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

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Do You Know the Holy Spirit?


Do you really know the Holy Spirit? As much as the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit, it is a wonder then why so little thought or consideration is given to Him. In our understanding of who God is, we must not forget about the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, many people do not think of the Holy Spirit as a Person and therefore their disrespect of Him shows. Many talk about the Holy Spirit as if He equaled a powerful emotion to be experienced. Many define Him as some kind of unexplainable, mysterious energy force of the cosmos. They will speak of Him as an influence or a power of God, but rarely if ever as a Person, one of the three persons that comprise Deity.

The apostle Paul by the Spirit said to his Corinthian brethren: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” (2 Cor. 13:14, NASB)We should know the Holy Spirit with whom we have fellowship! Taking the time to study the Scriptures will clear up any misunderstandings we have and enrich the relationship we are meant to have with the Holy Spirit as Christians.

The Holy Spirit is Holy!

The word spirit in the New Testament comes from the Greek word PNEUMA. There are several different uses of the word in Scripture (e.g., wind – Jn 3:8; breath – 2 Thes 2:8; unclean spirits – Mt 10:1). What sets the Holy Spirit apart is that He is holy! (Jn 14:26)

The Holy Spirit is holy (from HAGIOS). This means that He is worthy to be revered as an object of awe or veneration, He is set apart and sacred, and that He is pure and sinless (cf. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Holiness is one of the characteristics of God. To be designated as holy, identifies the Spirit with God Himself! “And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory." (Isa. 6:3; cf. Ps. 103:1; 111:9; Isa. 57:15; Mat. 6:9b; Rev. 4:8)

The Holy Spirit Has a Spiritual Nature.

Being a Spirit, He is spiritual, not physical. To rightly understand the Holy Spirit, we must view Him differently than a physical man, for He is a Spirit as God is (John 14:26; cf. 4:24). His existence is not verified by the physical or our emotions! Since the Holy Spirit is a spirit or spiritual, He cannot be perceived by our physical senses (i.e., sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste). The raised Jesus said to His apostles: “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39). The Holy Spirit exists in an invisible realm, a non-physical world (cf. Eph. 6:12).

Beware of Human Reasoning in Religion That Defines the Holy Spirit in Physical, Fleshly, or Earthly Ways. Many mistakenly base the Holy Spirit’s presence on their emotions: “It feels so right, it must be the Spirit.” Sadly, many validate sinful behaviors this way! Similarly, others determine that the Holy Spirit is communicating to them by the physical sensations they experience (e.g., energetic, shaky, tingling, dizzy, calm, hot/ cold, restless, tense, burning, feeling light or heavy, pain, shiver, etc.). This is far too subjective – How is a person to know this is from the Spirit or from a meal they ate!?! Others claim to receive visions from the Spirit, yet once again such experiences stem from the physical such as drug or alcohol use, sleep depravation, or an intense emotion. Sadly, there are televangelists today that will preach about “supernatural success” defining the Spirit’s presence in your life by your success in a career or economic fortune. Finally, there are those who fraudulently make claims of miraculous healings that are unverifiable, lacking in supporting evidence.

Like Ancient Times, Many Religious Groups Today Attempt to Bring the Holy Spirit (a Spiritual Being) Down to the Level of Physical Man! For example, many today claim to have the miraculous gift of speaking in tongues. Yet, not a one of these speak from the Holy Spirit. These occurrences are nothing more than ecstatic utterances – unintelligible speech that is caused by overpowering emotions such as joy, fear, or anger, not by the Holy Spirit. Instead of speaking actual languages fluently without study (cf. Acts 2:4-11), the claim of speaking in tongues is eerily similar to the ancient practices of the pagans. Just like the pagans, people suppose that by making a lot of noise through their babblings they can get the attention of God!

Another example of this is the people’s request for a “Spirit-filled” worship service. Often, what they really want is not a worship that follows the Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures, but a worship that physically heightens the senses and makes them “feel good.” Thus, many religious groups are more than willing to accommodate if it will bring in the numbers. By majoring in the psychology of “sensation and perception,” modern day worship services aim to stimulate the emotions through physical means (e.g., music, chanting, incense, candles, drama plays, dancing, the powers of human persuasion, etc.).

All we know with certainty about the Holy Spirit comes from the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Rom. 10:17), not from our traditions, superstitions, feelings, or by physical measurements. If we truly want to know the Holy Spirit, we need to learn from His word.

The Holy Spirit is a Person with Whom We Can Have a Relationship.

The Holy Spirit Possess the Qualities and Attributes of a Person. Every person has life, thoughts, character, the ability to choose and take action, etc. and that is exactly what the Holy Spirit has! For example, the Holy Spirit has a mind (Rom. 8:27), knowledge (1 Cor. 2:11; 14:11), a will (1 Cor. 12:11; Acts 16:6-7; 21:11-14), goodness (Neh. 9:20; Ps. 143:10), and the power to love and comfort others (Rom. 15:30; 5:5; Phil. 2:1) (John 14:16-17; Acts 9:31).

The Holy Spirit Performed Good Works That Demonstrated That He is a Person. The Holy Spirit speaks (e.g., Acts 8:29; 10:19-20; 13:2; 1 Tim. 4:1). He testifies or bears witness (John 15:26; Acts 20:23; Rom. 8:16). He also teaches, guides, and leads or directs (John 14:26; 16:13; Acts 16:6-7; Rom. 8:14).

The Holy Spirit has emotions as a person would and can be offended. The Holy Spirit can be grieved or saddened (Eph. 4:30; Isa. 63:10). The Holy Spirit can be resisted or opposed (Acts 7:51). He can also be insulted (Heb. 10:29), even blasphemed (Mat. 12:31).

How then should we speak of the Holy Spirit? Clearly, He is not an “it,” a feeling, thing, impersonal force, or a mere divine influence. Nor is the Holy Spirit just a manifestation of God the Father or the word of God. The Holy Spirit is a Person and thus we should always speak of Him as a person. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26; cf. John 15:26; 16:13-14; cf. Rom. 8:16).

The Holy Spirit: One of Three of the Divine Nature (Deity).

The Holy Spirit is God! “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.’” (Acts 5:3-4) He is Eternal (Heb. 9:14), all-knowing (1 Cor. 2:11), all-powerful (Job 33:4), and present in all places at the same time (Ps. 139:7ff).

The Holy Spirit is not God by Himself, but One of Three Persons That Comprise the One True God (the Godhead or Divine Nature - Acts 17:29; Rom 1:20; Col 2:9). God has a unified or compound oneness to His nature. The Hebrew word ECHAD is often translated “one” to denote a unified oneness (Deut 6:4; cf. Gen. 2:24). We also find plural nouns and verbs to refer to God; the most common one is the Hebrew word ELOHIYM (Gen. 1:1; cf. Josh. 24:16). God at times spoke in the first person plural (Gen 1:26; 3:22; 11:7). While all three Persons comprise who God is, each is distinguishable from the other, coexisting simultaneously. “And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’”(Mat 3:16-17; cf. Mat. 28:19; Rom. 15:30). Each person is equally God, yet each is of a different rank by the Divine order. The Father has first rank, then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-15), yet each are equally God (Jn 6:27; Col. 2:9; Acts 5:3-4).

There Are Many Names of the Holy Spirit

There are many names of the Holy Spirit found in the Scriptures such as: The Spirit of God (This emphasizes His divine nature) (Rom. 8:9, 14; Phil. 3:3) or the Spirit of Christ (He comes from the Father through the Son) (Rom. 8:9). Therefore, a complete study of the Holy Spirit will require our consideration of every passage where the Spirit is found: There are over seventeen different names of the Holy Spirit! (e.g., Isa 11:2; 61:1; Mat 3:16; 10:20; Jn 3:5; 14:17, 26; 16:13; Rom 8:2, 15; 1 Cor 6:11; 2 Cor 3:3; Eph 1:13; 4:30; Heb 10:29; 1 Jn 4:13; Rev 1:4; etc.).

Clearly, Knowing Who the Holy Spirit is, is Essential to Living Life as a Christian!
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14). Do you know the Holy Spirit?

How Good is "Good Enough"?


Do we understand what it means to be saved by grace? Though many claim to depend on the grace of God for their salvation, many continue to live life as if they must earn their way to Heaven. “Am I good enough?” “Have I done enough?” “Have I pleased God enough that I may enter Heaven?” Out of concern for your eternal salvation, have you ever asked yourself these kinds of questions? If so, you may not understand salvation which is by grace - a favor bestowed freely by God, a gift we did not deserve.

“The Gospel of the Grace of God” (Acts 20:24)

The gospel teaches that salvation is by grace (Eph. 2:5). Therefore, to leave grace out of the gospel is to teach a perverted or contrary gospel (Gal. 1:6-7). Yet, that is exactly what we do when we ask the question: “Am I good enough to be saved?” Such a question does not put trust in God’s grace, but “confidence in the flesh” or our own good works for our salvation (Phil. 3:2-3). Just as “salvation by grace only” or “salvation by faith only” are falsehoods, so is “salvation by works only” a false doctrine which can cause us to be lost.
Our understanding of the gospel of grace is absolutely essential. For the attitude we bring in our service to God has the power to justify or condemn us eternally (Luke 18:9-13).

Must Our Good Deeds Outweigh Our Bad Deeds?

There are many New Testament passages that teach that we will be judged according to our deeds (Mat. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:6-10; Col. 3:23-25; Rev. 2:23; 20:12; 22:12; etc.). Does it therefore follow that our good deeds must outweigh our bad deeds on Judgment Day? Muhammad thought so as taught in the Koran: “Then, he whose balance (of good deeds) will be (found) heavy, will be in a life of good pleasure and satisfaction. But he whose balance (of good deeds) will be (found) light will have his home in a (bottomless) pit.” (SURAH 101:6-9, The Holy Quran). Is this what the New Testament also teaches? If so, by what standard or measurement do we use to determine if our good deeds are “heavy” enough to merit our eternal reward?

The Gospel is Not a Meritorious Law System.

According to Romans 2:5-11, our obedience is of great importance to God, yet God will in no way “strike a balance” by rewarding Christians whose goods deeds outweigh their bad deeds on Judgment Day. Further in the text, the apostle explains how a person could be right with God (justified) if it was only through our keeping the law (any law; Rom. 2:12-16): “For not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified (v. 13). How good is “good enough” to be right with God? Only perfect law-keeping would be “enough”! Yet, no one has been able to do this (Rom. 3:10, 23).

God’s Justice is satisfied only by the Blood of Jesus Christ. Since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) how can God’s justice be satisfied? Only through the blood of Jesus! “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith…” (Rom. 3:24-25ff.). “The law of faith” declares that we are “justified by faith apart from works of [the] law” (v. 28) – any law-keeping in attempt to merit our salvation. No one can achieve righteousness (a right standing w/ God) by their own efforts of good works (Phil. 3:9). All need the blood of Jesus to be right with God.

Justification by Faith vs. Justification by Meritorious Works

“Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Unable to boast by his “works” (i.e., unable to meet the “full quota” of good works), Abraham was justified by faith! (Rom. 4:1-5). Abraham’s faith in God was not faith alone, but an obedient faith which trusted in God for salvation (James 2:20-24).

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt” (Rom. 4:4).
The person who “works,” who does not put his faith in the Lord for salvation, is one who labors to earn his reward (i.e., righteousness before God). His reward is not a favor, but a debt owed to him based on personal merit. The serious problem in this approach is that a person would have to obey the law flawlessly to gain his reward! There can be no other kind of worker that God owes a reward! Yet, there is no such worker among men (3:23).

The Blood of Jesus is the Source of Our Righteousness.

Since we sin or fail to perform good works perfectly, we cannot be right with God unless we are forgiven of our sins. And forgiveness is found only through the blood of Jesus (Eph. 1:7). Our sins will be charged to our account unless we go to Christ in faith for the forgiveness of our sins. Only then will we be righteous: “Just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account." (Rom. 4:6-8). To whom does the Lord credit righteousness to his account? To the person whose sins are forgiven! When a person responds in obedient faith to the gospel of Christ, their sins are covered the debt of sin is cancelled! (Acts 2:38). Only in Christ can we be righteous before God (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ, not our works, is the source of our salvation (Heb. 5:9).

In What Sense will we be judged According to our Works?

God does the saving, not us (Tit. 3:5), but we must come to Christ to be saved. Sins we committed in life and did not repent of and receive forgiveness for will remain in the “record books” and be held against us at the Judgment (Rev. 20:12), unless we obey the gospel to have our sins washed away (Acts 22:16; cf. 2 Thes. 1:8). Once in Christ, we must demonstrate our faith by our works of obedience (Jas. 2:14-26). Our deeds in life demonstrate our faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God (2 Cor. 5:6-10). God is faithful to forgive Christians, but we must confess our sins with a penitent heart to be forgiven (1 Jn 1:9; Acts 8:22). This is a requirement of continued fellowship with God (1 Jn 1:5-10).

How good is “good enough”? No one is good enough without the grace of the Savior!

Heroes Wanted


There is a short supply of heroes these days. It’s no wonder then why so many young people are uninspired and unmotivated to become Christians. There are few good role models for them to look to for the encouragement they need. As a result, they look to super-hero characters produced by Hollywood and rock star idols who will fill the void.

If you are thinking that you cannot be a hero, think again! To be a hero, one does not have to achieve extraordinary works or perform amazing acts that will impress and dazzle. If you have a big heart, if you truly care about others, then you can be a hero by committing yourself to do what is right no matter what the cost may be. As Christians, we should be able to point to our own lives as examples worthy of imitation (1 Cor. 11:1).

Every Christian is meant to be a hero! Christians must rise to the challenge to do God’s will each day. There will be trials, temptations, and tribulations involved in living the Christian life (1 Pet. 1:7; Eph. 6:13; Acts 14:22). Therefore, to be Christians we need faith and courage and the resolve to never give up. We are all called to be heroes!

Heroes Are Brave

Heroism is not limited to great feats or incredible acts of courage, contrary to popular belief. Heroism goes far beyond that occasional act of bravery, like saving someone from a burning building or rescuing a child from drowning. Heroism is seen also in everyday life. Children love to listen to the Bible stories of the heroic acts of people such as David who slew Goliath or Daniel who faced the lion’s den. Yet, do they remember what kind of lives these people lived? Do they remember that David was a man after God’s own heart? Do they remember the devotion of Daniel to pray to God three times a day?

Heroes are those who gather the courage to serve the Lord everyday, no matter how challenging it may be. True heroes are not heroes occasionally, but are constantly doing their best to be brave when enduring the trials of life (e.g., 2 Cor. 4:7-10). Instead of turning your back on your troubles, you bravely face them by your faith in God. You, for example, commit yourself to resolve your marital conflicts, dedicate yourself to helping your troubled teenage son or daughter, and determine to work extra hard to provide for your family in times of financial hardship. When confronted with temptations at every corner, you muster the courage, in God, to stand for what is right in a world of sin. Like heroes, all Christians are to be brave without exception (1 Cor. 16:13; Phil. 1:27-28).

Heroes Seek Justice.

How many times have you seen a movie advertised that portrays the action hero as an avenger seeking “payback” for all the injustices committed against him? Far too often, those who exact revenge upon the guilty are elevated as “heroes” for us to admire. Yet, true heroes seek justice, not revenge (Rom. 12:17-19; 13:4).

Heroes are those who pursue justice in a proactive way. A hero works hard for the rights of others, especially for those who are weak, destitute, and afflicted (Jas. 1:27; cf. Isa. 1:17; Prov. 31:9). There is nothing noble about well wishing: “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled” which is unaccompanied by action (Jas. 2:14-17). To be a hero, one must be willing to put himself “on the line” for the rights of others. When a brother is unfairly accused, when the blabbermouth attempts to spread his gossip, or when a bully is preying upon the weak at school, you may have an opportunity to be a hero! Compassion for others will motivate you to be a hero, to pursue justice for those in need (Mat. 23:23).

Heroes Are Persistent.

Many people are quitters and pessimists, who give up easily at the first sign of conflict or challenge, much like the people of Israel who lacked faith when before an obstacle (Ex. 14:10-12; Num. 13:31-33). Many make lofty goals, like to “build a tower,” only to quit when the going gets tough (Lk. 14:28-30). Indeed, one amazing act of courage does not make a person a true hero when he does not follow through with what he started.

A hero refuses to quit until “mission accomplished.” The apostles of Christ were true heroes for their persistence to teach the gospel in a world that persecuted them greatly (Acts 5:40-42). Parents are heroes too when they refuse to give up on their children, doing their best to train them in the way of the Lord. Every Christian can be a hero by his persistence in the battle against sin, by refusing to surrender to the devil and his ways (1 Pet. 5:8-9). We can be heroes everyday by continuing to do good unto others no matter what response they give or result may come from it (Lk. 6:27-31; Gal. 6:7-10).

Heroes Have Integrity.

Many people will compromise their own beliefs in order “to survive,” to get by or get ahead in life. Many will do foolish things like King Saul, who violated the command of God in hope to “gain the victory” (1 Sam. 13:8-13). People lie, cheat, and steal, or set aside their moral values and convictions so they may “succeed” in life and gain the approval of men. The world is constantly enticing us to give in to sensual pleasures at the cost of what is most important and valuable (1 Jn. 2:16; cf. Mt. 16:26).

In contrast, heroes are committed to what they believe in no matter what. “For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor. 13:8). Those that have real integrity not only believe in the truth, but live by the truth (3 Jn. 2-4). By putting our trust in God, we will have the courage and strength we need to maintain our integrity for the Lord (1 Pet. 4:19): To go against friends or family, if necessary, in order to do what is right (Mat 10:37); To refuse to give in to the pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:24-26); To not yield to pressures of the world to conform to its standard (Rom 12:2); To never trade what we believe in for the approval of others! (Jn. 12:42-43; cf. Gal. 1:10).

Heroes Selflessly Serve Others.

Many refuse to help without first asking the question: “What’s in it for me?” Unfortunately, “heroism” these days are often motivated by less than noble purposes: Fortune, fame, recognition, praises of men, politics, and other selfish causes (Mt. 6:2).

True heroes will selflessly make personal sacrifices. A hero does not ask if it is convenient or what he can personally gain by helping others. A sacrificial love compels him to act (Jn. 15:13). All Christians will have to give up something in order to do what is right to help others in need (1 Jn. 3:16-18). It may be your time, money, a career, maybe even the dreams you had for your life. Most of all, it will demand that you give up your sins that stand in the way of fulfilling your duty to act on behalf of others.

If being a hero sounds too costly then consider Jesus who selflessly gave far more than we will ever have to give. Jesus denied Himself to become a man and allowed Himself to be put to death on the cross for our sins. There is no greater hero that will inspire us more to be heroes than Jesus Christ! “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:3-8, NKJV).

Heroes are most desperately wanted. Will you step up to be the “hero” that the Lord has called you to be?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Humble Yourself and Be Taught of God.

By Mark E. Larson

“For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isa. 57:15, NASB). Do you have a lowly spirit? Are you humble before God? For a right relationship with God, every person must humble themselves before the Lord.

Do you wholeheartedly believe that “God is”? (Heb. 11:6). No one can truly humble themselves before God unless they believe that God is a real actual Person. Though God is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17), you must in faith imagine the existence of God, His presence, His character, and majesty. Full recognition of God’s greatness will humble you and cause you to see how “small” you really are in comparison to the Lord (e.g., Isa 6:5).

Will you allow God to teach you His will? Your attempt to draw near to God will be in vain unless you humble yourself and allow yourself to be taught by God and His word. “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).

To Draw Near to God, You Must Be Teachable

Are you teachable? Most, if not all people would answer: “Well, of course I am!” But are you really? Too often, people allow pride, preconceived notions, prejudices, and personal opinions to get in the way of learning God’s will. To be taught by God we have to be teachable and this means we must be humble in our attitude toward Him. “He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way.” (Ps. 25:9).

To put it another way, are you as teachable as a child? As degrading or demeaning as that may sound to you, the truth is God only wants people who are as humble as children in His kingdom. Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 18:3-4). This means that in order for God to teach you, you have to lay down your selfish ambitions and pride and take on the lowly and humble position of a child.

Children are, to a great extent, teachable and humble. It is no wonder then why Jesus chose a child as a fitting example of humility to make His point. To be great in God’s eyes, you must like a child, with simple faith and trust, follow the Father’s instructions. Instead of hard-headedness or stubbornness, allow God to teach you, mold you, and shape you into what He wants you to be as one of His own children. Then you can truly be great in God’s kingdom! “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Pet. 5:6).

God has made His word understandable (Eph. 3:3-5). God desires “all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Therefore, it is up to each person to open his heart to the Scriptures. Do you have a “good and honest heart”? (Luke 8:15). Stubbornness and pride keeps truth out, yet a humble heart holds fast to the truth and spiritual blessings come as a result. To be taught by God, honesty and humility is a must: “Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21).

Humble Yourself to the Wisdom of God.

You cannot be taught by God if your heart is proud and you presume to know beforehand the will of God (Isa. 5:20-21; Prov 3:7; 12:15). Many people believe they are wise enough to know what is right and wrong on their own without the study of God’s word. As a result, they end up telling God what they think is good and evil. In so doing, many make the mistake in believing that God thinks the same way as we do! “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).

Yet, if you go to the word of God with a humble heart, it is likely that you will be “cut to the heart.” You will see your sins, shortcomings, and the things you need to change about your life. You will be cross-examined and judged which may produce unwanted feelings of guilt (Heb. 4:12). It is for this reason that many treat Bible study as a mere academic exercise instead of a time for self-examination, reflection, and a means to draw nearer to God. Don’t let that be you. Recognize that the Scriptures are designed in such a way that if we listen with a humble heart we will be challenged (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Let God challenge you with His teachings, humbly accept what He says, and then obey the Lord.

What Does Humbling Ourselves Before God Require?

Unload the “Baggage” so You Can Really Listen to What God Says. Set aside your personal opinions or feelings and the philosophies, traditions, and popular opinions of men (Prov. 14:12; Col. 2:8; Mat. 15:9; 7:13). Family wishes or religious traditions must not be put above the Lord’s will (Mat. 10:37). Feelings of prejudice against the one who delivered the truth to you must be repented of (e.g., John 9:34; Gal 4:16).

Sometimes it requires Starting over and Rebuilding Your Faith. Saving faith in Christ is based upon the teaching of God’s word. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). This is the only way to build your faith the way it is supposed to be built. Sometimes as a result of Bible study we discover we have believed and practiced that which is contrary to the Scriptures. As embarrassing or humiliating as it may be for you to make corrections in your life, don’t let your pride stand in the way of having a right relationship with God. For fellowship with the Lord depends on your willingness to humble yourself and be taught of God.

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!

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Subtle Dangers of Creeds

By Mark Larson

For centuries, people, claiming to be Christians, have seen the need to write creeds to serve as guides in religion. Thousands of creeds have been established by men all over the world. Creeds have been around for so long, in fact, that many are convinced that there is nothing wrong with having them. To call for the rejection of creeds in religion is viewed by many as unrealistic thinking and an insult to our “Christian heritage.”

Although not as popular as they used to be, the use of creeds and confessions of faith is still practiced by many religious groups today. Creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, The Baptist Faith and Message, Statement of Fundamental Truths (Assemblies of God), The New Catholic Catechism, and The Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian), to name just a few, are still important documents to churches today.

Despite the general acceptance in the religious world, creeds are in fact dangerous to follow in religion. Though creeds are often written by those with good intentions, the end result is in fact disastrous as we shall soon discover in our study.

What Is a Creed?

A creed, sometimes called a confession or rule of faith, is an authoritative statement in a precise written form, though sometimes verbal, that formally and publicly declares the beliefs and doctrines of a religious group or individual. We should keep in mind that people often regard certain writings or sayings of men as if they were creeds, even though they are not “officially” declared to be. This is demonstrated when they regard their teaching as having authority in religion and thus necessary to follow for their salvation.

Why Do Churches Establish Creeds?

More and more religious groups are rejecting the notion that there is an absolute standard of right and wrong (e.g., moral relativism, any interpretation of Scripture will do, unity in diversity, etc.). Doing “good” and sincerity of heart is all that matters instead of standing for the truth, for correct or sound doctrine. Such people frown on condemning others for some perceived error or false doctrine. To them, youth programs and entertaining music matters a whole lot more than what is taught! However, for many others having standards is important and to establish those standards, people have turned to creeds.

To Clearly Define Their Beliefs or “The Truth”: What exactly do we stand for? To answer this question, many religious groups see the need for creeds to help clarify their beliefs. Creeds, it is claimed, help prevent confusion and keep people loyal to “the truth.” Creeds are often used as a measurement or standard for “correct doctrine.” Thus, all people, whether “clergy” or “laity,” will be better able to recognize error or false doctrine. For example, the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) was written, in part, to combat the errors of the deity of Christ (i.e., Arianism).

To Explain the Meaning of the Scriptures: Many today make no distinction between the expounding of Scripture in preaching and the establishment of creeds. The claim is that a creed is merely one of the ways the church can use to explain the meaning of the Bible to her members. Many assert that most of the Bible is hard to understand and therefore we need creeds, written by “qualified men,” to explain the meaning of the Scriptures to us. The Presbyterian denomination, for example, relies upon the Westminster Confession of Faith, a doctrine based on the teachings of John Calvin, to explain matters such as justification, sanctification, worship, predestination, God’s providence, free will, the role of Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc. The belief is that the Westminster Assembly consisted of “learned, godly and judicious Divines” who were “preeminently qualified” to explain the true meaning of the Scriptures for the people. What qualifications were those may we ask?

To Confess Their Faith: Creeds are used by churches as a means of declaring their beliefs not only to themselves, but to the world. To justify the use of creeds, it is claimed that creeds is just one of the ways to confess your faith and evangelize the world, similar to preaching or teaching. Those who are unwilling to write creeds are sometimes accused of being afraid, even ashamed of what they believe in! Sadly, some brethren have unwittingly taken this dare on and as a result, established a “Church of Christ” creed!

To Distinguish Themselves from Others: Creeds have been especially important to denominational churches. Creeds are used to maintain a sense of identity, to define what denomination they are that sets them apart from all others. To be a Lutheran, one would rely on Luther’s Catechism, including the Augsburg Confession. To be a Methodist, one would rely on the Book of Discipline, and so on. Creeds have indeed been very effective to separate one group from another, serving as a wedge that has prevented unity among all. Instead of helping people be God’s special people, man-made creeds have been used as divisive instruments, teaching people how others are wrong and how they are right!

To Establish an Official Consensus: Creeds are often written with the goal to establish a consensus or general agreement in what is believed by all the members of the religious group. Creeds are thought to be essential to maintaining strong unity and group solidarity as a congregation or a denomination. The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, for example, have what they call the “Three Forms of Unity” (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordrecht) to summarize their beliefs, a means toward greater unity among all. “Ministerial alliances” drafting unity proposals for congregations to commit themselves to, is another case when a creed is used as the way to unite churches.

Why Do People Follow the Creeds?

They Fail to Study the Bible Themselves: Most people do not study the Scriptures for themselves and depend on others to do their studying for them. (e.g., “Let me check with my pastor.” “What does the preacher think?”). It is no wonder then why people readily follow creeds. Many rely on “educated” men from centuries ago (e.g., Eusebius, Augustine, Calvin) and “learned” men of today who have gotten their degrees at theological seminary or Bible college. Sadly, many believe that in depth Bible study is mainly for “the clergy” (theologians, pastors, preachers) and not required by “the laity.”

Most people in “Christendom” are simply not noble-minded (Acts 17:11), meaning they do not examine the Scriptures for themselves. Yet, Bible study is a requirement of God, a responsibility every Christian should take seriously (2 Tim. 2:15). God has promised us that we can understand the Scriptures and that’s a promise not just for the “scholarly elite”! (Eph. 3:4; 1 Tim. 2:3-4).

They Want Quick Answers to Tough Questions: The apostle Peter made reference to Paul’s writings, which he referred to as Scripture, and said “in which are some things hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). Indeed, some things in Scripture are hard to understand (though not impossible). The book of Romans is harder to understand than the book of James, for example. Certain Bible subjects require more study and patience (e.g., Predestination, the Holy Spirit, “hard” sayings of Jesus, prophecy, etc.). Unfortunately, most people are unwilling to put forth the effort and search the Scriptures for the answers.

The convenient answers creeds provide can be especially attractive to the ignorant or nonstudious. Too often, creeds do not encourage individual Bible study, but undermine its importance. Sadly, creeds are frequently viewed as “the final word” or the official answer to be respected and followed by all.

They Put Their Trust in Men, not God: Consider the example mentioned earlier, how people (mainly Presbyterians) believe that the Westminster Assembly (who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith) consisted of “learned, godly and judicious Divines” who were “preeminently qualified” to explain the meaning of the Scriptures. What qualifications were those we want to know? – That they were “ordained” by the Church? – That they went to the “right schools”? The truth is there is no authority from the Scriptures or God-given right for anyone to establish a creed for a congregation! While church leaders suppose they are helping to “assure a purity of confession,” they actually do an injustice and great harm to the people. Instead of building stronger faith in God, an unhealthy trust and dependency in men’s writings is created in the hearts of individuals. Rather than encourage people to be proactive students of the Bible, people become followers of men. When people put their faith in the sayings of men and do not hold them accountable to the Scriptures, their faith will, in time, be overthrown! (e.g., 2 Tim 2:16-18). In contrast, saving faith will come from putting our trusting in God and His word alone: “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man” (Ps. 118:8). “I have more insight than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Thy precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Thy word. I have not turned aside from Thine ordinances, for Thou Thyself hast taught me” (Ps 119:99-102, NASB; cf. John 6:44-45; Rom. 10:17).

All people should beware of glorying in or trusting in the writings of men. From creeds, to commentaries, to “brotherhood” magazines, church web sites, and the sermons of “well-known” preachers, there is temptation to put our trust in the sayings of men and not do our own careful study of God’s word. When that happens, our loyalty to the Lord is substituted for loyalty to men and in effect, we follow “creeds” instead of God!

The Obvious Weaknesses of Creeds

Not Inspired: First of all, creeds are not inspired of God or “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Thus, they cannot represent God’s will perfectly. No matter how “scholarly” the formers of the creed are and how well intentioned they may be, the creed drafted will inevitably have flaws or inaccuracies. This leads to revision after revision after revision. In contrast, God’s word never needs to be updated, but is everlasting, universally applicable to every generation (1 Pet. 1:23-25).

Grossly Insufficient: Secondly, creeds will always lack the ability to meet our spiritual needs. Creeds cannot provide sufficient instruction for our faith and salvation. A creed will either provide too much (thus, adding to the word of God) or provide too little. Only the Scriptures can provide the wisdom we need “that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). There is a false confidence that creeds provide. Many mistakenly believe that by following creeds, they can be complete spiritually and have no worries. Yet, only by following the word of God can we have such assurance. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17, NKJV).

Creeds Do not Build Genuine Faith: Thirdly, without knowledge of the Scriptures, people will lack saving faith. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge...” (Hosea 4:6). The goal of creeds is to establish genuine faith in people’s hearts, yet instead it leads to shallow faith and empty religion. Creeds diminish the individual’s personal responsibility to study and develop his own convictions of the truth based on his knowledge of God’s word. Creeds effectively take away the necessary struggle for truth. Why work to search the Scriptures yourself when a creed provides all “the answers”? A creed is a “short-cut” to faith that is not true faith at all!

An examination of the creeds of men reveals the shameless, utter failure of men to provide book, chapter, and verse from the Bible for the declarations or confessions that are made. Without the backing of Scripture, such creeds are as weak as water, lacking any spiritual value. Even when true, biblical principles can be found in a creed, it still cannot provide for us what the word of God ultimately can: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17).

Creeds Promote Division: Finally, creeds cannot achieve the unity that Jesus prayed for.
“Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:17-21, NASB). True unity among Jesus’ disciples is based on the truth, the word of God. To eliminate division and be “in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10), God’s word must be the sole standard for what we believe and practice in religion. Could a religious debate be settled by confessional statements or creeds? Of course not! Creeds have no authority and do not prove anything. To effectively settle our differences and attain true unity, we must open our Bibles and put away the creeds, confessions, and writings of men.

The Bible Is the Authority, not Creeds

It is amazing how quickly the creeds of men can become a standard of authority in religion in the minds and hearts of the people. Creeds effectively add to God’s word which has grave or severe consequences (Rev. 22:18-19). Instead of looking to the Bible as the sole guide for what to believe and practice in religion, a creed written by men becomes “the mission statement” and source of inspiration for all. As a result, the word of God is made void in the hearts and lives of the people (e.g., Mat. 15:1-9).

Creeds of men do not have divine authority. Even “the classical orthodox creeds” written by the so called “church fathers” from centuries ago do not possess divine authority. Such are mere words of men. Only the writings of the apostles and prophets, the Scriptures, can reveal the actual will of God (Eph. 3:3-5).

On Judgment Day, the word of God, not creeds written by men, will be the standard by which we will be judged: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). No creed can adequately prepare us for the Judgment. Only the word of Christ can fully prepare us for the Judgment in which we will be able to stand with confidence.

What’s the Difference Between Creeds and Preaching?

Many claim that a creed is nothing more than a form of preaching or teaching (Eph. 4). That to banish creeds, we would also have to stop the mouths of preachers and teachers and limit what we say to the mere reading of Scripture without comments of any kind. Yet, in actuality, is preaching the same as creeds? Absolutely not!

Remember, a creed is an authoritative written statement that formally declares what a religious group believes. It is used as the means to establish a consensus on what all have agreed the truth to be. It is viewed as having authority, the official and final word (at least for now) on what God’s will is. In contrast, when a preacher delivers a sermon or when a teacher teaches a class, such is not the final word (“edged in stone”) that all has agreed to and committed to following. Every member, including the preacher, will continue to grow in the knowledge of Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). Each one has a responsibility to search the Scriptures for the truth and hold every teacher accountable (Acts 17:11). While unity among all is the goal, it is a process that is continual or ongoing (Eph. 4:13). To publish an official “church of Christ” list of confessions (i.e., creeds) that we all agree to is foolhardy and contrary to the way unity is achieved and improved among God’s people.

No doubt, preachers must speak with authority, giving “book, chapter, and verse” in the instruction they give to others. What they speak must be confined or limited to what the Scriptures reveal, giving no place to personal opinion. What is taught must be governed by God’s word. “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God...” (1 Peter 4:11, NKJV). Yet, no preacher or teacher in any way, shape, or form is a “creed-maker”!

Let Us Follow the Bible Only and Be Christians Only!

To be a Christian only, man-made creeds and “confessions of faith” must be put away and the Bible alone followed. That is the only way to be a disciple of Christ and avoid being a follower of men (1 Cor. 1:10-13). By following the Bible only, to what church will we belong? The same church we read about in the New Testament, the church of Christ. All who have obeyed the gospel as penitent believers in Christ are members of the Lord’s body, the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38, 41 & 47). As Christians, let us continually honor the name of Christ by doing all things by His authority (Col. 3:17), by the standard of His word (John 12:48). Let us “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3), not for the creeds of men, to demonstrate our faithfulness to the Lord.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Winning the Battle Against Pornography

By Mark Larson

Pornography is a very real problem in our society that will not go away any time soon. In fact, statistics show that it will only get worse. There is more pornography available than ever before with the advent of the Internet and pay-per-view movies by remote control. The moral standard of the entertainment industry continues to decline that it is now a great challenge to find a TV show or a movie that does not entertain through the use of pornography in some form. Studies show that pornography addiction is now a big problem with more addicts in the U.S. than alcoholics! The forms of pornography are many (See article: The Deception of Pornography). It can be found almost anywhere.

How is it possible, therefore, to win the battle against this monstrous foe? The word of God provides the answers and gives us the help we need to gain the victory!

No One Is Immune.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12, NASB). From the start, it is important for each person to accept the possibility that he or she could get entangled with this sin. If we are too proud to admit this, then we set ourselves up for a fall. Whether a person is an elder, a deacon, a preacher, a Bible class teacher, a new convert or a long time member of the Lord’s body, young or old, every person should “take heed lest he fall.” The progressive nature of sin (James 1:14-15; e.g., Gen. 4:3-8) demonstrates that we may find ourselves committing a sin that we never dreamed we would ever commit, all because we did not take heed!

“Cut Out” Unholy Activities

“But I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matt 5:28-30).

Through the use of figurative language, Jesus gets His point across in a very powerful way. Cut it out! What sacrifices are you willing to make to ensure that pornography does not ensnare you or a member of your family? Rather than just “talk the talk,” we must also be willing to “walk the walk” and take whatever action that is necessary to reduce temptations and eliminate sin. Would discarding your cable or Satellite service or even your TV be too extreme? Would throwing away movies and suggestive music be too costly? Would canceling all magazines and catalogs that deliver moral filth to your door be too much to ask? Or how about getting rid of your Internet service or at the very least purchasing the best filtering software or service possible? If these suggestions seem too radical, put things into perspective: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4).

Replace Bad with Good

When you get rid of the bad, be sure to replace it with that which is good. Don’t leave your “house empty” like the man who got rid of the one demon, only to be inhabited by seven more (Mat. 12:43-45). The saying is true: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Without something positive and helpful to do, you may find yourself right back where you started or worse, committing even more sin. Good activities are to take the place of the bad such as wholesome recreation, service to those in need, time spent with spiritual people, and prayer. Bad thoughts can be replaced with good thoughts (Phil. 4:8) through Bible study and the singing of spiritual songs, for example (Col. 3:16).


“Flee immorality...” (1 Cor. 6:18a; cf. Mat. 5:28). Ever heard the old saying: “Curiosity killed the cat”? The same is true when one gets involved in pornography. How many times have you found yourself taking “just a peek” at pornography in the name of “curiosity” only to get burned? “Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27). How much fire would you allow to touch the clothes you are wearing? Even a little flame can easily set a house on fire. When pornography in any form confronts you, don’t stop and stare, don’t linger or stick around, flee! God will provide the way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13) so look for it and make your exit. “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17).

“Discipline Yourself for the Purpose of Godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7b)

Be honest. How is your prayer life? How would you describe your commitment to personal Bible study? Both of these activities are essential to remaining strong in the Lord (1 Pet. 2:2; Mat. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:15 / Rom. 12:12; Ps. 34:8-10; 42:1-2). Without a commitment to both, we are like “sitting ducks” that are easy targets of the devil who is just waiting to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8).

When we come to recognize the spiritual war that takes place everyday of our lives, we will make the time to pray and read Scripture on a daily basis (Eph. 6:10-17). To walk in faith and keep our focus upon God, daily prayer and Bible study is essential. Such discipline is critical for success in the battle against pornography. “Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation...” (Mat. 26:41a). “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11).

Be Quick to Confess and Seek Forgiveness from God.

If and when you commit any sin, but in particular the sin of partaking of pornography, don’t delay to get your life right with God again. The worse thing you can do is make excuses or try to rationalize your behavior away. Instead, make haste to confess your sin to the Lord: “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).

Sometimes Christians find it difficult to forgive themselves of the sin they committed, perhaps especially those types of sins that are seemingly more shameful (e.g., partaking of pornography). If we can’t forgive ourselves, we may also doubt God’s forgiveness of us. This will lead to much discouragement and may cause us to give up altogether and go back into the sin (“What’s the use!”). Yet, we must count the Lord’s promises as true if we hope to move forward and start anew. Believe in God’s grace (Eph. 1:6) and the assurance of His complete forgiveness. “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:12).

Face Up to Your Addiction

As important as confessing our sins are, confession alone is not enough. We must also repent of our sins (i.e., change our mind and course of direction) to be forgiven (Acts 8:22; cf. 2:38). While a person may struggle with a particular sin all of his or her life, God knows the difference between the person who is fighting against sin and the person who is just “paying lip service” when he confesses his sins. To confess our sin to God, only to turn around and commit it again (without any fight or resistance against it) is not true repentance. We must “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Grace is not to be regarded as a license to sin (Jude 4; Rom. 6:1-2; cf. Titus 2:11-12).

Be honest. Does the above paragraph describe you? If your tendency after confession is to swiftly go back into pornography, then chances are you are addicted. The practice of sin is slavery (John 8:34; cf. 2 Pet. 2:18-19) and pornography can indeed become a real addiction in a person’s life. To win the battle against pornography, honesty and humility are required. Don’t look into “the mirror of God’s word” and just walk away because you don’t like what you see (James 1:23-24). Yes, it can be hard to allow the light of His word to expose our faults, yet it is critical that we let it if we want to walk with God again. “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:20-21).

Not So Secret

Pornography addiction is usually not a public addiction, like alcoholism is in which the problem is out in the open for others to see. Most often, pornography addiction is a secret that no one may be aware of except the person who has the problem. For this reason, pornography addicts may persist in their destructive behavior, reasoning that no one is watching nor holding them accountable.

“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb 4:13). No matter how secretive a person may be the eyes of the Lord behold it all. There is a tendency to dismiss God because He is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17). Yet, His witness is very real and always present. His judgment is very real also and may occur at any hour of any day (Mat. 24:42, 44).

Transform Your Way of Thinking

Essential to winning the battle against pornography is to retrain our minds in the way we regard it. We are commanded: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). We need to learn to view all forms of pornography as evil (1 Thes. 5:22). To develop the same hatred and disgust for it that God has (Ezek. 22:11; cf. Mat. 5:28 / Heb. 13:4; Gal. 5:19) and be nauseated by the thought of returning to it (2 Pet. 2:22).

Such a transformation may seem impossible to the one who has struggled against pornography. Yet, such change is most definitely possible through Jesus Christ. Although the change will not take place overnight, by our faith in Jesus and by the power of the gospel, our way of thinking can be transformed! (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 1:16).

Major in the Fruit of Self-Control (Gal. 5:23)

It is highly probable that those who struggle with pornography will never completely eliminate their desire for it. It may always have a certain amount of appeal for the pleasure it brings. Yet, this does not mean that the battle against it has been lost. Victory is still possible, in part, through the practice of self-control. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

The person who has self-control has mastered his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. He has strength, power, or dominion over himself. This relates to the call that Jesus gave to be one of His disciples: “... If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). Since Jesus requires it, it is therefore quite possible for anyone to have self-control!

Though sometimes it may feel that you are “out of control,” rest assured that you can gain control over yourself and your life. Those who are in Christ (Gal. 3:27), who are partakers of the divine nature, are people who can have self-control with the help of God. “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness...” (2 Pet. 1:3a; cf. 1:6).

Seek Help from Those Who Are Spiritual.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). There is so much that your brethren can do for you if you would only ask for help! As embarrassing as this particular type of sin may be to confess to another, the spiritual benefit in doing so is well worth it. For when brethren who are righteous or spiritual (James 5:16b; Gal. 6:1), not immature (1 Cor. 3:1-3), pray for you, much can be accomplished on your behalf. Specifically, spiritual healing will be given in which you will be able to recover from your sin and receive strength by the Lord and His people.

Don’t Give Up!

Remember that just as your problem with pornography did not develop overnight, neither will you conquer it overnight. Understandably, it can be very frustrating to go for several weeks without a problem, only to be caught in the trespass again. Yet, don’t give up! Don’t destroy what you have built so far and not finish what you have started (Luke 14:27-30). Learn to rejoice in small victories. Take it one day at a time. Persevere!
“And you shall say to them, 'Thus says the LORD, "Do men fall and not get up again?
Does one turn away and not repent?” (Jer. 8:4).

Do You Want to Love Life and See Good Days Again?

“For, ‘let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. And let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:10-12).

Pornography robs a person of the wonderful life we are meant to have with the Lord. There is no fellowship with God for those who partake of it (Isa. 59:2). While pornography may provide pleasure, it will never fully satisfy (Heb. 11:25b) and will always leave you hungry for more. Meanwhile, true fulfillment will always escape you (Mat. 5:6).

Do you desire to love life and see good days again? Do you desire freedom from the bondage of your sin? A marriage that is strong, happy, and loving again? A right relationship with God that is meaningful and fulfilling? Then draw near to the Lord. Purify yourself. Seek God’s forgiveness. Humble yourself in His sight and He will lift you up. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:8-10, NKJV).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Is Pornography Grounds for Divorce?

By Mark Larson

Pornography can cause major destruction to a marriage. The temptation to cheat on one’s spouse becomes ever stronger for those who partake of it (The use of online porn is involved in two-thirds of all divorces!). Yet, even when pornography does not lead to extra-martial affairs, the effects of porn can be quite devastating emotionally, financially, and spiritually to the marriage and family.

Understandably, when a man or woman (usually the woman) to her horror, discovers that her spouse has been partaking of pornography, she experiences a tremendous amount of emotional distress. She feels shocked, hurt, rejected, angry, and betrayed. Feelings of inadequacy arise and the confidence and security in the marriage is replaced with fears and doubts. Pornography use not only takes a major toll in a marriage, it can also bring much harm and anguish to the children, influencing them toward moral corruption.

It is for these reasons why more and more brethren are viewing pornography as scriptural grounds for a divorce, otherwise referred to as “Mental Adultery.” This doctrine asserts that when one’s spouse lusts after another, has thoughts of adultery, he or she may then put away his mate for “unfaithfulness” or “fornication” (Mat. 19:9). The proof that is offered for this position is Matthew 5:28. While we can all concede to the fact that “adultery in the heart” (i.e., thoughts of adultery) is no “small” sin to make light of, is it in truth a lawful cause for divorce?

The Context of Matthew 5:28

“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28, NASB).

A major theme in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5-7), evident throughout His preaching, is the importance of paying attention to the heart. At the time of Christ, religious leaders were notorious for giving too much emphasis to the externals or outward appearances to the neglect of the inward thoughts of the mind or heart. Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for such hypocrisy (Mat. 23:25-28). Concerning the sin of adultery, many were convinced that as long as a person did not commit the actual, physical act, that he or she remained right before God (Mat. 5:27). Jesus shattered such an erroneous misconception through His teaching (See Mat. 5:28 above). Clearly, adultery (or fornication) starts in the heart where sin is first committed: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23). Those who think such evil thoughts are already unclean or offensive to God and must seek His forgiveness (e.g., Acts 8:22).

Is Mental Adultery Equal to Physical Adultery in Every Way?

By Jesus’ own words, “mental adultery” is equally sinful before God as actual, physical adultery: “... everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mat. 5:28). Jesus goes on to warn us of the Eternal consequences of lusting (Mat. 5:29-30). Thus, either mental or physical adultery can condemn our souls to Hell if not repented of (Heb. 10:26-27). We are no better off in the sight of God when we commit sin in the heart than when we physically commit the sin.

Unmistakably, there is a sense of “equality” between the two. Does it, therefore, follow that if a person catches his or her spouse lusting after another person (e.g., flirting) or viewing pornography that he or she has grounds for divorce? After all, adultery is a form of fornication and fornication is the cause that Jesus allows for a person to put his or her spouse away (divorce) (Mat. 5:32; 19:9).

“Adultery in the Heart” Is Figurative, not Literal Adultery.

Immediately following Jesus’ warning against adultery in the heart (Mat. 5:28), Jesus explains just how seriously we should fight against it: "And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. "And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Mat. 5:29-30). In both passages, Jesus uses figurative language to get His point across more vividly. In verses 29-30, hyperboles are used. A hyperbole is an “obvious and intentional exaggeration; an extravagant statement or figure of speech, not intended to be taken literally, as in “to wait an eternity” (From dictionary.com). Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation. If we pluck out the right eye, we still have the left one that remains and even a blinded man may exercise his imagination and lust in his heart. Instead, what Jesus is teaching us, through figurative language, is that we must make whatever sacrifices which are necessary in order to resist sin, no matter what the price (e.g., TV, Internet, certain friends, career, etc.).

The “adultery in the heart” of Matthew 5:28 is no more literal than Jesus’ discourse of plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand that causes a person to stumble! Adultery (moicheuo), by definition, is unlawful sexual intercourse, specifically with another person’s spouse (See Thayer & Vine definitions). “Adultery in the heart” does not involve the physical act of adultery, for it takes place in the heart, not the body. The adultery committed in Matthew 5:28 is figurative, not real or physical, yet nevertheless a sin, an offense to God.

Both Are Sins, Yet Have Different Consequences.

Whether adultery is committed in the heart only (Mat. 5:28) or with the body also (Rom. 13:9), sin has been committed. However, each type of sin does not result in the same exact consequences. While both kinds of sin can condemn a person eternally, there are significant differences in the consequences or results that each one brings.

Mental adultery makes one morally unclean before God (Mark 7:21), yet it is not a sin against the body like physical adultery is: “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). Moreover, adultery in the heart is a private or individual act that does not require the joint participation of another person and his or her body like actual adultery does: “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, "The two will become one flesh” (1 Cor 6:16). Adultery in the heart simply does not result in the same kind of consequences (e.g., unholy sexual relations, pregnancy, disease, etc.). Of course, adultery in the heart can eventually lead to acting on those thoughts (James 1:14-15), but this is not always the case.

One of the possible consequences for committing adultery (not mental adultery) is to be put away (divorced) by your spouse for fornication and thereafter have no right to remarry another (Mat. 5:32; 19:9). When Jesus taught that fornication is the only just cause for divorce, He used the word literally, not figuratively. A person cannot lawfully (scripturally) put away his mate for viewing pornography any more than an angry person can rightfully be put to death for his temper by the state! (Mat. 5:21-22; cf. Rom. 13:1-5). Pornography and wrath, for example, are both wrong (Gal. 5:19-21), yet they do not lead to the same exact consequences as actual adultery or murder does. Both can condemn our souls to Hell (if we fail to repent), yet each has different consequences for us while on earth.

“Unfaithfulness” Does not Always Mean Actual Adultery.

Commonly, we try to be discreet when speaking of the problem of adultery by saying: “He was unfaithful to his wife.” Yet, when we do so, we are not being specific as to the nature of the unfaithfulness. This leads to generalizations and misunderstandings. Furthermore, this gives the impression that any type of “unfaithfulness” (as defined by us, not God) is grounds for divorce, when in fact Jesus specifically taught that there is only one kind of unfaithfulness which is just cause for divorce – the cause of fornication (Mat. 5:32; 19).

In the Old Testament (in the NASB), to commit physical adultery is to be “unfaithful” to one’s spouse (Num. 5:12, 27). However, unfaithfulness is not restricted to such a narrow definition in the Scriptures. A case and point is the idolatrous behavior of the Israelites. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God declared to them: “... they have committed adultery with their idols...” (Ezek 23:37). Their idolatry was unfaithfulness to God (Ezek. 20:27-28). By failing to put God first and obey Him (e.g., put away idols), they were unfaithful.

Similarly, whenever a husband or wife displaces his or her loyalty and is no longer committed to the marriage, then it can rightly be said that he or she is being “unfaithful.” Failure to love (Eph. 5:25; Titus 2:4) and the shunning of martial responsibilities (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:3-5; Eph. 5:22-31; 1 Tim. 5:8, 14) is a demonstration of unfaithfulness. Certainly, “adultery of the heart” such as flirting with others or the partaking of pornography would be acts of unfaithfulness (Mat. 5:28). However, such does not constitute grounds for divorce. Only the cause of fornication does (Mat. 5:32; 19:9).

Physical Adultery Is Definitive, Mental Adultery is not.

If mental adultery is allowed to stand as a “just and lawful” cause for divorce, by what standard will it be decided that “mental adultery” has been committed? How will a person know, for certain, that he or she has a right to put away his or her spouse?

“Mental Adultery” as a Cause for Divorce Is Too Subjective: Suppose you catch your spouse looking at a pornographic web site or magazine just one time, would you then feel justified to put him away? No? How about twice, maybe three times, or four? Suppose you catch him or her flirting with another, will you then file for divorce? Maybe him watching a sensual TV show or browsing a women’s lingerie catalog will be enough to provide just cause. Such examples demonstrate that mental adultery as a cause for divorce is left up to the whim and opinion of the individual, rather than the authority of Scripture. Such a standard will be based not on the Word of God, but on the degree of emotional hurt of an offended spouse. Furthermore, this puts the husband or wife in the inappropriate and impossible position of “searching the heart” of his or her spouse. To the church at Thyatira, the Lord Jesus declared: “I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev. 2:23). Indeed, only God has the power, the special ability to search a person’s heart and know exactly what it contains (1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chron. 28:9; Jer. 17:10; 20:12).

Physical Adultery Provides Actual, Scriptural Proof: In contrast, physical adultery is not determined by the subjective estimation of a spouse whose feelings have been hurt. With physical adultery, there is much more certainty. Either he (or she) committed adultery (a form of fornication) or he did not. There is no in between or middle ground about it (Unlike trying to determine if your spouse has committed mental adultery - Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t!).

Jesus tells us plainly what the only lawful cause for divorce is: “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Mat. 19:9, KJV). Jesus also said: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48, NASB). Jesus specified what the acceptable cause for divorce is, thereby excluding all other causes a person can name (e.g., pornography, “mental divorce,” emotional abuse, etc.). Only by standing upon the word of Christ will we have full assurance before the Lord on that last day.