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

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What Would it Take to Get You to Leave God?

By Mark Larson

For the Christian, the thought of leaving God should never occur. No consideration should ever be given to leaving the Lord and going back into the world and into sin. Yet, let us not be naive and believe for one second that it could not happen to any one of us (1 Cor. 10:12). The reality is, leaving God is a real danger: “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12, NASB). Falling away from the living God is a temptation that is frequently set before us by Satan. In fact, it is the devil’s number one goal to get us to leave the Lord and return to following his ways (Luke 22:31; Eph. 6:11-12; 1 Pet. 5:8).

Knowing, therefore, that leaving God is a possibility, though certainly should not be a probability, what would it take to get you or me to leave God? There are many possible causes that the Scriptures warns us about, all of which we should beware of such as trials and tribulations (Rev. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:6-7), persecutions (Mat. 13:21; 2 Thes. 1:4-5), false doctrines (1 Tim. 4:1-3), unbelief in God, and the practice of sin (Heb. 3:12-13).

Many suppose that it would take something “really big” to get them to leave God, some horrific trial that really puts them to the test such as a terrible illness, imprisonment, or an unexpected death of a family member. Others believe that only a “major” problem in the practice of sin such as drunkenness, adultery, or covetousness would cause them to leave God. While these scenarios could certainly cause one to leave God if he or she allowed it, there are far more subtle, yet just as dangerous causes that we need to beware of.

“They Did not Honor Him As God, or Give Thanks.”

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Rom 1:21-25).

Like the Gentiles who made the foolish exchange of trading God for their idols, we too can go down that same road if we aren’t careful. Notice, that even though they knew of God, as revealed by His creation (Rom. 1:19-20), they failed to honor Him as God or give thanks for all that the Lord had made. As a result, their reasoning about God became empty and foolish, resulting in the darkness of heart and the practice of sin and idolatry.

Knowing God much more than the Gentiles did, we have not only the Creation to understand God, we also have the revelation of God’s word to teach us who God is and what His will is for us. Yet, despite this knowledge of God, we can, just like the Gentiles, leave God to serve idols when we fail to honor Him and give thanks to Him as we should. Simply by failing to honor God and express our thanksgiving unto Him, we may find ourselves putting someone or something above God and as a result, leave the Lord!

Are You Honoring the Lord as Your God?

When we fail to give praise, glory, and honor to God in our worship, we fail to truly worship the Lord. It is not enough to simply attend a worship assembly or pray a prayer. Honoring God with our lips only or paying “lip service” to Him while our hearts are far from Him is not true worship (Mat. 15:8; cf. John 4:23-24). Our “attendance record” or daily practice of prayer is not always “proof positive” of our faithfulness to God. The truth is, we can go through all the right motions of an outward, external service, yet still not honor the Lord by our heart and the attitude we bring. Our aim in worship should be to glorify Him for what He has done and what He means to us. Our commitment to such worship is preparation for what we will do in Heaven for all Eternity! (Rev. 4:10-11).

A sure danger sign that we are on our way to leaving the Lord is when we lose sight of God Himself in our day to day lives. If we allow ourselves to get entangled in the affairs of this world (2 Tim. 2:4) and become so busy that we give little thought to the Lord who we serve (restricted to a Sunday service or occasional prayer), there is something terribly wrong with our relationship with God. God is to be the center of our life, not a hobby. God is to be the Lord of our life, not a mere friend of convenience. God is to be the most important Person of our life! Our goal in life should be to honor Him in all that we do (Col. 3:17). This will require not only our obedience to Him, but also giving Him the glory, not ourselves, for every good work, accomplishment, and blessing (1 Cor. 1:29-31; 2 Cor. 10:17-18). Let us not forget to give God the glory! (e.g., Luke 17:11-19).

Are You Giving Thanks to God Continually?

Failure to give thanks to the Lord is also a warning sign that we may someday leave God. A person who possesses an unthankful heart is a person who has forgotten their Lord who will slowly, but surely stray from the commandments of God (e.g., Deut. 8:11-17). Although he or she may “know” God, their neglect to give thanks to God indicates that they do not really know God or have a right relationship with Him. For if they did, they would see just how much the Lord has blessed them and provided for His children.

A lack of thankfulness toward God will negatively affect our commitment to obey Him. Without appreciation for what He has done for us in Jesus Christ, we will not grow spiritually as we should (2 Pet. 1:4-9). Without a heart of gratitude, discontentment and a lust for worldly things will dominate our hearts instead, causing us to stray from the faith (1 Tim. 6:7-10). To remain true to the Lord, we need to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving in our hearts, in our conversations with others, and in our prayer lives to God. “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20; cf. 1 Thes. 5:18).

To remain with God and one day enter that Heavenly city to come, let us continually offer praise to God and give thanks to His name (Heb. 13:14-15).

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Fragrance of Christ

By Mark Larson

Every Christian has a responsibility to proclaim the gospel to others according to one’s ability and opportunities (e.g., Acts 8:4). Yet, is every Christian held liable by God for the response each person gives to the gospel? Certainly, there are cases when we do not present the Bible as we should and for these we will be held accountable. We may not have spoken the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) or may have acted hypocritical, having sin in our own lives (Mat. 7:1-5) for example. Yet, what about cases when we present the gospel in a Christ-like manner and people still fail to render obedience? The question is raised because sometimes we unwittingly blame ourselves for other people’s rejection of the gospel.

There is a great temptation to believe that God disapproves of us if we are not successful in getting other people to obey the truth. Parents are sometimes too quick to blame themselves for their children’s reluctance to obey the gospel. Preachers mistakenly believe that they are to blame for lack of numerical growth in a local church. Some Christians tend to equate worthiness before God by the number of converts to Christ they have made!

After all is said and done and we have done our job to teach the gospel to others and set a good example as Christians (Mat. 5:16), the response each person makes to the gospel is essentially their own. As much as we might want to blame ourselves for other people’s decisions, the fact of the matter is: We are not held responsible for people’s disobedience!

On the other hand, we are not to be credited for people’s obedience either. If and when a person does decide to obey the gospel, let us not fail to give God the glory (Rom. 16:25-27; Gal. 6:14; 1 Cor. 3:6). Successful evangelism is due to the victorious power of the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16) and not due to our powers of persuasion. The power to convert a soul is not within us, it is within the gospel.

Sometimes Our Anxieties Hinder Our Efforts in Evangelism

“Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia” (2 Cor 2:12-13, NASB). Like Paul who was unable to put his distress about Titus out of his mind, we also may be troubled or preoccupied with cares that we have in our lives. When we have no rest of our spirits or have no peace of mind in our own lives, it can hinder us and cause us to bypass “doors of opportunity” given by the Lord. Yet, despite our past anxieties, we can move forward and continue to preach God’s word victoriously! (2 Cor. 2:14-17).

Thanks Be to God Who Always Leads Us in Triumph in Christ!

Despite disappointments, we can in confidence continue to proclaim the gospel to others.
In spite of a few setbacks, Paul still had courage and confidence because he put his faith and trust in Christ. “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Cor 2:14). He was certain that the Lord was leading him in triumph. His confidence in the victory found through Christ can be ours too!

The phrase “leads us in His triumph” would have been very familiar to those saints who lived at Corinth, a providence of Rome: “A triumph in Rome was a magnificent procession in honor of a victorious general, and the highest military distinction which he could obtain. It was granted by the senate only to one who had held the office of dictator, consul, or praetor, and after a decisive victory in the complete subjugation of a province. In a Roman triumph the victorious general entered the city in a chariot drawn by four horses. He was crowned with laurel, having a scepter in one hand and a branch of laurel in the other. He was preceded by the senate and magistrates, musicians, the spoils of his victory, and the captives in fetters; and followed by his army on foot, in marching order” (ISBE).

Similarly, as Christ “leads us in His triumph” we may picture our own victory parade in which we celebrate our triumph in Christ. Just as the victorious general’s son would walk behind their father’s chariot, sharing in his victory; we as Christians follow in Christ’s magnificent triumph! Christ will lead us in triumph too!

The Triumphal Sweep of the Gospel Gains the Victory!

Praise be to God for graciously allowing us to share in this triumph! (2 Cor. 2:14). When we do our duty to proclaim the gospel, the knowledge of God will spread everywhere: At work, school, in our neighborhood, and throughout our community. The gospel will spread much like an aroma that distributes in the air: “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”

When we proclaim the gospel boldly and regularly and let our Christian lights shine in the process, the word of God, like perfume, will permeate or saturate the air so that the people will take notice! And much like the parable of the sower (Luke 8:11-15), depending on where “the seed of the word” lands or where the fragrance of Christ goes, will result in either a reception or a rejection of the gospel. Yet, regardless of the results, let us be thankful to take part in the cause of Christ in spreading His gospel!

The Gospel Will Generate Different Responses That We Are not Responsible for.

During the triumphal entry of the general, the Roman priests burned incense during the parade. To the triumphant soldiers it signified life and victory, but to the conquered enemy it meant defeat and death. To some people we will be like a sweet aroma, to others we will be like a stench. “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
Some people will be receptive to the gospel and it will be like a sweet aroma that is pleasing and joyful to smell. Such people are seekers of truth who desire to please God and go to Heaven, so the truth of the gospel is received and not rejected by them. These people obey the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation (1 Cor. 1:18).To others the gospel is foolishness. The smell of the gospel is foul and unpleasant because it exposes their sins and warns of eternal death (John 3:20; 8:24).

“An Aroma from Death to Death”

When Christ-like behavior is observed in us, it is a standard of living that many people do not want to be subjected to. The challenges of truth and need for personal change makes them feel uncomfortable. Like the Jews who covered their ears at the preaching of Stephen and stoned him (Acts 7:54-60), there will be people today who will respond with hostility and reject the gospel. The gospel reminds them of their lost condition which is a horrible “odor” indeed! Those who continue in sin are perishing and will suffer eternal death (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
“An Aroma from Life to Life”

To those who are being saved, the fragrance of Christ is an aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:15b). The fragrance of Christ (i.e., gospel) means eternal life to those who obey it! When the gospel that we live and proclaim to others has such a positive impact, we rejoice for the salvation of their souls. “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

We Can Triumph in the Cause of Christ When We Put Our Trust in Him.

The life or death impact of the gospel causes us to ask: “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16c). Who is adequate to carry such a responsibility for proclaiming such a powerful gospel? May we always remember that our adequacy comes from God (2 Cor. 3:5) and we will have all the strength and confidence we need.

When We Proclaim His Word with the Aim to Please God We Are Victors!

“For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God” (2 Cor 2:17). We do not sell the truth like a peddler who tries to sell his goods for a profit, tricking his customers to buy what he is selling. We do not retail or market the gospel, corrupting it so that people will find it appealing. We do not alter it or change it in any way. We are not in this for personal gain, vain glory, or to win prestige in the community. Instead, our heart’s desire in all sincerity is to please the Lord as we evangelize the world.

Knowing that we have pleased the Lord by proclaiming His gospel must be our focus.
Whether one receives or rejects the gospel is not under our control. Instead, let us take heart knowing that we have done what the Lord has asked us to do. Let us be overjoyed and thankful that when we proclaim the gospel to others that we are “the fragrance of Christ,” exactly what God would have us to be.