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, September 18, 2007

"Better Felt Than Told" Religion

By Mark Larson

The belief that religion is based on the feelings that a person may experience is a major obstacle in getting people to obey the gospel. Those who adhere to such a belief cling to their feelings as the basis of their salvation. Even when the Bible plainly contradicts their beliefs and practices and teaches them what they must do to be saved, they still insist on following their feelings instead of the word of God. “I know how I feel and I wouldn't trade my feelings for a stack of Bibles” is a common response, rather than obedience to the truth. Feelings, not God’s word, are the guides they rely on in life to determine what is right and wrong in morality and religion.

Conversion Begins not by a Feeling nor by a Sensation a Person Feels in the Body, but by Hearing God’s Word.

Today, many people, because of an intense feeling they experienced (e.g., fear, happiness) or a sensation they felt throughout their body (e.g., “I felt like I was floating and could fly”), make the claim to be saved. Convinced that the feeling came from God Himself, they will readily give their “testimony” of how they were “converted” to the Lord. However, there is no record in the Scriptures of anyone ever being converted in this manner.

Instead, each person who was converted to the Lord first heard the word of God: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17, NKJV). A saving faith begins by hearing God’s word. The apostle Peter understood this principle by what he said when addressing the apostles and elders at Jerusalem: "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7, NASB). The only way anyone can become a believer in Christ and be saved is by first hearing the word of the gospel.

If God converts people by sending them some “better felt than told” experience of salvation, then why did the Lord send the disciples to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15)? If all people had to do was wait for God to save them through some divine emotional experience, then why send a preacher to preach the gospel so the lost may hear God’s word? (Rom. 10:14-15).

The Holy Spirit Converts Through the Word, not Through Our Feelings.

It is often the case, that the people who base their conversions to Christ on a feeling, also believe it was the Holy Spirit who gave it (e.g., “I felt the Spirit come upon me and I just knew, at that moment, that I was saved”). The belief is that the Holy Spirit works to save people by a direct action upon the heart of each individual after a person prays for salvation or “prays Jesus into their heart.” This belief about the Holy Spirit comes from a serious misunderstanding as to how the Holy Spirit works in the saving of souls.

When a person is saved, that person is “born again” or born of the Spirit (John 3:3, 5; Titus 3:5). The word of God also causes us to be “born again” spiritually when we obey it: “Of his own will begat he us (God caused us to born - ML) with the word of truth . . .” (James 1:18, KJV; cf. 1 Pet. 1:22-23). The “word of truth” is not literally a person that happens to do the same work as the Holy Spirit. Rather, the word of God must be the instrument the Holy Spirit uses in the work of saving souls (2 Thes. 2:13). Jesus, when addressing His apostles, spoke of the role the Holy Spirit would fulfill in our salvation: “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8, NASB). The Holy Spirit convicts the world by the word of God, which He gave to the apostles (Acts 2:4; Eph. 3:5) who in turn, gave it to us. In the Bible, we have the revealed will of God that we can read and understand (Eph. 3:3-4). The promise that “the Comforter” (i.e., the Holy Spirit) would come was specifically given to the apostles alone who were given the complete revelation of God’s word by the Spirit (John 14:16-20, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:13).

Feelings Are not Reliable Indicators of Our Salvation.

The feelings we experience from day to day may range from a whole host of different emotions such as happiness, excitement, enthusiasm, embarrassment, disgust, anxiousness, annoyance, frustration, anger, fear, guilt, sadness, depression, etc. The emotions or feelings that we experience will vary depending on a number of factors such as our attitude, diet, health, sleep habits, pleasure, pain, and other circumstances of our lives.

Since feelings may differ from day to day, it is impossible to depend on them for truth and accuracy on whether or not we are the children of God. The person who relies on his or her feelings as the basis of a right relationship with God may feel “close” to God one day (due to feelings of happiness) and then may feel “distant” from God the next day (due to feelings of sadness or anger). The person who puts too much stock in his or her emotions does not enjoy confidence, but instead doubt and fear about their relationship with God (e.g., “Am I a child of God?”).

How We Can Know That We Are Children of God.

It is not enough to feel that you are a child of God. You must have the facts to verify the claim and those facts are established by at least two credible witnesses. Those two witnesses are the Holy Spirit and your spirit: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:16-17).

First, the Holy Spirit “bears witness” or speaks to us through the written Word (1 Tim. 4:1a). The word of God or the gospel reveals to us how to become children of God. For example, the Holy Spirit did not personally reveal to the eunuch how to be saved, but instead the Spirit sent Philip to the eunuch to preach the gospel to him so he could learn how to become a Christian (Acts 8:26-40).

Secondly, “our spirit” may bear witness of the fact that we believed and obeyed what the Spirit said to do in the Bible on how to be saved. Hearing God’s word produces genuine faith that saves (Rom. 10:17). While faith is important to salvation (Heb. 11:6; John 3:16), we are not saved by faith only (James 2:24). There are other conditions in God’s word that we must meet in order to become children of God and have the hope of salvation. A person must also confess his faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10), repent of their sins and be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Once baptized, a person must maintain an obedient faith to the end to be saved eternally (Heb. 3:12-14; James 2:14-26).

When we obey God’s word, our spirit knows that we have followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit on how to be saved and therefore may “bear witness” that we are children of God. In addition, the Holy Spirit may also “bear witness” that we are children of God because He knows we have obeyed God’s word. Both our spirit and the Holy Spirit may bear witness together of our salvation when they are in agreement with one another. Only when a person has obeyed the gospel can a person truly be confident that he or she is a child of God!

Walk by Faith, not by Feeling As a Christian.

Emotions must not be the basis for the decisions we make nor the rule of our conduct (e.g., “It just felt like the right thing to do. I knew at that moment the Spirit led me to do it”). To “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25) or “walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7), the Christian must make decisions that are based upon the word of God (Ps. 119:105; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 5:12-14).

Decisions must not be made on sheer impulse or merely by what seems right (Prov. 14:12). The Christian must not “direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23) merely by what feels right. Instead, the Christian must “not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17) and do his or her best to obey it. Our ability to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4) and rejoice in our salvation (Ps. 51:12) is not based on our feelings, but on God and His promises and our faithfulness to Him (Rom. 15:13; 3 John 4).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

May a Christian Drink Alcohol?

By Mark Larson

“But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:21-22, NASB). To some people, alcohol is readily perceived as an evil to be avoided at all costs. If you are like me, you carry with you some “emotional baggage” on this issue because of the trouble it has caused your loved ones. Yet, strong feelings are not sufficient to be our guide in religion (Prov. 14:12). Just because something seems to be evil, doesn’t mean it is.

The answer to our question may seem to some people to be easily answered. Yet, when one begins to look at the many passages of Scripture that deal with this issue, the question quickly can become both perplexing and challenging. It is for this reason that many prefer to “straddle the fence” and take both sides of the issue in order to get along with everyone and not stir up controversy. Yet, avoiding your stand on this issue is not an option. Considering how often the Bible addresses the subject, we have no choice but to study the Scriptures and then take our stand for the Lord. We must try to “learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10).

If we, as the children of God, are truly dedicated to do “all in the name of the Lord” by His authority (Col. 3:17), then no area of our life will be exempt from the careful scrutiny of God’s word. Instead of uncertainty in life (Rom. 14:23), we must “walk by faith” (Rom. 10:17) and have no doubts about whether or not a certain behavior or activity is acceptable to God, and drinking alcohol should be no exception to our commitment.

Is Wine Approved or Condemned by God?

In many cases, wine was approved by God. The Lord accepted it as an offering upon the altar (Num. 18:12), Jacob blessed his son Isaac to receive it (Gen. 27:28), and wine is even used as a symbol for salvation (Isa. 55:1ff.). Hardly an indication that wine is evil!

On the other hand, in many other instances, wine was also condemned by God. Wine is described as “the wine of violence” (Prov. 4:17), a mocker and brawler that intoxicates making a person unwise (Prov. 20:1; cf. Prov. 23:20-21). Wine brings woe, sorrow, contentions, poverty and complaining, it bites like a viper, it confuses, causes visions, poor judgments, violence, bitterness, and destruction (Prov 23:20-35; 31:4-7; Isa. 28:7). Aaron and his sons did not drink wine when entering the tent of meeting in order to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean (Lev.10:8-10). Daniel refused to defile himself with the king’s wine (Dan 1:8). These passages and more ought to raise more than a “red flag” of the dangers of drinking wine.

Understandably, at least initially, we may be tempted to think that the Bible is contradicting itself! Why is it approved in one instance and condemned in another? To answer this question, we must consider what type of wine that they were drinking in these instances. The reason why wine was approved in some cases and condemned in others was because the former spoke of non-alcoholic wine and the latter alcoholic wine.

The Ancients Had a Choice between Alcoholic or Nonalcoholic Wine.

Very illuminating to our study on wine in the Bible is recognition of the fact that the ancients had a choice on what type of wine they drank. Many have assumed that whenever wine is mentioned in the Bible that it was alcoholic wine. Yet, there is no basis to make such an assumption. Instead, to be fair in our examination of the word wine in the Scriptures, we need to also acknowledge the alternative that wine in some cases referred to non-alcoholic wine.

What Makes Wine Alcoholic? Wine which is alcoholic contains alcohol because the grape juice is fermented. Fermentation is that process in which yeast cells act on the sugar content of fruit juice and convert the sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol. Thus, wine which is non-alcoholic has not gone through the fermentation process.

For the people in ancient times, making wine alcoholic (fermented) was not an easy process. Fermentation was a chance process that required temperatures of the wine to be carefully regulated. People take for granted the fact that distillation, the process used to make beverages have higher alcohol content (40 to 50% alcohol) such as whiskey, gin, vodka, and rum, was not discovered until 1100!

An Ancient Preference for Non-Alcoholic Wine: It may surprise some people to learn that there were those in ancient times that actually preferred nonalcoholic (unfermented) wine! For example: "The most useful wine has all its force or strength broken by the filter." (Pliny, A.D. 61-113); "Wine is rendered old or feeble in strength when it is frequently filtered. The strength or spirit being thus excluded, the wine neither inflames the brain nor infests the mind and the passions, and is much more pleasant to drink."(Plutarch A.D. 46-120; cf. Isaiah 5:11).It is for this reason, that the ancients developed ways to prevent wine from fermenting or becoming alcoholic such as the burial method, the boiling method (cf. pasteurization), and the filtering method.

Jesus and His Disciples had a Choice and So Do We! Having this knowledge about wine, we can more clearly understand why the Bible speaks of wine with approval in some cases (non-alcoholic) and disapproval in other cases (alcoholic). We can also easily determine what type of wine Jesus and His disciples drank! When Jesus miraculously turned water into wine (John 2:1-11) for example, we can know with certainty that Jesus made not the wine that “bites like a serpent” (Prov. 23:32) (alcoholic), but instead “wine which makes man's heart glad” (Ps. 104:15) (non-alcoholic). When Jesus established the Lord’s Supper, we can read of His emphasis on the “fruit of the vine” and can rightly conclude that this was unfermented wine or grape juice (Mat. 26:27-29), not alcoholic wine. Therefore, since Jesus and His disciples had a choice between the two, we do too! The choice we should make is very obvious as we examine the many biblical reasons why Christians should abstain from drinking alcohol.

Reasons from the Bible Why Christians Should Abstain from Alcohol

Abstain for Appearance Sake: Some Christians abstain from alcohol merely for the fact that it has an “appearance of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22, KJV). To be sure, the drinking of alcohol does put us at risk of setting a bad example for Christ, for many evils in society are associated with alcohol (e.g., immorality, lawlessness, violence, negligence, etc.). However, the above reasoning alone presupposes that if there was no social stigma attached to drinking, that it would be acceptable to God to drink alcohol! Our conviction on this issue needs to go much deeper than that!

The Modern Drink is a “Strong Drink” to be Avoided: Some Christians make the argument that drinking alcohol beverages in moderation is acceptable. Yet, how can it be that we can moderately drink the alcoholic beverages that are served today? The truth is, people cannot consistently know when they have had enough to drink. Kessel & Walton, authors of Alcoholism inform us that "from the first drink, our judgment, discrimination, and restraint are reduced and impaired.” This is because all modern day alcoholic beverages are “strong drinks” condemned by the Scriptures: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1). Ancient alcoholic wines do not even begin to compare to modern day wines in alcohol content! To compare the fermented wine drunk today (which is greatly fortified with extra alcohol) from what was drunk in the first century, we discover that the modern wine contains over hundred times the amount of alcohol in a single glass of wine!

Alcohol Hinders Our Alertness Against Evil and Our Ability to Watch for the Lord’s Return: The Lord instructs us that we must be sober and alert in our fight against the devil (1 Pet 5:8-9). Studies have proven that alcohol lowers our ability to stay alert and discern between right and wrong. It is no wonder, for example, that the consumption of alcohol often leads to fornication among young people, parents neglecting their children, and an increase of aggression and violence. Rather than give the devil a foothold, we should eliminate altogether the drinking of alcoholic beverages in life.

Christians Are Commanded to be Sober-minded or Morally Alert So to Ready for the Lord’s Return (1 Thes. 5:4-7; cf. 1 Pet. 1:13; Luke 21:34): In the New Testament, a daily readiness for the coming of Christ is required. We want to be found by Jesus morally alert which demands that we abstain from anything that would hinder our faithfulness, including alcohol. How horrible it would be for the Lord to return and find us drunk and unprepared to meet Him! Let us take heed to these instructions: “For you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night” (1 Thes. 5:5-7).

Alcohol Can Cause us to Forget God’s Law: “Studies have shown that even moderate alcohol use can interfere with the ability to remember” (Aging & Technology Research). What good does it do us to have great knowledge of the Scriptures, only to allow alcohol to interfere with our ability to remember it!?! In time of temptation, when making important decisions, when teaching the lost, when it really counts, our memory may fail us when under the influence of alcohol and cause us to “forget what is decreed” by God (Prov. 31:4-7).

Alcohol Can Lead to Moral Recklessness: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Dissipation refers to wasteful, reckless living, shameless indifference to moral restraints. Studies have proven this to be true, that the drinking of alcohol lowers our inhibitions and increases our tendency to say and do things we normally would not. Indeed, the drinking of alcohol leads to a lack of self-control, a number of sinful behaviors (e.g., sexual immorality, reckless spending, utter selfishness, and indulgence), and a very destructive lifestyle.

Alcohol is an Addictive, Habit-forming Drug: Medical studies have proven that alcohol is addictive, leading many people to a psychological and physical dependence on the drug (Davis VE, Walsh MJ. Alcohol, Amines, and Alkaloids, Science 1970 Feb 13;167 (920):1005–1007; Alcohol Research and Health, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2000). Even the Scriptures teach that “wine” (alcohol / fermented wine) is addictive. A qualification of an elder (i.e., pastor / overseer) is that he is “not addicted to wine” - 1 Tim. 3:3; cf. Titus 1:7). Paul is not merely trying to say that an elder of a church cannot be a drunkard, for no Christian can be a drunkard (1 Cor 6:10). The phrase "given to wine" (KJV) or “addicted to wine” (NASB) from paroinos is defined by the Friberg Lexicon: “addicted to wine, drunken, of one who tends to be quarrelsome as he habitually drinks too much; substantially a drunkard.” Therefore, alcohol can dominate and control us and become our master! A life of alcoholic addiction is a miserable life (Prov. 23:29-35). May Jesus Christ be our only Master and Lord in life (Jude 4b; cf. Mat. 6:24; 1 Cor. 6:12b).

Christians Are to be Holy, Separate, and Distinct from the Rest of the World (2 Cor 6:17; 1 Pet. 1:16): We are not to be like the world that values the intoxication of alcohol (Rom. 12:2). Statistics show that 66% of the U.S. population consumes alcohol on a regular basis (www.alcoholics-info.com). To drink alcohol or practice “social drinking” is to be like the world which renders us without “spiritual flavor” and without fellowship with God (Mat. 5:13; 1 John 2:15-16). Christians must not give in the pressures to drink alcohol, not even for “social reasons” (e.g., drinking parties) (1 Pet. 4:3-5). Not even the medical use is the excuse for the social use of alcohol! (1 Tim. 5:23). Christians should be also be careful not to associate with drunkards (Prov. 23:20-21; 1 Cor. 5:11).

Drinking Alcohol May Cause Others to Stumble (Sin) Including Our Children! The choice we make concerning alcohol must not be selfish. Older Christians are to set a good example for the younger to follow (Titus 2:2-5). Woe to the one who is found guilty of causing another person to stumble or sin! (Mat. 18:5-7): “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6).

The Practice of Getting Drunk (Which is Rapidly Achieved by the Modern Drink) Will Cost Us Our Eternal Salvation! (Gal. 5:19-21; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rom 13:13-14): Failure to take heed to the Scriptures of the warnings against alcohol will cost us dearly: “... those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21b). Christian, drinking alcohol is simply not worth it!