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Archive for the ‘Self-deception’ Category

If you ever took a class on expository preaching, you would have heard the line about the preacher who had written a great sermon and now needed a scripture to go along with it. Unfortunately, that scenario gets played out too often. The Scriptures become something to use instead of the Word of God to heed.

The Bible gets especially abused by professing Christians who seek scriptural support for their agenda, and one of the most egregious abuses concerns their utilization of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (ESV).

“Christian” apologists for homosexuals and transgenders emphasize the “no male and female” part of that verse. Their claim is that since Christians “are all one in Christ Jesus,” God has demolished the categories of male and female. Sexual categories are irrelevant, so if a person is born female and believes she is really male, what the person feels is more important than what her biology reveals.

Such cherry-picking of Scripture to validate one’s cause reveals naiveté at best and dishonesty at worst. First, the Scriptures affirm the categories of male and female. God created humanity in his image and defined them as male and female (Genesis 1:27). As David writes, from our mothers’ wombs we “are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). Those who refuse to submit to the sex in which they were created are telling God that his work is flawed and they are going to fix it. The creature “corrects” the Creator.

Second, Scripture condemns attempts to invalidate one’s manhood and womanhood. This is why homosexuality is condemned in both the Old and New Testament. Romans 1:26-28 leaves little doubt: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:26–28, ESV).

Third, Galatians 3:28 is not speaking to gender but to status. In Christ Jesus there is nothing that distinguishes one believer from another as far as those things we use for status. A Jew is not superior to a Greek, a free man is not superior to a slave, and a male is not superior to a female. In Christ we all have equal standing. That does not change our ethnicity, social position, or sexuality, but we cannot use our ethnicity, social position, or sexuality to claim a superior position over others.

In Luke 11:28 Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (ESV). We are to conform our will to God’s will, and we do that only as we submit to his Word. God, however, has expressly warned against misusing his Word:

“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2, ESV).

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32, ESV).

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18–19, ESV).

Frankly, people who use Galatians 3:28 to affirm what Scripture condemns are guilty of dishonesty. They read into the text what they want it to say, not what the author of the text intended. Forsaking legitimate exegesis, they are guilty of eisegesis of the worst sort. And God will not hold them guiltless, for they have dared to reduce the holy Scriptures to the status of clay, fashioning it after the likeness of their fallenness, and have subsumed God’s will to their own. Claiming that the Bible says what it clearly does not say merely compounds one’s guilt for choosing to condone what God has condemned.

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The words in the title are lifted from a line in D. A. Carson’s Worship by the Book and provoked some thoughts pertaining to how we view worship.

We mortals are quite adept at finding ways to admire ourselves even when we appear to be admiring something else. Literary societies doubtlessly have many members who are less enthralled with good books than they are enthralled with others’ perceiving them as being enthralled with good books. They like the idea of fine books and may have even read some of them, but they like even better the esteem others place upon them for liking fine books. As others have pointed out, these folk admire themselves for admiring the sunset.

We can do the same thing in our churches, especially our churches which are associated with Reformed theology. Other churches are just seeking fun and entertainment and more decisions to gain more members to build larger and finer buildings in order to have even greater fun and entertainment—all in the name of worship and the glory of God, but we see through such things. We are more noble, more God-centered, more concerned about truth. We are not like all those others.

We find at least a couple of problems here. First, we have managed to make ourselves superior to others. Those poor, deluded folks go to church because of family or tradition or earning God’s favor or wanting to appear religious or get a spiritual high or whatever, but we . . . . Jesus illustrated such a spirit with these words: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (Luke 18:10-12).

Even as we acknowledge the reality of grace, that only by God’s grace do we see what we see and understand what we understand, we manage to elevate ourselves to a position of superiority. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18) should serve as a constant warning to us.

A second problem with the attitude of putting ourselves above others is that we are guilty of admiring ourselves admire God instead of admiring and pursuing God. We admire ourselves for admiring truth instead of actually admiring and pursuing truth. We admire ourselves for understanding something of the centrality of God in worship instead of actually and intentionally worshiping God. We admire ourselves not succumbing to the entertainment-driven mindset of our day instead of focusing upon God in every hymn we sing, in every prayer we pray, in every creed we recite, and in every sermon we hear.

We recognize that worship is not about us. It’s about God. We know that truth is not about us. It’s about God. We know this and express this, and yet the focus manages to drift back to us. We admire ourselves for admiring God and find ourselves not really admiring God at all. With the apostle Paul we find ourselves doing what we hate and failing to do what we ought. His words become ours:  “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

What to do? There are probably more than these, but four suggestions come to mind. First, we have to recognize that admiring ourselves for admiring even the most noble pursuit, the pursuit of God, is sin. We must confess our sin to God for elevating ourselves above others, and we must repent and seek his forgiveness.

Second, we must be conscious of our weakness and call upon God to aid us. We must be aware of our tendency to exalt self, and we must rebuke ourselves whenever we find our gaze shifting from the Almighty.

Third, we must keep the truth of grace ever before us. Indeed, not only are we capable of following the lead of the world, we have actually done it: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Whoever we are and whatever we believe result solely from the grace of God. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Fourth, we must be conscious of our fleshly ability to substitute ourselves for God, to usurp his place, and we must consciously and intentionally focus upon him. Keeping our gaze upon him reveals his beauty and his holiness and his matchless glory. May God alone be the desire of our hearts.

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Sometimes we find a preacher unwilling to cave to the craving by our culture for a gospel which satisfies their earthly desires. One of our Cornerstone members sent me a link to this video of Paul Washer. Some may think Washer is too harsh or unnecessarily strident. The same charge has been leveled throughout history at men who opposed false teachers. Our Lord himself declared to his religious antagonists,

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44, ESV).

We have witnessed what Washer denounces, the “preaching into heaven” of someone who gave no indication of following Christ outside of “walking the aisle” and praying “the sinner’s prayer” when he was a child.

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Often persons think that being a member of a local assembly of Christians makes them right with God individually. If that were true, the apostle Paul would not have admonished: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV). Just because we are associated with others who are following Christ does not necessarily mean that each one of us is following Christ individually.

The Bible clearly tells us to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). If anyone in an evangelical church is asked whether he has repented of his sins and believes the gospel, he is likely to answer in the affirmative. One cannot help but question the sincerity of a person’s repentance and belief if that person is known to sin without concern. Far too many professing Christians miss worship on Sunday because they had rather hunt or fish or even do work that is not required to be done. Church members make ungodly statements on Facebook, fail to return things borrowed, fail to acknowledge all their income when paying taxes. In these and many other ways, professing believers reveal the insincerity of their repentance.

Thomas Manton (1620-1677) gave us this warning: “If an unregenerate man should leave off sin under fear of death or hell, it would not be out of hatred to sin, but out of the fear of the punishment, as the bird is kept from the bait by the scarecrow.” Similarly, William Gurnall (1617-1679) wrote: “Take heed thou prayest not with a reservation, be sure thou renounces what thou wouldst have God remit. God will never remove the guilt as long as thou entertains the sin. . . . It is desperate folly to desire God to forgive what thou intends to commit. Thou hadst as good speak out, and ask leave to sin with impunity, for God knows the language of thy heart, and needs not thy tongue to be an interpreter. . . . Hypocrisy is too thin a veil to blind the eyes of the Almighty. Thou mayest put thy own eyes out, so as not to see Him; but thou canst never blind His eyes that He should not see thee.”

Someone may immediately protest: “You have no right to question the genuineness of my repentance and faith in Christ just because I attend worship irregularly or because I make some comments you disapprove.” The purpose here is not for any of us to examine anyone else. The purpose before us is to examine ourselves. Paul wrote: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” We need to ask ourselves: “Do I truly repent of my sins? Am I really trusting in Christ? If I am, what does my life say about my profession?”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) provides counsel as applicable today as when he penned his thoughts: “By repentance we must lament and forsake our sins, and by faith we must receive the forgiveness of them. By repentance we must give glory to our Creator whom we have offended; by faith we must give glory to our Redeemer who came to save us from our sins. Both these must go together; we must not think either that reforming our lives will save us without trusting in the righteousness and grace of Christ, or that trusting in Christ will save us without the reformation of our hearts and lives. Christ hath joined these two together, and let no man think to put them asunder. They will mutually assist and befriend each other. Repentance will quicken faith, and faith will make repentance evangelical; and the sincerity of both together must be evidenced by a diligent conscientious obedience to all God’s commandments. Thus the preaching of the gospel began, and thus it continues; still the call is, Repent, and believe, and live a life of repentance and a life of faith.”

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On June 25, 2009, the news of the death of Michael Jackson was greeted with shock and disbelief. Madonna was crushed: “I can`t stop crying over the sad news. The world has lost one of the greats, but his music will live on forever.” Dick Clark commented: “Of all the thousands of entertainers I have worked with, Michael was the most outstanding. Many have tried and will try to copy him, but his talent will never be matched.”

Admittedly, and probably unsurprisingly, I fail to share the reaction of the Madonnas and Dick Clarks of the world. I have never enjoyed Mr. Jackson’s music and find neither his dancing nor his lifestyle as particularly attractive models for boys aspiring to manhood.

The news of Mr. Jackson’s death and the attendant round-the-clock analysis of his life and death, however, does have some important lessons for us. Here are a few observations.

First, the masses have no concept of the holiness and justice of God. The throngs who are grieving the death of a popular entertainer are unconcerned that he will stand before the absolutely holy God to be condemned to an eternal hell. There is no evidence that Mr. Jackson feared God and repented of his sin. There exists no evidence that Mr. Jackson believed on the crucified Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Doubtlessly, Mr. Jackson died in a lost state and awaits divine condemnation. Indeed, the entertainer was reared as a Jehovah’s Witness and is rumored to have converted to Islam. Whether the rumor is true or not, there is no evidence he ever trusted in Christ, evidence in either word or lifestyle.

Unfortunately, though, such is the position of most mortals. This world and its pleasure is what drives the thinking of the masses. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Universal amnesia fails to recognize the reality of Hebrews 9:27: “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

Second, Michael Jackson’s life is one to be pitied, not admired. He led an incredibly empty and self-indulgent life. Drugs were his comfort; fantasy was his existence. After all, his estate was named Neverland, a kind of dream-land utopia. His lavish lifestyle revealed a heart never satisfied, always looking for pleasure and comfort in the excesses of debauchery.

Few people can look upon Mr. Jackson’s self-indulgence, however, from a position of moral superiority. Most people do not engage in hedonism to the extent which Mr. Jackson displayed simply because they do not have the funds or influence to do so. They would if they could, as evidenced when someone wins a multi-million dollar lottery. He soon comes to ruin as the innate desire to indulge his fantasies now finds no limitation due by a lack of funds. No sacrifice, no living for others, no submission to a holy God. It’s all about fun and frolic.

Third, fame and fortune will not ward off death. We live in a fallen world, disease and danger abound, and death awaits all. Michael Jackson had physicians and health care at his beck and call, but death would not be averted.

But what about us? How many of us awake in the morning with the conscious recognition that this very day may be the last of our mortal existence? Though written centuries ago, Thomas Adams’ words ring true today: “All are like actors on a stage, some have one part and some another, death is still busy amongst us; here drops one of the players, we bury him with sorrow, and to our scene again: then falls another, yea all, one after another, till death be left upon the stage. Death is that damp which puts out all the dim lights of vanity. Yet man is easier to believe that all the world shall die, than to suspect himself.”

But we shall die, and then what? As followers of Jesus Christ, we live not in depression because of impending death, and neither do we ignore the reality of it. We face it head on, knowing that Christ himself suffered our judgment on the cross and conquered death through his resurrection. The apostle Paul instructs: “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:55-58).

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How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, the Lord will provide”?

It is true that God provides many things. He brings the warmth of the sun and the refreshing of the rain upon the just and the unjust. He guides the steps of his followers so that they walk according to his will. He provides comfort and consolation to his children when they lose a loved one to death. God provides the material needs essential for his work to progress.

Yet many times the statement that “God will provide” is a blasphemy against God. Think about this scenario: a married man who professes to be a Christian wants to buy a second car. It’s an inconvenience to get by with one car, so having a second car would prove helpful.

Unfortunately, the man’s credit is a disgrace. He has unpaid bills that go back for years. His present income struggles to provide his family’s needs and pay a little each month on his accumulated debts. Now he wants to buy a car on credit.

How does he justify his anticipated purchase? “The Lord will provide.”

Such a person is guilty of the sin of presumption. He presumes that God will bail him out of the mess the man is making for himself. He is not exhibiting faith. He is exhibiting presumption.

In addition, he is justifying yet another irresponsible decision by invoking the name of God. He is not honoring the name of God. He is guilty of using God’s name in vain.

Such a position is really that of a fool. A fool gives little thought to the future (which brings to mind all the clamoring for “bailout money” by public officials who never tire of borrowing against an uncertain tomorrow to stave off the need for sacrifice and suffering today).

William Jenkyn (1612-85) lamented: “Fools are always futuring.” Unfortunately, too many who claim the name of Christ, ministers included, continue to be guilty of such folly.

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A danger for many Christians is they worry they do not believe in Christ intensely enough. They worry that their faith is not strong enough.

The Bible, though, does not speak of the quantity of our faith. Faith is a resting, a trusting in Christ, a belief that Christ died upon the cross in the place of the repentant sinner. Christ took upon himself the wrath of God and counted the believing sinner righteous. The apostle Paul writes: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). We do not have faith in our faith; we have faith in Christ.

Unfortunately, this is not the greatest problem facing the church today. A far greater problem is the great number who take salvation for granted. They are certain that God will accept them after death because they’ve responded to a call to be saved or perhaps decided to join the church or to reform their living. When questioned about their coming to Christ, they may respond with something like this: “I recognized that I was a sinner and destined for hell, so I asked Jesus to come into my heart.”

I hope they are simply stating poorly what took place. Being right with God is not merely a desire to circumvent hell, and “asking Jesus into one’s heart” is a most unfortunate, not to mention “unbiblical,” phrase. Where is repentance? Where is faith? Where is the cross? Where is the atoning death of Christ in this understanding?

I fear that multitudes who have responded to an invitation to receive Christ and have subsequently joined a church are living in self-deception. They’ve not repented of their sin. They’ve not believed upon the crucified Christ as their only hope of being right with God. Their lives are much like their unchurched neighbors. They pay their bills, mow their lawns, vote on election day, and obey the laws. They know nothing, however, of forgiveness and justification because they really do not know Christ. They simply want to avoid hell.

Nothing is new, of course. In his Alarm to Unconverted Sinners, seventeenth-century English minister Joseph Alleine wrote:

All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert; he loves not only the wages, but the work of Christ; not only the benefits, but the burden of Christ; he is willing not only to tread out the corn, but to draw under the yoke; he takes up the command of Christ, yea, the cross of Christ.

The unsound closeth by halves with Christ: he is all for the salva­tion of Christ, but he is not for sanctification; he is for the privileges, but appropri­ates not the person of Christ; he divides the offices and benefits of Christ. This is an error in the foundation. Whoso loveth life, let him beware here; it is an undoing mistake, of which you have been often warned, and yet none is more common.

Jesus is a sweet name, but men “love not the Lord Jesus in sincerity.” They will not have him as God offers, “to be a Prince and a Saviour.” They divide what God has joined, the king and the priest; yea, they will not accept the salvation of Christ as he intends it; they divide it here.

Every man’s vote is for salvation from suffering; but they desire not to be saved from sinning; they would have their lives saved, but withal would have their lusts. Yea, many divide here again; they would be content to have some of their sins destroyed, but they cannot leave the lap of Delilah, or divorce the beloved Herodias; they cannot be cruel to the right eye or right hand; the Lord must pardon them in this thing. O be carefully scrupulous here; your soul depends upon it.

The sound convert takes a whole Christ, and takes him for all intents and purposes, without exceptions, without limitations, without reserve. He is willing to have Christ upon any terms; he is willing to have the dominion of Christ, as well as deliverance by Christ; he saith, with Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Any thing, Lord. He sends the blank to Christ, to set down his own conditions.

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