heard (whatever happened to faith?). It seems that truth through the preaching of God’s Word has been removed from many pulpits because it offends “seekers.” It seems that prayer has been redefined to be mystical techniques in order to gain experiences which are much more relevant to postmodern society than simply praying to the Father, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Experience is a dangerous thing and can be spiritually fatal. But the Word of God as the standard of truth tells us Who God is, our true need (to be forgiven) and how to have that need eternally met.
Jude tells us how to avoid being deceived. We are told to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down.” We are to stand (earnestly agonize) for the body of truth once for all given. This truth is not to be added to or subtracted from. What is this truth? Notice how Jude defines it in verses 17 and 20-21: “the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is done by (1) building on the truth of God’s Word, (2) praying while guided by the Spirit of God, and (3) waiting (faith with an eternal perspective). How important was the truth of God’s Word to the early church? It was first and primary according to Luke: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). The early church submitted to the teaching of the apostles who were the recipients of Christ’s authoritative teaching. Their teaching was God’s Word. The early church preached the Word. They did not preach felt-needs or experientially based messages. Their preaching could be described as “Thus says the Lord God.” Any church (or preacher) that has forsaken the pure preaching of the Word of God is robbing the people of God’s primary means of grace and is showing itself to not be a valid church. Since the early church preached the Word of God, they also preached the gospel. In Acts 2, we see Peter’s preaching was not at all like the watered down version of the gospel we see in many churches today. It definitely wasn’t “seeker friendly,” and it didn’t focus on felt-needs. But it did result in some 3000 souls being added to the church that day. As true followers of Christ, we share a “common salvation,” which was brought about through the finished work of Christ, as revealed in the Word of God. According to Paul, it became ours through listening to the “message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed” (Eph. 1:13). He didn’t mention experience. He talked about truth and believing that truth! Always make sure that Scripture, not experience, is your basis for truth. Otherwise, it is not a matter of “you might be,” but you will be deceived and led astray by “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). So get in the Word, study the Word, memorize the Word, apply the Word and question everything!
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5). If the meal you were about to eat contained one kernel of poison, would you still eat it? Would you try to find the poison and then eat around it? Would you eat one bite at a time until you died? Or would you avoid the meal altogether and choose a meal that would be beneficial to your health? Obviously, you would not eat the meal with the poison. In fact, you would avoid it at all cost (R. Oakland). I have been very troubled by developments I have witnessed firsthand over the past few years. The church is being told that Christianity needs to be re-invented in order to reach this postmodern generation. This push to re-invent Christianity seems to be all over the place. “The message never changes,” we are told. “But we must find new methods of reaching this generation.” That statement sounds legitimate. The problem is, in the rush to find new methods; most are laying aside the unchanging message. Rather than sound, verse-by-verse expository preaching, what we find these days is topical felt-needs preaching (or talks). It seems the Bible has taken a backseat to a here’s how to feel good about yourself kind of preaching. In the minds of postmodern preachers, the Word of God and the gospel no longer have the life changing power they once had. But Paul was clear and to the point: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season.” This was a forceful order and directive. It wasn’t up for discussion. He didn’t say preach it until it’s no longer popular. God’s Word is clear. If we want to see lives changed and people saved, the preaching of the Word must remain central, even in this postmodern generation.
This is extremely crucial considering the times in which we live. It seems in an effort to be relevant to this generation, many preachers have set aside the Bible for a more relevant message. Relevant? What could be more relevant than the message of salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:10), which says, “Unless you repent, you will all perish” (Luke13:3). Paul warned Timothy (and us), “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” He also wrote, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). The only place we will ever hear sound doctrine is through the expository preaching of God’s Word. However, when solid preaching is replaced by felt-needs preaching and when the message of sin and repentance, the gospel and the coming judgment is watered down into easy-believism, the door is opened wide for deception. And I’m afraid that many people who sit in churches across this land are deceived. But why should this surprise us? Especially when many preachers are entering their pulpits with no Bible in hand. Just preach the Word! The Bible tells us that God is always right and man is almost always wrong. When we rely upon human consensus we end up with man’s perspective and not God’s revelation. This is why Paul solemnly charged Timothy and us to preach the Word in season and out! Preach the Word!
The Bible says in the last days Satan will deceive the whole world with doctrines of demons and seducing spirits. Therefore, the Bible must be our authority. Imagine how astounded I was the day a fellow minister suggested we include in our worship service such activities as centering (or contemplative) prayer and prayer labyrinths, both of which are nothing more than far eastern meditative and religious practices repackaged under a Christian label. I’m sorry, but God’s Word does not call for us to repackage activities of other religions in an effort to drum up Jesus. It calls upon us to preach the Word and to filter everything that comes our way through the grid of God’s Word. Sometimes I wonder if we really and truly understand how dangerous it is when we abandon the forceful order and directive to “preach the Word…in season and out of season.” We may as well be eating poison. Whatever happened to the Bible?
“Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:5-9). If there is one subject most of us try to avoid, it is death. It seems most people would rather talk about anything else but life’s final mystery. Even Christians are guilty of avoiding the subject until its reality hits home. The truth of the matter is death is real. It seems I have been reminded of this over and over recently—from military death notifications, to news of friends entering their eternal reward, to news stories of total strangers meeting life’s final enemy. Although it is a mystery, it is also a reality—a reality we should not try to avoid—but consider with a sobering awe in light of what Scripture teaches. For the unbeliever (those who are not true followers of Jesus Christ), the Bible is crystal clear—eternal misery. However, for the believer, death means eternal joy. Furthermore, a proper view of death helps put everything else into perspective, for death could happen at any moment for any one of us.
First of all, death forces us to think about whether or not our faith is genuine. Do we have true biblical faith? Do we truly believe Jesus is our only hope of eternal life and that such faith prepares us to face death? Or is our faith better explained as feelings and experiences? Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26). He then asked, “Do you believe this?” Do we believe that death takes us immediately into the presence of the Lord and eternal joy that we cannot even begin to fathom this side of heaven? Death forces us to think about whether or not our faith is genuine.
Secondly, death causes us to truly consider the brevity of life and the endlessness of eternity. Whether one lives eight years or eighty years (or any age before, between or after), life is indeed short. James tells us, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (4:14). Oftentimes, we fail to understand that life, which is described as a “vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away,” vanishes into an endless eternity. Everyone who has ever lived is alive now or will ever live, will spend eternity somewhere. That eternity will be one of two places—with Jesus and everything that is good or separated from Jesus and everything that is good. As followers of Christ, we know where and with Whom we will spend eternity. The only thing we don’t know is when we will face death. It could happen at any moment. We are all one heart beat and one breath away from eternity. Therefore, the prospect of death at any moment motivates us to live for Jesus everyday.
Another thing death causes us to do is to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. According to John Piper, it forces us to consider whether we are more in love with this world than we are in love with Jesus Himself. Does the thought of death cause us more pain because of what we may lose on this earth than it gives us joy at seeing Jesus face to face and being with Him forever? This is what Paul meant by, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). One thing God has taught me over the years is that life can be lived to the fullest because of my faith in Christ. I am free to do what He calls me to do no matter how hard or dangerous such may be. However, no matter how full and rich this life might be, it is nothing compared to what is in store for me when I see Jesus. Like Paul, I’ve come to understand this world is not my home. I have a “desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phil. 1:23). And if death is the bridge to that “very much better” eternal life, then like Paul, I don’t care how God brings it to pass, but long for that moment when I see Jesus. I believe this is the one point where most Christians fall all over themselves. We hear it in such statements as, “I want to go to heaven but I’m in no hurry to get there,” or “I want to see Jesus but there’s a lot on this earth I want to see too.” If we truly understood the glorious truth that “In Your presence is fullness of joy [and] pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11), we would all pray for God to hasten the day when we see Him face to face.
Finally, death causes us to constantly examine our priorities in life. Sometimes I think it would do us all good to spend about five minutes a day in a cemetery. Death puts it all in perspective. Are you living your life with biblical priorities in mind? Do you long to be present with the Lord even if it means being absent from the body (don’t worry; this world will get along just fine without you)? In the meantime, are you committed to living by faith until the Lord returns for His Church or calls you home? “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9).
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Striving to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
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