There is no finality to the Christian LIfe this side of eternity. Leonard Ravenhill

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Legalism, License and Christianity

"Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:19-20

The Pharisees of Christ's day are the quintessential example of what legalism actually is. I believe that today there is much confusion concerning what legalism is. The Pharisees were religious zealots, they were serious about prayer, fasting and the law of God. None of these things were wrong. Prayer is good. Fasting is good. The Scriptures are good. The problem with the Pharisees was not so much the activities they did, but why and how they did them.

Christ in the sermon on the mount clearly explains that the Pharisees religion was all for show. Their praying was extravagant so others would admire them. Their fasting was made obvious so men would be impressed. They wanted the populous to perceive them as super-spiritual. They were practicing religion for men, not for God. They desired mans approval and admiration and missed life's true purpose, that of bringing glory to God.

Christ's judgement on the Pharisees was not that it was wrong to pray, tithe, fast and sacrifice. Christ's scathing rebukes focused on the Pharisees choosy amnesia. They concerned themselves with the parts and completely forgot the whole. Outwardly they appeared immaculate, but on the inside they were a mess. They missed the forest because of the trees.

We are confused as a church about this subject of legalism today. Christians with any sort of standard are labelled legalists. Those who believe and live Biblical principles are written off as legalists. Those who try to live as responsible Christians, trying their utmost to bring glory to God are called legalists. Standards are thought of as legalism, this is absurd though.

Let me make this perfectly clear, a standard in and of itself is not legalism. And most certainly Biblical standards are not themselves the ingredients of legalism. Legalism is the result of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. If you, like the Pharisees of Christ's day, live the way that you do for men, then you are a legalist. If you impose your lifestyle on others because it's what your church does, you will, without a doubt, create legalists. Your Christianity must never be based on a group or a church, it must be founded and grounded in the Word of God.

If your life is a reflection of the Christian life as outlined in the Bible, men may call you a legalist, but Christianity is not legalism. You see this is the great danger our churches face today; in our fear of legalism we must not swing to the opposite extremes. The opposite of legalism is of course, license. But a life of license, a life with no restraints, is certainly no better than legalism. We have thought that license is better than legalism, but this is wrong, for neither are Christianity.

Paul warns of this fleshly tendency towards license in Romans 6,

"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no mean! How can we who died to sin still live in it?"

We are called to follow Christ. Jesus must invade every corner of your existence. We must live continually asking ourselves: Does my life bring glory to God? Is my life an honor or dishonor to God? Do the things that I do bring shame to His name? Trying to live like Christ is not legalism my friend, it is Christianity.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Man God Uses ~ Samuel Logan Brengle

A while ago I was talking with a Christian merchant who expressed a great and important truth. He said:

"People are crying to God to use them, but He cannot. They are not given up to Him. They are not humble and teachable and holy. There are plenty of people who come to me and want work in my store, but I cannot use them. They are not fit for my work. When I must have someone, I have to go and advertise, and sometimes spend days in trying to find a man who will fit into the place I want him for, and then I have to try him and prove him to know whether he will suit me or not."

The fact is, God is using everybody that He can, and using them to the full extent of their fitness for His service. So instead of praying so much to be used, people should search themselves to know whether they are usable.

God cannot use anybody and everybody who comes along any more than the merchant could. It is only those who are "sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2:21) that He can bless with great usefulness.

God wants men and women, and He is hunting for them everywhere, but like the merchant, He has to pass by hundreds before He finds the right individuals. The Bible says: "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him" (2 Chr. 16:9).

Oh, how God wants to use you! But before you ask Him again to do so, see to it that your heart is "perfect toward Him." Then you may depend upon it that God will show Himself strong in your behalf. Glory to His dear, dear name!

When God searches for a man to work in His vineyard He does not ask, "Has he great natural abilities? Is he thoroughly educated? Is he a fine singer? Is he eloquent in prayer? Can he talk much?"

But rather, He asks, "Is his heart perfect toward Me? Is he holy? Does he love much? Is he willing to walk by faith, and not by sight? Does he love Me so much and has he such childlike confidence in My love for him that he can trust Me to use him when he doesn’t see any sign that I am using him? Will he be weary and faint when I correct him and try to fit him for greater usefulness? Or will he, like Job, cry out, ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him’? (Job 13:15). Does he search My Word, and ‘meditate therein day and night,’ in order to ‘do according to all that is written therein’? (Josh. 1:8).

"Does he wait on Me for My counsel and seek in everything to be led by My Spirit? Or is he stubborn and self-willed, like the horse and the mule, which have to be held in with bit and bridle (Psa. 32:9), so that I cannot ‘guide him with Mine eye’? (Psa. 32:8). Is he a man pleaser and a timeserver, or is he willing to wait for his reward, and does he seek solely for ‘the honor that cometh from God only’? (John 5:44). Does he ‘preach the word’ and is he ‘instant in season, out of season’? (2 Tim. 4:2). Is he meek and lowly in heart and humble?"

When God finds such a man, He will use him. God and that man will have such a friendly understanding with each other, and such mutual sympathy and love and confidence that they will at once become "workers together" (2 Cor. 6:1).

Paul was such a man, and the more they whipped him and stoned him and tried to rid the earth of him, the more God used him. At last they shut him up in prison, but Paul declared with unshaken faith, "I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound" (2 Tim. 2:9), and so he spoke God’s Word. Neither devils nor men could put shackles on it, but it pierced right through the prison walls, and flew across oceans and continents and down through the long centuries, bearing the glorious tidings of the blessed Gospel, overthrowing thrones and kingdoms and powers of evil, and everywhere bringing light and comfort and salvation to dark, troubled, sinful hearts. Though more than eighteen hundred years have passed since they cut off Paul’s head and thought they had finished him off forever, yet his usefulness increases and his mighty words and works are today bearing such fruit to the good of men and the glory of God as passes the comprehension of an archangel.

Oh, how surprised Paul will be when he receives his final reward at the general judgment day, and enters into possession of all the treasures he has laid up in Heaven and the everlasting inheritance prepared for him!

Poor, troubled soul, cheer up! Be of good courage! You think you are useless, but you do not know. Trust God!

Paul saw dark days. He wrote to Timothy one day and said, "This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me" (2 Tim. 1:15). Study his life in the Acts and the Epistles, and see what conflicts and discouragements he had, and take courage!

Jesus said, "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive…)" (John 7:38-39).

See to it that you are a believer. See to it that you are "filled with the Spirit," and Jesus will see to it that out of your life shall flow rivers of holy influence and power to bless the world, and you, too, will be surprised at the reckoning day, to behold the vastness of your reward as compared with the littleness of your sacrifices and your work.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What Will He Find You Doing?

We live in a busy world. There are thousands of things vying for our attention. Voices are calling to us, hands are beckoning for us to come, this world is trying to snatch our souls so they can destroy them. Bunyan's Pilgrim was from the City of Destruction, but we in 21st century America live in the City of Distractions. Lights flash, sounds ring, images bombard us everywhere that we turn. We live in a world inebriated with this need for constant "activity". Although we are always doing we are never accomplishing. Although our minds are always occupied they are never thinking. Although we are always hearing and seeing we are not comprehending, we are just absorbing. The powers of hell wish to consume our mind and heart, so that we cannot devote them to higher things. If we are saturated with the things of this world, we cannot be absorbed with the things of another Kingdom.

In Matthew 24 Jesus in answer to a question posed to Him by His disciples, describes what their attitude or lifestyle should be like in light of His second coming. Starting in verse 36 of Matthew 24, Christ says,

"But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (Matthew 24:36-44)

Our society is literally obsessed with discussion on the end of time. Whether it is concern that this very year, 2012, according to some old calendar, is going to be the end of the world. Or we speak of the shenanigans of a radio preacher who gave us first one date in 2011, that would be the day that Christ returned, and then when nothing happened gave an alternate date, which likewise was
incorrect. Some time ago a couple of authors wrote a slew of novels with their spin on the second coming that did quite well. All around us there are bestseller books, blockbuster movies and all in all a general interest in the this subject. It seems to me somewhat absurd and even sacrilegious though, all of the money that has been made off of these opinions, because you must admit, that's what they are opinions.

While I am not opposed to thoughtful consideration on the "schedule" for Christ's second coming, I am afraid that more often than not we are the ones writing the calendar. No one has a monopoly on understanding the end times. No man or woman regardless of education and understanding can honestly explain every prophetic aspect of Scripture. Whether you are Tim Lahaye, Harold Camping, Hal Lindsay, or Gary Demar, you do not have all of the answers. You cant!

I think we have focused on the wrong things.  I believe the New Testament focuses not so much on why and the how of the events, but instead Christ and the Apostle's stressed the necessity of our actually being ready for His return. In Matthew 25 we read of the ten virgins. Here we have the five foolish and the five wise virgins. The foolish had lamps but no oil for them. The wise had oil for their lamps so when the bridegroom came they were ready and could welcome him. When it was announced that the bridegroom had arrived, the foolish virgins had to run to the market and buy some oil, and they missed the bridegroom and the feast that followed.

What is the moral of the story? "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."(Matt. 25:13) This was the same admonition Christ was continually giving. "You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."(Matt.24:44) Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation."(Matt 26 :41) "But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."(Luke 21:34-36)

I believe that another danger we face in this fascination for end times prophecy, is the possibility of extreme neglect for spiritual fruit in our lives. We like to talk of Israel, and pacts that are made and who's the Antichrist; but really these things are superficial. The supreme obsession of our life ought to be to know God personally and intimately. T. Austin Sparks explains this clearly, "There are multitudes of people who are simply engrossed in prophecy as a thing whose spiritual life counts for nothing, who really have no deep inward walk with the Lord."

Friends, this is what it really comes down to, are we watching for our Lord to come, or does the world hold our gaze? Are we watching for our Lord to come, or are we trying to figure out when He is going to come? Remember where we started; the City of Distractions. The question for us is are we being distracted? By the worlds gimmicks? By end times theology? Are we watching like Jesus commanded us to?

When HE returns what will He find us doing? Will we be somewhere we wish we were not? Will we be saying something we wish we had not? Will we be doing something we shouldn't? Will we be using our tongue in a wrong way? Will we be wasting our lives living for the flesh? Will we be disputing over theology? Will we be fighting over when the rapture will happen, or if it will even happen at all? Let this sobering question pierce your very soul,


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Love Is... Me?

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, love never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

This section of Scripture has been laid on my heart by the Lord, for me to study and implement by His grace, throughout this year and the rest of my life. This chapter is extremely convicting to me. Here Paul says that without love we are worthless and useless.I sometimes wonder where I stand.

If you take the word love out of these verse and insert Jesus it works every time. Think of Christ's life while He was here on earth and the example that He left us. His life was the embodiment of 
1 Corinthians 13. "Jesus is patient and kind. Jesus is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. He did not demand His own way. He is not irritable, and keeps no record of being wronged. He does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out."

Several weeks ago I felt the Lord urging me to do an experiment with these verses. Instead of putting Christ's name into this chapter, put my name in. This was shattering to me. "Justin is patient? Justin is kind? Justin is not irritable? Justin keeps no record of being wronged?" It was devastating to realize how unlike Jesus I actually am. My name in that chapter just doesn't work, it simply doesn't.

Oh sometimes I might be "patient", but its far too often just a mockery. On the inside I'm as impatient as possible. Restraining myself is not the kind of love Paul is speaking of, that's just good self-management, that's not love. This sort of love, the 1 Corinthians 13 kind actually needs to become who I am. This is who Jesus was. It was His character, not a costume.

But what about me?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Loving Bride

I was rereading Francis Schaeffer's small, but fascinating volume, "The Church Before the Watching World" the other day. I was impressed with the following excerpt about the need for Christians to not only be doctrinally sound, but also to passionately love and serve their Master. This is what he wrote,

"We who by God's grace belong to the people of God, we who are Christ's, we who are God's, we who have been redeemed on the basis of the blood of the Lamb... We are to act as that which we are. Who are we? We are not just those going to heaven: we are even now the wife of God. We are at this moment the bride of Christ. And what does our divine bridegroom want from us? He wants not only doctrinal faithfulness, but our love day by day.

"I must ask myself, 'What about you Schaeffer?' And what about you, each one of you who know the grace of God. What should be your attitude? Our attention must swing back now to ourselves.

"We must ask, Do I fight merely for doctrinal faithfulness? This is like the wife who never sleeps with anybody else but never shows love to her own husband. Is that a sufficient relationship in marriage? No, ten thousand times no. Yet if I am a Christian who speaks and acts for doctrinal faithfulness but do not show love to my divine bridegroom, I am in the same place as such a wife. What God wants from us is not only doctrinal faithfulness, but our love day by day. Not in theory, mind you, but in practice."