Before Anything Fails, Read the Directions

At a news conference on February 21, 1985, President Ronald Reagan, in mentioning his own recent return to regular reading of the Bible, announced, “ . . . the Bible contains an answer to just about everything and every problem that confronts us, and I wonder sometimes why we won’t recognize that one book could solve our problems for us.”

This is the wonderful discovery that lies before believers in Jesus Christ: the way that the Bible speaks to their lives. This is the discovery that so many have made: the way that the Word of God brings encouragement, comfort, direction and correction. Even more, they make the discovery that the more effort and time put into the study and meditating on the truth of the Bible and in following the command of the Bible, the greater is the blessing of God upon their lives.

A healthy and secure Christian life is the result of attention to the Bible as the inspired Word of God, as the ultimate source of what to believe and what to do. The antidote to the weak, superficial and secondhand faith of so many professed believers in Christ comes down to giving to the Bible the significance in their lives that it deserves as the Word of God. But much of the the spiritual weakness of North American Christians is due to their reverence for the Bible with little knowledge of the Bible. Up to 80% in surveys have expressed their belief that it is the revealed Word of God, but there is so much that is unbiblical about the lives of so many due to Biblical illiteracy and negligence. So there is the great need to call so many who call themselves Christ followers to give due attention to the Word of God, to find his strength, foundation and direction for their lives, beyond a hearsay faith of social conformity with others.

Paul’s words to Timothy are one of the best known witnesses of the Bible to itself as the inspired Word of God, and to its necessity and usefulness to grow believers to spiritual maturity and effectiveness. Paul stressed the necessity and centrality of the scriptures for the man in ministry, but his words also apply as well to any believer, so that he or she can grown in spiritual maturity, stability and effectiveness. So here is what Paul had to say:

“All scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17).

The Bible itself states that it is the inspired Word of God. It is the message, written down, translated and circulated worldwide, which God specifically gave to the men and women of this world. And because it is God’s message to us, it must command our attention. And even more, it is the written message of God that will truly satisfy the spiritual hunger of those who have been truly born again by faith in Jesus Christ.

The divine inspiration of the Bible means that it’s God’s own Word. That’s what is meant by calling it God’s own Word. It means that it expresses the exact meaning that God intended to be expressed to mankind. This means that it is more than simply great human writing, even though some parts of scripture definitely qualify as literary masterpieces and others are maybe not great in literary terms. But rather, it means that the Bible is to be read, studied, followed and treasured not so much because God was behind the authorship of scripture.

In the simple statement of Paul, that, “All scripture is God breathed . . .” comes the basis of calling the Bible divinely inspired. Other translations render that, ‘inspired by God.’  It definitely means that scripture is more than simply great human writing; some parts of scripture are definitely literary masterpieces, such as the Psalms and Isaiah, but other parts are not so great by a merely aesthetic evaluation. With that statement, Paul was not denying that the books of scripture had human authors, and that they each had their own individual ways of expressing themselves and their own individual styles of writing.It definitely does not mean entire dictation, but certainly some dictation in some parts, where there is the explicit declaration, “Thus says the LORD.” But rather, this is the declaration that the personalities of the human authors were so empowered and directed by the Spirit of God that what was recorded was the exact message of God. And this then carries with it the conclusion of its inerrancy and infallibility through its being divinely inspired. But just to be sure, there has also been the statement that this does not mean that there have not been some scribal and typographical errors in different manuscripts or printed editions over the years, or that any translation is perfect – certainly, with his rabbinic background, Paul was aware of differences in manuscripts and the different translations into Greek of the Old Testament, as were the other apostles — but that what was originally given was the message of God and it continues to speak to us as such even with minor errors of transmission and translation.

The divine inspiration of scripture guarantees the constant relevance of the Bible. Scripture will never cease to be trustworthy in what it says to our faith and what it commands for us to obey. It remains the Word of a living Lord who inspired it and who continues to stand by it and work through it. It is meant to be our regular, even daily, guide to a present relationship with the Lord and Savior. And this is the basis of an informed reverence for scripture, which isn’t superstitious or based upon hearsay or tradition, nor do we regard it with spookiness or as magic writings or the physical book as a magic talisman. John Calvin once said, “We owe to scripture the same reverence owe to God,” and by this he meant that we owe it submission and obedience as the Word of the Lord, because through the Bible, God has spoken. This does not mean that we worship the Bible – described by that pejorative straw man phrase of Bibliolatry – but that we recognize that God has spoken in the scriptures, and because we worship and reverence him, we give reverence, that holy respect and submission, to what he has spoken.

But look — Paul didn’t just write that scripture is divinely inspired, but that all scripture is divinely inspired. By his statement, inspiration extends to the entire Bible. From this he meant that all of the Bible deserves our attention, faith and obedience, because divine inspiration extends to the entire Bible. All that is scripture is divinely inspired. This means that for every believer in Christ in every age all the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God. This inspiration occurred it happened when God inspired the writer of scripture to write down what was his will to write: “Understand this thing first, that no prophecy of scripture came about through personal interpretation; because no prophecy came about by human intention, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:20-21).  Here Peter spoke about prophecy – direct revelation from God – and that is reflected in the teaching of the truth about God and what he commands. And this kind of prophecy can even be found in the historical books such as Samuel, Kings and Chronicles and in the gospels. In such books there was definite historical investigation, and the use and evaluation of other sources – see Luke 1:1-4, for example – but also definite revelation of God’s view on the events which took place – such as II Chronicles 32:31. And this same kind of historical account with divine interventions, divine explanations and divine commentary (with implications for all God’s people in all times and places – not just for the time they were written) took place even in the books of prophecy where there were a number of direct declarations of God, with an explicit ‘Thus says the LORD.” – see Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, for example.

This declaration of the inspiration of all the Bible then brings up question of canonicity. How can we be sure that all the books in the Bible are inspired? First, the question of the canonicity of Old Testament comes both by prophetic attestation,  and it is corroborated by the personal citations and authority of Jesus and the apostles (see J.W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible, for one defense of this view). And contrary to modern historical fallacies, the New Testament canon is not  based on a report or a recommendation that done by an identifiable committee, such as the Council of Nicaea. (That view comes from a list of the modern list of the canon in a letter by Athanasius, who happened to have been part of the Council of Nicaea). For most of the New Testament, such as the four gospels, the book of Acts, the letters of Paul and I Peter, there was an immediate recognition of inspiration of their inspiration, and they were cited and circulated as scripture by the end of the first century A.D. Several books, such as Revelation, took some time and evaluation to be included, but they generally were recognized as such. Then the individual books took some time to be collected together and to be brought into unified bindings (called a codex or codices), though, and maybe more a development of the personal convenience of the codex and parchment to replace individual scrolls and papyrus rather than any less doctrinal conviction of their not being inspired any less than any other books of scripture.

So the divine inspiration of the Bible means that it is the most important thing that we will ever read in this lifetime.  If we are to live in consistency with a genuine belief in the inspiration of the Bible this will mean that we will live opposite to the inattention to and neglect of the Word of God that we see in the lives of so many in our churches who are in attendance at our services but woefully ignorant of many basic Biblical truths and in disobedience to many clear Biblical commands.

The truth is that very often attitude of a professed believer in Christ to reading and studying the Bible and meditating on the Word is an indicator of the quality of his or her present relationship to God. Generally, growing believers will be hungry to learn more and more of the Word of God, backsliders will avoid spending time in the Word of God, and unbelievers will be not put in any effort to learn the Word of God and remain content to remain ignorant. Generally, though, devotion to God will mean devotion to his Word over the course of one’s life and in the path of following Jesus Christ.

But this also means that there needs to be great care in interpreting the scriptures as a part task of preaching and teaching the scriptures and of reading and understanding the scriptures. This is the task of both the spiritual leader and the person who is to receive the preaching and teaching of the scriptures. Because the Bible is the Word of God the preacher and teacher must take great care in the interpretation of the scripture that is behind his or her preaching and teaching. The command goes to the preacher and teacher to present oneself as an unashamed worker who correctly uses the Word of truth (II Timothy 2:15 – the prior context to this passage under discussion). But the command to prove all things is laid upon the church, from the pastors and elders to every believer (I Thessalonians 5:21-22), lest anyone come under the bondage of distortions and deliberate misinterpretations. (See my earlier post on handling minor disagreements on how far to take this.)  Rather, even where there might be different interpretations of scripture on minor points, they should be  reasonable and based in sound, often centuries old, guidelines for scriptural interpretation, and interpreted in historical and literary context, and corroborated by agreement with other interpretations. And because of this,  over the centuries Biblical interpretation and exposition has been found in the churches of Jesus Christ worldwide to be an occupation that is worthy of the most careful scholarship and learning and an occupation of many of the greatest intellects of humanity throughout history. So, anyone that would seek deliberately from any reason to dumb down the intellectual demands upon a pastor or anyone who handles the scriptures is at variance with the reverence due to scripture as a subject and pursuit worthy of our every power of sanctified, reverent and prayerful intellect. And indeed it was the lifelong pursuit of the most pure, incisive and insightful intellect the world has ever known, that of Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God himself.

The inspiration of the Bible, moreover, also insures that it is the most reliable thing that you will ever read. It will mean freedom from and less attention to the opinions of other people, even fellow Christians, and therefore growing freedom from the fear of man. It will free a person just from listening to the teaching of others and repeating second hand nuggets (which may well be fool’s gold rather than the real thing). It will draw a person to the personal reading, study and meditation on the Word of God. It will rather mean the development of a habit of examining all teaching within the church, by whatever pastor or teacher, how ever much esteemed, by consistency with the Word itself. And that habit in eternity can gain nothing less than the approval of God himself.

Understanding that the Bible is inspired by God and therefore the most reliable thing anyone will ever read should then bolster our security in the scriptural gospel of justification by faith through the grace of God in Jesus Christ and in the central doctrines such as the Trinity, deity of Jesus Christ, personhood of the Holy Spirit. These central doctrines have withstood constant challenge in every age of the church, but have just as much been vindicated as the declarations of the Word of God reasonably and rightly interpreted. So, this unshakeable confidence in scripture can give the believer in Christ to assert alongside the apostle Paul, “For I am disclosing among you, brothers, the gospel with which I evangelized, that it is not of human origin . . . ” (Galatians 1:11).

Moreover, this understanding of the entire inspiration of the Bible should draw us away from a modern tendency that I will call Biblical favoritism. This is where a believer approaches the Bible in piecemeal fashion and parks himself or herself in dealing with isolated portions, favorite verses, preferred books of scripture. We often may gush in the currently fashionable cliché that, “I LOVE this verse,” but for many this may rather be a symptom of a selective faith and selective obedience when it comes to the whole of scripture. This may even be a symptom of avoiding those portions of scripture which require some more digging and those which correct and challenge us. We need to understand that though there are difficult and challenging parts of scripture, this tendency is inconsistent with acceptance of the teaching of scripture itself that it is all inspired. Rather it is more consistent with ultimate belief in one’s own inspiration ultimately treating the Bible simply as source material for one’s own self directed moral inspiration and emotional encouragement (doctrinally a confusion of inspiration with illumination). The evangelical Anglican bishop J.C. Ryle saw this tendency in his own day, and frankly saw it for what it is: “. . . he is the narrow minded theologian, who pares down such parts of the Bible as the natural heart dislikes, and rejects any portion of the counsel of God.”

But if we give up this ‘childish thing’ of Biblical favoritism, this means the stupendous truth that in every book and in every chapter there are lessons to be learned, commands to be followed and promises to be embraced. Even more, it keeps in front of us the tremendous possibilities of discovering new things previously unknown to us and the reminders of truth which needs to be reinforced and deepened as we spend time in scripture.  This then can bring us to a constant humble, prayerful expectancy of learning from God’s Word, whenever it is read, studied, meditated upon, preached or taught. And this should motivate us to make sure that we have the right attitudes to come to scripture (I Peter 2:1-3, James 1:20-21, and see also Ephesians 1:15-23 as fulfilled through illumination of the scripture and the prayers of the Psalmist in  Psalm 119.) And even more if our task is the preaching and teaching of the scriptures, it makes even more plain the challenge of the apostle in II Timothy 4:1-2: “I charge you before God and Christ Jesus who is going to judge the living and the dead, and his appearance and his kingdom: Preach the Word, be ready when and when there are not appropriate opportunities, correct, rebuke, encourage, in all patience and teaching.”

But the inspiration of the scriptures is more than an assertion of doctrine. Moreover, there is a stupendous consequence for the believer in Christ in the divine inspiration of the scriptures. The Bible, as the Word of God, is the foundation of spiritual capability. It forms the basis of spiritual growth and usefulness. Knowing and following the Bible as the Word of God is the pathway to spiritual security, maturity and effectiveness. This is what we often miss in the modern church when we give undue emphasis to other authorities alongside the Bible even when we profess belief in its divine inspiration. And often we can find the basis of spiritual weakness, immaturity and ineffectiveness to be due to both the ignorance and hidden disagreements with the Word of God among believers. They may have internal, unexpressed conflict with the clear teaching of the Word of God which in turn sap their spiritual strength and vitality, and leave them weak and passive in the face of a world where their faith is often treated with disdain and hostility.

So let us define here spiritual capability. It is the preparation for every spiritual challenge. It is not knowing a list of facts and notions, but rather knowing what to do, what to believe, what to say, from the knowledge of the Word of God.

With the statement,  “. . . that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work . . . ” the apostle describes the intended result of scripture in the life of the believer in Christ. This is the result when the Bible is believed and obeyed entirely: thorough equipment for every spiritual challenge. This is the same kind of phrase that was used to describe a soldier who was fitted out with complete provision and complete weaponry and who was and completely trained for the battles and skirmishes ahead. Equipment for spiritual battle, not a head filled with fun facts or a heart filled with half understood but emotionally uplifting platitudes, is what the goal of knowing scripture is all about.

The intended result of being grounded in the Bible is therefore for the believer to be fully prepared for full faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ. This means scriptural preparation for every incident calling for exercise of faith and for every falsehood calling for refutation and for every opportunity calling for witness and for every situation calling for obedience to a command from the Word of God. Again, this will mean a believer avoids of the extreme of knowledge without obedience: this is the classic trap of head full of Biblical facts but a life lived in disobedience and unbelief. This will mean avoidance of the opposite extreme of spiritual naiveté, of attempted faith and obedience without the knowledge of the actual teaching of scripture or on hearsay knowledge that tries to be capable by watching what other do, social conformity to the opinions of the social group. It means personal communion with Jesus and  his personal teaching of his Word through his Holy Spirit to us. This is what Charles G. Finney explained to those new in the faith: “The Bible is the medium of introduction to him personally. What is there said of him is designed to lead us to seek after a personal acquaintance with him. It is by this personal acquaintance with him that we are made like him. It is by direct, personal [fellowship] with his divine mind that we take on his divine image.”

This growth in spiritual capability, then, comes through deep application of the Bible to our thoughts and actions. It yields immediate and excellent results, but still continues over the process of a lifetime. It is learning and doing the Word of God, and it is a long term process of acquisition, not a short term dabbling nor something that comes just through giftedness, talent or nature.

So this is how the spiritual capability comes about: because the Bible is inspired by God, it . “. . . is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness . . .”. The result of spiritual capability comes through application of the Bible in what it’s useful for, and this is the  result of patient, consistent study and meditation upon the Word of God, and reception of the preaching and teaching of the Word  and even through informal conversations. These are all ways of getting the nourishment of the Word of God into one’s life and building spiritual capability.

Spiritual capability not simply achieved by growing older or by how long a person has spent warming a pew or being associated with a religious group. Rather, it comes through the Word of God. It comes through learning the Word of God, as it rebukes, corrects, guides and trains us. It comes as the Word of God is distilled into the life through spiritual experience and moral direction. And this can be at times both hurtful to us and extraordinarily uplifting. Again, Charles G. Finney has an incisive remark on this: “I have long been satisfied that the higher forms of Christian experience are attained only as a result of a terribly searching application of God’s law to the human conscience and heart.”

Therefore, the believer who wants to please his or her heavenly Father, will find his or her capability to do so in relation to his or her knowledge of and obedience to the Word of God. Attention to the Word is the first step to  address any immaturity, incapability or spiritual and moral dysfunction on our part. This will mean that we find not only scriptural answers to our problems, but also scriptural wisdom for the assistance of others, and this will answer the great demand for those today who are able to help others with the love, acceptance and compassion of Christ.

So many within our churches profess the belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. This belief calls for our respect for it as the Word of God. This respect will be real when we start to give it the attention that it deserves as the living and active Word of the living God, and  believing what it says, obeying what it says and communication of what it says both among ourselves and to the lost and dying world around us, that needs the good news of Jesus Christ which is found within its pages.

So, then, let each one of us personally invest our time and effort in reading, studying and meditating upon the Word. This will be an investment in spiritual capability, and it will mean a tremendous benefit upon ourselves, and our family and friends. But most of all, it will be a life invested in learning what is pleasing to God, who gave us the Word for our ultimate and eternal good. This means setting aside the time to spend in the Word and making systematic effort to learn the Word, acquiring and using proper helps certainly, but most of all reading with a reverent, submissive attitude and recording and sharing our observations and lessons. And since the Word will never fail us, this means seeking to understand and receive what the Word promises to us, to follow its commands.

In our churches, then this means that the guide for the fellowship is always the Word of God first and foremost. How little the Word of God guides so many of our churches can be seen in how shocking that statement would be to so many who attend our churches and so many long time members. But the Word of God supersedes all traditions and routines for the church, and we need need to make and keep it first and foremost as the way that we live as a church fellowship to be in any way a church which can claim the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

But most of all, the Bible as the Word of God is the Word which contains and explains the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no gospel which saves which is not faithful to the Word of God. But even more, having a Biblically centered gospel is behind having the spiritual capability to witness powerfully and articulately among those in this world that need the gospel of salvation.

Expediency or Obedience?

There’s a remarkable passage in Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God which speaks to a lot that is expressed in our preaching and teaching today:

“If it be agreeable to God’s will and convenient for some design of our own, and we do anything only with a respect to that design, we make not God’s holiness discovered in the law our rule, but our own conveniency: it is not a conformity to God, but a conformity of our actions to self. As in abstinence from intemperate courses, not because the holiness of God in his law prescribed it, but because the health of our bodies, or some noble contentments of life, require it; then it is not God’s holiness that is our rule, but our own security, conveniency or something else which we make a God to ourselves.”

It troubles me that in so much preaching and teaching that something may be declared as the command of God from his Word, and cited chapter and verse, but it seems that so many are unmoved until the preacher or teacher brings out some quote from some other supposed authority such as a medical doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist, and cites some statistics that people who live contrary to the declared will of God end up unhealthy or unhappy in their marriages or jobs or friendships or even unpopular. Just note when the heads turn and people pay attention: is it when the Word of God is cited or the advice and statistics of the physician or psychologist? (And how much displeasure, bitterness and resentment with others happens in marriages, families, friendships and church fellowships not because someone is disobedient to the clear teaching of the Word of God, but not living up to some expectations fostered by some outside authority upon grounds which come down to the personal expediency of the aggrieved party?)

For the person who has come to faith in Jesus Christ, who is the authority, the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word of God, or the medical doctor or psychologist? And what is the goal, our own being happy and well adjusted in this world, or to be reflections of the holiness of God by the power of the Holy Spirit?

“As obedient children, do not conform yourselves to the desires that you had previously in your ignorance, but as the One who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your behavior, just as it is written, ‘Holy you are to be, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:15-16).

‘WWJD’ and By-Path Meadow

“Now the way from the river was rough, and their feet (Christian and Hopeful) tender by reason of their travels; so the souls of the pilgrims were much discouraged because of the way. Wherefore still as they went on, they wished for a better way. Now a little before them  there was  on the left hand of the road a meadow and a stile to go over into it, and that meadow is called By-Path Meadow. Then said Christian to his fellow, if this Meadow lieth along by our way-side, let’s go over into it. Then he went to the stile to see, and behold a path lay along the way on the other side of the fence. ‘Tis according to my wish, said Christian; here is the easiest going; come, good Hopeful, and let us go over.”  — John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress.

A few years ago there was another resurgence of interest in Charles Sheldon’s book, In His Steps, and it’s ethic of the Christian considering his own conduct from the perspective of, “What would Jesus do?” The book was an inspiration to my own youthful passion for Christ back in 1977, and it inspired another generation of Christians from the late 1990s onward. It resulted in the ‘WWJD’ bracelets and some other fashionable ways of bringing the question to a believer. Unfortunately, I think that the fashionable, hip and trendy path has become a kind of threadbare and possibly deceptive ‘By-Path Meadow’ for many.

One of the considerations that led me to a much diminished consideration of the question, “What would Jesus do?” was the lack of scriptural support that I could find for that question being a guide to Christian conduct. Rather, as I read the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, I found a lot more explicit instructions on what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection and living for him as Lord and Savior. Even more, I found that Jesus and the apostles were much more concerned about his people following his commands as Lord than in contemplating his example and following our speculation about what he would do in our situation.  For example, the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke represent what Jesus actually expected from his disciples: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them – I will show you what such a person is like. He or she is like a man who is building a house who dug deep and placed the foundation upon the rock. When the flood came the torrent burst upon it but it was not able to shake it because it was well built. But the person who hears and does not do is like a man who had built a house without a foundation, which the torrent burst upon, and immediately it fell apart, and great was the ruin of that house” (Luke 6:46-49). So, it was passages like this that drew me more to consider and follow what the Bible actually taught rather than my own speculation about what Jesus might do.

This, then, is how the WWJD ethic can become a ‘By-Path Meadow’: if it leads at any point to anyone neglecting to learn, believe and follow the Word of God in its explicit teachings. Recently I heard a pastor of a church which I visited and which seems to have some connection to the ‘Emergent Church’ movement say something to the effect that it’s not really that necessary to seek to learn the Bible that well, and that he seemed to say that knowing some of the stories about Jesus – he mentioned the story about the woman at the well from John 4 and the rich young ruler – and following the WWJD ethic was enough to get by with as far as knowing the Bible. I pray that he reconsidered (or will reconsider) what he said and corrected it before his congregation at some point. The truth is that churches and denominations already went down that path at one point in the past. It was called Modernism and 19th century theological Liberalism, and it ruined many Christians, churches and denominations. It resulted in a preaching and teaching about a merely human Jesus who set some vaguely good example, a Bible treated as if it were error filled and thus ignored, a deadening of spiritual vitality, missionary service and evangelistic fervor and a severely dumbed down social ethic of following mere speculation about the example of Jesus.

Personal Accountability to Jesus Christ and the Judgment Seat of Christ

There is one recurring theme in scripture that is rarely heard today in the preaching and teaching of the church: the judgment seat of Christ. Yet I think that many in our congregations need to hear it clearly. It may be mentioned from time to time in churches when there is preaching or teaching on the end times, but generally it is more put into place on a timeline and rarely mentioned during the normal preaching and teaching of the church as the genuine motivation to godly living that it really is. A fresh recovery of the significance of the judgment seat of Christ is essential, I think, to making the understanding and application of the Word of God as more than another kind of self help teaching.

Here’s why I think the peculiar absence of mentioning this in preaching and teaching contributes to a lackadaisical attitude toward believing and obeying the Word of God among many believers: their working standard by which they choose what they will think, say and do is based more on their own estimation of what will make them satisfied, happy and comfortable than on the written Word of God. They will disobey the Word of God in what they think, say or do if they believe for some reason that they may lose anything related to their satisfaction, comfort and happiness.  And secular self help is based on thinking, saying and and doing what will supposedly bring a person satisfaction, comfort and happiness. When the preaching and teaching of the church attempt to emulate secular self help, it often does neglect this scripturally significant motivation to follow the Word of God: personal accountability to Jesus Christ

Here is the basic summary from scripture about this coming event and its significance for the believer.

Every believer will appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give account for everything that he or she has thought, said or done.

“ . . . For we must all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written:

“As I live,” declares the Lord, every knee will bow to me,
And every tongue will confess to God.”

Therefore each one of us will give an account to God.”

(Romans 14:10-12, Dale’s sight translation)

Here are some further statements of scripture on the final judgment of each believer.

At the judgment seat of Christ we will give account to him and receive our just treatment for both our good deeds and bad deeds.

“For it is necessary for all of us to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one will receive our reward for everything that has been done in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:10, Dale’s sight translation).

Justification by faith in Christ through the propitiation of the cross of Christ does not, according to the plain words of scripture, mean that no believer will ever have his or her bad deeds – sins – mentioned in the final judgment. Rather, it does mean that a believer will not face the eternal penalty for his or her sins and that he or she can live in fellowship with God because of the blood of Christ.

Believers will give account for everything that they have said at the judgment seat of Christ.

“But I say to you that men and women will give account for every idle word they speak  in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36, Dale’s sight translation).

Here Jesus is telling about the personal responsibility that people have for what they say. It’s not, ‘Just talking.’ He obviously means something more wicked than small talk and chitchat about the weather. It’s the careless slander and reckless words that are let fly without regard to their truth or their effect (Ephesians 4:29-30). Sometimes even professed believers seem to have a definition of sin that is no higher than not having committed murder lately, or not having openly committed sexual sins that receive the disapproval from church people. Loose tongues receive little attention and talk is treated as something that is cheap. Yet even the words of believers will definitely be something that they give account of before Jesus Christ personally.

This will include everything that believers think will remain secret and hidden because it is not open and evident to other people.

“Therefore judge nothing before the time when the Lord comes, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make known the thoughts of their hearts; and then praise will come to each one from God.” (II Corinthians 4:5, Dale’s sight translation).

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be made manifest, and nothing secret that will not be made known.” (Mark 4:22, Dale’s sight translation)

This means that no one will ultimately get away with anything that breaks the moral law of God. This reality should drive believers away from any idea that their standard of conduct can remain as anything that trying to get away with before man that they can. This low standard of right and wrong is most likely part of the mentality of anyone who is trying to keep up a religious reputation but continues in thinking, saying and doing things which that person knows are contrary to the Word of God. Sometimes it seems as if some professed believers seem to think that their actions are OK if God does not immediately swat them down. Rather, the truth is that God may and most probably does allow some things to wait until he has a final day in court with each one of us.

The standard of judgment will be the moral law of God, whether received through the written Word of God or through the less reliable light of conscience.

“The person who rejects men and does not receive my words has something which judges him; the word which I have spoken judges that person in the Last Day” (John 12:48, Dale’s sight translation).

For those who do not have access to the Word of God, through being in an isolated part of the world, the moral law as reflected in the lesser light of conscience, as the apostle Paul wrote: “. . .  for when the Gentiles who do not have the Law do by nature the things set down in the Law, they who do not have the Law are act as a Law for themselves. They show the deeds set down in the Law written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness with them, and their own thoughts either accusing or excusing them, on the day when God judges the secrets of mankind, according to my gospel, through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:14-16, Dale’s sight translation).

Moreover, this means that ultimately the only winner in the universe will be God, and he will ultimately have his own way in every situation.This reality should likewise drive believers away from thinking and acting as if simply “getting my own way” in a situation is the ultimate goal and satisfaction in a person’s conduct.

This should be a constant motivation to seek Christlike purity in one’s life, far beyond any kind of social acceptability.

This should incite believers to seek for entire sanctification, as holiness, righteousness, and Christlike love in all that they think, say and do. The ultimate motivation for this would then be to bring glory to God and demonstrate the power of his salvation in the day that he opens up the thoughts, words and deeds of everyone before the entire universe. For the person who has truly experienced salvation by faith in Jesus Christ and has come to love God with all his or her heart, soul, mind and spirit, this is motivation indeed. And this would then not be a standard and a coming reality that that person would seek to hold over the heads of others to try to keep them in line, but rather a coming reality that would motivate a believer himself or herself first of all. The apostle John put it this way: “Dearly loved brothers and sisters, now we are the children of God, and what we shall be has not yet been made manifest. We know that when it is made manifest, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure” (I John 3:2-3, Dale’s sight translation).

There is clearly more that could be written on this from the simple statements of scripture. A simple look through Nave’s Topical Bible, a concordance or a systematic theology would most likely show much more. I would encourage anyone who preaches and teaches the Word of God nowadays never, ever to skip over or minimize the clear statements of scripture about the final responsibility of every person, and especially, every professed believer in Christ to him.

Something Unfashionable From an Unfashionable Old Evangelist . . .

“Listen, if I heard shrieks and cries coming from a house and I ran in there and I found a great big broad shouldered whiskey soaked Joe weasel, dragging his wife about by the hair, and over here, two children are unconscious from his blows and kicks and another one screaming in terror, do you think I would apologize for being there? No! I’d knock 7 kinds of pork out of that old hog.” —Billy Sunday

I recalled having read this quote many years ago, and it brought to mind that the memory that verbal and physical abuse of others was at one time more soundly confronted in the pulpits of churches and in evangelistic campaigns as a terrible sin. Certainly Billy Sunday is more a figure of caricature to the few believers nowadays who remember his name; his blunt preaching and physical dramatics tend to be the kind of thing that many preachers now may try to avoid. His personal war on alcohol seems quaint nowadays, but in context, it was also a war on family violence and verbal abuse as well. There’s also a well documented connection of family violence and abuse to alcohol abuse and alcoholism  in modern times, so Billy Sunday wasn’t all wrong in what he was seeing and what he was confronting, however unfashionable his style and emphasis may be now.

I’m not a prohibitionist on drinking alcohol, and I’m not advocating a return to  prohibitionist preaching or preaching on total abstinence. I’m totally unconvinced by the linguistic and historical arguments of some that wine in the Bible was actually grape juice. Rather, I’m showing that the avoidance of one unfashionable and probably unBiblical emphasis in preaching may have also meant neglecting another very Biblical emphasis in preaching for a very long time.

Several Sermons From Finney Worth Consideration and Preaching Nowadays

Here are several sermons by Charles Finney which touch upon subjects that are rarely mentioned in the preaching and teaching of evangelical churches today. My recommendation is that pastors and believers today give them consideration for their own lives, and that pastors give consideration for possibly adapting and preaching them again.

The first sermon, Hardness of Heart, deals with a possible consequence of hearing Biblical preaching and teaching and not putting it into practice through negligence or refusal. It seems like many in the modern church approach the Word of God like as if that they can pick and choose among its precepts, commands, assertions and promises, and many pastors seem to leave that attitude uncorrected. The Biblical teaching is rather that neglect and refusal of the Word of God leads to a hardening of the heart toward God and his Word. This may in fact be the condition of believers who are stuck in the same religious routines and the same slogans and Christianese, and who remain untouched when a genuine revival may be starting in their congregations.

The second sermon, Christ’s Yoke Is Easy, deals with the passage Matthew 11:28-30, and it addresses two distortions that occur among some believers. The first distortion is that of the mournful old believer who goes on lugubriously about how hard it is to follow Jesus, and brings discouragement on younger believers. The second case is that of the ubermacho Christian believer with the compassion of a cruel drill sergeant, who treats Christian commitment as something not for sissies, and spreads disdain for the imperfections and weaknesses of other believers. Neither reflects Biblical Christianity, and Finney shows how in this sermon.

The last sermon, Evil Thinking, deals with something that I don’t think that many believers have ever had brought to their attention: that God is concerned with the moral direction of their thoughts as well as their words and actions. Finney deals with this not as a matter of avoiding sexual lust, which is the most likely way that many have had the matter of their thought life presented to them, or as spiritual warfare in dealing with the temptations and influences of the demonic world. Rather, he takes it from the point of believers who have a habitually suspicious and hypercritical way of thinking about other believers and others in general. As far as I can tell, this is where much conflict and slander in the church start: someone has an unreasonable and uncharitable take on something about another person or something that person has said or done, and never lets go of that even in the light of scripture and reason. In some cases I believe that that person with the suspicious and hypercritical attitude toward others leaves conversations that he or she has had with others and then Satan has a field day with playing upon this aspect of that person’s nature, leaving that person stuck in bitterness and spreading conflict and slander over something that had been entirely innocent.

I’ve mentioned that these could be preached today with adaptation for modern audiences. Here’s how I would do it.

  • I would make it clear from the outset that I was adapting and using a sermon which had been preached by Finney. I would make it clear that this was not a common occurrence, and that I normally preached based upon my own study and understanding of the scriptures, but that I felt that this material was worth updating and bringing to the congregation.
  • I would make it clear that preaching any one of these sermons does not mean total doctrinal agreement with Finney, or anyone else whose sermons I might adapt on a one time basis, but rather substantial agreement on the matters preached. From another perspective, I could adapt and preach some of the sermons of C.H. Spurgeon and John Wesley without total doctrinal agreement with either – though definitely with attribution of my source and reminders that this would not be a common occurrence in my preaching and teaching ministry.
  • I would update the vocabulary in the sermon, perhaps add some additional background and thoughts on interpreting the passages in question, and perhaps add or substitute more modern or more relevant illustrations. I think that it would be worthwhile to add a word of disclaimer in these cases as well that where my thoughts and words diverge from the original sermon that they are my own and not those of the person whose sermon I’ve adapted.

Again, this type of sermon preparation would not be something that I would advise for more than once or twice a year for a normal pastoral ministry. Since it would definitely require much less preparation time, it might be a refreshing way to provide quality preaching to a congregation when the pastor has just returned from a retreat or a conference or has had a significant personal incident in his life, such as a death in the family, that would preclude putting in the hours normally needed for sermon preparation. Again, it would be also a way to bring different subjects and perspectives to a congregation that might not be emphasized much any more, though they are definitely a part of what the Bible asserts as truth for belief and action.

“You’re Not a REAL MAN If . . .”

Over the past twenty or so years, first starting with the growth of the Promise Keepers movement, and then continuing onward, there has been renewed interest in men’s ministries in many evangelical churches. There has been some well intentioned recognition that the Bible does call for, at some level, some of the traditionally ‘masculine’ virtues such as courage and perseverance. There has coincided with a recognition that the Biblical pattern of following Jesus does not include the immaturity, irresponsibility and hidden abuse that characterize the lives of many men. Nevertheless, I think that there are three dangers in the way the approach that some take.

The first danger is that some may take some male-dominated activities and cultural stereotypes hold them up as part of what make someone a REAL MAN. These unBiblical intrusions do not provide a Biblical solution. For instance, in some parts of the United States, especially more rural areas, hunting and fishing is a more male dominated activity, and some may disdain a person who does not hunt and fish as someone who isn’t a REAL MAN. Or, in other parts of the United States, participation in high school football programs, or other sports, may be esteemed as part of the coming of age process for a male, and thus anyone who didn’t participate in that program for whatever reason may be disdained as not being a REAL MAN.  Or, someone from a military background or family, where ownership of guns and marksmanship and physical endurance and physical combat skills are esteemed, may disdain someone else who does not display interest or participate in those activities as not being a REAL MAN. In other words, characteristics which go along with a person’s background or regional culture are added onto the Biblical portrayal of manhood.

After all these years of reading the Bible, I think that the Biblical portrayal of manhood is this: a male is created male (Genesis 1:27), and nothing any human being can say can contradict that. Certainly being male can mean that either godliness or ungodliness can make a man mature, compassionate and responsible or immature, irresponsible and cruel, but that the Bible does not put those characteristics in terms of being a REAL MAN or not being a REAL MAN. Pastors and leaders go into unBiblical territory when they address manhood  in that way, and they may unwittingly reinforce a man who excuses his cruelty as toughness or his workaholism or sports idolatry as fulfilling his manly responsibilities.

The second problem then arises from this. Nowhere does the Bible use being a REAL MAN as being a major motivation for faith in the promises of scripture or following the commands of scripture, or give any justification to disdaining anyone for any kind of immaturity or irresponsibility as not being a REAL MAN. Rather, Biblical motivation is based in being a new creation in Christ and having been freed from the bondage of sin (John 8:31,34,36, Romans 6:1-23, 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:17-24, among others), love to Christ (John 14:21-14), and responsibility to Christ as Lord, Savior and Judge (II Corinthians 5:17). I think that this simply becomes another form of guilt or shame manipulation, and it ultimately doesn’t differ much from a statement like, “You’re a REAL CHRISTIAN if you do << some unBiblical standard>>” or “You’re not a REAL CHRISTIAN if you do not do << some unBiblical standard>>.” This type of guilt and shame manipulation may achieve a temporary change of behavior, but it loses its effect over time because it is ultimately using carnal means to try to restrain the sinful tendencies of human nature.

The third problem with this is that it feeds the backstabbing tendency among many men to try to make themselves look good by parading the faults of others around behind that person’s back – man gossip and man slander. Sometimes this does take the form of “He’s not much of a REAL MAN because he <<falls short of some unBiblical standard which I’ve set up, which I may conveniently happen to fulfill, or perhaps, not, in which case this slander is also hypocrisy>> ” They may try to justify this by claiming good intentions afterwards, but ultimately according to the Bible it’s still slander (James 4:11-12).

There was once a time when, in a conversation with a couple who were close friends, I mentioned someone who spread a rumor about me in rivalry for the affections of a girl, and the wife immediately responded with the statement, “Coward.” I think that we need to recognize that this kind of man-gossip and slander is compounded by an unBiblical cowardice as well, and that Christlike moral courage and Biblical obedience, for a man or a woman, is found in being willing to take responsibility for one’s own actions (part of self control, which is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit – Ephesians 5:22-23), to provide a gentle, private correction to our brothers and sisters based upon scripture (II Timothy 3:16-17, Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15-17), and to be willing to be found wrong if someone has misunderstood or misjudged the conduct or behavior of another believer (James 3:1-2).