Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What—or Who—is the Way to Eternal Life?

By S. Michael Durham

A priority for Real Truth Matters is to emphasize the fact that Jesus is the gospel. It is a sad day when men say positive things and attach the title “gospel” to it and Jesus is left out of the equation. When everything is labeled the good news about Jesus it is odd that Jesus is hardly mentioned. Often people tell me how little their pastor speaks of Jesus. Recently at a celebrated Christian concert a worship leader from the largest church in the United States sang and never once uttered the lovely name of the Savior. Do you find that strange, as I do, or am I singing out of the wrong hymnal?

This morning I was meditating on Jesus’ words to His disciples before His arrest in John 14:4-6:

“And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

According to Jesus, the disciples knew where He was going and the way there. He was going to the Father and they supposedly knew the way to the Father. But Thomas interrupts—if not contradicts—Jesus and says, “We don’t have any idea of where you are going; so how could we possibly know the way there?” Jesus’ answer is famous. It is often memorized and quoted in sermons, witnessing encounters, and gospel tracts. It has become an evangelical pep rally cheer: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Our Lord’s answer forcefully declares two things. First, He needed no Mediator to get to the Father. He was the way to the Father. He went on to explain to Thomas that since he had seen Jesus, Thomas had seen the Father. Our Lord didn’t need anyone to lead Him to God. He was His own way to God. Therefore, since “you believe in God,” He asks them, “believe also in Me.”

Second, Jesus is powerfully stating that He, Himself, is the gospel. “I am going to the Father and since you know Me you know the way to the Father for I am the way, the truth and the life.” Most readers will probably say, “Well, of course, Jesus is the way to God, the Father. Everyone knows that. Jesus died on the cross and rose again so that we can get to God.” Yes, and praise the Lord that is true. He did die and rise again. But at the time He said this He hadn’t died yet. But He emphatically says He was the way to God even before His death.

Let me mix this up a little more. The disciples did not believe in either His death or His resurrection at this point. Even after it happened they didn’t believe in His death in an evangelical way. When the early reports came in that Jesus had risen from the dead, they didn’t believe what they were hearing. Yet, in spite of their unbelief in His death and resurrection, they were regenerated and had eternal life. Jesus removes any doubt of their spiritual condition when He said, “And where I go you know, and the way you know.” So how could they be saved if they didn’t believe in His death or resurrection?

The answer is the same as it was for any saint prior to Calvary—they believed God. They trusted God to be integral and faithful to Himself. For the disciples, they believed Jesus. They trusted in Him, in spite of the fact, they understood little of what He said. Am I suggesting that you or I need not believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection? That we can doubt it and still be saved? No, of course not! His death and resurrection are integral to who Jesus is and to God’s faithfulness. If we doubted the validity of either His death or resurrection we could not truthfully call ourselves a Christian.

All I want to show is that Jesus is the gospel, meaning the good news is Jesus and not just what Jesus did. In fact, it is because of who Jesus is that His death can save, and it was because of who Jesus was that He was raised from the dead. His death and resurrection do not legitimize Him but validate Him. His sacrifice in our place does not make Him “the way, the truth and the life.” He was already all of that and that is why His death can save.

Many people believe the historical fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection but they aren’t true Christians. And when they die they will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. Why? Because they don’t believe in Jesus—they don’t believe Him to be enough. They do not see Him to be “the way, the truth and the life.” They do not love Him because they have never seen His glorious beauty and excellent virtue. All they see and all they know is a ticket master that has supposedly punched their ticket. He might as well take off His holy white garment and thrust off His golden belt and put on the garb of a train conductor. He is not altogether lovely to them. He is not the gospel to them; Jesus is not good news to them. He’s just a ticket puncher. And they love the ticket more than the Conductor.

Jesus is more than a conductor on the train to glory. He’s more than the train to glory. He is the glory. And if you know Jesus you have witnessed that glory, “the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Announcement

By S. Michael Durham

The following is the preface for a book I am writing about the essence and nature of the gospel message. I have yet to select a title; that will come near the end of the process. The rough draft is nearly completed and tedious rewrites will begin. It is my hope that by the end of summer, the book will be ready for print. No promises! But to let you know this is in the works and solicit your prayers for this effort, I thought I would throw this preface out as a teaser.

In this postmodern culture of American society, we must admit the fact that America is a post-Christian nation. Americans in recent generations have no knowledge of the holy and an advanced knowledge of the profane. They have no understanding of the God of the Bible. The unbeliever is completely ignorant of what many Christians take for granted as basic truths of Scripture. If we are to reach this generation, we must assume they know absolutely nothing of the claims of the Bible or of the God it reveals. How has this nation digressed into blatant paganism when there is a church on every street corner? How can the amoral doctrines of tolerance, pluralism and moral relativism be the tenets of America’s convictions when Christian television stations and networks spring up like weeds in my garden?

This country has more access to Christian information than any people, anywhere, anytime. Yet it is rapidly becoming an anti-Christian culture that has no tolerance for truth in any facet of the marketplace. Why? Because most American churches have become irrelevant. Their message and methodology cannot answer the deepest questions of America’s soul. We have abandoned the gospel and its purity for an impersonation of a slick Madison Avenue ad agency. We have nothing different to offer this generation. They have heard our polluted gospel of health, wealth and beauty, and have felt ripped off when those promises proved empty. They have fallen for the sting operation of American Christianity that has left this nation embittered against the church. It would be much better if they hated us because of our adherence to a narrow gospel than to despise us for a stand-for-nothing mentality.

Let me make this very clear. I refuse to soften the harshness of my warning with skillful rhetoric or dainty tones. Far too long have smooth-haired prophets and soft pastors recognized a problem, but have stated the situation with admonitions that lacked urgency. No heart will be aroused and no mind will be alerted with a soft approach. Refined and respectable reproofs have not worked. The American evangelical scene continues to race to self-destruction and God’s judgment. The terrible calamity demands the voices of militant spirits willing to be considered the enemy of the church if need be in order to save some. It must be stated in soul rending thunder. The trumpet must be blared to awaken the conscience. Listen, church of America: YOU ARE WRONG! You have been wrong-headed and weak-hearted for quite some time. You are mistaken either purposely or in ignorance (let God be the judge) in doctrine, spirit and in practice especially when it comes to the proclamation of the gospel of Christ.

This is why I say we must start afresh. We must start with exactly what early Christianity started with. We must lay before the church a new paradigm that isn’t really new––the Bible and church history demonstrate time and time again the need for drifting generations to be awakened and alerted. Jeremiah called his sleeping generation to return to the old paths: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls’” (Jeremiah 6:16). Before Jeremiah there was Isaiah, who warned a posh people inundated with modern methods of worship: “this is a rebellious people, Lying children, Children who will not hear the law of the LORD; Who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ And to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits. Get out of the way, Turn aside from the path, Cause the Holy One of Israel To cease from before us’” (Isaiah 30:9-11).

And before Isaiah there was Joshua calling: “Choose you this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). He called the people to remember and choose whom they would serve for he could see the drifting already so soon after possessing the land of promise. Drifting, degeneration, defection and death are always the ways of men. No matter how mighty and miraculous a movement of God begins, it will eventually drift into deterioration. By the end of the first century of Christianity the drifting had begun so that most of the latter epistles were nothing but warnings and reproofs against the deterioration caused by false teachers and leaders. After a period of darkness during the middle centuries where religious tyranny reigned and greatly persecuted the truth, a remnant of God allowed the cry to sound and be heeded. An Augustinian German monk named Martin Luther penned 95 reasons why he could no longer abide with the church paradigm of his day. With the driving of the nail into the Wittenberg church door, Luther drove the first blow to shatter the religious defection from truth and, at the same time, began construction upon the true foundation of Christ. Unfortunately, Luther could not remove all the debris of the Romanists, and after his death his structure was soon dilapidated.

In America’s religious history not all is rosy. Prior to the Second Great Awakening, it was said that the Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church “was too far gone ever to be redeemed.” A poll taken at Harvard discovered not one believer in the whole student body. Yet again, men of God sounded the clarion call of the one true gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is imperative that we go to the Bible and properly study its teaching on this most important of subjects––the salvation of men by a gracious God. We must establish the truth of the gospel, how it is that we come to know the tender mercies of God, how we are saved, and the biblical evidence of true conversion. Men more able than I have sounded this call, but the churches, amid the deafening noise of ministerial success and mega-church growth, have not heard. Why should you read this and heed this call? Only that the Lord would be pleased to use you and me, the weak and the foolish, to convince all who have thought themselves wise to depart from the unchanging Word of God.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some Chastening on Chastening Part 2

By S. Michael Durham

Often chastening, or discipline, is seen as a negative thing. It is always viewed within the context of pain. Anytime something bad happens, we immediately presume we have disobeyed the Lord and He is chastening us. Should correction be the only way we understand the discipline of God?

In our previous post, I made the case that natural consequences and chastening are two different things. I stated and explained two reasons: 1) discipline distinguishes between the Christian and non-Christian. Since both Christians and non-Christians can receive bad consequences for their own actions or another’s, consequences by themselves are not discipline. 2) All bad things are not discipline. If I lock my keys in my car I shouldn’t deduce God is punishing me. I can deduce I did a stupid thing and the consequence is I can’t open my car door.

But there is a third reason why we should distinguish unpleasant natural consequences from chastening. It is that most discipline from the Lord is not correctional, but is character building and instructional. Instruction is also a part of discipline. Our heavenly Father is always instructing us. Instruction is occurring even when correction isn’t. The word discipline comes from the word disciple. A disciple means a person who learns from a teacher. The word can be translated “pupil.” So, you can see that instruction is not just a part of discipline – it is all of it. Even correction is to be instructional.

Two evidences that chastening can occur in your life without being correctional or the result of disobedience are found in Hebrews 12. The first evidence is the persecution of the Hebrews to whom the author was writing. The Hebrews were having a difficult time because they were being persecuted for their faith, and the author to the Hebrews calls their persecution “discipline.” It was not sin in their lives that brought this discipline, but rather righteousness. They were not being disobedient, but obedient – and for that reason they were being persecuted.

Second, I present as evidence Jesus Christ the Lord. Listen to the writer of Hebrews:

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him” (Hebrews 12:3-5).

The author encourages the disheartened Christians by reminding them that Jesus also endured chastening. Surely, there is no debate about Jesus’ obedience! He was the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. And yet, He too received scourging, literally. The word scourge is the same word used to speak of the terrible beating that was administered to Jesus by a Roman whip, “Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him” (John 19:1). Hebrews 12:6 says that God “scourges every son whom He receives.” Jesus was no exception. But by it, He was helped, even though He was already morally perfect. Again, the same author says of Jesus, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). What’s my point? Jesus was chastened and yet He was perfect, without sin. Thus chastening must not always be about correction. Jesus didn’t need correcting but He was chastened. His discipline was instructional. Again Hebrews 5:8, “He learned . . . by the things which He suffered.” And so do we.

All discipline is not correctional, but not all pain is correctional either. There is another practical point to be made. It is the goal of the enemy to discourage us when we endure pain and suffering. If our immediate response to adversity is to think, “there must be sin in my life and that is why I am going through this,” then we are apt to miss God’s purpose in adversity. It will be easier for Satan to convince you that something is wrong with you, which makes his job easier to persuade you that God really doesn’t love you. How? Because it puts the basis of your relationship with God on your performance.

I’m convinced that most of us have some “prosperity gospel” mixed in with our theology. We are not that far astray from Job’s comforters after all. Way too many good Christians think to an unbiblical extreme that says, “If I’m doing fairly well pleasing God, then life will be easy, but if life is not easy I must not be doing too good a job.” You see God’s favor based upon your discharge of Christian duty.

God’s love for me is not based on anything I have done or will ever do. His love for me is squarely resting upon the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul says that we are “accepted in the Beloved.” Yes, discipline will occur when I disobey, but it will also occur when I have not disobeyed. And even when I have disobeyed, God’s discipline is not because He loves me less or because He thinks me a problem child. We’re all problem children. Don’t base God’s opinion of you based on your circumstances good or bad. You will be misled either way.

Finally, not all of discipline has to be painful either. The act of receiving instruction is not always painful. Often it is quite enjoyable. Whether it be studying the Bible or listening to a sermon, instruction is being imparted and that is discipline. The conclusion is simple—because God loves us, He teaches us, using both pleasure and pain.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some Chastening on Chastening Part 1

By S. Michael Durham

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives." If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. (Hebrews 12:5-8)

What distinguishes chastisement from consequences? Is there a difference? If you run a stop sign and get hit by another car, is that discipline, or consequences, or both? In other words, is the pain from the accident God rebuking you, or is it the natural results of not obeying traffic laws, or could it be both?

Let’s look at the “it’s both” answer. Some will say that the accident is the consequence of not stopping at the intersection, but God can use it to bring correction about either your poor driving skills or if there is some other area of your life where you are not obeying Him. True! The Lord can use it as discipline for something unrelated or for poor driving skills. But that really doesn’t answer our question: Is there a difference between chastisement and consequences? The “both” answer simply acknowledges that God can use consequences as a form of discipline.

Here’s another question to think about—if an unbeliever refuses to stop at a stop sign and is involved in an accident, is this God’s chastening?

How could it be since the Bible says, “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons”? God disciplines all His sons, but He does not discipline those who are not sons. So, in the case of unbelievers, the automobile accident can’t be chastening, but nothing more than the natural consequence of not obeying a stop sign in busy traffic. Why, in the case of a believer, could it be discipline? It isn’t. And that’s the point. Consequences and chastening are two different things. In other words, something else is needed to make a consequence divine chastening.

What then would make the accident chastening? The instruction of God. It is God’s instruction that turns a natural consequence into a means of correction. This instruction is the work of the Father’s love toward every one of His children. Unbelievers are completely without this loving correction and instruction.

There are three reasons why this distinction is important. First, discipline distinguishes between the Christian and non-Christian. As already stated, God only corrects and instructs His children. That is not to say that non-Christians are never confronted by God because they are. But the confrontation is not chastening. Only true sons are chastened.

The Father of mercy teaches His children truth. What good is a spanking from a father if he does not use it to instruct the erring child? All the spanking will do is embitter the child because it will not see it for anything but punishment. It is the instruction of the father that turns punishment into discipline. The judicial system exacts revenge from lawbreakers. Parents are not to get revenge, they are to correct; and correction cannot occur without wise instruction. The sinner is without this loving instruction. So often, that is why it seems that the wicked prosper and get by with their evil actions. They are without the Spirit’s instruction turning whatever pain into a blessing.

The second reason to differentiate natural consequences from chastening is show that not all bad things are disciplinary. It does not mean that I am being chastened if I accidentally fall off a ladder and break an arm. It means the natural consequence of me trying to defy gravity by falling from a ladder was a broken bone. That’s all! We must be biblical. The Lord was very upset with Job’s so-called comforters because their theology was essentially this: good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. According to them, Job had to have sinned and God was punishing him for it.

The truth was Job hadn’t sinned and God was not punishing him. We live in a fallen world, a world where perfection does not exist. If you miss a stop sign and run into the path of another car you are naturally going to have problems. You shouldn’t think every time something bad happens that God is necessarily trying to get your attention. Life is simply a few days of trouble.

If the Lord should use a natural accident to teach you and bring correction into your life, well then, very good. But don’t see every problem as God’s displeasure. This leads to my final reason why we should note the difference between natural consequences and chastening—most discipline from the Lord is not correctional, but either character building and instructional.

Stay tuned. I will continue this in part 2 in a couple of days.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Truth About Lies, Part One

Immediately following the ice storm at the end of January, most people in Western Kentucky were plunged into darkness as tree limbs and telephone poles snapped causing power lines to be downed and strewn upon the ground. Most have never known life without electricity. Our modern houses are certainly not built with an extended power outage in mind, and as temperatures plummeted to around fourteen degrees a couple of days later, people were scrambling to stay warm. Generators and kerosene heaters were premium items as stores sold out as soon as new shipments came in. Sadly, generators and kerosene heaters were the causes of ten deaths in just the few days immediately following the storm. The worst part about carbon monoxide poisoning is that one is unknowingly lulled into sleep and then into death. Those who placed generators in their homes or had faulty kerosene heaters were probably very comfortable. Their goal had been accomplished. They were nice and warm and only felt a bit tired as they drifted off for a nap. But in the midst of their ease, an unseen and undetected force slowly choked the life out of them.

While this is a real, physical threat, there is a similar principle in the spiritual realm that is just as deadly. Instead of carbon monoxide, the danger is in the lies we believe about ourselves, others, God, and the way our lives are to be lived. Unfortunately, these aren’t little lies circulating here and there. Our whole world system is built upon lies. Satan, the father of all lies, exercises great influence over our world. 1 John 5:19 says that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” He was a deceiver from the beginning, and continues to do so today. His aim is nothing less than your total destruction. And the deceptions are so subtle and convincing that we buy into them fully. That is the nature of deception! For those who are not saved in Christ, Satan deceives them as to what life is truly about and who God really is. The goal is to lead them into a life-long distraction from Christ, and, ultimately, lead them to hell. That can even mean leading a person to believe that they are saved or religious and on their way to heaven when, in fact, they are not. The myriad of deceptions are endless.

But the gentle, lulling-to-sleep nature of lies from the enemy does not end when one is born again. For the Christian, Satan’s goal is still destruction, even though one is sealed for eternity. Lies can work to destroy your testimony, your joy, and your love. They are incredibly effective. I am now coming to the Truth in several areas of my life. I have believed lies in how I am to raise my children, treat my fellow brothers and sisters, relate to my wife, among others. The problem with many of the lies is that they don’t sound bad on the surface. In fact, most of them sound good and right. Oh, but is that not the nature of the deceiver? As he lied to Eve in the garden, he twisted God’s words to create half-truths. I don’t believe that Eve thought she was plunging into all-out rebellion against God even though that was exactly what she was doing. She thought she was doing the right thing. Oh, how the same is so true for us. Even in the “good” things we deny God’s authority and power and unknowingly reap the consequences of buying into lies.

One example is the very lie I bought into that would eventually lead me to involvement with Real Truth Matters. As a new believer, my natural desire was to be plugged in to a local body of believers. After all, that is how God designed it! There are so many churches who conduct themselves in ways that seem right, but they too have bought into lies. In the end, they do many things are simply unbiblical, or they ignore the headship of Christ and the leadership of the Spirit in exchange for doing things “the right way.” On the surface, it seems right, but in those kinds of churches, I was much like those sitting in a living room with a faulty kerosene heater. I was nice and toasty warm. I was comfortable and being lulled to sleep. Although spiritually speaking I could not be completely destroyed, I could be fixed into a daze and spiritual stupor that kept me in constant bondage, believing that all along I was following God’s will, when, in fact, I was not submitting to His lordship. So it is with any lie.

So how do we wake up from the spiritual stupor that lies put us in? We come to life with the Truth! If the people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning had a carbon monoxide detector, it would have emitted a piercing alarm to let them know danger was imminent. Our detector of destructive lies is the Truth in God’s own word. With a carbon monoxide detector, however, one is looking for the abnormal, a high amount of poisonous gas in a room or house. We are completely immersed in the lies of this world. Truth is abnormal. But Truth is reality. We must be diligent to bathe ourselves in the Truth. We all face the consequences of actions taken under the sway of lies, and change will not come overnight. Sanctification is a process of lives transformed continually by the Truth. I pray that maybe we can share Truths that will overcome lies that keep us in bondage. It is counter-cultural, even against the culture of religion, but it will be well worth the trip.