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Buy The Truth

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Buy The Truth

By: Keith Keyser

 

Buy the truth, and do not sell it, Also wisdom and instruction and understanding.” Proverbs 23:23

Pontius Pilate’s cynical query “What is truth?” could be the motto of the modern age. The very concept of absolute truth is disbelieved, negated, or ignored by people of all walks of life. Once upon a time moral relativism was the unique worldview of ivory tower academics, overly speculative philosophers, and libertine authors and artists. From the avant-garde and the intellectual elites, however, this way of thinking has now trickled down to the masses – a phenomenon witnessed in countless contemporary songs and films, as well as in the shifting standards of public and private ethics. Against this devaluing of moral absolutes stands the eternal God of truth, who counsels us to “Buy the truth and do not sell it…” (Prov. 23:23.)

The Source Of Truth

Deuteronomy 32:4 describes the Almighty in this manner: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.” Isaiah also calls Him “the God of truth” (Is. 65:16.) Another psalm gives a similar description: “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Ps. 86:15.) Elsewhere He is addressed as the “Lord God of truth” (Ps. 31:5.) When God manifested Himself in flesh in the person of His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, He affirmed “I am the way, the truth, & the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6.) Put negatively, the Scripture says that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2.) Clearly these verses teach that truth is an aspect of the Divine nature. It is in keeping with who God is, what He says, and everything that He does. Moreover, apart from the Lord, man’s comprehension of the truth is skewed by his sin and incomplete as a result of human fallen-ness.

If people are to discover the truth, they must learn it from the God who is truth. Happily, He discloses Himself in His written Word, the Bible. His usage of the commercial metaphor of purchase for the acquisition of this knowledge demonstrates the seriousness of this pursuit. It is not an endeavor for the half-hearted or the dilettante. A seeker of the truth must be serious and willing to pay a price for gaining the truth.

Appraising Something Priceless

Truth commands a high price: it demands a genuine reception of the living God and His Word at the expense of human thinking and personal preferences. Three quotations from a trio of classic expositors show that nothing is too dear to be given up for the joy of obtaining this greatest of all treasures. As Brooks points out: “Remember you can never over-buy it, whatsoever you give for it; you can never sufficiently sell it, if you should have all the world in exchange for it.”[1] The celebrated Prince of preachers agrees, saying:

the text seems to tell us, that truth is the one pearl beneath the skies that is worth having, and whatever else we buy not, we must buy the truth, and whatever else we may have to sell, yet we must never sell the truth, but hold it fast as a treasure that will last us when gold has cankered, and silver has rusted, and the moth has eaten up all goodly garments, and when all the riches of men have gone like a puff of smoke, or melted in the heat of the judgment day like the dew in the beams of the morning sun…You may give all for it, but you may take nothing in exchange for it, since there is nothing that can be likened unto it.[2]

Lastly, the eloquent words of Matthew Henry manifest the incomparable value of the truth:

When we choose rather to suffer loss in our temporal interest than to deny or neglect the truth then we buy it; and it is a pearl of such great price that we must be willing to part with all to purchase it, must make shipwreck of estate, trade, preferment, rather than of faith and a good conscience…We must not sell it. Do not part with it for pleasures, honors, riches, any things in this world. Do not neglect the study of it, nor throw off the profession of it, nor revolt from under the dominion of it, for the getting or saving of any secular interest whatsoever. Hold fast the form of sound words, and never let it go upon any terms.[3]

An Investment That Breaks The Bank

Personal knowledge of Christ transfers one into His kingdom (Jn. 3:3, 5; Col. 1:12-13.) The Lord Jesus described this kingdom in terms that evoke images of tremendous resources being expended, comparing it to a treasure hidden in a field and a pearl of great price (Matt. 13:44-46.) To obtain the former, the purchaser sells all that he possesses to purchase it; to acquire the latter, he buys the entire field where the treasure is hidden. In both metaphors, no price is too great to gain the kingdom; this is how it is with all aspects of God’s truth.

Paul understood this principle, asserting that “…what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8.) Reputation, religious attainments, and a carefully cultivated self-righteous façade were all cast aside in favor of “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus…” Indeed, in comparison with the personal knowledge of the Savior, Paul considered everything else in the world to be garbage, worthy of being discarded in order to gain the true treasure of the truth.

In Times Of Economic Uncertainty, Invest In The Truth

Buying the truth requires a revaluation of everything in life: God must be viewed as supreme, and everything else seen as subsidiary. Personal convictions need to be formed based on the Bible, not merely on one’s own opinions. On the other hand, the truth should never be sold for self-gratification, private comfort, and public reputation. Ironside aptly summarizes the issue:

…he who desires the approval of God above the praise of men will value…[the truth] nevertheless, and be ready to purchase it at the cost of friends, reputation, possessions, yea, life itself. Nor will he part with it whatever the suffering that may result from contending earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Rationalists may sneer, and the superstitious persecute; but he who possesses the truth will find with it wisdom, instruction and understanding such as all the wise men after the flesh are strangers to.[4]

The believer’s attitude must be: “God’s Word is true; I will obey Him though it costs me everything in this world – even my life itself.” One who buys God’s truth as revealed in Christ discovers that it gains one entrance into an eternal and unshakeable kingdom (Heb. 12:28-29.) As Jim Elliot famously put it: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”[5]


[1] Thomas Brooks,  “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices,” The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), p. 58.

[2] C.H. Spurgeon, “Buying the Truth,” Sermon No. 3449, June 26th 1870, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Vol. 61; Electronic edition: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/3449.htm  Accessed on 6/26/12. Italics original.

[3] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Pr 23:19–28 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), Electronic ed. (Logos.) Italics original.

[4] H. A. Ironside, Notes on the Book of Proverbs, (Neptune, N. J.: Loizeaux Bros, 1908), pp. 324-325. Brackets mine.

[5] Jim Elliot, Journal entry October 28, 1949, The Journals of Jim Elliot. (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1978), p. 174. See here for background on the quote: http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/faq/20.htm

To download in pdf., click here:  Buy The Truth

Killing The “God Is Dead” Lie

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14

On February 28, 2012 the atheistic theologian William Hamilton passed into eternity. He was best known for co-authoring the book Radical Theology And The Death Of God with fellow liberal scholar Thomas J.J. Altizer. This incendiary tome inspired Time magazine’s famous 1966 cover story “Is God Dead?” That article summed up the issues with which they wrestled thus:

Nietzsche’s thesis was that striving, self-centered man had killed God, and that settled that. The current death-of-God group believes that God is indeed absolutely dead, but proposes to carry on and write a theology without theos, without God. Less radical Christian thinkers hold that at the very least God in the image of man, God sitting in heaven, is dead, and—in the central task of religion today—they seek to imagine and define a God who can touch men’s emotions and engage men’s minds. If nothing else, the Christian atheists are waking the churches to the brutal reality that the basic premise of faith—the existence of a personal God, who created the world and sustains it with his love—is now subject to profound attack.[i]

Hamilton’s obituary explains that his questioning of God’s existence began with the accidental death of two religious friends, while a third atheistic friend was spared. He went on to cite the Holocaust as a major blow to his belief in God, in his words: “I wrote out my two choices: ‘God is not behind such radical evil, therefore he cannot be what we have traditionally meant by God’ or ‘God is behind everything, including the death camps — and therefore he is a killer.’”[i]

Two Facts That Vindicate God

Of course trite answers to the problem of evil and human suffering will not do. The harsh realities of history and contemporary life demand something more than shallow sound-bytes and Pollyanna-esque platitudes. Thankfully, the Bible devotes a great deal of space to exploring this problem that sooner or later touches every human life.

The struggle of modern radical theologians like the late Dr. Hamilton is largely a product of their prior rejection of the Bible as God’s Word. Two biblical truths in particular give a coherent defense of the Almighty’s character in the face of evil and human pain. The first is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the second is His empty tomb.

Boasting In The Cross

The cross clearly shows that God is interested in human beings, and is no mere spectator to their trials and sufferings. He is not an accomplice to atrocities like the Holocaust or 9/11; rather He is just and deems all such iniquity to be worthy of the severest judgment. If anyone questions whether the Almighty is impassive in the face of evil, they have only to look at the cross where He poured out His unrestrained wrath upon it. No wonder Paul boasted in this great act (see the verse at the top of the page), which demonstrated God’s love and righteousness, while striking a mortal blow to evil and pain. Human suffering is on borrowed time, for the sin that underlies it, has been dealt with by Christ on the cross.

The Creator’s knowledge of human pain transcends the theoretical, because God the Son took on flesh and suffered the death of the cross. In addition to the awful torture of crucifixion that He experienced at the hands of wicked men, He also suffered the unutterable divine wrath against sin. More than any other being He knows what pain is. Unlike men who have no choice about living in a world where suffering is commonplace, everything that the Son of God endured was voluntary. What is more, His substitutionary death on the cross makes it possible for people to escape eternal hellfire.

The Reports Of God’s Demise Have Been Mistaken

The second great truth that kills the “God is dead” lie is the glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus. After His ignominious and graphic death on the cross people wrongly assumed that that was the last they would see Christ. Nevertheless, three days later the Lord Jesus rose in power from the dead, at once proving His deity and the perfect accomplishment of His divinely ordained work. What is more, this astonishing miracle demonstrated that the grave does not have to have the final victory. Even the unimaginable pain of Christ’s death was overcome by His rising again. That is to say, when He had suffered beyond what any human being has ever suffered, the Lord triumphantly rose again, proving that no pain is insurmountable. Further, if we belong to the Lord, the sufferings of this life will be superseded by eternal blessedness in the future. As He told two of His disciples after the resurrection, “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Lk. 24:26.)

In turning away from the true and living God, people mistakenly abandon the only possible ground for hope in the face of human suffering. Among all of the belief systems of man – be they secular or spiritual – only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ offers the certain prospect of taking present sufferings and transforming them into future glories. Paul emphatically described this truth, affirming “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18.) Moreover, he understood that sufferings themselves are tools in God’s hand for transformation into the most beautiful image imaginable: that of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. As he said: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17.)  Like a skillful reconstructive surgeon, God applies the scalpel of suffering to cut away the grotesque and unseemly parts of human character and conform the resulting visage into His own glorious likeness. Removing God from the discussion of human suffering only removes all possibility of salvation from unremitting and pointless pain.

[i] “Is God Dead?”, Time magazine, April 8, 1966, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,835309,00.html#ixzz1o4yZ9zPG Accessed on March 3, 2012.

[1i] William Hamilton, from a 2007 interview with The Oregonian newspaper, quoted in his obituary of the Los Angeles Times wire service, March 3, 2012, “William Hamilton dies at 87; theologian questioned God’s existence” accessed here on 3/3/12: http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-william-hamilton-20120303,0,1455686.story

TO DOWNLOAD THE ARTICLE IN PDF., CLICK HERE: Killing The God Is Dead Lie

Timeless Truth From CHM

Monday, May 16th, 2011

To Download in pdf. click here: CHM – Josiah & God’s Word

“In studying the history of Josiah and his times, we learn one special and priceless lesson, namely, the value and authority of the Word of God. It would be utterly impossible for human language to set forth the vast importance of such a lesson — a lesson for every age, for every clime, for every condition — for the individual believer and for the whole Church of God. The supreme authority of Holy Scripture should be deeply impressed on every heart. It is the only safeguard against the many forms of error and evil which abound on every hand. Human writings, no doubt, have their value; they may interest the mind as a reference, but they are perfectly worthless as authority.

We need to remember this. There is a strong tendency in the human mind to lean upon human authority. Hence it has come to pass that millions throughout the professing Church have virtually been deprived altogether of the Word of God, from the fact that they have lived and died under the delusion that they could not know it to be the Word of God apart from human authority. Now this is in reality, throwing the Word of God overboard. If that Word is of no avail without man’s authority, then, we maintain, it is not God’s Word at all. It does not matter, in the smallest degree, what the authority is, the effect is the same. God’s Word is declared to be insufficient without something of man to give the certainty that it is God that is speaking.

This is a most dangerous error, and its root lies far deeper in the heart than many of us are aware. It has often been said to us, when quoting passages of Scripture, ‘How do you know that that is the Word of God?’ What is the point of such a question? Plainly to overthrow the authority of the Word. The heart that could suggest such an inquiry does not want to be governed by Holy Scripture at all. The will is concerned. Here lies the deep secret. There is the consciousness that the Word condemns something that the heart wants to hold and cherish, and hence the effort to set the Word aside altogether.

But how are we to know that the book which we call the Bible is the Word of God? We reply, It carries its own credentials with it. It bears its own evidence upon every page, in every paragraph, in every line. True, it is only by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the divine Author of the book, that the evidence can be weighed and the credentials appreciated. But we do not want man’s voice to accredit God’s book; or, if we do, we are most assuredly on infidel ground as regards divine revelation. If God cannot speak directly to the heart — if He cannot give the assurance that it is He Himself who speaks, then where are we? whither shall we turn? If God cannot make Himself heard and understood, can man do it better? — can he improve upon God? Can man’s voice give us more certainty? Can the authority of the Church, the decrees of general councils, the judgement of the fathers, the opinion of the doctors, give us more certainty than God Himself? If so, we are just as completely at sea — just as thoroughly in the dark as though God had not spoken at all. Of course, if God has not spoken, we are completely in the dark; but if He has spoken, and yet we cannot know His voice without man’s authority to accredit it, where lies the difference? Is it not plain that if God in His great mercy has given us a revelation, it must be sufficient of itself; and on the other hand that any revelation which is not sufficient of itself cannot possibly be divine? And further, is it not equally plain that if we cannot believe what God says because He says it, we have no safer ground to go upon when man presumes to affix his accrediting seal?

Let us not be misunderstood. What we insist upon is this: the all-sufficiency of a divine revelation apart from and above all human writings — ancient, medieval, or modern. We value human writings; we value sound criticism; we value profound and accurate scholarship; we value the light of true science and philosophy; we value the testimony of pious travellers who have sought to throw light upon the sacred text; we value all those books that open up to us the intensely interesting subject of biblical antiquities; in short, we value everything that tends to aid us in the study of the Holy Scriptures: but after all, we return with deeper emphasis to our assertion as to the all-sufficiency and supremacy of the Word of God. That Word must be received on its own divine authority, without any human recommendation, or else it is not the Word of God to us. We believe that God can give us the certainty in our own souls that the Holy Scriptures are, in very deed, His own Word. If He does not give it, no man can; and if He does, no man need. Thus the inspired apostle says to his son Timothy, ‘Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of knowing of whom thou hast learned; and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 3: 14-15).

How did Timothy know that the Holy Scriptures were the Word of God? He knew it by divine teaching. He knew of whom he had learned. Here lay the secret. There was a living link between his soul and God, and he recognized in Scripture the very voice of God. Thus it must ever be. It will not do merely to be convinced in the intellect, by human arguments, human evidences, and human apologies, that the Bible is the Word of God; we must know its power in the heart and on the conscience by divine teaching; and when this is the case, we shall no more need human proofs of the divinity of the book than we need a rushlight at noonday to prove that the sun is shining. We shall then believe what God says because He says it, and not because man accredits it, nor because we feel it. ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.’ He did not want to go to the Chaldeans, or to the Egyptians, in order to find out from them if what he had heard was in reality the Word of God. No; he knew whom he had believed, and this gave him holy stability. He could say, beyond all question, ‘God has established a link between my soul and Himself, by means of His Word, which no power of earth or hell can ever snap.’ This is the true ground for every believer — man, woman, or child, in all ages and under all circumstances. This was the ground for Abraham and Josiah, for Luke and Theophilus, for Paul and Timothy; and it must be the ground for the writer and the reader of these words, else we shall never be able to stand against the rising tide of infidelity, which is sweeping away the very foundations on which thousands of professors are reposing.

However, we may well inquire, can a merely national profession, a hereditary faith, an educational creed, sustain the soul in the presence of an audacious scepticism that reasons about everything and believes nothing? Impossible! We must be able to stand before the sceptic, the rationalist, and the infidel, and say, in all the calmness and dignity of a divinely wrought faith, ‘I know whom I have believed.’ Then we shall be little moved by such books as, ‘The Phases of Faith,’ ‘Essays and Reviews,’ ‘Broken Lights,’ ‘Ecce Homo,’ or ‘Colenso.’ They will be no more to us than gnats in the sunshine. They cannot hide from our souls the heavenly beams of our Father’s revelation. God has spoken, and His voice reaches the heart. It makes itself heard above the din and confusion of this world, and all the strife and controversy of professing Christians. It gives rest and peace, strength and fixedness, to the believing heart and mind. The opinions of men may perplex and confound. We may not be able to thread our way through the labyrinths of human systems of theology; but God’s voice speaks in Holy Scripture — speaks to the heart — speaks to me. This is life and peace. It is all I want. Human writings may now go for what they are worth, seeing I have all I want in the ever-flowing fountain of inspiration — the peerless, precious volume of my God.”

Excerpted from C.H. Mackintosh, The Life & Times of Josiah, found here:  http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/mackintosh/Bk4/JOSIAH.html   Accessed on 5/15/11.

 

A Loving God Must Send The Lost To Hell

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: A Loving God Must Send People To Hell

A Loving God Must Send The Lost To Hell

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false
teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the
Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow
their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By
covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment
has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. For if God did not spare the
angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of
darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved
Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the
world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes,
condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would
live ungodly.”2 Peter 2:1-6

Recycling Old Lies

The recent publication of Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of
Every Person Who Ever Lived generated much commentary in the media, including interviews
with the eminent journalists George Stephanopoulos and Martin Bashir.i While denying that he is
a universalist, Bell makes contradictory statements that point in that heretical direction.ii Of
course, “evangelical” critiques of the Bible’s teaching on eternal punishment in the lake of fire
are nothing new. During the past thirty years various prominent scholars have vacillated on this
controversial issue, while others have denied it outright.iii Some prominent nineteenth-century
evangelical scholars also had difficulties with this doctrine – F.W. Farrar and Andrew Jukes to
name a few.iv Human doubts and opinions notwithstanding, the clear teaching of the Bible
affirms that the holy God of the Universe will consign unrepentant sinners to eternal punishment
in the lake of fire (e.g. Mk. 9:38-50; Rom. 2:4-11; Rev. 20:10-15.) Peter warned that such false
teachers would arise; thus one should not be surprised to read of heresies like this universalism
and annihilationism reappearing in modern times.
As horrible as it may be to contemplate the future perdition of the lost, eternal punishment
shows that God is righteous and loving. If the Almighty did not judge sin and evil, then He
would be an accomplice to every wicked thought and act ever committed by men on planet earth.
If there is no justice beyond this world, then the heinous deeds of men against their fellow
creatures would be unresolved. It would mean that God does not care about the damage that sin
does to people made in His image. Genocide, war, corruption, oppression, and perversions of
every kind would go unpunished; therefore, the Lord would be saying that He is uncaring toward
those who are hurt by these sins. Hitler, Stalin, Mao and many other tyrants would escape any
reckoning for their lives of iniquity and dissipation. The cross of Christ pronounced judgment
upon this wicked world, for only the redemptive work of Christ – which entailed His
unparalleled suffering for sin in all of its foulness – could adequately provide a payment for such
evil (John 3:18-21; Gal. 6:14; Eph. 1:7.)
Rather than being indifferent or unfeeling toward the plight of fallen humanity, God’s wrath
shows that He loves and cares for His creation. He is “…not willing that any should perish,” and
so has made a way through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ for everyone to receive the forgiveness
of sins and eternal life (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4-5.) In His longsuffering, He is waiting for human
beings to repent – that is, to change their minds about God and themselves. They must see that
God is holy and good; conversely, they must understand that they are sinners deserving of
judgment and eternal wrath. Then, they must receive the Lord Jesus, confessing Him as their
only Lord and Savior, Who died on the cross to bear their punishment and extend to them eternal
life (John 1:12; John 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:24-25; Rom. 10:9.) He rose again to vindicate His claims as
the Messiah and Son of God, and now lives to intercede in heaven for those who trust Him (Heb.
7:21-28.) But His longsuffering will not last forever. One day He will judge those who reject His
light (2 Pet. 2:9; 2 Thes. 1:6-10.)

Righteous & Holy Love Wins

Because He loves mankind, God does not minimize sin or sweep it under the rug. He insists on
judging all of it. That is why the Lord’s sufferings on the cross were so awful: He was judged for
sin in all of its loathsomeness. His work enables the great exchange: human sin for divine
righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21.) If impenitent people spurn His loving offer of grace, life, and
forgiveness through Christ, then the only destiny that remains for them is banishment to an
eternal hell, where the enormity of rejecting an infinitely good and beautiful God will be
adequately recompensed. If He did not do this, then all of His attributes – including His
righteousness, holiness, goodness, and love – would be impugned. If He does not pour out
everlasting wrath upon sin and evil then He would not be true to His own character, Word, and
justice. By not punishing sin to the fullest extent possible, He would effectively say that evil does
not matter, which is tantamount to saying that people do not matter. Humans matter to God – so
much so, that His Son took on human flesh and died to save sinners. A God of love has already
done all that He can do to save His creatures. If they go their own way, then they make a choice
with eternal ramifications, resulting in their eternal separation from their Maker. In doing so,
they separate themselves from the source of light, life, and goodness. All that remains outside of
Him is darkness, the second death, torment, and defilement (Rev. 22:11.)

i For a good audio interview with Martin Bashir regarding his thoughts on his interview with Bell, see here:
http://www.faithtalk1500.com/LocalHosts/9/ ; Bashir’s original interview may be viewed here:
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/03/15/msnbc-martin-bashirs-interview-with-rob-bell/ Both of
these links were accessed on 3/22/11.
ii For critical & informative reviews of Rob Bell’s book, see the following links: http://www.challies.com/bookreviews/
love-wins-a-review-of-rob-bells-new-book ;
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/#more-3855 ;
http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/03/16/we-have-seen-all-this-before-rob-bell-and-the-reemergence-of-liberaltheology/?
utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AlbertMohlersBlog+%28Alber
t+Mohler%27s+Blog%29 ; http://www.sbts.edu/resources/event/love-wins-a-conversation-on-rob-bells-new-book/
All of these links were accessed on 3/22/11.
iii John R.W. Stott would be in the vacillating camp (after writing an article advocating annihilationism, he later
back-tracked & now apparently considers himself an agnostic on the subject of future punishment.) Meanwhile, the
late theologian Clark Pinnock and writer Brian McLaren both deny a literal, eternal hell. For a survey of evangelical
views on Annihilationism, see J.I. Packer, “Evangelical Annihilationism In Review,” found here:
http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/ji_packer/Packer.Annihilationisminreview.html#11 Accessed on 3/22/11.
iv The nineteenth century challenges to the biblical doctrine of hell were ably answered by F.W. Grant, (Facts &
Theories As To The Future State, found here: http://biblecentre.org/topics/fwg_facts_and_theories.htm ) & Sir
Robert Anderson (Human Destiny , found here: http://www.gospelhall.org/bible-teaching/sir-robert-anderson–
human-destiny.html ); the links were accessed on 3/22/11.

Secular Idolatry

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Try as they might, modern naturalists are unable to escape the concept of God. A quote from Stony Brook University’s late evolutionary theorist Dr. George C. Williams demonstrates this tendency:

Though a major expositor of evolutionary theory, Dr. Williams was always aware that his explanations were a work in progress and that they might in principle be superseded by better ones. Evolutionary theory, as stated by its great 20th-century masters Ronald Fisher, J. B. S. Haldane and Sewall Wright, ‘may not, in any absolute sense, represent the truth,’ Dr. Williams wrote at the conclusion of his book on adaptation, ‘but I am convinced that it is the light and the way.’[i]

In suppressing the truth of God, who is the true Creator, he ascribed divine attributes to unthinking, impersonal natural forces. The Lord Jesus Christ – “the way, the truth, and the life” – is supplanted by created things (Jn. 14:6); elsewhere He is called “the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12.) In essence, this is secular idolatry: assigning divine qualities to natural phenomena. For men to do this is nothing new, for Romans 1:25 details mankind’s past departure from the knowledge of their Maker: “[they]…exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

If men refuse to adore the true God, they will venerate lesser imitation deities, for they are created to worship. In the ancient world, humans deified air, water, earth, and fire. Today the names are more sophisticated – Evolution with a capital “E,” for example – but the principle is the same. In reverencing the creation, they cut themselves off from true light and truth, as well as the only way to God (Acts 4:12.) What is more, they have no salvation from their sin. They become like what they worship. Faith in evolution will never free one from addiction and self-destructive behavior; nor will it function as an incentive to righteousness. Only the Lord Jesus can save man and give him the power to consistently overcome sin.[ii]


[i] Nicholas Wade, obituary: “George C. Williams, 83, Theorist on Evolution, Dies.” The New York Times, published 9/13/10, electronic edition accessed here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14williams.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss Accessed on 9/14/10.

[ii] Like other unbelievers, evolutionists possess moral sense and often do “good” things. This is evidence of the conscience that God created within all men (Rom. 2:15.) Nonetheless, consistent righteous behavior requires the work of God by His Holy Spirit, Who is given to those who receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (See Gal. 5 & Rom. 6-8.) Conversely, when genuine Christians behave unrighteously, they are living inconsistent with their salvation, and are ceding control to the flesh rather than the indwelling Holy Spirit.

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Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts On Galatians – Part 4

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

“As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” Galatians 1:9-10.

When is a gospel not a gospel? According to Galatians the answer is: “When someone tampers with the original gospel given to the apostles by Christ.” Paul declares that the new message being proclaimed by the Judaizers in their midst was a gospel of a fundamentally different type (vv. 6-7.)[i] Its proponents apparently referred to it as a “gospel,” yet it was not actually “good news” for it could not deal with man’s sin problem or satisfy the holy God. Instead it was a message tailored to human preferences, calculated to win over spiritually undiscerning and fleshly religionists. It had a veneer of morality and Biblicism, but it was a counterfeit gospel. Pleasing God or pleasing men is the fulcrum on which a true message stands or falls. The genuine gospel enables the Judge of all the earth to righteously forgive, justify, and reconcile sinful people to Himself. False variations on the glad tidings merely enhance the religious reputations and self-righteous pride of deluded, fallen men.

Cursed Preachers

The gravity of preaching a false message of salvation may be surmised by the extreme penalty called for by the apostle: “Let him be accursed.” This strong word is the famed anathema which means “…something delivered up to divine wrath, dedicated to destruction and brought under a curse…The controlling thought here is that of the delivering up to the judicial wrath of God of one who ought to be ἀνάθεμα because of his sin.[ii] The Old Testament Greek translation, the Septuagint uses this word to render herem, a notorious term for devoting something to destruction at God’s instruction (e.g. Achan in Josh. 7:1.) If one of Israel’s cities was guilty of embracing false gods, they were to be accursed and accordingly must be destroyed. Deuteronomy 13:15-17:

Wiping out, you shall wipe out all the inhabitants of that city by slaughter by dagger; with an anathema, you shall anathematize it, and everything in it. And all of its spoil you shall gather into its streets, and you shall burn with fire the city and all its spoil with its population, before the Lord your God. It shall remain uninhabited forever, never to be rebuilt. Nothing from that which is anathema shall stick to your hand so that the Lord may turn from the heat of his anger, and he shall give you mercy and be merciful to you and multiply you, as the Lord swore to your fathers.[iii]

Obviously, departing from the true gospel is a serious matter! Whether in the Old or New Testament, teaching a false approach to God puts one under the divine curse. This sentence results in the Almighty’s wrath for the accursed one. As Paul says elsewhere: “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16:22.) Amazingly, the Son of God willingly became a curse so that He might redeem believers from the curse of a broken law (Gal. 3:13.) There will be no anathema for those who love and receive Him by being born again through faith in His word (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 8:1.)

Lasting Truth That Needs No Improvement

When the apostle speaks of the gospel that they “received,” he employs the aorist tense. Cole points out the word’s nuanced usage: “…while it should not be overstressed, [it] probably conveys something of the thought of the ‘once-for-all’ nature of the faith delivered to the Galatians. Paul preached it; they received it. That was a decisive experience, not a tentative or temporary position, to be outgrown later, as perhaps suggested by the Judaizers.”[iv] God had not altered His message, for there was nothing that needed to be added to His redemptive work through Christ. When the Lord Jesus said: “It is finished,” it was a completed propitiatory sacrifice. The Father added His a-men in the resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:24, 30-36; Rom. 1:4.) Nothing needed to be added, and certainly nothing could be subtracted from this perfect work.

The Inconvenient Truth

What is Paul trying to accomplish in preaching the gospel? He affirms that he is neither seeking human approval nor popularity. The English Standard Version accurately captures the sense of the expression: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” In the past, human opinion loomed large in his thinking. When he says “if I still pleased men” he is doubtless thinking back to his pre-conversion career as an up-and-coming, heresy-hunting rabbi. He was self-righteous, arrogant, confident in his moral rectitude, and in the rightness of his cause. When he met the risen Christ, however, it all changed. He went from self-seeking Saul to Christ-exalting “Paul,” signifying “little.”[v] His ministry was not motivated out of a desire for human acclaim, but rather that he might please the Lord who saved him. He was decidedly a bondservant of Christ (v. 10.)

Pleasing men and pleasing God are two diametrically opposed ambitions. If one pleases one it is impossible to please the other. The gospel of Christ demands complete obedience, permitting no rivals. His message is odious to fallen humanity, for it sets aside human merit and effort. It makes a sham of man’s pretended righteousness and religiosity, demanding instead, death and resurrection. The old man is not improved, he is crucified. The old life is not spruced up, it is supplanted by an altogether new resurrected life – that of the Lord Jesus Himself. It has been well-said: “Jesus did not come into this world to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.”[vi]

Losing Life In This World To Gain It In The Next

Like the apostles, modern Christians must proclaim the gospel of God’s grace in Christ apart from human notions of religion and pretended spirituality. Preaching the real gospel will set the church at variance with the spirit of the age. Believers will not receive applause in the world; nevertheless, at the judgment seat of Christ they will receive crowns (Phil. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:8; Jms. 1:12.) Contemporary people seek gospels that will gratify their egos and enhance their reputations. Yet these false paths only lead to spiritual destruction under God’s curse (Prov. 14:12.) Only the gospel that Paul preached may be trusted to transform and eternally save those who receive it.


[i] Consider verses 6-7: I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” NASB & Mr. Vine’s remarks on the Greek words for “different” & “another”: Guided by Paul’s usage elsewhere the words may be paraphrased, ‘Unto a gospel which differs so radically from that which I preached to you that it is not another gospel, for it is not a gospel at all.’ This was the explanation of the Judaizers, theirs was a gospel with a difference; and this the reply of the apostle, so great is the difference that what they preach is not a gospel at all. He cannot allow them even the name. He preached salvation by grace through faith, they preached salvation by law through works; the two, he asserts, are incompatible, and must be antagonistic to the end, cp. Romans 11:6.W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Galatians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic edition (Logos.)

[ii]Johannes Behm, “anathema” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1. Ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley & Gerhard Friedrich. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964. electronic ed. (Logos) p. 354.

[iii] A New English Translation of the Septuagint. Oxford: The University Press, 2009; electronic ed.: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/ Accessed on 9/2/10. Boldface mine.

[iv] R. Alan Cole, Galatians: An Introduction & Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1989, p. 82.

[v]James Strong, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997; electronic ed. (Logos.)

[vi] Ravi Zacharias, “There Is None Good But God,” from the devotion A Slice of Infinity, 3/17/2000; available here: http://www.rzim.org/resources/read/asliceofinfinity/todaysslice.aspx?aid=9036 Accessed on 9/2/10.

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Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts on Galatians – Part 3

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Gal. 1:6-8

What could possibly surprise the veteran apostle who traveled across the Roman empire preaching to Jews and Gentiles from all walks of life and belief systems? Surely interacting with people from so many diverse cultures and having many varied experiences would prepare Paul for anything. Yet Galatians 1:6 registers his astonishment on account of the commencement of their sudden defection from the Lord. “I marvel that you are turning away so soon…” reveals both the apostle’s perplexity and the illogical behavior of his Galatian converts. With very little struggle – “so soon” – they were beginning to embrace an aberrant counterfeit of the genuine glad tidings of the Lord Jesus. This was not merely an alternate strain of Christian thought; rather, the Galatians risked losing the truth of Christ entirely by dabbling in a false Gospel.

If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

New teachers arrived in Galatia propounding a “new and improved” gospel, which differed significantly from the original version that they heard from Paul. True, they had not deleted anything from the message: they apparently still professed to believe in the deity of Christ and the inspiration of the Bible. The error lay in what they had added to the glad tidings. They suggested that the Mosaic Law was necessary for justification and sanctification. In other words, salvation depended on faith in Christ plus adherence to the law (especially circumcision and kosher food laws.) Tampering with the Gospel is extremely dangerous. John 17:3 explains the momentous issues involved: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Since its truths bring one into a living relationship with the Lord Himself, altering its tenets destroys the possibility of such a connection. In other words, adding to the gospel transforms it into spiritual cyanide.

The false doctrine being foisted upon the Galatians was particularly dangerous, because it had a veneer of morality and religion about it. Those preaching it professed to be Christians, and – judging by certain allusions in Galatians 1 and 2 – claimed to represent the latest doctrinal teaching in the Jerusalem church. The fact that Paul says “Though we or an angel from heaven preach…” (v. 8) indicates that they were charismatic preachers, who seemed to carry equal weight with the apostles. Like a glorious angel, they looked and sounded good. One commentator describes the pervasive threat from this kind of false teaching:

The most destructive dangers to the church have never been atheism, pagan religions, or cults that openly deny Scripture, but rather supposedly Christian movements that accept so much biblical truth that their unscriptural doctrines seem relatively insignificant and harmless. But a single drop of poison in a large container can make all the water lethal. And a single false idea that in any way undercuts God’s grace poisons the whole system of belief. Paul would not tolerate a single drop of legalism being intermixed with God’s pure grace. To turn away from any part of the grace of Christ is to turn away from the power of God to that of human effort.[i]

It was obvious to the Galatians that pagan beliefs like Mithraism and Stoic philosophy were false; but the Judaizing doctrine was especially attractive because it came from supposedly familiar sources. Paul later warned the Ephesian elders of “savage wolves” coming from outside their assemblies. More troubling, however, was the caution that he gave regarding imposters from within their meetings who would speak perverse things in order to build up their own following (Acts 20:28-31.) Even today the worst enemies of the truth often arise from evangelical circles (e.g. the Emergent Church movement.) Regardless of how appealing the spokesman looks or sounds, if they add to or subtract from the biblical gospel, they must be rejected.

In Danger Of Becoming Doctrinal Quislings

Paul says that the Galatians are beginning to act in a spiritually disloyal manner. “Turning away” in verse 6 translates a word that was notorious for philosophical and political treachery. As Stott points out: “It signifies ‘to transfer one’s allegiance’. It is used of soldiers in the army who revolt or desert, and of men who change sides in politics or philosophy. Thus, a certain Dionysius of Heracleia, who left the Stoics to become a member of the rival philosophical school, an Epicurean, was called ho metathemenos, a ‘turncoat’.”[ii] The Septuagint, which is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, used the word to depict the effect that Jezebel had on King Ahab in 1 Kings 21:25.[iii] Her insidious influence turned him from nominal Jehovah-worship to the adoration of idols like Baal and Ashtoreth. In Galatians the Greek verb is in the middle voice affirming that the Galatians are actively removing themselves from the Lord by their embrace of error.[iv]

Abandoning The Savior

Tragically, they were deserting a person not a dogma. The New King James Version rightly capitalizes “Him” in verse 6, acknowledging that God is the One in view. It is no use claiming that it does not matter what one believes, so long as they have Jesus. Such drivel sounds appealing to Postmodern ears, but the Bible makes it clear that a relationship with the Living God through Christ is the result of believing in the Lord Jesus as the Son of God, and receiving by faith the benefits of His saving work through His sacrificial death, vindicating resurrection, and victorious ascension (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:16; 5:24; 20:30-31; Acts 4:12; Rom. 3:23-26; 5:1; 8:1; 10:9; etc.) As Boice powerfully describes it: “Embracing legalism means rejecting God, according to Paul’s reasoning, because it means substituting man for God in one’s life. It is significant that once again even in the space of a few words (‘who called you by the grace of Christ’) Paul reiterates the true nature of the gospel: (1) it is of God, for God does the calling, and (2) it is of grace rather than of merit.”[v] To depart from the apostolic gospel as it was first preached in Galatia is to put oneself under a false system which results in eternal damnation (1 Jn. 5:11-12.) Moreover, preachers of a fraudulent gospel place themselves squarely under God’s curse (Gal. 1:8-9.)

The Truth And Nothing But The Truth

Thankfully, the phrase “turning from” is in the present tense, meaning that the Galatians had not yet fully embraced the fake gospel. There was still time to adhere to the truth, and repudiate the Judaizers and their wicked perversion of the gospel. Paul asserts that some were “troubling” them. Indeed, to obscure Christ’s good news of grace and peace always troubles the church. Those who are really saved can never impassively accept a caricature of the glad tidings. Conversely, the genuine gospel unifies the people of God. “They were all together in one accord” is the great refrain of the early chapters of Acts as the Christians carried the Lord’s message forth to Jews and Gentiles. The famous hymn puts it well: “I love to tell the story for those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.”[vi] If believers genuinely love the Lord, they will love the New Testament gospel, and tenaciously hold to it against onslaughts from the religious and secular worlds.


[i] John MacArthur, Galatians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996; electronic ed. (Logos), p. 14.

[ii] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians : Only One Way. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1986, pp. 21-22; electronic ed. (Logos.)

Christian Maurer defines metatithemi thus: “‘…‎‘to turn from,’ ‘to fall away,’ ‘to become apostate,’…” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 8, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich. electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964, p. 161.

[iii] W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Galatians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic edition (Logos.)

A modern translation of the LXX of 1 Kgs. 21:25 reads: “Yet Achaab did act foolishly when he sold himself to do what was evil before the Lord , as his wife Jezebel led him astray.” (boldface mine, indicating the use of metatithemi; A New English Translation of the Septuagint, Oxford: The University Press, 2007, p. 316.) Available for free usage here: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/

[iv] W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Galatians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic edition (Logos.)

[v] James Montgomery Boice, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Galatians, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977; electronic ed.

[vi] A. Katherine Hankey, “I love to tell the story”, accessed at: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/i/l/ilttts.htm on 8/26/10.

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Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts on Galatians – Part 1

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Man intuitively yearns for freedom. Through the ages, numerous thinkers have suggested schemes for human liberty. Examples are readily found in the founding documents of my homeland, the United States; they are choked full of references to liberation from tyranny and oppression. Ironically of all the enslaving powers on earth, man is unable to achieve freedom from his vices and personal passions – things that are symptomatic of sin within the core of his being.

The Magna Carta Of Christian Liberty

Some people think that freedom from indwelling evil is to be attained through religious observance or esoteric disciplines. Due to their human origin, however, the world’s religions are powerless to liberate people from the thraldom of darkness that stems from their sin. In fact, religious people have no assurance of the forgiveness of sins which is a prerequisite for a relationship with the Creator God. Nor do human rites and ceremonies free one from sin’s power. There are many counterfeit paths to freedom, but only a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ by faith can free one from sin’s penalty and power – even from sin’s presence, eventually, when He returns.

The Epistle to the Galatians begins by affirming the divine origin of Paul’s apostleship and the gospel that he preached. In context, this was important to establish, for there were competing false-apostles propounding erroneous messages and methods of salvation to the Galatian churches (e.g. Gal. 6:12.) Likewise, in the modern world the biblical gospel is one among many competing truth claims. One must understand, however, that Christianity is based upon divine revelation, not on human thinking or ingenuity.

God’s Messenger Of Liberty

The messenger introduces himself in a manner that displays his credentials: “Paul, an apostle (not from men or through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)…” (Gal. 1:1.) He is an apostle, which is defined by one dictionary in these words: “One who fulfills the role of being a special messenger (generally restricted to the immediate followers of Jesus Christ, but also extended, as in the case of Paul, to other early Christians active in proclaiming the message of the gospel)—‘apostle, special messenger.’”[i] Another adds: “It always denotes a man who is sent, and sent with full authority.”[ii]

Paul’s apostleship was not of human origin – “not from men,” as he puts it. He was not sent out by a group of missionary minded men, nor a human organization. Neither was he put into this work “through man.” He was ordained by the Lord without the use of human intermediaries. His particular office and function derived from God, who chose him as His emissary to the nations (Acts 9:15.) As such, his authority stemmed from the will and character of the Almighty. As he articulates the source of it: “…through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1.) The Son and the Father selected and commissioned Paul to his service as an apostle. The Lord Jesus Himself was vindicated and authenticated by the Father raising Him from the dead. Thus, this apostle and this message were authorized and originated in the Risen Christ.

Conversely, his adversaries were mere men with human agendas and ineffectual pseudo-gospels that were impotent to change their adherents. By contrast, Paul declared God’s Word, which is able to save and transform those who receive it (e.g. Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12.) Yet he was no lone wolf in this work, for he then goes on to mention “and all the brethren who are with me” (verse 2.) Therefore, the brothers who were with him were also in fellowship with his work and message. So one sees that Paul’s gospel is the one that comes from God – the One who revealed Himself in history through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. The message of Galatians may be paraphrased thus: “Don’t be fooled by imposters or swayed by ‘new and improved’ gospels. Look back to the original glad tidings that come from the true and living God.” Freedom can only be found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, so consider the good news that He gave through His apostle Paul.


[i] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible societies, 1996. Electronic edition (Logos.)

[ii] Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, “apostolos,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Edited by Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-. Electronic edition (Logos.)

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God’s Critique of Man’s Religion

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

For centuries skeptics have attacked Christianity based on religiously-inspired atrocities. Since so much evil is perpetrated in the name of God, they wonder how it still retains credibility in the modern world. Recent child abuse scandals by supposedly spiritual figures, coupled with the ubiquitous specter of jihad from other religious quarters, move opponents of belief in God to renew their assault on every kind of theism. Of course, the critics ignore that all belief systems are not equal. Atheism and other secular worldviews also have bloodstained hands.i It is true that many religious groups have condoned violence and other atrocious acts. History shows that horrible things have even been perpetrated in the name of Christ. Nonetheless, neither Christ nor biblical Christianity advocates evil in any form. In fact, the Bible offers the best criticism of human-invented religion – the genuine article raises the most strident voice of protest against the counterfeits.
As in modern times, the ancient world was multicultural in its society and pluralistic in its belief systems. Whether one looks at the Old or New Testament eras, there was no shortage of brutality and perversion perpetuated in the name of God or the gods. The Bible recognizes this phenomenon, and unhesitatingly condemns it. Child sacrifice, sexual immorality, and self-mutilation in the adoration of false deities are all repudiated by the Scriptures.
You Are What You Worship
Before Israel entered Canaan, the Lord instructed them concerning their proper behavior in the land where He was settling them. If they followed His directions all would be well: their crops and they would prosper. On the contrary, if they engaged in the iniquitous practices of the Egyptians from where they came – or the Canaanites for that matter – they would be judged. The list of perverse practices showed that the nations who occupied the land before them were given to every form carnal dissipation (Lev. 18.) Other passages make it clear that their immorality was fueled by the debased religions to which they adhered. For example, Deuteronomy 12:29-31 says:
When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. [Emphasis mine.]
The type of gods that they worshipped led them into unspeakably cruel acts. Similarly, in his catalogue of human iniquity, Paul demonstrates the correlation between venerating beasts and behaving like them (Rom. 1:22-32.)
Condemning Religion’s Softer Side
Christianity’s criticism of false spiritual systems is not limited, however, to the grotesque excesses of ancient and modern idol worship. It also takes on the more respectable looking religions, labeling them all as evil, no matter how refined their image. The Lord Jesus reserved some of His strongest denunciations for liberal and conservative religious groups such as the Sadducees, scribes, and the Pharisees. To sample one example of His criticism towards them, consider the following: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27-28.)
These groups professed to love God, yet circumvented His will as revealed in the Scriptures by their contorted legal thinking and man-centered philosophies. Although the scribes and Pharisees knew the Bible letter-perfect, they left the weightier matters of the law undone (Matt. 23:23.) They majored on minors, and presented a caricature of the Lord to the nation of Israel. Rather than directing people to the God-given law, they obscured its tenets through their human traditions (Matt. 15:1-3.) Their outward zeal cloaked their inward avarice, and they defrauded the weak and poor under a pretense of piety (Matt. 23:14.) The Sadducees, in turn, exploited the temple for pecuniary gain (John 2:16.)
Ecumenical Murder
It is clear that opposition to the Lord’s anointed makes strange bedfellows. Although they differed on numerous points of doctrine and practice, the Pharisees and Sadducees united in their opposition to Jesus of Nazareth. Even nonreligious, political groups like the Herodians joined them in their plot to murder Christ (Mk. 3:6.) So Calvary reveals the true face of things: secular and religious – those who collaborated with Rome and those who awaited a Messiah to deliver them politically – joined to execute the perfect Man who also is God manifest in the flesh. The chief priests and Pharisees possessed scruples about ceremonial defilement on the Sabbath, but no compunctions about employing false witnesses to condemn Christ (John 18:28; Matt. 26:59-62.) They demanded proof of His identity, but refused to acknowledge what the signs indicated. Such actions were hypocritical, and religions which lead men to murder the perfectly righteous One are evil.
Today religions on the right and left condone and cover up all sorts of human evil. From outright immorality to character flaws that warp families and harm others, man’s religions affirm that man can overcome global and personal wickedness by self-effort. They minimize sin and lower the bar of God’s holy standard in their efforts to appear better than they are. They invent
scriptures, sacrifices, and ceremonies which lead billions to a lost eternity in hell. Despite their widely divergent beliefs and practices, religions the world over reject the biblical Christ and His unvaryingly holy claims. They will accept Him as prophet, ethicist, swami, sage, or “a god,” but they cannot endure the exclusive One who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6.) Consequently, wickedness still goes on under a spiritual cloak and the true God who speaks through the Bible condemns their falsehood.
i Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong collectively account for hundreds of millions of murders, not to mention Enver Hoxha, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Augusto Pinochet, Timothy McVeigh, Charles Manson, and many others. If there is no God then how can one condemn such atrocities? Secularism offers no universal arbiter of truth; therefore, there is no ultimate justice and no lasting hope apart from the Christian God.

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Recycled Error & The Superior Promises Of Christ

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

A popular, well-worn adage opines: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”[i] This is certainly true in regard to spiritual error. In keeping with the contemporary zeitgeist, Satan is a great recycler, recirculating old lies to gullible mankind.[ii] Take for example his time-honored tactic of idolatry coupled with sexual immorality. When the ancient mercenary-seer Balaam – a sort of “for profit-prophet” – was hired to curse the Israelites, God thwarted his efforts on three occasions. His imprecations were divinely turned to blessings; on his fourth utterance he even prophesied of their glorious destiny (see Num. 22-24.) During this unsuccessful spiritual attack, the Israelites were ignorant of the threat; nonetheless, God protected them from wickedness in high places. Unable to beat them through curses, Balaam resorted to baser tactics, counseling the Moabites to entice the Israelites to enrage the Lord through spiritual and physical fornication under the pretext of inviting them to a feast. Subsequently, many of them succumbed to idolatrous debauchery and incurred the Lord’s wrath.

To later generations of Israelites this sordid incident at Baal Peor was a cautionary tale of the dangers of mixing with pagans and their religions (e.g. Josh. 22:17.) Unfortunately, the memory of it did not prevent it from reoccurring in various forms in their history thereafter. Nor did it preclude an outbreak of such vile iniquity in the church at Pergamos.[iii] Worst of all, the mixture of errant theology and immorality is far too prevalent within modern Christendom, even penetrating churches which profess to be evangelical. While such sin may seem tantalizingly pleasurable, it cannot compare with what the Lord Jesus offers to His followers.

Feast or Famine?

The Greco-Roman world’s ubiquitous idolatry is evidenced by 1 John’s closing admonition: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 Jn. 5:21.) Its insidious tentacles reached into every level of society, influencing politics, business, literature, entertainment, and sports. Not surprisingly, there are numerous other New Testament references to this sin and its excesses. Of course, idolatry is not limited to the veneration of stones and statues. Any erroneous concept of God that diminishes His character, person, or attributes is an idol. Anything put in place of God is an idol; therefore, Col. 3:5 equates covetousness with idolatry.

The True Face Of Idolatry

To think of idolatry as merely involving the adoration of images, metals, or other inanimate objects is overly simplistic. The essence of this sin is robbing the true God of His due by misconstruing His identity. God is sovereign and unique. As He says: I am the Lord, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me” (Isa. 45:5.) Robert Spender remarks: “The Bible understands that idolatry extends beyond the worship of images and false gods. It is a matter of the heart, associated with pride, self-centeredness, greed, gluttony (Phil. 3:19), and a love for possessions (Matt. 6:24).”[iv] Another writer explains idolatry’s core concepts this way:

Although it is difficult to reduce biblical teaching on idolatry to a simple formula, one element common to both models, the marital and the political, is worth noting. In both cases the notion of exclusivity is central: in one the exclusive claims of a husband to his wife’s love and affection; in the other the exclusive claims of a sovereign to protect and provide for his subjects and receive their trust and obedience in return. Thus idolatry is an attack on God’s exclusive rights to our love, trust and obedience.[v]

Elsewhere the same author comments further:

What constitutes a god? Martin Luther’s answer, as he reflected on the first commandment in his larger catechism, was ‘whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol’. We wish to confirm his view, but also to emphasize love and service: a god is that which one loves, trusts and serves above all else. This definition suggests both the possibility and the urgency of making clear the relevance of idolatry to the modern world.[vi]

Obviously, idolatry encompasses many things that modern westerners seek after and live for.

Enter The Wolves

Many commentators suppose that the church in Pergamos was struggling with issues similar to the idol meat controversy in Corinth (1 Cor. 8:4-13; 10:23-33.) They offer the possible scenarios of participating in feasts at an idol temple’s banqueting hall. Some writers assert that the business dinners of the region’s various trade guilds would involve eating meat sacrificed to false gods, as well as fornicating with ritual prostitutes. An interesting alternative view holds that these were meals given in honor of one’s deceased ancestors; the “idols” were images of the dead person, and so much wine was imbibed that these gatherings degenerated into orgies.[vii] Whichever view one takes, it is not hard to see that the Lord did not exaggerate when He spoke of those who adhered to Balaam’s ancient teaching that it was permissible “…to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:14.) Their licentious doctrine maintained that they could participate in egregious sin and God would not do anything to them because of it. Sadly, many of the modern “signs and wonders” preachers have imbibed the same poisonous doctrine; thus it is no surprise that they live decadent lives of material opulence and fleshly self-indulgence. Material and sensual things become their contemporary idols. Furthermore, the scandals that have rocked multiple corners of the evangelical world during the past quarter century make it clear that false theologies still lead to immoral lifestyles. Instead of “you are what you eat” one may now affirm “you are what you believe.”

The Abiding Appeal Of A Permissive God

The defective view of God held by some in Pergamos is all too familiar to one who is conversant with popular modern views of a higher power. Idolatry’s popularity stems in part from its ability to add religious legitimacy to man’s carnal instincts. One may freely engage in immorality and do so without guilt, provided one worships a deity who sanctions such behavior. The resurgent interest in nature gods and goddesses, as well as the academic repopularizing of Gnostic beliefs, demonstrates that modern people are yearning for a semi-supreme being – one who may be adored and supplicated, but not one who gets in the way of having a good time. New Age thought and eastern religions are also wildly popular for allowing one to be devout, but not “puritanical” (one of the worst modern sobriquets with which one may be tagged!)

Even among nominal “Christians” low views of God’s holiness abound. This is evidenced by the absence of the doctrine of eternal punishment from most books about spirituality. The idea of a deity who sends people to hell is hopelessly old fashioned, and is even lampooned by some so-called clergy and theologians. Others reason that they can build up credit with the Lord by their good deeds and then commit the “occasional” sin. In other words, devotees of these worldviews can claim to be spiritual and still sin to their heart’s content. The devoted disciples of Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and many other pseudo-Messiahs show that the fraudulent notion of a permissive God remains wildly popular in modern countries. Generally speaking, people have no concept of a holy and righteous God.

Of course, some idolatrous notions of the Lord offer a veneer of morality by their strict and abstemious practices. Their followers live outwardly pious, moral lives, and are fond of religion’s rigorous devotion. This sort of idol enables people to indulge in the sins of pride and self-righteousness in their veneration. Whether it leads one to the grosser forms of iniquity or the more socially acceptable kinds of sin, idolatry deprives the true and living God of His rightful worship. As the Creator and Redeemer, He deserves absolute loyalty from His creatures. This is why the Law demands that man love the Lord with the entirety of his heart, soul, mind, and strength; anything less is an insult to the Almighty (Mk. 12:30.)

Religious Junk Food Versus Spiritually Satisfying Food

In contrast to the antinomian teachings of those who promoted the excesses of eating idol’s food and enjoyment of sexual sin, the Lord Jesus offers His saints “the hidden manna” (Rev. 2:14.) Manna was the divinely provided staple of the Israelites’ wilderness diet. Miraculously, the Lord daily fed them with bread from the sky for forty years. His material faithfulness was a harbinger of greater spiritual realities to come. Centuries later when the Lord Jesus arrived on the scene He told the Jews “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn. 6:35.) In Christ provision is made for the satisfaction of the deepest hungering and thirsting of human beings. Every person has a choice: feast on the world’s fleeting, forbidden dainties or eat the Lord’s spiritually life-giving sustenance. Truly the world can spread a banqueting table, but it cannot sate the unremitting famishment of the Christless human heart. Sin’s pleasures are seasonal, and pass away all too quickly. In contrast, feeding on Christ gives one eternal life – both of quality and duration. Believers rejoice to feed on Him daily as they study His word and commune with Him in prayer.

The lesson for ancient or modern man is the same: the Lord is the true God – only He can save; only He can satisfy. Idols appear to enrich, bless, or fulfill their disciples, but in reality they only impoverish them. One may starve at this life’s sordid feasts or dine with the Lord presently and at His future marriage supper (Rev. 19.) A relationship with the Living God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the only reward worth seeking. Therefore, Christians delight to dig into God’s Word, gleaning beautiful truths about the Lord and enjoying His fellowship as He reveals Himself from its sacred pages. Such believers place their affections on things above, not on earthly things like idols, because they have died and risen with Christ. Their true life is now hidden with Christ in God, and it will be manifested when He returns to earth in glory (Col. 3:1-4; 1 Jn. 3:1-2.) They feed on the hidden manna, the glorified Christ Himself!


[i] As best I can determine this phrase originated with a nineteenth-century French novelist named Alphonse Karr, and was later employed by the noted man of letters, George Bernard Shaw; see: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20061128215508AAmvH9v

[ii] Zeitgeist = “The spirit or genius which marks the thought or feeling of a period or age” Oxford English Dictionary; the dictionary entry reveals that the word itself is of German origin, & entered English as early as 1848 when it was employed by the essayist-literary critic, Matthew Arnold in a letter; he later used the term in his book Literature & Dogma (1873.)

[iii] Spelled “Pergamum” in many modern versions: e.g. ASV, NASB, ESV, NIV, NLT, etc. Since I’m primarily using the NKJV for this article, I retain the spelling of “Pergamos” as used by the KJV, NKJV, & JND translations.

[iv] Robert D. Spender, “Idol, Idolatry” in Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. electronic ed. Baker reference library; Logos Library System. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997.

[v] B.S. Rosner, “Idol, Idolatry” in Alexander, T. Desmond, and Brian S. Rosner. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001. (Logos.)

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] For an excellent explanation of this view & the exegesis behind it, see Gordon Franz, “Meat Offered to Idols in Pergamum & Thyatira” at: http://www.lifeandland.org/2009/02/meat-offered-to-idols-in-pergamon-and-thyatira-2/ . I recommend www.lifeandland.org as an excellent resource for articles dealing with the Bible, especially in reference to archaeology & ancient history.

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