Drawing Near to the Lord

"No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me" (John 6:44-45)

Location: Charlotttesville, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Do You Love the Truth?

By Mark Larson

“And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9-10, NASB). God, in His word, warns us of the danger of being deceived by “the son of destruction (or perdition)” and falling away from the true faith of God (i.e., apostasy) (2 Thess. 2:3). Whatever the “the son of destruction” stands for, it is certain that those who do not have a love for the truth are in special danger of perishing eternally by its wicked and deceptive influences (e.g., false teachers, false religion, antichrist forces – 1 John 2:18, idolatry, etc.).

The Truth Is God’s Word: The truth that must be loved, lest we perish, is the word of God: “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The truth also stands for the gospel of Jesus Christ: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation…” (Eph. 1:13). Only the gospel, the truth, or God’s word has the power to save our souls (Rom. 1:16; 1 Pet. 1:22-23). In contrast, lies, falsehood, or false doctrine brings eternal death to those who follow it instead of the truth (James 5:19-20). Many people today reject the truth and prefer to believe in a lie. As a result, they refuse their salvation (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

What Does It Mean to “Receive the Love of the Truth”?

To be saved, we need to “receive the love of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). Many persons claim to love the truth, yet merely claiming so does not mean this is the case. For confidence in our salvation, we must demonstrate to God, by the standard of His word, that we indeed love the truth.

To Receive the Truth into Our Hearts: To “receive the love of the truth” is to welcome it wholeheartedly: “Receive” (Greek: dechomai) – “To receive favorably, give hear to, embrace, make one's own, approve, not to reject: Luke 8:13” (Thayer's Greek Lexicon). There is a big difference between the person who learns the truth merely to acquire knowledge and the person who takes the truth to heart! Those who truly love the truth will receive it with an open and honest heart and hold it fast (Luke 8:15). Those who love the truth receive it with “all readiness of mind” and “search the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11) because they really want to know: What must I do to be saved? (e.g., Acts 2:36-38).

To Believe in the Truth: To “receive the love of the truth” also means to believe in the truth. A person will not receive the truth into his or her heart, unless that person unites the truth they hear with faith (Heb. 4:2). No one can expect the truth to have a positive impact in their lives, nor expect it to lead to their salvation, unless they believe in the message: “And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).

To Obey the Truth: If we “receive the love of the truth,” then we will obey it. Those who say that they know the truth, and yet do not obey the truth, will not benefit spiritually from it (Rom. 1:18ff.). Those who claim to believe in the truth, yet do not practice it, are not genuine believers of Christ or of His word (i.e., the truth). True believers do more than just believe. They obey! “Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:31-32). These Jews that Jesus spoke to “had believed Him,” yet that was not enough to be His followers. To be true disciples of Jesus, they had to act on their faith. Only if we “abide in” (i.e., continue in, keep, obey) Jesus’ word (which includes the apostles’ teaching 2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 1:11-12), can we belong to Him. We cannot know the truth only by studying it. We must also render obedience to it. “… ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:31-32). “The truth shall make us free” or give us freedom from our sins (John 8:33-36) when we abide in or obey the word of Christ and not by faith in Christ alone (James 2:24).

To Continually Desire the Truth: Those who love the truth will never stop in their quest for deeper knowledge and understanding of God’s word. A genuine love and desire for the truth will continue long after their baptism into Christ: “And I shall delight in Thy commandments, Which I love. And I shall lift up my hands to Thy commandments, Which I love” (Ps. 119:47-48). Bible study has great meaning and spiritual significance for the lover of truth: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, KJV). Never does the person who loves the truth say to himself: “I have arrived!” and cease studying the Scriptures. Instead, he continually feeds his soul with the spiritual manna that he needs to stay strong in the Lord: “… ‘It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’” (Mat. 4:4, NASB). Love for the truth will lead to a concentrated effort toward our spiritual growth and maturity in the Lord: “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2).

Those Who Love the Truth, Love the Lord.

The number one reason why a person should have love for the truth is because of his or her love for the Lord: “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21).

The Lord Jesus asked Simon Peter: “Do you love Me?” and He asks us that same question today: “Do you love Me?” Our love for the Lord is demonstrated to Him when we love the truth and obey it (John 21:15-17). Do you love the truth?

Confessing Christ

By Mark Larson

“Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 10:32-33, NASB). Confessing one’s faith in Christ is a requirement a person must meet before a person can be baptized into Christ (e.g., Acts 8:37; 1 Tim. 6:12).

Confessing Jesus as Lord is essential to our salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). However, confessing Christ was never met to be a one time event, restricted to one moment of time before baptism! Confessing Christ is something that every Christian should continue to practice throughout his or her life. For in so doing, it not only demonstrates our faith in Jesus, but it also displays our courage as we speak out for Christ in an anti-Christ world (See entire context - Mat. 10:26-33).

What Does it Mean to Confess Christ?

Confessing Christ is not to be muttered to self, nor should it be limited to the privacy of one’s own home, or only spoken in the company of other Christians! Such circumstances do not require much courage nor any self-sacrifice.

To “confess” Christ means to acknowledge Him publicly, to declare our allegiance to Him openly, and to speak out freely of our faith in Jesus (Mat. 10:32). A true confession of Christ will be done so men may hear, so that the world may know that we are indeed disciples of Jesus Christ! Confessing Christ, just like preaching the gospel, should be shouted from the rooftops! “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops” (Mat. 10:27). Rather than feel any shame, there is an earnest desire for all to know about Jesus!

Furthermore, confessing Christ is not to be equated with mere belief in Him. There must be the courage to vocally and publicly confess our faith in Christ. Faith only is clearly not enough to be one of Jesus’ disciples: “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43).

Are You Confessing Christ in Your Life?

At work, at school, in your neighborhood, and community, with your friends, family, relatives, and others, are you confessing Christ? Is the confession of Christ a way of life for you? Confessing Christ is not limited to when we are questioned by persecutors, but should be done freely, openly, and regularly as a result of our faith in Christ: “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, " I believed, therefore I spoke, "we also believe, therefore also we speak; knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you” (2 Cor. 4:13-14). Confessing Christ is something every Christian should want to do as a result of having faith in Jesus Christ. Christians who are not inclined to evangelize or share the gospel with others often are lacking faith or are ashamed or both! (Rom. 1:16).

Don’t Let the Fear of Rejection Prevent You from Confessing Christ.

The parents of the blind man whom Jesus healed were afraid to confess Jesus to be the Christ, lest they should be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22). Lest we think we are above such fears, we would do well to ask ourselves a few questions: Do we keep silent at our workplace for fear of losing our job or valuable employees? Do we refrain from confessing Christ at school for fear of losing our friends or being treated as an outcast? Do we allow fear to hold us back to confess Christ at anyplace, anytime, or with anyone? We must always remember that we are blessed by God when we are excluded or rejected by men for confessing Jesus Christ. Such an experience may not feel like a blessing, but it is! “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).

Confessing Christ Is a Proof That We Are Faithful Disciples of Christ!

If we confess Christ before men, Jesus will give us recognition before God that we are true disciples of Christ. More than merely confessing our names, Jesus confessing us before the Father is an official recognition or acknowledgment that we are His disciples! “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 10:32). We have demonstrated ourselves to be Christians, in part, by our confessing Christ. True disciples of Christ confess Christ and thus enjoy fellowship with God: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also… Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 2:23; 4:15). There is indeed great importance to our confessing Christ. Our fellowship with God depends on it!

Confessing Christ involves more than a mere verbal declaration of our faith, but will also be demonstrated by our obedience to His word. We cannot hypocritically confess Christ and claim to know God and then turn around and disobey Him! “And why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16). Genuine disciples of Christ will not only confess His name, but will also walk with Him in holiness (Rev. 3:4-5).

Denying Christ Is an Indication That We Are “Anti-Christ!”

To deny Christ (which is the absence of confessing Him) is to be “anti-Christ!” “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:2-3).

Denying Christ also involves denying the teaching of Christ which is also anti-Christ: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting” (2 John 7-10). A person is anti-Christ when he does not “abide in” or keep the teaching of Christ, which would include the teachings of the apostles who preached His word (Gal. 1:10; Eph. 3:3-5).

Our Salvation Depends on Whether We Confess Christ or Deny Him.

If we deny Christ, meaning fail to acknowledge Him publicly and do not openly speak of our faith in Christ and His gospel, we will be denied before God and thus lose our salvation: “But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 10:33).

If we confess Christ, we can be confident that Christ will also confess us on Judgment day: “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 10:32).

May every Christian maintain their confession of Christ throughout life so that each one will be acknowledged by Christ as one of His disciples on that last day!

Conformity in Religion

By Mark Larson

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, NASB). To be “conformed” is to be made similar or like someone or something in form or character and in behavior and opinion. Therefore, the word of God is instructing us not to allow the world to shape us into its own image or likeness.

There is a great temptation to be like the world. When most people of the world considers a certain behavior morally or socially acceptable (e.g., “drinking parties” – 1 Pet. 4:3) or popular (e.g., wearing immodest clothing – 1 Tim. 2:9), there is a strong desire to behave in the same way in order to fit in. However, just because a belief or practice is popular or accepted by society doesn’t make it right! In fact, following the popular path may instead lead to eternal destruction: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Mat. 7:13-14).

The world makes every effort it can to get us to conform to its ways. Through the news media, television shows, advertisements, movies, magazines, books, Internet, etc. the world can have a profound affect on our way of thinking and behavior. Without even realizing it, many people have conformed to the world and have allowed the world to determine their standard of morality and lifestyle.

In religion, many churches have allowed themselves to be conformed to this world. Churches often make changes in order to keep in step with the world, instead of influencing the world to make changes for God according to the Scriptures. Rather than succumb to this temptation and fail to be distinct as a church of Christ, we must “… prove [ourselves] to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we] appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). Any change that a local church makes should be done because God’s word prescribes it, not because the world demands it: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17).

Conformity in religion that is in agreement with the world is not the religion of the Lord!
“Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Every Christian and every local church must determine not to allow the world to define for them what to believe, teach, or practice. God’s instructions concerning marriage, divorce, and remarriage (Mat. 19:4-6, 9), homosexual behavior (Rom. 1:26-27), or abortion (Ps. 139 / Rom. 13:9), for example, should not be discarded to appease the world. The New Testament pattern for the work and worship of the church should not be compromised in order to attract people of the world to Christ (Phil. 4:15; Eph. 4:16 / Acts 20:32; Acts 11:29-30 / 1 Tim. 5:16; Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Eph. 5:16; etc.).

Christians must be resolved that they will not be conformed to this world, but instead be “transformed by the renewing of [their] mind” (Rom. 12:2). As we study from the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15), fill ourselves with the “knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9), and apply the word of God to our lives (James 1:25), we will renew our way of thinking for the better. Instead of being captivated by worldly advice (Col. 2:8), we will know exactly what the will of God is, “that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

In due time, our lives will be “transformed” (from metamorphosis) or changed for God so that we may serve Him acceptably. We will be able “to present [our] body a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). As God’s children, let us continue to be his special and distinct people of holiness (1 Pet. 1:14-16; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1) and be not conformed, but transformed!


By Mark Larson

Four out of five Americans believe in life after death, according to a General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center that has tracked such convictions in the United States for nearly 25 years. 81% of the U.S. population is convinced there is a Heaven or Hell, or something awaiting them on the other side. Are you one of them?

Do you believe in an afterlife in which all who die will enter an eternal realm? Inevitably, questions about Eternity also lead people to questions about life and an examination of the meaning of life. That is why understanding the truth, as revealed in Scripture, is so very important. Knowing the truth about Eternity can make a big difference in the way a person views life and the way he or she chooses to spend it.

Our Understanding of Eternity Comes from God

Though man is bound by time, we have the capacity to image Eternity beyond this present world: “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set Eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (Eccl. 3:11, NASB). We cannot fathom or comprehend all that God has accomplished from beginning to end in all that He has made. However, everyone one of us has the ability to understand Eternity! Though it may seem difficult to imagine Eternity, it is not impossible for us to do so.

God’s eternal power is seen in the Creation (Rom. 1:20). We are privileged to be able to recognize the eternal God that is behind this temporary, present world. The Universe exhibits great power. Only power that has existed from all Eternity could have caused it. God is that great eternal power! It is in this sense that God will set Eternity in our hearts as we come to see His eternal power in this world that He has made.

By looking to the Eternity of God, God’s eternal nature, we can understand what Eternity is. Eternity is an important attribute of God. God is the “I AM,” the Eternal One (Exod. 3:14). God “lives in Eternity” or “lives forever” (Isa. 57:15). He is “the everlasting Father” (Isa. 9:6). God has always existed. He is without beginning and will never end: "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8). Since God represents Eternity, we can learn much about what Eternity means by looking unto God who is eternal as revealed in the Scriptures.

Imagine Eternity!

Like God, Our Existence in Eternity Will Last Forever and Ever. The duration of God’s existence stretches backward in time without limit and stretches forward in time without limit: “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God” (Ps. 90:1-2). The Lord is eternal or forever God. Likewise, all who enter Eternity will stay in Eternity forever and ever. Some will “go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal” (Mat. 25:46).

Just As the Years of God Have No End, the Years of Eternity Will Have No End. On average, our life on earth, at best, lasts a mere 70 or 80 years (Ps. 90:10), a very short moment of time in comparison to Eternity! Just as the years of God’s existence have no end, neither will the years of our existence have no end in Eternity. "But Thou art the same, And Thy years will not come to an end” (Ps. 102:27). Our life span on earth is as brief as a vapor that quickly vanishes away (James 4:14). “Our days on earth are as a shadow” (Job 8:9). While on earth, a lifetime may seem like a long time, yet from the standpoint of Eternity, it is a very short or brief period of time.

In Eternity, the years are countless or without number, far beyond all comparison to any amount of time we have ever known or have measured in earthly history. Consider this example by way of comparison: In Astronomy, the distance light travels in a year is called a “light year.” A “light year” is six trillion miles, the yardstick astronomers use for measuring large distances. Since many stars and galaxies are so far away, it takes lots and lots of time for photos of them to arrive to us. So as we look out into the Universe, we are, by necessity, looking back in time. If, for example, the Sun exploded, we wouldn’t know it for 8.3 minutes, because that’s how long it takes light to get to us from the Sun. The planet Pluto is 5 light hours away, and the next nearest visible star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.4 light years away. So then, how many “light years” shall we measure Eternity? How far of a distance would Eternity reach and extend in time? Not even the distant stars seen by the most powerful telescopes some 13.7 billion light years away can measure the infinite, unlimited time or years in Eternity!

Time Will Be Insignificant in Eternity. “For a thousand years in Thy sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4). To God, time is insignificant in Eternity, no matter how long or how short that length of time is. The longest length of time a man has ever lived on the earth was in the case of Methuselah who lived 969 years! (Gen. 5:27). As impressive or amazing as that may be, in comparison to Eternity, it was to God like one single day! (2 Pet. 3:8).

When we enter into Eternity, time will be irrelevant. Time will be a non-issue having no bearing on Eternity itself. The favorite hymn “Amazing Grace” written by John Newton, expresses this truth very well in the verse which says: “When we’ve been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun; We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise then when we’ve first begun.” When God’s people are with Him in Heaven for all Eternity, it will not matter whether ten thousand years (as we count them) pass by or ten zillion years pass by, there will be no less days to sing praises unto God!

Are You Preparing for Eternity?

What we “sow” in this life will have a direct impact on what we shall “reap” in the life to come in Eternity (Gal. 6:7-8; See also 1 Tim. 6:17-19). That is why we must sow carefully. How we spend our lives on earth will determine our eternal future!

The Egyptians believed in Eternity or at least an “after life.” When a Pharaoh died, he was buried in a tomb called a pyramid designed to protect his body forever. They believed that if a Pharaoh’s body was destroyed, his “Ka” (i.e., soul) would have no where to go and would die. If his “Ka” died, he would not be able to be united with the Sun. This in turn would cause the gods to become angry and they would no longer protect the land or the people of the Pharaoh. Therefore, they put forth much effort to preserve the body of Pharaoh. On average, it took forty years and about 100,000 workers to build just one pyramid!

Why did the Egyptians go through so much effort and spend so much time to build their pyramids? They understood that the afterlife or “Eternity” would last a lot longer than their lives on earth and that the afterlife was a whole lot more important than life on earth. Despite their false concept of God, the Egyptians worked hard to prepare for Eternity as they understood it. How much time and effort are you putting forth to prepare for Eternity?

“For a little reward men make a long journey; for eternal life many will scare lift a foot once from the ground.” – Thomas a Kempis. As the saying of Kempis well illustrates, many people scarcely “lift a foot”, let alone obey the gospel to prepare for Eternity (2 Thes. 1:8). Yet, these same people will make great sacrifices to gain earthly rewards that do not last (Mat. 6:19). Such people do not truly believe in Eternity nor understand that Eternity lasts forever. They may claim to believe in Eternity, but their lives spent on themselves instead of God says otherwise (Luke 12:15-21).

If we want to ready for the Judgment Day and be ready to enter into Eternity, we must prepare by taking heed to the words of Jesus Christ (John 12:48; e.g., Mark 16:16; Rev. 2:10) as also revealed to His apostles (Gal. 1:10; e.g., Gal. 5:16-24; Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Cor. 15:58). How we “build in life” or whether or not our lives are founded “upon the rock” (i.e., Christ and His word) will determine where we will spend an Eternity (Mat. 7:24-27). When “the storm of the Lord” arrives (Jer. 23:19-20), will you be ready to enter Eternity?

God Is Three in One: The Trinity

By Mark Larson

Many critics of Christianity point to what they believe to be a fundamental flaw - the belief that God is three persons, yet one God (i.e., the doctrine of the Trinity). To the Jews and Muslims, this Christian doctrine appears to be a contradiction and a blasphemy against the one, true God. Christians have even been accused of believing in polytheism or three separate gods!

If the doctrine of the Trinity is true, then we could expect to find this teaching in the Scriptures. If the doctrine of the Trinity is false, then the Scriptures would only speak of God in such a way as to indicate that God is only one person. What do we find when we examine the Scriptures?

Is God Absolutely Alone or Only One Person? There are nine different Hebrew words in the Scriptures that can be translated as “one” (See the Englishman’s Concordance). Sometimes words such as man or woman are translated “one,” but such words are never applied to God in the Bible. This is understandable since God is not a man or a woman (Num. 23:19).

Now if God is only one person, as Jews and Muslims claim, which word for oneness could they apply to God? Only one of the nine Hebrews words that can be translated as “one” can refer to “complete solitary” or being absolutely alone. That word is YACHIYD (e.g., Ps. 68:6; Gen. 22:2; Judg. 11:34). If this word was applied to God anywhere in the Scriptures, it would be devastating to the doctrine of the Trinity. However, no where in Scripture can this word be found ever applying to God! That is because God is not absolutely alone as only one person.

God Has a Unified Oneness About Him: We learn much about God by studying the Hebrew word ECHAD. Sometimes the word is used with reference to the number one or quantity of one (e.g., Gen. 2:21), but when it does it is never in reference to God. Frequently, the word ECHAD is translated “one” to denote a unified or compound oneness: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Many other examples could be given (e.g., Gen. 3:22; 11:6; 34:16; 2 Chron. 30:12; Ezra 2:64; Jer. 32:39). Jews and Muslims would not want to find this Hebrew word applying to God, lest they lose their argument that God is only one person.

The word ECHAD does in fact apply to God! “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one [ECHAD] LORD” (Deut. 6:4; Compare to Mark 12:29). God is “one” in the sense of a unified or compound oneness. All three persons united -- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, constitute or comprise the one true God.

God Is Referred to in the Singular As Well As in the Plural: Those who deny the doctrine of the Trinity will never refer to God in the plural or quote God speaking in the plural (e.g., “They,” “Them,” “Theirs,” “We,” “Us,” “Ours”), but only in the singular (e.g., “I,” “Myself,” “Me,” “”My,” He,” “Him,” “His”). We may use singular nouns and verbs to refer to God because God is described in this way in Scripture. This is often done to emphasize that the Lord is the one and only God: “See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; And there is no one who can deliver from My hand” (Deut 32:39, NASB).

However, we may also use plural nouns and verbs to refer to God because God is also described in this way in Scripture! The Bible commonly uses plural words for God, the most common one being the Hebrew word ELOHIYM (i.e., a plural form of deity or god): “In the beginning God [ELOHIYM] created the Heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It may surprise some to know that ELOHIYM is translated more than 400 times in the Bible as “gods” – plural! For example, “And the people answered and said, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods (Josh. 24:16, NASB; See also Gen. 31:30; Exod. 12:12). God spoke in the first person plural when creating us! “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26a). Some have suggested that the “us” or “our” in this verse refers to angels, yet man was not created in both the image of God and the angels! Other examples of plural pronouns for God can be found in Scripture (e.g., Gen. 3:22; 11:7-8; Isa. 6:8). Further evidence that God comprises of more than one person can be seen in the Scriptures where two divine persons are both called God in the very same passage (See Ps. 45:6-7; Heb. 1:8-9; Isa. 48:12-17; Hos. 1:6-7; Gen. 19:24).

God Being Three Persons, Yet One God Is Due to His Unified Nature: God is One, yet composed of three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three persons are referred to as God in the Scriptures because each one is God by nature or the divine essence (John 6:27; Col. 2:8-9; Acts 5:3-4). God would not be God to exclude any one of the three persons that make up the divine nature. For example, Jesus, even while on earth, was God in the flesh or the “I AM” (John 8:24, 58). Yet, Jesus always was accompanied by both the Father and the Holy Spirit (e.g., John 10:37-38; Luke 4:1).

Equality Among All Three Persons: Jesus, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are just as much God as the Father is! “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). The equality of the Father and Son is seen in the salutations of most New Testament epistles (e.g., Rom. 1:7; Gal. 1:3; 2 John 3).Each person of the triune God is emphasized equally in prayer in 2 Corinthians 13:14.

Equal, Yet of Different Rank by the Divine Order: Jesus submitted to the Father’s will and obeyed His commands (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29; 14:31). How then could they be equal? Both are equally God, yet according to the divine order, each has a different rank or position in the hierarchy of God: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Just as man and woman are equal (Gal. 3:28), so are the Father and the Son (John 10:30). The different rank a woman has does not make her any less of a Christian (or human for that matter). Neither does the different rank of Christ make Him any less Deity. The different rank that each person holds simply means that there are different roles and responsibilities that each one fulfills (e.g., Eph. 5:22-33; Phil. 2:8).

All three persons (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) represent Deity, though each person of the Godhead is distinguishable from the other. Each person of God is distinct in the sense that each one has a different role that each one fulfills (e.g., Heb. 12:9; Eph. 5:23; John 16:13).

The Unified Work of the Trinity: All three persons of God are one also in the sense of functioning together as a team to accomplish the work of God. The work of Creation: “[God] in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb. 1:2, NASB, See also Gen. 1:2, 26-27). "The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). The work of salvation: “’Come near to Me [Christ - ML], listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.’ Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go’” (Isa 48:16-17, NASB; See also Eph. 1:2-14). Even the miraculous spiritual gifts experienced by Christians in the first century was given by the unified work of the Trinity (1 Cor. 12:4-6).

The Trinity Provides Our Salvation: Fellowship with God is achieved through the Trinity (Eph. 2:17-19). Salvation has been made possible by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To become a child of God and receive the spiritual and eternal blessings that the Trinity provides, each person must be baptized in the name (i.e., authority) of the Triune God: “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Mat. 28:18-20, NASB; Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21). Once we are baptized in Their name, we must continue to abide in God’s word for the Triune God to continue to abide in us (e.g., 1 John 4:12-16; 2 John 9; Gal. 3:2 / Rom. 10:17; Gal. 5:16).

Jesus Christ, Our Only Lord and Master

By Mark Larson

Jesus Christ is “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). When we confess Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9), we confess that He is supreme in authority and power. More than that, we submit to His control as our Master, the One who rules over us. We do our best to abstain from sin so we will be “useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). In life, Jesus is the “one Lord” (Eph. 4:5) Christians give their allegiance to: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6, NASB).

As much as we may recognize these truths, sometimes, if we are not careful, we may unwittingly allow others to become our lord and master in life. Certain people, if we do not beware, will have the same or similar degree of influence over us. When that happens, we cease to be true disciples or followers of the Lord!

Even the Apostles Did not Behave As “Lords.” The apostles were blessed to have spent over three years with Jesus and learn much from His example and teaching. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into Heaven, the apostles, in a special sense, became His representatives (2 Cor. 5:20). They spoke the will of Christ to the people as inspired by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13; Acts 2:1-4; Eph. 3:3-5). They, through their teaching, became part of the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). Yet, as important as they were to the establishment of the church, they understood that Jesus Christ is the only master and Lord over Christians. The apostle Paul declared: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm” (2 Cor. 1:24). The apostles were not masters or lords that exercised dominion or lordship over other Christians. Instead, they were fellow workers who labored along side other Christians as equals in Christ (Gal. 3:28).

Elders (or Pastors) Are not to Behave as “Lords.” In the organization of the local church, the New Testament gives us a pattern to follow. Included in the pattern are overseers (bishops), deacons, evangelists, and teachers (Phil. 1:1; Eph. 4:11). Overseers are otherwise called elders or pastors (See Acts 20:17, 28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:2). Elders have the great responsibility to shepherd or care for the local church of which they belong (1 Pet. 5:1-4). They are to also provide spiritual leadership (Heb. 13:7, 17). In addition, they must guard the church against false teachers and their evil influence (Acts 20:28-31). Yet, as important as their role is in the local church, they must not ever exercise dominion or control over members, as if they were lords or masters. Like the apostles, elders must understand that Jesus Christ is our only Lord and Master: “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Though elders are shepherds over the church of God, they, like the apostles, are our equals in the Lord (Gal. 3:28). No elder has the right to rule in a domineering way in which he browbeats or strong-arms members to obey. No elder has the authority to arbitrarily make rules for members to follow. No one, save Jesus Christ, has the right to “lord it over us” and rule over our lives.

No One (Save Christ) Should Be Regarded as “Lord” nor Followed as “Lord.” Though we may readily confess Jesus as our only Lord and Master, we still need to guard ourselves from putting any man or woman on a pedestal. This occurs, for example, when men elevate themselves through titles of honor or prestige that they hold for themselves. Jesus addressed this problem in His rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees: “And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi. "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. "And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. "And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Mat. 23:6-10). Similarly, in modern times, titles such as reverend, pastor, minister, or “discipler” have been given to men to elevate them over others. Whenever such an honoring of men occurs, whether titles are used or not, there is great risk of such men becoming proud and “lording it over” others. This results in the negative effect of disciples of Christ becoming disciples of men over time.

How Do We Keep Christ as Our Only Master and Lord in Life?

#1 The will of Jesus is always put above the will of man (Mat. 10:37; 15:7-9; Col. 2:8). Sometimes people will tell us to do things that go against the will of Christ. Family wishes, traditions, and the advice of men may seem wise and beneficial, but if it goes against God’s word and we follow it, we are not respecting Christ as our Lord: “And why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say?” Jesus asks (Luke 6:46). A true disciple of the Lord will seek to know His will as revealed in the Scriptures (Eph. 5:17) and do everything by His authority (Col. 3:17). He will “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:10).

#2 Our primary motive for obedience is to please the Lord, not men. Sometimes, in the busyness of obedience, we may, if we are not careful, take our focus off of Christ and put it on to men. If we think more about gaining the approval of men instead of Christ, something is seriously wrong at heart (John 12:42-43). To be a true servant of Christ, we must always maintain that number one goal to please Him, above and beyond our desire to please men: “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).

#3 Let no one tell you that God’s grace in Christ is a license to sin. To believe such a lie is a sure way to deny the Lord and become a slave of sin all over again (See Jude 4; Rom. 16:18). Instead of making sin your master, deny every form of ungodliness and worldly desire in your response to the grace of God (See Titus 2:11-12).

#4 When looking to the example of others, only follow Christ-like qualities. As much as we may admire certain brethren or value a friendship or leader, we must never allow ourselves to go to the extreme in our loyalty or devotion toward others. The imitation of others is noble only when such characteristics we imitate are Christ-like in quality. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; See also 1 Cor. 4:16-17).

Seek a Church of the Truth

By Mark Larson

“These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:14-15, NKJV). The church (God’s people - Acts 2:47; Heb. 12:23) is “the house of God” where “the living God” dwells. Characteristic of God’s church are people who are “of the truth.”

In seeking a local church with whom to work and worship, a person should desire only a church that is “of the truth,” meaning committed to following the word of God (John 17:17). It is important to compare what they believe and practice with what is taught in God’s word. This requires a willingness on our part to search the Scriptures diligently (Acts 17:11). There are many different local churches to choose from today. Yet, no one should settle for anything less than a church that stands for the truth.

The local church has the duty to be the “ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) or the firm, steadfast support of it. The church must be unyielding, uncompromising, and unwavering in her commitment to the truth. The church must remain strong and steady in the truth so that when the “storms” of false teaching blow against it, it will not be shaken nor collapse, but continue to be a church of God. Many churches have forsaken this duty and as a result have been overtaken by worldliness. The opinions of men, man-made traditions or philosophies, social or secular agendas, and the low standards of morality in the world have captivated many local churches leading them into apostasy (Col. 2:8). Such churches are not of the truth and should be rejected.

The local church also has the duty to be “the pillar of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Pillars are for holding up the roof of a building, but they also serve the purpose of keeping it up high. This, in effect, makes it visible for all to see, even from far away. Thus, the church has the duty to hold the truth up high, so that the world may see and hear it. This requires members of the church to not only preach the truth to others (1 Thess. 1:8), but also obey the truth themselves so that they may be a good example for the world to see, “like a city set on a hill” (Mat. 5:14). Every church should take this God given duty very seriously. When seeking a local church that you can join yourself to (e.g., Acts 9:26), devotion to the truth by her members should be of the utmost importance.

It is absolutely essential for every church to be a “pillar and ground of the truth,” for the truth is the very foundation of the church! “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:19-22). Notice that the church is built upon “the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” The foundation they laid was the truth or the word of God they preached (Eph. 3:3-5). The spiritual health and life of a church depends on its foundation. If truth is not the foundation, it is not a church of God.

Just as the truth is the foundation of the church, so also is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), who represents the truth (John 1:14; Rev. 19:13) and bears witness to the truth (John 18:37). Jesus is in fact, the most important aspect to the foundation. He is “the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20) because the whole building or church rests upon Him. A local church that is truly a church of Christ will be built upon “the Rock,” on Jesus and the words that He taught (Mat. 7:24-27).

In your search for a local church, don’t just look for something “new” and “different.” Instead, look for a church that conducts herself as “the pillar and ground of the truth.”

Competition in the Local Church

By Mark Larson

“And they came to Capernaum; and when He [Jesus] was in the house, He began to question them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all’” (Mark 9:33-35, NASB).

The discussion that the twelve disciples had on the way to Capernaum is not an uncommon one today, even among disciples of Christ (though usually an unspoken one). Sadly, there are members of the Lord’s church that ask this same question today: “Which one of us is the greatest?” Though brethren may not think exactly in those terms, the spirit of competitiveness nevertheless exists in many local churches across the land.

The twelve disciples were supposed to be acting as a team, as brothers in God’s family, as fellow servants of the Lord. Instead, they were more concerned about their rank, status, or position in the kingdom: Who is “first”!?! The disciples had the benefit of spending time with Jesus who demonstrated humility and service. They received first hand instruction from the Lord on how to walk righteously. Yet, they disputed among themselves who is the greatest! The disciples’ behavior appears very childish and ridiculous. Their conduct was very shallow, beneath of how true disciples of Jesus should conduct themselves.

Lest we judge the twelve too harshly or hypocritically, we must examine ourselves by the same standard of judgment with absolute honesty (Mat. 7:1-5). What about own attitudes and behavior in the local church? Are we, in any way, shape, or form, being competitive in the Lord’s church? Are we overly concerned about who is “the greatest”?

Many of us cheer for our favorite sports teams, enjoy the competitiveness of the sports arena, and argue for which team is the greatest. Most sport activities can be beneficial in teaching the importance of leadership, teamwork, and sportsmanship (i.e., fairness in following the rules of the game). We can recognize that leadership, teamwork, and “following the rules” (the law of Christ) is also important in the local church (Heb. 13:7, 17; Eph. 4:16; Col. 3:17). Yet, should there be also be a competition among brethren? Not according to the Scriptures.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21). Every local church should aim to give God the glory for everything they do (1 Cor. 10:31). This is expressed not only by the songs we sing or the prayers we pray, but also by our attitudes, behavior, and how we treat one another. When the goal is to glorify God or magnify His greatness, the issue of who is “the greatest” (in a competitive sense) becomes irrelevant.

We must learn to view our accomplishments in God’s service in the proper way. Whenever we achieve spiritual goals, improve in our character toward godliness, lead a person to Christ, or gain a victory over sin, etc. we need to remember to always give God the glory or “boast in the Lord” only (1 Cor. 1:31; See also 1 Cor. 3:6-7; 15:56-57). We need to always remember that we are merely God’s instruments who uses us to accomplish His purposes. Paul’s attitude is a good one for us to imitate: “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed” (Rom 15:17-18). When observing the abilities and accomplishments of others, instead of being jealous, we should rejoice for them and pray that their talents and achievements may abound even more to the glory of God (1 Cor. 12:26; Phil. 1:9-11). In whatever role or part we fulfill in the Lord’s church, we must, in all things, give the glory to God: “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 4:11).

Let us not behave like Diotrophes, who loved to be “first” among brethren (3 John 9-11) and act as if we are in competition with one another. Too many local churches have been torn apart because of a lust for power and “greatness” by certain brethren. Far too many gospel preachers have, out of jealousy or envy, worked against each other instead of worked together to accomplish the work of God (e.g., Phil. 1:15-17). Even some pastors or elders have developed a competitive spirit among themselves in which the eldership turns into a “popularity contest.” The desire to be “first” is given greater concern than the work of the church and the shepherding or caring of the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:1-3).

If we truly want to be great in the sight of God, let us not go about it in a competitive manner nor look to the world’s definition of greatness (Mark 10:35-42). Instead, let us remember what Jesus said on what it means to be first or great: “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). A Christian who want to be great must humble himself and become the servant of others (Mat. 23:11-12). God sees greatness in us when we act selflessly and put others before ourselves, just as Christ did (Phil. 2:3-5ff.). Rather than expect to be served, crave the limelight, or desire the glory given by men, let us imitate our Savior who demonstrated true greatness: “And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:42-45).

The Urgency of Obedience

By Mark Larson

Most everyone claims to be extremely busy today. Matters in which we consider "urgent" and "important" consume a lot of our time in life. Yet, regrettably, our obedience to God is oftentimes viewed as important, but not urgent. As a result, other matters in life are given more importance than they deserve, even above our spiritual needs and duties. To determine what is most important in life, we must go to God's word. Once we learn to put that which is most important first, we will learn to also regard spiritual matters as urgent.

Consider the many demands in life that we consider both urgent and important: Daily meals - Everyday, we must eat food to sustain our strength and health. Hunger comes everyday and therefore preparing meals is a continual, urgent matter, a pressing necessity that cannot be delayed for too long. Medical emergencies - When sickness strikes either ourselves or our family members, we have to take action fairly quickly to nurse ourselves back to health (especially small children). When there is a major illness or injury, it is an urgent matter to seek medical attention immediately. Duties related to work and school - Pressure is placed upon us by our employer to be on time and get the job done. We are compelled to work in order to provide for our families. Young people must attend school and come on time. Homework, tests, and deadlines are given which must be met to succeed. A mechanical failure at work or at home that must be fixed promptly - If machinery breaks down or the computer crashes, repair is often an urgent matter in order to fulfill the day's work agenda. If at home we have trouble with our plumbing, electrical system, heating and cooling, stove refrigerator, etc. it must be taken care of quickly. Such demands often act on us in such a way to motivate us to action. Not only are they important, but they are very urgent, therefore we are called to action to fulfill these needs and duties in life.

As Christians, we readily recognize the importance of fulfilling God's commands, yet we often do not treat our obedience as an urgent matter. We understand we must do the good God has told us to do, yet we too often "forget" to do it, treating it not as urgent. "But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb 13:16, NKJ). We know that no sin must continue in life, lest we fall away from God. Yet, we do not see sin as an urgent and daily danger to avoid. "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." (Heb. 3:12-13, NKJ). Do brethren today truly recognize that our fight against sin and our duty to do good is an urgent matter of pressing importance? We neglect our salvation when we do not treat our obedience as an urgent matter (Heb. 2:1-3).

We often assume we have plenty of time to obey God and therefore lack a sense of urgency in our readiness for the Judgment day. Like the five virgins who did not bring oil in readiness for the bridegroom (Mat. 25:1-13), we act like fools when we believe we can wait until the last minute to prepare for the Judgment! God's word declares that when we live life without a sense of urgency in our obedience to God that we are spiritually "asleep" and need to "wake up"! "And this do (obey the law of God vs. 8-10 - ML), knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Rom. 13:11-14, NASB).

Let us remember that the commands of God will not stir us to action without personal faith in God's word. Unlike hunger, medical needs, job or school responsibilities, etc., the commands of God do not seem to immediately press upon us. At least not by external forces. We can procrastinate in fulfilling God's will and most of the time there are no immediate consequences that we suffer. Unfortunately, for many people, there is the rationalization that we can delay obedience and that we have plenty of time to change our ways and make improvements for God. The commandments of God do not motivate some to action because they do not take God's word seriously. Only by receiving God's word with genuine faith will it stir us to obedience. Hebrews 4:1-2 says "Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (NASB). When we truly believe in what God says, our hearts will be convicted and we will be firmly persuaded to urgently obey the will of God. Though obedience may not seem urgent, it is in actuality a very urgent matter! (2 Peter 3:10-13).

Let us beware of the fact that many times we allow others to define for us what is important and urgent. Unwittingly, we may allow the world to set our priorities for us and a love for worldly things develops (1 John 2:15-16). The news media, entertainment, sports, and recreation are viewed of greater importance than they actually are and may control us as a result becoming our "master" (1 Cor. 6:12). Non-Christians may negatively influence our lives more than we realize to the point that we do not place priority on prayer, Bible study, good works and holiness as we once did (1 Cor. 15:33).

Frequently, we waste too much time in areas that are neither important nor urgent (sometimes even sinful!) such as TV or movie watching, reading newspapers and magazines, playing video games, surfing the Internet, engaging in gossip, shopping and buying things just for the fun of it, involving ourselves in hobbies or the collection of things that become almost an obsession, etc. Sin, such as gossip or covetousness, must of course cease. Yet, even those activities that appear morally neutral can become wrong or sinful when they are treated as more important and urgent than doing the will of God. In daily living, we must strive to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Mat. 6:33). This requires that we put God and His will above all other "urgent" matters as defined by the world (John 6:26-29) and redeem or make the most of our time each day in the service of the Lord (Eph. 5:15-17).

Putting that which is most important in life first is essential to spiritual fulfillment. No child of God should have regrets at the end of life and say "I wish I would have put first things first" (e.g. Bible study, prayer, serving, giving, marriage, parenting, evangelism, spiritual growth, victory over sin, etc.). God's will must be given priority now! Give your best to God right now. Treat prayer and Bible study as important and urgent, for they are preventive measures against committing sin (Mat. 26:41; 1 Pet. 2:2; Eph. 6:17). Remember the importance and urgency of long range planning of spiritual goals and good deeds that you want to accomplish in your service to God (2 Pet. 1:4-11; 1 Thes. 4:1). Take the time to encourage others and talk honestly and openly with family members, brethren in Christ, and others. This should be regarded as important as well as urgent (1 Thes. 5:11; Heb. 3:12-14; 10:24-25; Eph. 4:25). Your diligent commitment to the work and worship of the Lord should always be considered both important and urgent. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58, NKJ). Our obedience to God is an important and urgent matter to attend to so we will always be ready for the Judgment day when our Lord and Savior returns.

Do You Really Believe the Bible Is the Word of God?

By Mark Larson

“And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess 2:13, NASB). Paul commended the Christians at Thessalonica for accepting the message that was preached to them “for what it really is, the word of God” instead of mere words of men. Could you be given such a complement?

Many people today claim to believe that the Bible is God’s word, but their response to the Bible says otherwise. By the beliefs they hold and the lifestyle they live, they do not really believe that the Bible is God’s word. For if they did, they would take it much more seriously and perform the good works that God commands in Scripture.

More and more “scholars” and theologians today are denying that the Bible is an inspired book. Although they may teach that Bible writers were influenced by God, they do not respect every word in Scripture as the actual words of God. Their perspective of the Bible has had a negative effect on the people, so much so, that many people do not revere the Bible as God’s book to follow today.

To believe that the Bible is truly God’s word is to understand the meaning of inspiration.
2 Timothy 3:16 declares: “All Scripture is inspired by God” (NASB). “Inspired” (theopeustes) means God (theo) breated (pneo). Therefore, all Scripture is God inspired or God breathed! God Himself “breathed through” the Bible writers that spoke for Him! The breath of God is parallel to the word of the Lord (Ps. 33:6). Commonly, “scholars” will speak of what Moses, Isaiah, John, Paul, Peter, etc. wrote (or said) as if they themselves came up with the words we read in Scripture! The assertion is, God gave them an idea or a concept and then they themselves chose the words to say. Such an understanding of Scripture demonstrates an ignorance of how inspiration works.

Consider how the prophets and apostles (writers of the Bible) got the words for the writing of Scripture. A genuine prophet was a “mouth” of the Lord. The actual words of God were placed in his mouth, not merely an idea placed in his mind: “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut 18:18, NASB). Notice that God Himself choose the words to say, not the prophet. (See also Amos 3:7; 7:14-17; Micah 3:8). The same was true for the apostles. The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all the truth, giving them words which came from God (John 14:26; 16:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). The apostles spoke the words the Holy Spirit directed them to speak (e.g., Acts 2:1-4). The apostles never preached a man-made wisdom or words which they themselves chose, but only the exact words taught by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:6-13). “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:12-13, NASB).

The inspiration of Scripture is a wonderful blessing for us, for not only is the Bible God’s word, but when we read it we can understand it! “That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Eph. 3:3-5, NASB). The purpose of the inspiration of Scripture was not to confuse us with words too high and complex for our comprehension, but to supply us with words that even the common man can understand. As a result, we can know God’s will for our lives (Eph. 5:17).

Thankfully, man’s opinions or personal interpretations (i.e., explanations as to the meaning) are not involved in prophecy or in the writing of Scripture: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:20-21, NASB). This means that we can have the assurance that the Bible is purely and solely from the mind of God. We can be confident that the Bible is God’s will for us today (1 Pet. 1:23-25).

We can plainly recognize that the inspiration of Scripture is not a mere emotion that moves a person to write a story or paint a painting. The inspiration of Scripture is so much more! The Bible contains the words of God! If we really believe that the Bible is God’s word, we will not shun it or try to change it, but we will respect it, learn it, and follow it carefully in life (2 Pet. 3:15-18).

Obeying the Gospel from the Heart

By Mark Larson

“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:17-18, NASB). As important as the doctrine “salvation by grace through faith” is in the Roman letter (e.g., Rom. 3:22-24), obedience to the gospel is also emphasized as essential to gaining eternal life (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Indeed, genuine faith in Christ will be demonstrated by our obedience to God (James 2:14-26).

The Scriptures make it clear that the gospel not only stands for the good news of Jesus Christ concerning His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-4), but also the word of God or the truth (Eph. 1:13; John 17:17) or the entire law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21). Everyone will be held accountable by God on whether or not they obeyed the gospel on Judgment day (2 Thes. 1:8).
Obeying the gospel necessarily involves the plan of salvation or the conditions one must meet to become a Christian. After a person has heard God’s word with a good and honest heart (Rom. 10:17; Luke 8:15), that person will have faith in Christ. Belief in Jesus is essential for salvation (Acts 16:31). True faith will lead a person to repent of his sins, confess Jesus as Lord, and be baptized into Christ as commanded in Scripture (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:38). All of these conditions must be met to become a Christian and receive all spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3; Gal. 3:27).

In Romans 6:17 (see passage above), the apostle Paul reminded the saints at Rome of their prior obedience to the gospel when they first became Christians. Their obedience was not a mere symbolic ritual or show, but a sincere act of faith that came “from the heart.” “Heart obedience” must be important, for Paul, who was inspired by God, emphasizes it and also gives thanks to God for it. Clearly, conversion to Christ or our salvation is not a passive event, but a conscious choice that a person makes, a decision that comes from the heart.Obedience from the heart has always been important to God. We cannot expect to please the Lord by obeying His commandments if our heart “is not in it.” Without sincerity and true dedication of ourselves to God, we are merely “going through the motions” and fail to gladden or delight the heart of God. When the heart is absent, our worship of God is worthless and we play the hypocrite (Mat. 15:7-9). Only true or genuine obedience will do and such obedience must come from the heart (e.g., 1 Pet. 1:22).

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines the heart (kardia), in part, as “the center and seat of spiritual life” and “the fountain and seat of the thoughts.” Therefore, when we obey from the heart we are truly and fully devoted to God in our service to Him! Our thoughts, which stem from the heart, are held “captive to the obedience of Christ” and every bad attitude, evil motive, doubt, and falsehood is destroyed or put away (See 2 Cor. 10:5). Obedience from the heart means we are whole-heartedly sincere and serious about serving God, not frivolous, superficial, or vain.
Sometimes people obey the gospel in order to please men or obey without true conviction or belief in what they are doing and why. This is not true obedience! When we obey God, let us always remember that this is the way we express our love for Him: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mat. 22:37); "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

What again did the saints at Rome obey from the heart? The gospel, yet more specifically “that form of teaching to which [they] were committed” (Rom. 6:17). The form of teaching that they obeyed refers to the exact pattern of teaching that they conformed themselves to: The genuine gospel of Jesus Christ! They did not obey something that sort of represented the gospel or followed a substitute for the original (as some people do today - Gal. 1:6-9), they obeyed God’s gospel to become genuine Christians. Genuine Christians conform to the pattern of Jesus Christ who “died to sin, once for all” who also was “raised from the dead” and now “lives to God” (Rom. 6:9-10). Like Christ, true Christians “consider [themselves] to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).

When we commit ourselves to the exact pattern of the gospel and obey it from the heart as the Christians at Rome did, we not only are forgiven of all our sins (Acts 2:38), but we also deliver ourselves to God to become His servants: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:17-18). Obeying the gospel from the heart means that we have chosen to be a slave of sin no longer. Now freed from sin as our master, we choose to be slaves of righteousness which results in eternal life (Rom. 6:22-23).

1st Century Christianity in The 21st Century

By Mark Larson

To practice 1st century Christianity in the 21st century seems like "mission impossible" to many people today. Some have doubts that the ancient practices of Christians can be repeated in modern times. Others question whether we should even try, as if it wasn't important. The New Testament writings that record the beginnings and history of the church (e.g., the book of Acts) and the beliefs and teachings of the church are often belittled as "out of date" and too archaic to apply to the people of the 21st century.

The attitudes described above explain, at least in part, the reason why there are so many different churches and denominations with different beliefs and practices today. When people do not follow the original pattern or example of Christianity as revealed in the New Testament, division and a multitude of religious groups inevitably follows. When people doubt the original "blueprint" (i.e., the New Testament) and put their confidence instead in man-made creeds, traditions, and the wisdom of men, something other than genuine Christianity will be established (Col. 2:8; Mat. 15:14; 16:18).

Let us all be encouraged to know from the word of God that 1st century Christianity can be practiced in the 21st century! 1 Peter 1:24-25 should remove all skepticism: "For, 'All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord abides forever... '" The Scriptures are timeless, applying to every generation. Rather than a dead or stale document, the Scriptures are just as "living and powerful" today as they were in the first century and thus very relevant to our modern age (Heb. 4:12). The Scriptures still have value today of helping "the man of God" to be "perfect" or complete spiritually in every way (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The best and only way to know how people became Christians in the first century is to study the New Testament. Belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God was the first essential step (Acts 16:31). Next, people were required to repent or turn away from their sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19) and confess their faith in Jesus (Acts 8:37; Rom. 10:9-10). Finally, people were then ready to become Christians by being baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:27). Baptism clearly requires an immersion in water (See Acts 8:37-39; Mark 1:10). For centuries, immersion has been viewed as a radical, disgraceful, and improper practice that goes against the tradition of sprinkling. An immersion in water may seem strange to people in modern times, however, immersion (baptism) it is only way to be "buried with Jesus" (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12) and as a result, gain forgiveness of sins and salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). Once a person is baptized into Christ, they are now a part of the Lord's church (Acts 2:38, 41, 47; 1 Cor. 12:13; Heb. 12:22-23).

Christians, according to the New Testament, organized into collective, local bodies of Christians or churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16). Each local church was to have a plurality of elders (not just one, Acts 14:23) who provided oversight and leadership (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). The rule of elders (also called pastors or bishops, Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:1) was limited only to the specific local church they were a part of (1 Pet. 5:1-2). Also, each local church was to have deacons who served the church (Acts 6:1-6; Phil. 1:1). Evangelists, otherwise called preachers or ministers, simply preached God's word (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:2, 5). Each and every member was to contribute their talents in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 12:12-27; Rom. 12:4-8).

The organization of local churches in the first century was very simple compared to the often complicated structure and dangerous arrangements that men devise today. Compare the New Testament pattern with, for example, the system of Catholicism in which there is only one pastor or "priest" that rules over a local church. These priests are then subject to a higher office called a bishop who is in charge of many local churches. The bishops then submit to just one man called the Pope. "Protestant" denominations also deviate from the New Testament plan by having only one pastor over a local church. Each local church submits to the decisions and decrees made by the leadership of the denomination. These man-made organizations and positions of leadership (e.g., church associations, general conferences, councils, church presidents, etc.) take way church autonomy and independence. This deviation from the New Testament Scriptures has led to widespread error in churches and an abuse of power and authority. If only people would follow the New Testament model for the church, then every local church will be set up the way the Lord intended, thus bringing glory to God, not men.

The work of the church in the first century was also much more simple than what typically takes place in modern times. The three major works of the local church were: (1) Evangelism or teaching the lost (Mat. 28:18-20; Phil. 4:15-18); (2) Edification or building up one another through the word of God (Acts 20:32; Eph. 4:16); (3) Benevolence toward needy Christians only (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35; 11:27-30; 1 Tim. 5:16).

In contrast, men today want to add to the work of the church and broaden its mission. Many churches today are engaged in all kinds of works that God did not assign such as a "ministry of recreation," world or community benevolence, maintaining orphan homes, and political crusades. Such works were not the work of the church in the first century, though certainly these types of works individual Christians could do (Gal. 6:10; James 1:27). By keeping the work of the church simple in conformity to the New Testament Scriptures, we not only please God, but we eliminate works that distract us, allowing us to remain focused on the spiritual, on what is most important for us to do as a congregation.

The worship of the church in the first century was also very simple and thus is entirely possible for us to repeat today. Since Christians are commanded to assemble themselves together for worship (Heb. 10:24-25), there must of necessity be an adequate place for worship. Contrary to popular belief, a church does not have to meet in an official "church building" or some kind of fancy, cathedral with stain glass windows. A church may assemble for worship in a variety of places, provided it is lawful and expedient (1 Cor. 6:12). In the first century, and even the second, it was common for local churches to meet together for worship in private residences or member's homes. For example, the New Testament records the early Christians assembling in the homes of Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3-5), Gaius (Rom. 16:23), and Nympha at Laodicea (Col. 4:15).

Christians in the first century assembled together on the first day of the week to engage in five major acts of worship: Hearing the doctrine of the apostles (i.e., Christ) through preaching, partaking of the Lord’s supper, prayer, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Eph. 5:19), and giving of their means towards the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 16:1-2), a spiritual sacrifice (See Heb. 13:15-16; Phil. 4:18; 1 Pet. 2:5). They did not burn incense, light decorated lampstands, nor use mechanical instruments like some churches do today. Such practices passed away with the Old Law or Old Testament (Col. 2:13-16; Heb. 8:6-13). Some churches try to “improve” worship by providing entertainment such as concerts, bands, theater, and the like. Yet, to please the Lord, only worship that is according to the New Testament pattern or the truth will do (John 4:23-24). The spiritual simplicity of worship during the first century can most definitely be practiced today.

To simply be Christians, in character, in conduct, in everything we do, we must be willing to "go back to the first century"- to the original pattern for Christianity as found in the New Testament Scriptures. Our aim should be to please the Lord as well as honor Him by respecting His authority: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father" (Col. 3:17, NASB). To be genuine Christians, let us demonstrate our faith in Christ and our love for Him by doing what He says as recorded in the Scriptures (Luke 6:46; John 12:48; 14:15; Eph. 3:3-5; James 2:14-26). Let us prove ourselves to be real Christians indeed, living in the 21st century (Mat. 5:16; Phil. 2:14-16).

That's Just Your Interpretation

By Mark Larson

That’s just your interpretation! How many times has someone said that to you when you attempted to teach them the truth from the Scriptures? Rather than take the message of truth to heart, it is quickly dismissed as merely your opinion and not taken seriously at all.
If you have ever heard this before, you know that it is sort of like “hitting a brick wall.” Further discussion of the truth with such a person can be very difficult. The potential for meaningful Bible study is not very promising.

What Is Your Interpretation? The best way to begin in your response to someone who says: “That’s just your interpretation” is to hand the passage over to them and ask for their interpretation. An interpretation in Bible study is simply an explanation of the meaning of a particular passage of Scripture. Rather than be discouraged and give up, make this offer instead: “I am willing to hear your interpretation and correct my own position if I am wrong. What is it?” This demonstrates fairness as well as humility, both which are necessary for Bible study (Prov. 18:12-13). Be open-minded and willing to hear any evidence that they might have for their beliefs and practices. Just as we hope for positive change in the people we teach, we too must demonstrate a willingness to change our own beliefs and practices when we are corrected (e.g., Acts 18:24-26).

Speak in Terms of Evidence: When making the offer to listen to other people’s interpretation of Scripture, be sure to include this request: “You must have evidence to support your interpretation over mine. What is it?” Before allowing an exchange of interpretations to take place, it is important to come to a mutual agreement that true, saving faith is based on the evidence or the teaching of the Scriptures. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

We must speak of the importance of providing book, chapter, and verse for the beliefs that we hold (1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 3:17). We must emphasize that a fair hearing must be given to all that God has said on the matter to get a proper understanding of God’s will. When studying any subject, “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) should be sought in the pursuit for the truth. Passages must be examined in its proper context. Concordances and Hebrew or Greek Bible dictionaries are very helpful to gather even more evidence.

No Legitimate Interpretations? Sometimes people reject the truth because they are convinced that no interpretation of Scripture can be relied on as the truth. Many are convinced that every interpretation involves man’s opinions and thus everything is spun, biased, or slanted to favor a particular doctrine, practice, or personal viewpoint.

Let us admit the fact that there are indeed many interpretations of Scripture offered today that are according to man’s opinions that must be rejected (2 Pet. 3:15-17). However, not all interpretations are false. There are real differences between interpretations. Many will lead to eternal destruction, yet only the truth will lead to eternal life (Mat. 7:13-14).

Finding the truth requires a recognition that there is ultimately only one right interpretation of the Scriptures. There is only one faith (Eph. 4:5; Jude 3) or one truth (John 8:32; 17:17) that God has revealed to us. God has promised us that we can know what the truth is (1 Tim. 2:4; Eph. 3:4). These facts ought to bring hope to the skeptic who says there are no legitimate interpretations.

Will Any Interpretation of Scripture Do? Sometimes people take the opposite extreme and declare that though there is only one faith or truth, it is too confusing or difficult to find. Many people, in response to the multitude of religious groups and doctrines, conclude that almost any interpretation will do. Rather than rule out certain religious beliefs on the basis of Scripture, there is the desire to respect every belief as equal in merit or legitimacy. Many people want to “just get along” and do not want to debate or discuss their differences. The preferred “solution” of many is to just choose the interpretation that personally suits you best and call that “the truth.”

Some Interpretations Are Better or More Plausible Than Others: The answer to any confusion or challenge that we may have in searching for the truth is not to choose just any interpretation of Scripture! Imagine the trouble we would have in our lives if we handled all of our decisions this way. For example, would we be willing to randomly choose a marriage partner? Would we choose just any car to drive or any house to live in? Would any of us be willing to invest our hard earned savings into just any type of investment? When we are sick, would we decide that just any medicine or treatment will make us well? Of course not! In making any important decision in life, to choose wisely requires that we learn all that we can about the issue or problem that is at hand. The same is true in deciding what we should believe and practice in religion from the Scriptures.

So which interpretation of Scripture should one choose? To sift through the interpretations that are possible and decide on only one requires that we accept the interpretation that is most plausible, probable, or credible. Rather than foolishly accept just any interpretation of Scripture, let us choose the one that provides the most evidence (e.g., true to the context of the passage, in harmony with parallel passages on the same subject, true to the actual meaning of Bible words, etc.). “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17).

God Provides Us with Rules for Interpretation: Thankfully, God provides us with some assistance on how to interpret the Scriptures right in the Word itself! The Lord gives us the help we need to determine the truth for what we are to believe and practice in religion. There are four major rules He provides: (1) Direct statements or commands we must obey (e.g., John 14:15; 2 Pet. 3:1-2); (2) Divinely approved examples we are to follow (e.g., 1 Pet. 2:21; Phil. 3:17; Acts 2:42); (3) Necessary implications, meaning conclusions we can make from what is implied in Scripture (e.g., Mat. 22:41-46); (4) Respect for the silence of God, meaning we restrict ourselves to what God has revealed in the Scriptures to determine His will (Deut. 29:29). We do not add to it nor take away from it (Rev. 22:18-19). Let us all be true to God and respect His word in the interpretation of the Scriptures.

Speaking the Truth in Love

By Mark Larson

“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15, NASB). What does it mean to speak the truth in love? Is it just a matter of speaking in a loving manner in which our voice sounds “loving” to the human ear? Some have simplified it to mean that whenever we speak the truth then we are in effect showing love. Others have explained it to mean that whenever we speak in a loving way then we in effect stand for the truth. There are differences of opinion to be sure, yet what does the Bible say how we shall “speak the truth in love”?

What Is the Truth?

The context of Ephesians 4:15 reveals that “the truth” is “the one faith” (Eph. 4:4-5) or “the faith” (Eph. 4:13). “The faith” stands for the Gospel (Phil. 1:27), the Gospel stands for the truth (Eph. 1:13), and the truth stands for the word of God (John 17:17). Therefore, to “speak the truth” is to speak that which is true or correct, namely the word of God, instead of false doctrine (Eph. 4:14) or that which is contrary to God’s word. Our speech should always be truthful and honest (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9), yet “speaking the truth” in Ephesians 4:15 has to do with our speaking the word of God.

What Is Love?

Love in Accordance to Truth: To speak the truth in love, we ought to know what love is. The love we practice should be in agreement to the truth we speak. “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). The love we are to abound in is not mere excitement or sentimental emotion. We are to love according to “real knowledge” of the will of God. We love intelligently using proper judgment or “all discernment.”

Seeking the Highest Good for Others: The word “love” (Eph. 4:15; Phil. 1:9) comes from the Greek word agape. Agape is love that seeks the highest good for others, only doing what is good and best for each person. Thus, love is about helping others, not harming them (Rom. 13:9b-10). Love involves serving others (Gal. 5:13) and making personal sacrifices for them (John 15:13). Certainly, to speak “the truth” to our neighbors is to love them, for the truth or the Gospel has the power for salvation for everyone who believes! (Rom. 1:16).

Not a Worldly Kind of Love: Let us not confuse love with the concept the world has of love. The world tends to think of love merely as a “warm-fuzzy” feeling or affectionate gesture. The world teaches that when you are made to feel good, then you are being loved. Yet, from a biblical standpoint, that isn’t always the case! “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6). To be made to feel good, to be comforted, or to receive affection by another isn’t always being loved. “Kisses” or feel good sayings may be comforting and pleasurable for the moment, but may in fact be deceitful. An enemy will tell you what you want to hear and not what you need to hear (the truth). False teachers, no matter how sincere they may be, are in effect “enemies” who hand out “kisses” when you need to be “wounded” instead. They aim to entertain and “tickle your ears” instead of preach the whole truth (2 Tim. 4:2-5). In contrast, a true friend is willing to “wound” you by speaking the truth: Wound your pride, admonish you, correct you, even reprove or rebuke you if necessary in order to help you grow spiritually and overcome your sin. That is true love! It is not always easy to speak the truth, yet if we truly love our neighbor as ourselves, we will not condone their sin, but instead teach them the truth so that they might be saved: “[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).

How Do We Speak the Truth in Love?

Speak the Truth from the Motive of Love: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14). Speaking the truth is no exception! Just because a person speaks the truth does not mean that his or her motive is good and right. For instance, Paul did not rejoice over the envy and strife of certain preachers, but only in the fact that they preached the truth or “Christ” (Phil. 1:12-18).

Our motives for what we do are very important to God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mat. 5:8; e.g., Mat. 6:1-6). Speaking the truth should not be done out of pride, bitter jealousy, or selfish ambition (James 3:13-14). The truth should not be spoken from unfeeling, unloving harsh critics and judges who merely enjoy making people feel bad. Instead, we speak the truth because we truly love the people we are speaking to and care about the salvation of their souls, much like the apostle Paul and his love for the brethren at Corinth: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you” (2 Cor. 2:4). Speaking the truth from the motive of love is absolutely essential to pleasing the Lord (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

Speaking the Truth Appropriately: “Speaking the truth in love” requires speaking His word in the proper manner. Namely, our speech should “always be with grace” (Col. 4:6). To speak with grace is to speak graciously meaning with kindness, courtesy, and compassion. The way we speak ought to reflect the fact that we are Christians! (Col. 3:12-14). Truth spoken with grace can be effective in persuading and teaching others the will of God. “The wise in heart will be called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Prov. 16:21; cf. 16:24). Love is not only about what we say (the truth), but how we say it!

Speech “with grace” also means to give grace to those who hear us speak (Col. 4:6). This means that what we say should benefit them spiritually. When we speak the truth, we should strive to meet the spiritual needs of each particular person (Eph. 4:29). To accomplish this, timeliness or tact should also be used. Wise discretion and consideration of others is important in determining when the most appropriate time to speak the truth is. “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Prov. 25:11).

As God’s children, let us commit ourselves to accomplishing His will by “speaking the truth in love” as He commands (Eph. 4:15).

The Importance of Moral Consistency

By Mark Larson

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10, NASB). From the perspective of God, any type of sin that we choose to commit is a disrespect of His authority, no matter how well we have done to keep other laws or commandments of God. Sin or lawlessness is always a demonstration of disobedience to His will. Sin will always separate us from God and lead to eternal death if we continue in it and do not repent (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 6:23; Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).

While we may readily admit that any type of sin can condemn our soul to Hell (if not repented of) we still have a tendency to categorize sin. In Catholicism, there is a special warning against the “Seven Deadly Sins” or “Cardinal Sins” (i.e., Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and laziness). Even Christians tend to elevate certain kinds of sins as more devastating to us spiritually than others (e.g., adultery vs. lying, forsaking the assemblies vs. covetousness, etc.). James, the servant of God, rebuked the brethren for such an attitude: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:10-11).

To treat some parts of the law of Christ seriously and other parts of the law as minor, trivial, or inconsequential is moral inconsistency. As common as this practice may be, it is a grave mistake for any servant of God to make and therefore must be remedied.

Why the Tendency to Be Inconsistent?

We Often View Sin from a Personal Standpoint, Rather Than by the Standpoint of God: In our fight against sin, we are often more quick to address those sins that are personally troublesome or offensive to us. For many, there is self-centeredness instead of God-centeredness when evaluating sin. Depending on a person’s background, one may, for example, be more troubled by the sins of sexual lust, homosexuality, and the drinking of alcohol than perhaps greed, gambling, or the neglect of prayer. In addition, we frequently place a higher value on certain laws of Christ over others because we personally enjoy keeping them (e.g., singing vs. Bible study; hospitality vs. evangelism).

To combat the above tendencies, we need to develop a heart for God in all matters of life.
Rather than be angry or sorrowful over just those sins that personally affect us or personally offend us, we must learn to view sin as God does. “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, And Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor…” (Hab. 1:13a). “For Thou art not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with Thee” (Ps. 5:4).

In addition, we must learn to grieve as God grieves over all the sins that we commit. Consider the fact that our sin causes sorrow to the heart of God: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Eph 4:30-31). Awareness that our sin is against God (Ps. 51:4) and that our sin grieves Him ought to cause sorrow in our own hearts, we who have love for the Lord. Such sorrow is essential in producing a repentance that leads to our eternal salvation (2 Cor 7:9-10).

There Are Sins or Pleasures People Do not Want to Give Up: Another reason for moral inconsistency is that many people do not want to give up their most favorite sins or pleasurable activities. For example, a person may be quick to take the moral high ground against using profanity in his speech (Eph. 4:29), yet at the same time continually partake of television shows and movies that contain cursing, swearing, and other foul language. In another example, a person may do well to pay his taxes and strive to be a law-abiding citizen of the state (Rom. 13:1-7), only to habitually speed when driving his car exceeding the speed limit. Many other examples could be given.

More often than not, moral inconsistency is due to the fact that people are “… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4). Instead of promptly putting away all sin, they cling to those sins that are especially desirable or pleasurable to them personally. They choose “the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25b) and do their best to justify or rationalize their bad behavior as good or acceptable in the sight of God (Isa. 5:20). Just as worse, many even try to use God’s grace as a “license to sin” (Jude 4) and commonly indulge in their favorite sin “now and then.”

People Are Often More Concern About How Their Conduct Appears Before Men, Than How It Looks Before God: Moral inconsistency is particularly tempting when we are more concerned about what people think, than what God thinks (e.g., John 12:42-43; cf. 1 Cor. 4:3-4). If we are not careful, we may find ourselves practicing sin just because it is accepted by society or even by some brethren who are not yet spiritual, but carnal in their thinking (1 Cor. 3:1-3). For example, while most, if not all brethren may condemn the sin of adultery (Rom. 13:9), in contrast, the sin of covetousness (Luke 12:15), is tolerated by more brethren today than ever before (Perhaps due to living in such a materialistic society?). The brother who is moral inconsistent will reason: “I cannot get away with committing adultery, but it seems that a materialistic lifestyle is allowed!” This is of course faulty reasoning, for the viewpoint of brethren is not the authority, the word of the Lord is (John 12:48). Similarly, when it comes to keeping the law of Christ (i.e., 1 Cor. 9:21), there is a great temptation to ask the question: “Who is looking?” Sadly, some brethren attend the worship assemblies only because they know that it is expected of them and do not want others to look down on them. Therefore, they are diligent to obey the command “not forsaking our own assembling together” (Heb. 10:25). In contrast, these same brethren are not nearly so motivated to obey the command “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Col. 4:2a). This is because no one will notice if they are devoted or not. Yet, of course, there is always One who will always notice and see all that we do (or not do) and that Person is God (Heb. 4:13).

The Danger of Moral Inconsistency.

We Prove Ourselves to Be Hypocrites, Rather Than Disciples of Christ: As much as we may tell ourselves that we are Christians and appear to be so in the community in which we live, if we continually live morally inconsistent lives we are not genuine disciples of Christ! If, for example, the condition of our heart does not match the outward display of our actions, we are seen by Christ as hypocrites (Mat. 23:27-28). If we are only good at judging others and “talk the talk,” but do not “walk the walk” of a Christian (3 John 4), we are hypocrites (Rom. 2:1-3).

We Lose Our Influence for Christ: “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you…” (Rom. 2:21-24). Non-Christians are watching our conduct and will take special note of our moral inconsistencies. Though we will not be perfect (Rom. 3:23), if our commitment toward holiness is a half-hearted effort, we will in time decrease or even diminish our effectiveness to reach others for Christ, no matter how great a teacher we may be of the law of Christ.

We Put Our Soul in Eternal Jeopardy: Remember what James, the servant of God said? “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). The principle of obedience to God requires that we strive to obey all that God has said. One part of God’s law is just as binding as another. Thus, if we disobey any law of God, we will, as a result, be guilty of the whole. If any part of our life is sinful, then we will be judged as a sinner. Any sin that we continue in will lead to eternal death (Rom. 6:23). No one will be able to plead before the throne of God on that Last Day and offer their good deeds as a way to avoid punishment for bad deeds that were never put away (i.e., repented of). Hypocrisy must be put aside (1 Pet. 2:1).

What Does Moral Consistency Require?

Not Perfection: Though we are commanded to strive for perfection or spiritual maturity (Mat. 5:48), let us not misunderstand that moral consistency demands perfection! We will set ourselves up for failure and misery by such an attitude. Such thinking is foolish and dishonest to God and us (1 John 1:8, 10).

Total Commitment: Instead of absolute perfection, God requires that we do our best to “walk in the light” or practice the truth in every area of life (1 John 1:5-7). God knows the difference between the person who is committed to His will and fights against sin, yet stumbles from time to time versus the person who surrenders to sin and continues in it.
Repentance and Confession: When we commit sin (as much as we try not to), let us not dismay, but instead repent for the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 24:47; Acts 8:22). Though sin may involve inconsistency, such inconsistency does not have to continue!
Rather, let us treat every sin as a serious matter and be quick to confess our sins to God:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).