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by Jeremiah Johnson
By now it is unlikely that you have not heard of Jesus Calling. That book—a daily devotional by Sarah Young—has sold more than 15 million copies, along with several sequels, children’s storybooks, and mobile apps. Today the Christian world is thoroughly saturated with Young’s writing, as her little devotional has exploded into a phenomenal success.
However, I wouldn’t call it unprecedented success. Christian publishers excel at creating these types of fads. Like its predecessors The Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose-Driven Life, Jesus Calling has managed to find the sweet spot of mass appeal: man-centeredness.
In the case of Jesus Calling, the devotional entries are presented as the actual words of Christ, with Him speaking words of encouragement and hope directly to the reader. Here’s how Young explains it in her introduction:
I have written from the perspective of Jesus speaking, to help readers feel more personally connected with Him. So the first person singular (“I,” “Me,” “My,” “Mine”) always refers to Christ; “you” refers to you, the reader. 
Young pushes back against the notion that her book is inspired. But that distinction seems to be nothing more than a semantic façade. Here’s how she describes her writing process:
The following year, I began to wonder if I could change my prayer times from monologue to dialogue. I had been writing in prayer journals for many years, but this was one-way communication: I did all the talking. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God might want to communicate to me on a given day. I decided to “listen” with pen in hand, writing down whatever I “heard” in my mind. 
Only Young understands the balance she’s attempting to strike between divine revelation and her own imagination. In that sense, her books have a lot in common with modern prophecy—we’re told to believe they are the words of God without assigning them the authority of the Word of God.
And whether it’s a daily reading from Jesus Calling, an outburst of tongues, or a personal revelation from the Lord, there is a consistent and troubling theme gaining influence in the church today: The Bible is not enough.
In an earlier, unrevised version of Jesus Calling, Young made that point abundantly clear.
I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day (emphasis added). 
This desire to hear personally from the Lord is nothing new to the church, but it may be enjoying unprecedented acceptance among God’s people. Lately I hear phrases like “the Lord told me,” “God revealed to me,” and “I heard God say” from a wide variety of Christian ministries—it’s no longer the exclusive territory of the charismatic church.
The truth is God has already said everything He intended to say to us—His Word makes that clear. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible we have is neither incomplete nor inadequate—we already have all the revelation we need from God. As our good friend Justin Peters says, “If you want to hear God speak, read the Bible. If you want to hear Him speak audibly, read it out loud.”
I’ll admit, I don’t fully understand this desire to receive personal messages from the Lord. I’m enough of a Bible student to know that if I did truly hear God’s audible voice, it would likely knock me off my feet, or worse (cf. Matthew 17:5-6; John 18:6).
Instead of chasing special revelation from the Lord, we need to recommit ourselves to the sufficiency and authority of what He has already said. Moreover, we need to consider the special care the Lord took in recording and preserving His Word. As the apostle Peter wrote, “No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
Regarding that passage, John MacArthur writes,
By contrast, true prophecy does not come to mind through psychic intuition or New Age mysticism, and it is not discerned by guesswork. . . . Those who equate their own personal impressions, imaginations, and intuition with divine revelation err greatly. 
The great danger of books like Jesus Calling is that they drive a wedge between God’s people and His Word, encouraging them to look beyond the scope of Scripture for additional words from the Lord. In simple terms, they devalue the Bible and elevate emotional experiences and imaginary voices to the level of divine authority. And when anything you hear or feel could be the Lord speaking, you leave yourself open to all sorts of heresy and satanic lies.
God’s people need to be warry of anyone who assumes to speak for Him. We need to defend the authority of His Word against all pretenders. And we need to help shepherd other believers away from the popular desire for special revelation and back to the all-sufficient Word of God.
Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside
Chapter 17 – BUT IS REPENTANCE DESIRABLE?
And now I come to discuss, in this closing chapter, what many will feel should have been the first question raised and settled: Is repentance after all desirable?
According to much of the humanistic thought of the day there is no occasion whatever to call upon mankind in general to repent. In fact, we are told, he who does so shows that he fails to appreciate man’s innate dignity and praiseworthiness. The evolutionist points with pride to the abysmal depths of bestial ancestry from which man has struggled upward to his present exalted position. What some call sin is but the slowly conquered animal traits which, it may be hoped, will be outlived in future centuries. It is not for this magnificent thinking creature to repent of anything, certainly not of his upward progress. If he condemns himself as a “miserable sinner” he fails to appreciate his glorious heritage. He is the child of all the ages; he has come the long, long way from a tiny speck of protoplasm to the dignity of a cultured twentieth century genius. Shall he repent that he is not what he once was? Does he not know that every fall has been a fall upward? Was it not by unceasing struggle with superstition, ignorance, and unwholesome environment that he has reached his present high estate? To command him to repent and to do works meet for repentance is to insult him to his face.
And then there are those who have given their adherence to various highly lauded religious cults of widespread acceptance, all of which are based upon the proposition that man is but a manifestation of God and that what the Bible calls sin is merely an “error of mortal mind.” The realization of man’s own Deity in order that he may ever be “in tune with the Infinite,” and so declare confidently, as Jesus did, that “I and my Father are one” will, we are told, enable us all to demonstrate the essential unity of the human spirit with the divine. But if this be so, there is no place for repentance. Repent of what — that I am one with God? Surely not. So these teachers, however much they may quarrel among themselves as to terms, all insist that the path of life and the way of peace are to ignore all that seems to be evil and to be occupied alone with the good and the true. “Condemn not thyself,” is a favorite saying. And the devotees of all these systems consciously or unconsciously seek to build themselves up in spirituality and to rise to higher moral and ethical planes by means of constant repetition of the Coué formula,
“Every day, in every way,
I am getting better and better.”
Of course, this kind of argument is only another form of the old and very familiar philosophy of the bootstrap. We do not have bootstraps on our shoes, but many act as if their minds had something of the kind and they were diligently trying to lift themselves to higher heights by pulling on them.
Often we are told that it is degrading and belittling to cry “Repent!” We should rather shout, Advance! and forgetting the past reach forth to the better things the future has in store. Did not St. Paul tell us this in his Philippian letter? The answer is, he did not. He himself tells us in that very Epistle how he once gloried in his fleshly religion until the vision of the risen Christ brought him to repentance, so that what things were gain to him he now counted but as offal and as dross in order that He who had manifested Himself to him might henceforth be magnified in him whether by life or death. Now he could forget the things behind and reach forth in holy expectation to the things beyond, “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
For nearly a century the world has been drinking at the fount of these strange philosophies, and one might have thought that by now, if they were true at all, we would see a great improvement in the human race. But lust, cruelty, corruption, and violence were never more prominent than in these strangely unsettled years since the close of the World War — the war that was to end all war and henceforth make the world safe for democracy. But the nations are still in turmoil as the iron of imperialism and the miry clay of Sovietism struggle for the mastery. The horrors of the Ethiopian massacres, the unspeakable cruelties of Russian Bolshevism, the bloody strife in Spain, the desperate conditions still prevailing in China, together with ominous forebodings of coming class conflicts all over the so-called civilized world, show that the nations are far from realizing the idealism in which their salvation is supposed to be assured.
No, man is not Godlike. He is not at one with the Infinite mind. He is not a great, heroic figure dominating the ages. He is a poor, needy, sinful creature who will never find the path of peace until he humbles himself before high Heaven and repentantly confesses his manifold iniquities and looks to the cross of Christ and to the Holy Spirit of God for twofold deliverance, justification before God and practical sanctification of life, through the power of the Word applied by Him who alone produces a second birth and comes to indwell all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to the salvation of their souls.
Applied psychology, psychiatry, and ethical culture, will not bring this about. Whatever value there may be in the wise use of these systems, so far as combating certain conditions of the mind is concerned they are utterly powerless to change the heart of man or to produce a new life. J.R. Oliver in a recent volume entitled Psychiatry and Mental Health, which is well worth reading, frankly confesses that after all the varied needs of mankind can best be met by “the divine Psychiatrist, the one great Physician of the soul.” He rightly declares that if we but know Him and walk with Him, all books on mental science, moral theology, marriage and birth control, with all the well-meant regulatory laws which have been tried or proposed to curb the evil desires of men and nations, could be safely discarded, for in Christ is found all that is needed to give us moral and spiritual health. To turn to Jesus as the Great Physician is to repent, for He came to heal — not the well — but the sick. His message was for those who had lost their way. What His enemies said of Him in derision and contempt is blessedly true and the cause for everlasting praise, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”
But so long as men insist on attempting to justify themselves and their behavior they are under the divine condemnation. It is concerning him who cries, ‘I have sinned and perverted that which was right and it profiteth me not,’ that the voice of God exclaims, “Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom.” (See Job 33:14-30.) We are told in Psalm 76:10, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” It is another way of saying that all confessed sin shall be made to serve in the working out of God’s eternal purpose. Where recognized guilt leads to repentance, the forgiven man rises to a consciously higher plane than he would otherwise have attained. Our sin becomes the dark background that better displays the lustrous jewel of divine grace. We know God better as forgiven sinners than Adam knew Him, as unfallen in that first earthly Paradise. It is this that makes the joy of heaven so great as the redeemed adore the Lamb and sing His praises who was slain in order that He might wash us from our sins in His own blood. Not one voice in that wondrous choir will attribute merit to other than Christ Himself.
In a recent book, in which one was objecting to expressions such as these, the writer challenged those who habitually confess themselves miserable sinners and acknowledge that they have left undone the things they ought to have done and done the things they ought not to have done, to dare to say such derogatory things of themselves when applying for a position of trust in some reputable firm, and the implication was that if such language was not suited as between man and man, it was not proper between man and God.
One does not have to be a “deep thinker” to see the fallacy of this. A man is hired by a firm because of his supposed ability and trustworthiness. But men’s standards are altogether different from those set forth in the Holy Scriptures. Righteousness is emphasized in our dealings with our fellow men; holiness when it comes to relationship with God. A man’s life may be outwardly correct and righteous, while his heart is corrupt and unholy. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” He desires truth in the inward parts.
It is the pure in heart who shall see God. Therefore the absolute necessity of the new birth, apart from which there can be no spiritual enlightenment. The heart of the natural man is as a nest of every unclean and hateful bird; all sorts of evils come forth from it. The mind of the unsaved man is incapable of grasping heavenly realities. His understanding is darkened because of the ignorance that is in him. When he accepts God’s testimony he takes the position of repentance, and is in an attitude where God can reveal to him the wonders of redeeming grace. In no other way can guilty man be reconciled to God, who beholdeth the proud afar off, but is nigh unto every broken and contrite heart.
If these pages fall into the hands of any anxious, troubled soul, desirous of finding the way of peace and earnestly seeking to be right with God, let me urge such a one to give up all struggling. Just believe God. Tell Him you are the sinner for whom the Saviour died, and trust in Christ alone for salvation. His own word is clear and simple: “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
To hear the Word is to receive God’s testimony, and this is the very essence of repentance. When he who has spurned that Word bows to its message, even though it tells him he is lost and undone and has no righteousness of his own, he turns from his vain thoughts and accepts instead the testimony of the Lord. It is to such a one that the Holy Spirit delights to present a crucified, risen, and exalted Christ as the one supreme object of faith. He who trusts Him is forever freed from all condemnation. (See John 3:18). He is henceforth in Christ, and “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
This is not to say his own conscience will never again condemn him, for that is not true. The nearer he lives to his Lord, the more tender his conscience will be. But it does mean that God no longer sees him as a sinner exposed to judgment, but that He counts him henceforth as a child, a member of the heavenly family, accepted in Christ, the beloved of the Father.
In this blessed relationship he has by no means done with repentance. He is called upon daily to judge himself in the light of the Word of Truth, as it is opened up to him by the Spirit, and so to repent of anything that he learns to be contrary to the mind of God. Otherwise he will have to know the Father’s chastening rod. “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” (1st Corinthians 11:31-32.) It is in view of this that He says, “Be zealous therefore, and repent.”
But I must bring these remarks to a conclusion. I need not multiply words. This book is, perhaps, already much too lengthy for busy readers, though I hope many will take time to examine carefully, in the light of the Holy Scriptures, every position taken. The conclusion of the whole matter is simply this: Repentance is not only desirable, but it is imperative and all important. Apart from it no sinner will ever be saved. God Himself commands all men everywhere to repent. Our Lord Jesus declared, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” That which it is so perilous to neglect should be faithfully preached to all for whom Christ died. And when men receive the message in faith and judge themselves in the light of the cross, they may know that all heaven resounds with gladness for “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10).
The glorified throng in heaven will all be there, not because they were holier or in any wise better in themselves than other men, but because, as repentant sinners, they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” He alone will be extolled as the Worthy One. All others who are ever saved will be saved through His merits alone.
[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]
No, Christianity Should Not ‘Welcome’ or ‘Include’ Your Sinful Lifestyle
By Matt Walsh
I got this email a few days ago insisting Christians need to be more “inclusive” of open homosexuals. It’s a popular notion these days, so I thought I’d share this with you and respond here publicly:
Matt, you put yourself on a pedestal as this “great Christian” but you do more harm to the religion than anyone else. As a gay man I can say I’m happy to see how finally a lot of Christians and different churches are realizing that Christianity has to be INCLUSIVE of the LGBTQ community and other lifestyles. Not judging of them. Gays and trans people have felt alienated by Christianity and now progressive Christians have finally started to pull the religion into the 21st century and reach out to all of us. Jesus preached tolerance for all people and lifestyles not HATE. The prodigal son was WELCOMED back not told to go away! You are still trying to make divisions and tell some of us Christians we are not Christians just because we live differently. You are a truly sh*tty person and you come off as a bad writer and an uneducated idiot. Just stop talking. You make Jesus mad every time you write your garbage.
-A gay man who loves Jesus
Hi. Thanks for writing. A few points.
First, as I’m constantly reminded, the sins of homosexuality and fornication have existed since Biblical times. Still, it was prohibited in the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 19:1-13, Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9) and by every Christian church for the first 20 centuries of Christianity’s existence. Since you are a self-identified Christian who thinks the moral teachings of the Bible should now be suddenly updated, I have to ask: What changed?
What was revealed in the last few years that proved the prophets, the apostles and all Christian denominations until recently wrong? What new piece of information did humanity obtain? What great revelation occurred? You think a 2,000-year-old faith that professes timeless Truths should “keep up” with the whims of modernity, but why? What do we know in our time that the Church didn’t know — that God Himself didn’t know — up to now? Be very careful in how you answer that question.
Second, I have never referred to myself as a “great Christian” — or a “great” anything for that matter — so I’m not sure why you put “great Christian” in quotes. I consider myself a greatly flawed Christian, even a “sh*tty” one, as you so helpfully and compassionately noted.
See, you need to stop reading with your emotions and read with your brain, man. Your emotions tell you that anyone who advocates virtue is automatically claiming to be virtuous, because it’s easier to dismiss a point based on the perceived motivations behind it rather than consider the point on its own merits. It’s like I’m saying two plus two equals four, and you’re countering that I’m not such a brilliant mathematician. Well, right, but I never said I was a brilliant mathematician. I just said two plus two equals four, because it does, and because even a stupid man can see that.
It’s difficult to have grown-up conversations these days, because people like yourself see every mention of moral truth as either a personal attack or a statement of superiority. This is the real damage you cause in the Faith. It’s not that you’re sinful — we all are, to be sure — it’s that you want to be coddled. You want to shut down professions of Truth that are inconvenient or uncomfortable. You want to modify Christian teachings not because you tried them and found them wrong, but because, to paraphrase Chesterton, you found them difficult and don’t want to try them.
I have many sins, but I will not tell you they are not sins. I come to Christ a sick and broken man looking for healing. You apparently come a sick and broken man looking to be assured you were never sick and broken to begin with. That is the only real difference between us. Or I should say, it’s the only real difference between Christians and “progressive Christians.” Both groups are sinful, both groups are weak, both groups need Christ desperately, but one wants — though they may so often fail — to go Christ’s way, and the other wants Christ to go theirs.
Third, I’m tired of hearing this “inclusive” stuff. Yes of course the Faith is made for people like you. It’s made for all people. It’s not a cult or a club. There’s no entrance exam or membership fee. Christianity is for everyone. If that’s what you mean by “inclusive,” fine, but a better word would be “universal.” In any case, that isn’t what you mean, is it?
When you ask for an “inclusive” Christianity, you ask for a Christianity that, rather than calling you to serve it, bends down and serves you. You’re asking to be “included” in the Faith on your own terms. That’s just not how this works, brother. As Christians, we have no authority to “include” you in that way. You must include yourself.
We go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. We offer an invitation. We extend a greeting. We fight to win souls. But the souls must come of their own accord and must accept the Truth of Christ willingly and in its fullness. You must enter into the Truth. You must be the one who accepts it. You must be the one who “includes” the Truth in your life. Your lifestyle must change to accommodate the Truth, not the other way around.
By the way, Jesus never uttered the word “lifestyle,” much less did He preach that they all ought to be tolerated. Recently, we’ve started referring to sins as “lifestyles” and pretending that this rhetorical maneuver somehow changes the morality of the issue. It doesn’t. A sin is still a sin, and He instructs us all to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11), which often means dramatically altering our lifestyles.
Indeed, when people came to follow Him in Scripture, He told them to first leave their earthly pleasures behind and then continue along the road (Luke 18:22). He made it very clear that there is in fact a correct lifestyle, a correct way to live, and that way is narrow. Matthew 7:13 tells us the broad and “inclusive” road is the one that leads to damnation. You must choose, then, to walk through the right path, the narrow path, but it will be difficult and demanding, and it will not and cannot be widened to include you.
We all struggle with sin. But struggle is the keyword. Struggle. Fight back. Plead with God in agony to help you defeat these demons. Go to Christ begging that He help you overcome your temptations and live with chastity and temperance. Don’t demand that your sin be allowed to accompany you into Heaven. It can’t. We can accompany our sins into Hell, or ditch the whole ugly package on the side of the road and come Home.
In “The Great Divorce,” C.S. Lewis said, “If we insist on keeping Hell, we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven, we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”
That’s our choice, in a nutshell.
Yes, as you mention, the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11) was welcomed back by his father. But have you read the entire parable? The son realizes the error of his ways, makes the journey back home, and when he arrives he pleads for forgiveness. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Wow, that’s, like, a pretty intense declaration. Notice he didn’t waltz back to his dad’s place and casually brag that he blew his fortune on hookers and booze but he’s not sorry and intends to get right back to it first thing tomorrow. If he had, I think the story would have ended differently.
We see the same sort of thing play out in the passage about the two criminals crucified next to Christ (Luke 23:39-43). One of the criminals is unrepentant and demands that Jesus rescue him from his fate and allow him to continue on sinning. The other realizes he deserves his punishment and, in those final moments before death, professes his faith in Christ and repents of his sin. Christ assures the repentant man he will be with Him in paradise. Our Lord very noticeably does not make this guarantee to the other. A really bad sign for that dude, to say the least.
But for the penitent criminal, imagine the joy. What a beautiful thing, what a privilege it must have been to die next to Christ, to be forgiven everything he’d ever done and welcomed into eternal salvation. Now, that is inclusive. And that is an opportunity open to all of us.
It’s so simple, really. The message is so hopeful and good and joyous, which is why I resent attempts to dilute it into oblivion. All we have to do is follow Christ, spread the Gospel, fight against our sins, and repent for the times when we fail in that fight. That’s all. That’s the “how to” of Christianity. It seems you want to remove, well, all of those ingredients and still call yourself a Christian. You might as well remove all the yeast and flour from a mixture and call the goop of water, butter, and salt that remains “bread.”
I’m reminded of a great moment from a fantastic book called “The Power and the Glory,” set during the persecutions in 1930s Mexico. The protagonist, a sinful, degenerate, alcoholic priest with an illegitimate daughter, is facing execution for his faith. Hours before they march him to death by firing squad, he’s in his cell reflecting on his life and praying for forgiveness:
He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that there was only one thing that counted — to be a saint.
Powerful. The man knows he has failed God so many times in his life, he lacked even the little restraint and courage that was required to follow Christ perfectly, yet because he believed, because he repented, because in these final moments he hungers for the Lord’s embrace, he will enter Paradise all the same.
Inclusive? Sure. I’d call that inclusive.
The point is, Christianity includes us, Christ includes us, but He will not include our sin. We have to choose to shed our sin, pick up our cross, and follow Him. That’s what it means to “be included.” You say that’s what you want, but do you? Do you want to leave your earthly pleasures behind, cut off whatever parts of your life are causing you to sin (Matthew 5:30), and die with Christ? I can’t answer that question for you. I have a hard enough time answering it affirmatively myself every day.
Christianity is truly a simple formula, but a painful one. If we will not include the pain and sacrifice in our lives, we will not include the Faith.
Fourth, Christians churches in America were never guilty of “alienating” unrepentant sinners like the “LGBTQ community.” They are so attached to their sin that they literally define themselves by it. They look for ”community” not with the Body of Christ, but with those who share their urges and fetishes. They elect to reject the difficult aspects of the Faith. They alienate themselves.
There are many accounts in Scripture where Jesus delivers a controversial message that is hard for people to accept, and many of his followers abandon Him altogether because of it. You’ll notice that Jesus never backtracks and apologizes. He never chases them down as they walk away and explains that He didn’t really mean all that stuff and really they were just taking it out of context.
In John 6, after Christ proclaims Himself the bread of life, many of his disciples are upset and threaten to leave. He does not beg them to turn around. He just continues right along speaking the Truth. He does not change His Word to cater to those who choose not to accept it. They are alienated by their sin, not by Him.
With that said, I do think many churches are guilty of alienating a certain group. As others have pointed out, the minority that rightly feels disaffected are those striving to live the Christian life. While western Christendom has worked so hard to shelter and welcome people who do not even desire to follow His Word and who, in fact, wish to subvert and change it for their own purposes, the ones really left out in the cold are those who try to be virtuous, chaste and faithful.
The Christians who would now be called “extremist” or “fundamentalist” or “conservative,” who stand against the cultural tide, who resist the temptation to succumb to the heretical fashions of the day — these are the Christians we need to include more. They have accepted the Faith for what it is, they are trying, though imperfectly, to walk through the narrow gate, but what do they find? Churches that treat them like nuisances. Church services designed to appeal to the secular crowd at the expense of giving the faithful the sacred and invigorating experience they deeply crave. Christian leaders who provide no leadership. A faith muted and watered down for the benefit of those who wish to destroy it.
These believers are trying their best to keep their hearts pure in a society that heaps mockery and scorn upon such efforts. They despair sometimes wondering how they’ll ever manage to raise their children to love Jesus in a country where even His supposed followers celebrate sin and bestow blessings on the worst kinds of evil. They’ve watched their nation discard virtue and truth and God. They feel isolated. They feel betrayed. They are beaten and exhausted in their fight against sin because they feel like they are fighting alone. They feel like Christ on Calvary shouting, ”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Of course, God has not forsaken them. But many Christians have. Many churches have. Many pastors have. Many Christian leaders have. They need to be equipped, encouraged and inspired in their mission to defeat sin, follow the Word and walk the narrow path to salvation, but these Christians are frequently left wondering where to turn.
Certainly the culture is no help. The education system is usually just another obstacle. The government, the media, even sometimes their own families are against their quest for holiness. So they run to their churches and their ministers and their fellow Christians and often they are greeted with secularized gospels and “progressive” gospels and “prosperity” gospels and gay gospels when all they want is the Gospel, in all its truth and fury.
John Chrysostom said the Holy Scripture should be “engraved upon our hearts.” There are some Christians who wish to adhere to it with that level of severity. They are the minority that all churches should be bending over backwards to embrace. They are the ones who need to be included again. They are the life of the Faith in this country.
Frankly, the church has not failed if it makes open homosexuals or anyone else feel uncomfortable in their sin. That is a success. That is the church doing what it’s supposed to do. But it has failed if it makes the faithful and the sincere feel unwelcome. This is the real problem, the real crisis.
I’ll pray Christian churches in this country always “include” the Truth, not liberal sexual dogmas or any other form of blasphemy.
As for you, I’ll pray you leave your sin behind and come to Christ remorseful and empty handed, ready to be His servant.
As for me, please pray I do the same.
Why is the Church Powerless?
Part 1: Missing the Connection
By Pastor Anton Bosch
Anyone who is half-honest will admit that the church of the 21st century is powerless when compared to the church in the first century and at other times of great blessing. The problem is that making such a statement is akin to saying the emperor has no clothes since most feel quite content with their situation.
I know generalizations are exactly that, and I also freely admit that there are differences between the church in the West and other places where there still is a visible sense of God moving amongst His people. In broaching this topic we also have problems with terms, so allow me to define what I do, and do not, mean by power.
Power is not measured in noise, hype or even large numbers, just as the “anointing” is not measured in shouting, sweat and spit. Power cannot be measured in statistics, budgets, buildings or programs. A telling statement comes from a Third-World believer after visiting churches in the West: “It is amazing what the church in the West has been able to achieve without the Holy Spirit.”
Power must be defined by the Scripture itself, and the definitive text is Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
This promise of the Lord Jesus is made manifest by the disciples in the book of Acts as “with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the
Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). This power is visible in sinners powerfully transformed, powerful preaching and, yes, powerful miracles. And yes, I am painfully aware that my own church and ministry fall into the category of the powerless!
The Greek word for “power” is dunamis. Many point out that the word “dynamite” stems from this word. While that is true, I do not believe that dynamite is what Jesus had in mind when He used this word, simply because
dynamite results in a huge explosion, the release of great power, and then destruction and silence in its wake. The word “dynamo” also comes from
the word dunamis. A dynamo generates a constant flow of (electrical) power. The dunamis of the Spirit should not result in a momentary explosion (as in some questionable “revivals”) but in a constant empowering from within –driving the individual and the church forward in the face of difficulties and attacks, empowering lives that powerfully witness to the power of the Gospel and the power of the Cross.
This stands in stark contrast to modern conversions that seem to be more about joining, behavior modeling, and superficial assimilation; preaching that is clever, eloquent and impressive, but that leaves the sinner and the rebel unconverted; and a reliance on medical science, hype and advertising as a replacement for miracles.
The decline in the manifestation of God’s power amongst His people cannot be ascribed to Cessationism, or Hyper-Dispensationalism. That there is a decline is beyond dispute, but the weakening of the church cannot have been part of God’s original design since the power of Acts 1:8 is intimately connected with the Great Commission, which has not yet been fulfilled. If the dunamis was specifically given to empower the witness of the church, and the Great Commission has not yet been withdrawn nor fulfilled, then the power must still be available.
Concerning the gifts, Harry Ironside said:
There are commentators who insist that some of
these gifts have absolutely disappeared, but I do not
know of any Scripture portion that tells us that. I
do not know of any passage that says that the age of
miracles has passed and I would not dare to say that
the sign gifts all ended with Paul’s imprisonment. I
know from early church history that this is not
true… Therefore I do not think it is correct to take
the position that these sign gifts have necessarily
disappeared from the church. I do, however, believe
that many of the gifts are not often seen today, and
I think there is good reason for that. In 2
Corinthians 11:2 the apostle wrote, “I have
espoused you… as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Paul
was writing to a separated company, the affianced
bride of the Lamb, and it was the delight of the
blessed risen Lord to lavish upon her gift after gift.
The Corinthians “[came] behind in no gift,”…
However, it seems to me that we can see in the
book of Acts that as time went on and the church
began to drift a little, and as dissension and other
things that grieved the Lord arose, there was more
reserve on His part in bestowing gifts. That, I
believe, explains the lack of many of these gifts
today. The church has gotten so far away from what
she should be and there is so much strife, division,
worldliness, and carnality that the Lord no longer
delights in lavishing His gifts as freely as He did in
Before I continue I also need to make it clear that while we are solely responsible for our anemic state, God remains sovereign, and we cannot manufacture a revival by applying a formula by which God then becomes obliged to fulfill our wishes.
In a church I recently visited I was rebuked by an elder for not believing that we could absolutely bring about a revival as long as we simply prayed and believed hard enough! But we cannot control, manipulate or force God into doing anything. At best, we can simply obey Him and then trust Him to do what He alone wills. The revivalist who touts various formulas for revival is no different than the prosperity teacher, who believes we can bribe God to prosper him, or the Word of Faith evangelist, who believes that God is subject to his faith. To all these God simply becomes a puppet on a string that dances to the tunes of men.
But, at the same time, it is very evident that we can do much that would hinder the work of the Spirit and that would prevent the Lord from pouring out His blessings on us. One of the misconceptions taught during the last century is the idea that the Holy Spirit and the attendant power is a gift and, since a gift cannot be earned, God will pour His Spirit on anyone who asks, irrespective of the individual or church’s spiritual condition. Thus there have been accounts of unbelievers, drunkards, and other vile persons “filled with the Spirit”.
This is not the truth. There are clear conditions set for the receipt of the power of God.
Conditions to the Outpouring of the Spirit:
God does not give His Spirit to those who are disobedient to the Divine will. The Bible does not teach that God will bless and empower those who are disobedient but, on the contrary, there is a clear connection between our obedience and God’s blessings in general, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit in particular:
“… the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts
Obedience obviously covers a huge area and would include things like holiness, obedience in ministry, and obedience to any of the many commands contained in the New Testament. The prime reason for a lack of power in the lives of individuals and churches is clear when one looks at the general disobedience so prevalent in churches today.
In John 14:15-16, Jesus said: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” Jesus Himself predicates the giving of the Spirit on loving Him, and the consequent obedience that flows from such love.
Believers that love themselves, the world, pleasure, ease and comfort are clearly excluded from this promise, as are those who do not love Him sufficiently to obey Him.
These two principles – love and obedience – cover everything else. But under these main principles there are a number of other more specific conditions.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter said: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Notice again the conjunction “and” which indicates that receiving the Holy Spirit will happen once the conditions had been met. Baptism here is symbolic of obedience. However, repentance seems to be the first condition.
By repentance Peter was referring to two main areas in which repentance is necessary. We need to repent from religion void of the Cross. Peter was preaching to religious Jews but calls them to repent from their religiosity and to believe on the Lord Jesus. But clearly implied in the word “repent” is repentance from any form of sin and disobedience.
It is interesting that all great and true revivals are always accompanied and preceded by deep sorrow for, and repentance from, sin. The notion that the Lord will give His Spirit to a rebellious, sinful and unrepentant heart is utterly contrary to both Scripture and the holiness of God.
Also, leaders cannot demand that their followers repent if they themselves are not truly broken before God.
The connection between obedience, sanctification, and the presence of God is illustrated in Exodus 40:18-38 where the Tabernacle is a type of the individual believer, and also of the church.
The text explains the final erection of the tabernacle and between verses 19-32; it says seven times that Moses did everything “as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Repeating that many times that Moses did as He was commanded is highly significant. Following these seven repetitions, verse 33 says: “So Moses finished the work.”
This statement is immediately followed by: “Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34, emphasis mine).
Note the clear connection between Moses’ obedience, completing the work as he had been commanded, and the descent of the Glory of the Lord.
One of the very real reasons the believer and the church are powerless is because of our disobedience and sin. God will simply not anoint our disobedience, laziness and sin. Many who desire the power of God in their lives, ministries, and churches also do not have it because they want it for the wrong reasons:
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3).
Some want God’s power to make them look good, others want power over people, and others want power so their churches can grow for selfish reasons. While any reason other than the Lord’s will is bad, nothing is worse than those who want God’s power so they can make money out of it. This is not new.
Simon the sorcerer seemed to be motivated by ego and money, and was even willing to offer money to purchase the gift of God (Acts 8).
Even without the real anointing of God, there is still good money to be made in selling books, videos and conferences on revival. If the peddlers of such books were serious about wanting revival they would give the books away. Yet it is a lucrative segment of the Christian market.
Amazon.com lists over 1500 titles on “revival” and over 6200 on “renewal.”
The Lord will never bless our greed, lust for power, or desire for the honor of men. The thousands of prayers going up every day for power for the sake of power are a stench in the nostrils of God and will forever go unanswered.
Only the desire for more of Him, and not just His gifts, will be answered. Once again there is little difference between those who follow the Lord for financial riches and those who follow Him for spiritual gifts – both are rooted in selfishness, a lack of gratitude for the Cross, and lack of true love for the Lord.
Those who have a pure motive pray that they may be consumed, broken and humbled in order to gain more of the Lord. They understand that when God’s fire falls, all of the flesh must be consumed. They are not only willing to pay that price, but they desire the loss of all that they may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Only those with the right motive pray John’s prayer: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Part 2: Blessed are the Thirsty
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters…” (Isaiah 55:1)
In addition to the need for obedience and holiness, our attitude also affects whether or not the Lord will pour His Spirit on us. The only attitude the Lord blesses and anoints is that of humility, brokenness and utter dependency on Him.
Just as those who are well do not need the physician, so are those who are self-sufficient. They feel they can make God do what they want and have no need the Lord’s power. Yes, they ask for the Lord’s blessing, but they do not really want it since deep down they feel quite adequate to do things for themselves. To make their situation worse, not only does God not support them in their self-sufficiency, but He is actually opposed to them: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
The problem is that if you feel you are humble then, by definition, you are not! Only those who recognize their pride have any chance of finding true humility, and thus receive the Lord’s blessing.
In the Beatitudes Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
(Matthew 5:3). The state of poverty of spirit is not only critical to receiving the Kingdom, but is vital to receiving anything from the Lord. Of course, all are poor, and there is no one who has anything to boast about (Romans 3:23). But the problem is that very few recognize their poverty and how much they need the Lord. This applies to every area of the Christian life, whether it is the sinner who recognizes his need for a Savior or the believer who understands that he has no strength in himself.
Sadly, the spirit of our age is that of the church of Laodicea which boasted, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” but of which the Lord said, “[You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
It seems most believers and churches are quite content in their lukewarmness and, like Laodicea, “do not know” how spiritually bankrupt they really are. Like the blind person who compensates for his disability though attuned senses of hearing and feeling, so the church compensates for its spiritual poverty through programs and hype. Like the bankrupt businessman who distorts his accounts and spends lavishly to hide his poverty, the church changes the way it evaluates its spiritual state and embarks on propaganda campaigns to speak of the “great blessing”.
Living in a false state of security and comfort is an old scam of false prophets: “For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:11).
In like manner church leaders assure their congregations that they can see when they are blind, that they are rich when they are poor and that they are healthy when they are sick unto death!
Paul had learned that the real secret to power was not becoming more charismatic but realizing his great need and utter dependence on the Lord:
“And He said to me… My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Corinthians 12:9-10).
May we, too, face our desperate need, and may it drive us to Him Who alone has any strength.
The first Beatitude (poor in spirit) inevitably leads to the second: “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Once we see ourselves the way we really are (the way the Lord sees us) it must lead to a great sorrow over our emptiness and lack of power and blessing. But no church wants to be in mourning– we all want to be celebrating and speaking joyfully about the non-existent “move of God” amongst us. Yet there is nothing more inappropriate than being joyful when mourning is required, and I see no reason for cheerfulness amongst the vast majority of churches today.
The gross sin in the church of Corinth should have reduced them to tears and repentance but instead they felt quite good about themselves (1Corinthians 5:2).
So, too, the powerlessness of modern Christians should bring them to a state of mourning over what has been lost, or never found. But rather there seems to be a general state of euphoria in spite of our utter poverty.
Mourning of a godly kind leads to comfort (Matthew 5:4). There is no better way to be comforted than through the comfort (strengthening) of the Comforter.
Just as knowledge of our poverty leads to mourning, so mourning will inevitably lead to hungering and thirsting: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
This beatitude speaks of thirsting for righteousness but the principle also applies to the Holy Spirit. Jesus also said: “‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive” (John7:37-39).
It begins with thirsting. If there is no acknowledgement of our great thirst, no awareness of our poverty, no sorrow over our spiritual bankruptcy and sin, then there will be no drinking at the Living Fountain. Yet churches are kept artificially satisfied through endless programs, events, entertainment and feel-good pep talks. They are dying of thirst but don’t even know it. It seems that the leaders are in cahoots with the devil to keep people from being divinely dissatisfied, remaining unaware that they are spiritually hungry and thirsty, lest they turn to the Lord Jesus for satisfaction.
In defense of leaders, many feel they must keep people happy to prevent them from going to the next church. Meanwhile the people don’t understand that the
solutions are not in the church down the street, but in the Lord Jesus alone.
Oh, that we would just recognize that the void within cannot be filled with more meetings, mindless entertainment, or anything else the world, or a worldly church, has to offer, but that God through His Spirit alone can satisfy the deep longing within. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalms 42:1-2).
“O GOD, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water” (Psalms 63:1).
Thirsting must drive us to Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).
Jesus, and not the pastor, conference or Internet, is the source. How often when we thirst do we inevitably run to the counselors so they can affirm us, assure us that everything is okay, and tell us that there is no need to be stressed. When young Samuel first heard the Lord’s call he ran to Eli who assured him that he was not being called and told him to return to sleep. Every day pastors just as spiritually blind as Eli shush believers to sleep, assuring them that there is indeed no voice from heaven.
Pastors, prophets and visiting evangelists are not dispensers of the Spirit. Jesus alone is, and it is to Him alone we must turn and cry to be filled to overflowing. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts” (Revelation 21:6).
In coming to the Lord Jesus there is a need to wait (tarry) until we receive what we need. In Luke 11 Jesus teaches on the need for persistence in prayer (the man asking bread from his neighbor). He then tells us to ask and keep on asking, to seek and keep on seeking, and to knock and keep on knocking, which He then relates to the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).
The message is clear; we need to ask until we receive. The problem is that most believers ask a few times, and maybe for a few minutes, and when they do not receive, they move onto the next thing on their agenda. Yet, it is clear from Luke 11 that we need to be persistent.
Jacob understood this principle when he wrestled with the Angel at the brook and said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Genesis 32:26). I do not see that kind of persistent wrestling with God anymore. Our instant religion has made us believe that if we don’t get what we want immediately and easily then we just need to move on to the next fast-food place or item on the menu. But God is not into fast food nor is He into instant gratification. It is not because He does not want to bless us, but because He knows we are fickle and often not really serious about our need for His blessing.
When He does not respond immediately, and we simply stop wrestling with Him, he says: “See, I did not give it to you because I knew you were not desperate and by giving up after five minutes of prayer you have proven that you are not serious about this.”
Just before Jesus ascended, “He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father…” (Acts 1:4). Previously, he had commanded them to go into the entire world, but now He told them not to move until they had received the Promise. They would wait for ten days and then, at the appointed time (when the day had fully come – Acts 2:1), the Promise was fulfilled.
I have often wondered what would have happened had they given up after a week or nine days. Ten days is a long time to wait, and others have waited even longer. Yet most believers cannot wait ten minutes, let alone ten hours, ten days or ten years. Unfortunately many Christians are like King Saul, who could not wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice and so resorted to taking matters into his own hands, thus incurring the wrath of the Lord (1Samuel13).
As we persist in prayer, as we wait on the Lord, He in due time, will hear us and will pour out His blessing. Even if He does not, the time waiting on Him is not wasted but is precious, refreshing and empowering:
“He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. ” (Isaiah 40:29-31)
 The origin of this statement is unknown but is variously attributed to
a Chinese and African believer.
 HA Ironside – Commentary on 1Corinthians 12 – 1938.
 In spite of these leaders regarding themselves as experts on revival
this church is literally falling apart at the seams. The less than a dozen
people are divided and bullied by the leaders who constantly berate them
for their lack of prayer, faith and results. The leaders are directly
responsible for this sad state of affairs, yet are arrogant and abusive as
they blame the church for failure for which they are personally
 The Tabernacle is primarily a type of Jesus, but also of the church
and the believer.
 Searched by “Christian revival” and “Christian renewal” in order to
filter out secular books containing the terms “revival” or “renewal.”
by Mike Ratliff
20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Matthew 13:20-22 ESV)
The Bible very clearly teaches that Christians should examine themselves quite often in order to see what their spiritual condition is. Genuine Christians are not perfect people. Neither are they always full of happiness, in perfect health while having plenty of money in the bank. No, the fact that all believers are called to be humble, poor in spirit, meek…
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Program Description: Tom welcomes guest Matt Ferguson, youth pastor at Calvary Chapel Bend and former Jehovah’s Witness as they discuss Matt’s background and experience in the Watchtower Society.
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could join us. In today’s program, Tom welcomes Matt Ferguson, youth pastor at Calvary Chapel here in Bend, Oregon. Now, along with his guest, here’s TBC executive director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. On our program today, I’ll be having a conversation with Matt Ferguson, and we’ll be discussing a religious cult that most people are aware of because they-well, they seem to show up at everyone’s door. And some weeks ago we addressed the followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who take the same approach in trying to attract converts, but this week and next week we’ll be talking about Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Matt, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Matt: Thank you, Tom. Appreciate you having me on here.
Tom: Yeah, Matt is the youth pastor at Calvary Chapel here in Bend, Oregon. Matt, you know, we’ve known each other for quite a while, but I really don’t know your testimony. How did you come by your knowledge of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, better known as Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Matt: Well, Tom, I was actually born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness the first 18 years of my life. I grew up in that organization, or that cult. My father was an elder in the Kingdom Hall. Both my parents were heavily involved in all the activities: going door to door, and the public speaking. So I was involved in it from the get-go, really. So I spent many, many of my early years learning the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine and going door to door at a very young age. In fact, I was five when I first started going door to door, knocking on people’s doors, handing out the Watchtower and Awake magazines, and so I grew up very, very much involved in it.
Tom: So, Matt, in a nutshell, what would you say JWs-what they’re all about regarding theology? Could you give us kind of an overview?
Matt: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theology is really-it starts with the belief of who God is. They don’t believe in the Trinity, so their belief is that God is a single person, and not a triune and single Being united in three Persons like most Christians. They believe that Jesus is the Son of God but in the sense of being God’s first created being. So they believe that Jesus is really Michael the archangel. They get that from their translation somehow, but they believe that Jesus is Michael the archangel, who becomes Jesus when Jehovah, His Father, sends Him here to earth to ransom mankind from sin, from Adam. So their belief is that Jesus lived a perfect life; then He died. But rather than being crucified on a cross, their belief is that Jesus died on a torture stake. A couple other differences are [that] Jesus rose, but He rose spiritually in the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine, not physically. Their methods of salvation, or how man is to be saved, comes by, I’d say, both Jesus’ sacrifice and then also obeying God’s commands, which are given primarily and solely by the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society. So it’s a mixture of Jesus’ sacrifice and a good dose of works.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Now, Matt, you know, it’s stunning, as you said-you’re five years old, you’re out there, going from door to door. So this is all you knew! I mean, obviously, many who know about Jehovah’s Witnesses-they’re not allowed to read any other material. They’re not allowed to-sometimes they have to have a conversation with those they’re witnessing to, but still… Now, where did this begin to unravel for you?
Matt: Well, really, Tom, it was probably my eighteenth year, and when I was eighteen years old, I started questioning some of the things that were being taught. I started really looking at the history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I started looking at some of the prophecies that were made, some of the contradictions that were pointed out to me…
Tom: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say, Matt: you didn’t come to this on your own. Somebody was challenging you, or was this when you were out witnessing, or what?
Matt: Well, you know, I had some people that were challenging me. In fact, my wife now, who I was beginning to date, which…that was-that’s a story in itself as far as that being a no-no, but she really challenged me. She was a brand new Christian, born again Christian. Two weeks after getting saved, she starts dating a knucklehead Jehovah’s Witness, and we spent a lot of our dates debating Scripture. And, you know, what was beautiful is she didn’t know a lick of Scripture, but she had something that I did not have, and that was evident. That was apparent to me, and that ended up being a relationship with Jesus Christ. But we, you know, we would debate. We would talk about differences between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. That got the ball rolling, and I started noticing some of the errors that were in their doctrine, or in their teachings.
Tom: You know, just a side note on that, one of my buddies is Greg Durel; he’s a pastor down in Louisiana, and he had a Catholic background. His wife was a Jehovah’s Witness, okay? They started dating, and then it definitely was the Lord that began convicting them both, so they accused each other of being wrong with their belief system, and they went out to prove that the other was-what they were believing in-was not true. And in that process, they both came to Christ, and they both admitted they were wrong! It was incredible!
Matt: That’s awesome. [laughs]
Tom: Yeah, it’s really a terrific, terrific story of the Lord’s grace. So then how did you come to the Lord?
Matt: Well, I came to the Lord after-as soon as I started dating my wife, Shari, and as soon as I started questioning some of my beliefs, and some of the things that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had erred on, or done wrongly, they gave me an ultimatum, you know-and this is something that some people know about the Jehovah’s Witnesses-but those who question, or those who basically don’t follow all that the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society say is what one must do, you’re faced with excommunication. So that was my choice, was excommunication, or go in line, basically. Follow in line. And so I came to the Lord by exiting the Jehovah’s Witness faith, and really, when I left, I had no desire to have anything to do with God. I was kind of just done with it. And it was really the Lord that drew me to Him. He used my wife; He used Calvary Chapel. I started attending a Calvary Chapel, which was word by word, Scripture by Scripture, and the Lord gradually drew me, and it was really the verses where Jesus invites people to Him that really spoke to my heart, you know? “Come to Me all you who are tired and heavy laden. Come taste and drink.” These different passages really spoke to my heart, having to do with a relationship with Christ rather than an empty relationship of works.
Tom: Mm-hmm. You know, Matt, many of the cults, they have a cult leader; they usually end up worshipping him. As I said, we did a program with the Higleys not too long ago dealing with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but you find out it’s not really Jesus Christ, it’s Joseph Smith, so you have an individual. But what makes the Watchtower Society unique, at least compared to others, is that now it’s the organization that’s the prophet; it’s the organization. How did you feel about that?
Matt: Well, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was really-you know, that was a big thing for me. That was Charles Taze Russell. He started that in 1870 or 1871. But, you know, he was the one who claimed that God spoke to him, and that he was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in finding the truth, and he started the Watchtower Society and, really, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even adhere or follow most of Charles Taze Russell’s teachings. They don’t-they really shy away from it, in fact. But then you look at all the material that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have-even their Bible, the New World Translation, is a translated Bible from the Watchtower Society, so all your material, all your doctrine and theology, is being fed to you directly by these men in Brooklyn, New York. So that was an issue, because though they claim to be men and women of the Bible, much, if not all, comes from the Watchtower Society. So that presents a problem.
Tom: You mentioned earlier about prophecies, failed prophecies. So this organization has to keep readjusting things or…give us some of those examples.
Matt: Well, you know, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have had a long history of making prophecy, and obviously we have prophecy in Scripture, and whenever one is dealing with prophecy, you better get that prophecy right. Scriptures tell us if they don’t, then you’re not to believe that person. That person is a false prophet. You’re not to be afraid of them is what Deuteronomy says. So they’ve made a lot of false prophecies, but most Jehovah’s Witnesses are not aware of it. They kind of deal with it in ignorance, because you’re discouraged strongly from looking into the history of it. But, you know, you can look throughout even a lot of their older literature and publications, many of the teachings of Charles Taze Russell, and you find hundreds of false prophecies, mostly in regard to the coming of Jesus, His Second Coming. They taught a lot in 1914, early 1900s, 1925, 1975, a lot of those-you know, a lot during that time, they made a lot of very clear prophecies that did not come to pass. Yeah, there was a lot of correction, a lot of covering up of those false prophecies. Then you have a lot of doctrine that was revised. You have a lot of doctrine about who Jesus is, you have a lot of doctrine about hell, and heaven, and all these things that are in a constant change, and so there’s a lot of revising and editing and covering up, basically.
Tom: Yeah, but you say that somehow doesn’t really filter back, or-you know, I’m not saying there aren’t some that recognize these things, because they’re going to hear it. I mean, if you’re going door to door, and all of a sudden you come into a situation where the people are really Bible believers, evangelicals, and so on, they’re going to question them. They’re going to ask these things. I remember in my own case, and it probably isn’t always this way, but usually you have a veteran and a neophyte, right? [chuckles] And I always like to look at the neophyte and say-well, whatever the Lord puts on my heart and mind.
But one of the things…you know, not too long ago, Matt, I did an article called “Warning to the Witnesses,” and I wanted believers to have some Scriptures there that they could-you know, whether they kept it right near their door, or something like that-that they could challenge the Witnesses on. And, Matt, a verse I like to use is John 8:24 where Jesus said, “I said therefore unto you that ye shall die in your sins, for if ye believe not that I am [he], ye shall die in your sins.” Now, in the King James, it’s italic in “he,” but He’s claiming to be Jehovah God right there.
Tom: So if they get that wrong-well, there’s no hope for them. And, again, because it’s the Scriptures, hopefully…well, the Word of God says that His Word will not return void. So it’s going to be there for them to think about, for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction of that verse and so on.
Matt: Mm-hmm. That’s a great Scripture. It is. In fact, I was-we’re in John right now it seems in a lot of our studies, but in our high school study, we covered that two weeks ago, and that was really the theme verse, you know, in Jesus claiming to be the great I Am, and really, you know, making a very radical statement there, and a very narrow statement. And I do take them to verses like that; that’s a great verse to take them to. You know, I look at Romans 10:9-13 where you have Paul saying, “Those that call upon the name of the Lord are the ones that are going to be saved.” There’s many Scriptures where you could take them to even in the gospels, and in their own Bible, in fact-the New World Translation-where you could show them where Jesus accepts worship of men. We have, obviously, like Isaiah 44 that talks about Jehovah God is the only One that is to be worshipped, and when you see these verses in the gospels where Jesus is being worshipped, and then you take all these verses and you start to understand that Jesus and Jehovah are one and the same, as far as both being God and both accepting worship. It’s irrefutable.
Tom: Now, Matt, I came out of a Roman Catholic background, and that’s works salvation. But it’s not the works that you guys-before as a Jehovah’s Witness-that you did. How did people handle-I mean seriously-all of this [going] out witnessing? And isn’t there some kind of quotient, or quota, that they need?
Matt: [chuckles] Yeah, I believe it’s four to five hours a month, I think, is the bare minimum. But, you know, most Jehovah’s Witnesses handle going door to door-they do so very zealously…
Matt: …and it’s admirable to look and see how zealous they are in going door to door, and in their study of the Bible, but you kind of nailed it: for me, going door to door was part of earning my way to salvation. That’s part of earning my way into God’s good graces and His favor. You know, it also-going door to door-fed into my belief that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were different than all the rest, that they were carriers of the truth, and they alone had the truth. But there is a very organized way that they handle this. There is, in fact, a time sheet. I crack up at it now at the thought of it, but you turn in a time sheet, and you mark down how many hours you go door to door. You have different classes of those that go door to door, and they’re called publishers. You have regular publishers who they, on an average, are under 10 hours a month. You have different classes of pioneers who spend a minimum of 50 hours a month going door to door, all the way up to 90. And yeah, there’s a very, very strict way, a quota, as you said, in how many hours you spend, how many magazines you place, how much donations you get for the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society-all of these things you turn in, and all these things are recorded and they’re put on your record.
Tom: Mm-hmm. You know, Matt, having said all of that, what would you say would be the type of people that are most vulnerable to being convicted, to being converted, basically?
Matt: I’d say that the most vulnerable would probably be those who spent a lot of time in religions that placed an emphasis on works, so I could go down the list, but you mentioned Catholics-a lot of current Jehovah’s Witnesses were former Catholics; those that a great deal of emphasis was placed on working your salvation out; a lot of emphasis placed on tradition and different practices. Jehovah’s Witnesses are very much about that: works and tradition. Also those that are family members that are involved one way or the other in that threat of dealing with excommunication, that threat of losing your ties with your family-that’s a big draw or a big kind of area in making their decision.
But I’d say many people are attracted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses because they claim to have the answer to life’s problems, and so they’re looking at the world around us, and any person is going to be attracted to somebody who claims to have all the answers, claims to provide a solution and who stresses-you know, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they stress very strict morals; very much centered on family values, much like the Mormons. And so it’s appealing to people who are looking at that and who are somewhat coming out of an area where it’s very works-based. So that’s appealing to them.
Tom: Mm-hmm. You know, Matt, it’s not unlike what we would call a self-help program, right?
Matt: [laughing] Right!
Tom: Because it is works salvation. But here’s what I do, and later, maybe even next week, I really want you to lay out your encouragement and how-give us some ideas about witnessing. But one of the things that I do is when they come to the door-and we don’t all do it the same, and there’s no one absolute way to witness. I mean, obviously you need to be prayed up and looking to the Lord-but one of the things that I say to them is, “Well, what’s your deal?”
And that kind of pulls them back a little bit. “What do you mean?”
“Yeah, what’s your deal? You see, I have a deal, and what I want to know is-is my deal…or is your deal better than my deal?” And of course my deal is the free gift of salvation that Christ paid for, so I want to know-again, I ask them, “So what’s your deal?”
And I find that interesting, based on all that you just said, Matt, because talking about the works, the hours, all of these things: if it’s works salvation, it doesn’t-I mean, nothing compares with God’s free gift of grace, Jesus having paid the full penalty for our sins-I mean, there is nothing like that, and it sounds a little bit crass to say it that way, but it shakes them up a bit, and it gets-hopefully, it gets them thinking, because they…there’s nothing out there-I don’t care, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, whatever-whoever is coming to you outside of biblical Christianity has got a bad deal, right?
Matt: Your mentioning that, that’s…you know, that was a big draw for me: in doing all these works that I was doing when I was a Jehovah’s Witness, all the hours I spent going door to door, all the hours I put in-they go to their Kingdom Halls three to five times a week, so you have all these things that you’re doing, all these works that you’re performing. You know, I could say when doing all those things, I could look at it and say, “Man, I’m doing all these things for the Lord.” But there was one thing that, like you were talking about, the free gift-the big thing for me was I was doing all these works for the Lord, but I didn’t feel any closer to the Lord, and I didn’t have a relationship with Christ.
Matt: And so there was a dryness, there was an emptiness, that all these works I was doing was not helping with. It wasn’t bringing me any closer to God; I felt so far from God. So, yeah, when you bring them to, “What’s your deal?” and you show them that free gift-you know, Ephesians 2:8,9 talks about “it’s by grace that you have been saved [through] faith and not of works, lest anyone should boast,” that’s a big point to go ahead and bring out to them. Our deal is, yeah, salvation-it fully is God’s giving His grace to us, His unmerited favor, and our salvation is dependent upon receiving it rather than this works-based relationship that doesn’t bring you any closer to the Lord.
Tom: Right. My guest is Matt Ferguson. He’s the youth pastor at Calvary Chapel here in Bend, Oregon, and Matt, as you’ve heard, if you’ve been listening, Matt grew up in the Watchtower Society, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and his insights have been terrific.
Matt, we’re about out of time for this session, but the Lord willing, we’ll come back to this next week. So, again, Matt, thanks for being with us.
Matt: Absolutely, Tom. Thank you for having me.
Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside
Chapter 11 – DOES GOD EVER REPENT?
In the history of Jehovah’s dealings with the people of Israel there is perhaps no story more affecting than that of Balak’s effort to induce Balaam to curse them when they were encamped on the plains of Moab. The faithless prophet who loved the wages of unrighteousness was eager to comply with the wicked king’s request, but was hindered each time he attempted to curse the people, by the Spirit of God. At last he confessed his inability to do the thing for which he had been called to Moab and instead of cursing Israel he blessed them, and foretold their glorious future in such a manner as to stir the ire of Balak, and to move the hearts of God’s saints to devout thanksgiving. He introduced the narration of the divine purpose concerning the tribes of Israel, with the remarkable words: “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it” (Numbers 23:19-20).
This is surely a marvellous declaration. It tells us that once God enters into an unconditional covenant with any people He will never call back His words. And He had definitely confirmed just such a covenant with Abraham. This was before the giving of the Law. The legal covenant they had a part in, and they failed to keep what they had promised. Only a few days later we read of the terrible sin of Baal-peor. On the ground of law they forfeited everything, and that covenant God Himself abrogated. But His covenant with Abraham was pure grace. He was the only contracting party. Whatever Israel’s failures, He could not break His promise. He had bound Himself by an oath and He would not and could not repent, or reverse His decision. His attitude of grace through the promised seed would persist throughout the ages.
How comforting this is to the heart of one who has turned to Him for refuge. He may be assured that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29). A careful reading of the entire dispensational section of the Roman Epistle, chapters 9, 10, and 11, in which we have, respectively, God’s past, present, and future dealings with Israel, will make this doubly clear. Yet it is singular how many read with blinded minds and fail to get the truth that the Holy Spirit seeks to reveal. Only recently a tract was mailed to me on the subject of salvation. The writer sought to show that, while in past ages, even in what he called “the Pentecostal dispensation of the early part of the book of the Acts,” repentance had a place in the preaching of the Gospel as then made known, a very different Gospel was revealed to Paul in his later years, in which repentance had no part. And to prove his amazing theory he quoted as a proof text the words above referred to, “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”
The interpretation he gave to this verse was that now God gives salvation to believers whom He calls by His grace, on the basis of sovereign mercy alone, and altogether apart from any repentance on their side. Do my readers exclaim, ‘What almost unbelievable ignorance?’ Yet I have heard others affirm the same foolish thing. It shows how carelessly even good men sometimes read the text of Holy Scripture.
The Apostle’s argument is clear as crystal. God made certain promises to Abraham. Israel sought those blessings by works of law and failed, so they forfeited everything on that ground. Temporarily the nation is set to one side, and is partially blinded to the true meaning of the very Scriptures in which they glory. Meantime God is active in grace toward Gentiles, saving all who believe. In the same way He is now saving individual Jews, though the nation as such is no longer in the place of the covenant. But by and by when Israel shall turn to the Lord, they shall be grafted into their own olive tree again and brought into fulness of blessing. And the proof that it must be so is this: When God gives a gift or makes a promise to bless He will never reverse Himself. He will not change His attitude, for His gifts and callings are without repentance. It is the same as the declaration of Balaam, “He is not a man that he should lie nor the son of man that he should repent.”
But what then shall we say of such a Scripture as Genesis 6:5-7: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man, whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them”? Here God is distinctly said to repent, and His attitude toward man is completely changed. In place of longsuffering mercy He acts in condign judgment, blotting out the corruption and violence of the antediluvian world by destroying the human race with a flood, excepting that Noah and his house were saved in the ark. Is there a contradiction here? Do Genesis and Numbers teach oppositely the one to the other? We may be sure they do not.
In the first place, we need to remember that the same human author, Moses, who wrote the one book wrote the other also. He evidently saw no discrepancy, nothing incongruous or contradictory, in the two statements. And in the second place, back of Moses was God. The human writer spoke as he was moved by the Holy Spirit. Therefore we know there can be no mistake or erroneous conclusion.
Is not the explanation simply this: In Genesis we have a figure of speech in which God is represented as reasoning like a man. This is what theologians call an anthropomorphism, that is, God, acting in the manner of man. And it has to do, not with a promise made or a covenant of grace given, but with His attitude toward a sinful race. They had plunged into evil of the most repellent nature; so much so that God Himself abhorred them. He changed in His behavior toward them and destroyed them instead of preserving them alive in their vileness and corruption. Often has He thus dealt with sinful nations and individuals.
But where His pledged word has been given, He never repents. “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed.” How wondrous the grace that shines out in words such as these! Not all the waywardness of His people can make Him change His mind, once He has given His promise, or cause Him to alter His attitude toward them when He has entered into covenant with them.
It is because of Christ and because of His redemptive work that He, the Holy One, can thus bless a sinful nation. And concerning Christ Himself, who has become the Mediator of the New Covenant, He declares: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4). Thus has our blessed Lord been confirmed as “a surety of a better testament” than that of legal works. He is the Man of God’s purpose, who represents all His people before the throne in heaven, and in whom all the promises of God are “yea and amen.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the “exact expression of his [that is, God’s] character” (Heb. 1:3, literal rendering); therefore we are not surprised to find that there is no such thing as repentance in His attitude toward the Father or toward mankind. Horace Bushnell years ago, in his Character of Jesus, drew attention to the essential difference between His piety and that of all others who profess His Name. We are sinners, and we must come to God as such if we would ever be saved at all. Therefore we come to Him confessing our iniquities and bowing before Him in repentance. It was thus the publican in the parable came. “God,” he exclaimed, “be propitious to me the sinner.” Propitiation was made on the cross. But our attitude of soul must still be the same as his. We come confessing we are without merit and trusting in Him who is the propitiation for our sins. Until we take this position before God we cannot really know Him as Father, and so enter into fellowship with Him.
But the piety of Jesus was on a totally different basis. He never confessed a sin either against God or man, in thought or word or deed. He taught others to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” But He could never join with them in the use of such words. In fact, nothing brings out more clearly the essential difference between Him and us than the amazing fact that He is never found praying with anyone. Some of our most blessed experiences are enjoyed as we bow reverently and penitently before God with fellow believers, together acknowledging our mutual needs and confessing our common sins. But He never had any such experiences. He prayed for others, not with them, because His relationship was different from ours. He was “the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And He prayed as the Son in manhood, who was nevertheless ever dwelling in the bosom of the Father. Hence He never shed one tear over His own sins or shortcomings, for He had none. He wept for those of others, but never for His own. His was “piety without one dash of repentance,” to quote Bushnell again. He never sought for forgiveness. He never owned the need of grace. For He was ever the unblemished, spotless Lamb of God, perfect without and within, who came into the world to offer Himself without spot unto God, for our redemption.
If any have not yet sensed the vast chasm separating His holy humanity from our poor, fallen, sinful nature, let them weigh these things carefully. “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But He definitely challenged His bitterest foes to give evidence that He had come short in anything. “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” To this day none have ever been able to reply to this challenge by pointing out one flaw in His life, one defect in His character, or one error in His judgment. He never retracted anything. He never said, “I am sorry.” He never apologized for any offense committed. He could say, “I do always those things that please him.” And it was this very perfection of His character that fitted Him to make expiation for our guilt. God “hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2nd Corinthians 5:21).
It is true that, as Captain of our salvation He was perfected through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10). As to His nature He was perfect throughout. From babyhood to His death upon the cross He was the Holy One. But if He would become our Redeemer He must win the title by His sufferings. Only in this sense could He be said to be perfected. He who had always commanded, deigned to take the servant’s form and “to learn obedience” as He walked this scene in holy subjection to the Father’s will. “I came,” He said, “not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” And such delight did the Father have in this perfect devotion of Jesus that He twice opened the heavens to declare, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”
Surely the more we contemplate with adoring love His matchless perfections, the lower we will bow in humiliation before Him, confessing our sins and repenting, like Job, in sackcloth and ashes. It was the revelation of the wisdom and majesty of God that brought the patriarch of old to that place. How much more may we be humbled as we behold His love and holiness meeting in Christ. In Him “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” His cross reveals, as nothing else could, our sinfulness and His Holy love. If God has so loved us as thus to give His Son to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, how can we ever doubt His intention to save eternally all who bow in repentance before Him and put in their plea as sinners and trust His matchless grace?
Having “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” He knew all we were, yea, all we would ever be, when He put us in Christ, and nothing now will ever cause Him to repent or to change His attitude toward us. It is not humility to doubt Him, and to wonder whether He will really bring us through to heaven at last. On the contrary, it is downright unbelief. “Hath he spoken, and shall he not do it?” Faith sets its seal to what God has said and rests serenely upon that inviolable pledge knowing that “God is not a man, that he should lie, neither the son of man, that he should repent.”
It is true, He will not be indifferent to our sins as believers. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” But he will never cast us off, however severely He may have to chastise us if we persist in willfully disobeying His Word.
The principle on which He deals with erring believers is clearly set forth in Psalm 89:27-36: “Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness, that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.”
He hath promised His Son to take all to glory who put their trust in Him. He will discipline them if wayward; but He will never cast them off, for the blood of the cross has settled the sin question eternally for all who believe.
Listen to Paul’s exultant words (Romans 8:38-39): “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What is there that is neither a thing present, nor a thing to come? What is there that is included neither in life nor in death? Could stronger words be used to assure us that God will never repent of His purpose of grace in Christ Jesus?
What we need to see, then, is that He who created man might well repent that He had made him when He saw the depth of wickedness into which the race had fallen, and so He determined to blot them out in the judgment of the flood, as later on His patience came to an end with the corrupt inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain after He had (to use another Biblical anthropomorphism) come down to see if they were as bad as had been reported. He gave Canaan to seven great and powerful nations, but when at last the iniquity of the Amorites was full, He used the armies of Israel to destroy them. As Moral Governor of the universe He has used one nation to chastise another, and then in turn punished the people thus used, when they too became as vile as, or worse than, those they had destroyed. In all such instances it may be said that “it repented the Lord that he had made man,” or permitted certain blessings to be lavished upon him. But when He gives His pledged word to deliver and to bless, He never repents. His promises are irrevocable, because based on what He is Himself, not on what man deserves.
In the stirring little book of the prophet Hosea, God is portrayed as still yearning over Israel, even after He has decreed their judgment. Likening them to the cities of the plain, destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah, because of their wickedness, He cries, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboiim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city” (Hosea 11:8-9). This is most heart moving. He who will never repent when He promises blessing is pictured as repenting concerning the predicted doom of His people. He would, as it were, alter His attitude toward them if they would but change theirs toward Him. It is enough to stir the soul to its depths; yet on Israel’s part there was no response, and judgment had to take its course.
But the future holds promise of a glorious recovery. All, even of the rejected nation, who have personally sought His face in blessing will have part in resurrection glory. So God gives the gracious assurance of Hosea 13:14: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” Nothing shall ever take place in all the ages to come that will invalidate or alter His settled purpose of grace. Repentance shall be hid from His eyes. That is, He will never, by any possibility, change His attitude toward those whom He has redeemed to Himself.
“His is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above,
Deeper than the depths beneath,
True and faithful, strong as death.”
[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]
Except Ye Repent
By Dr. Harry Ironside
Chapter 4 – CHRIST’S CALL TO REPENT
“The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Notice that combination — grace and truth. Men must face facts if they would enjoy grace. Surely there never was a more insistent call to repentance than that put forth by Him of whom it could be said, “Grace is poured into thy lips.”
From the moment He began to preach, His message, like that of His forerunner, John, was, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There is something intensely solemnizing in this. God had come down to earth and was speaking in His Son. He came with a heart filled with love and compassion for men, so bruised and ruined by sin; but He had to wait upon them; He had to press home to them their sad plight; He had to call upon them to acknowledge their guilt and their ungodliness ere He could pour into their hearts the balm of His grace. For God must have reality. He refuses to gloss over iniquity. He insists upon self-judgment, upon a complete right-about-face, a new attitude, ere He will reveal a Saviour’s love.
With this principle the arrangement of the four Gospels is in perfect harmony. In the Synoptics the call is to repent. In John the emphasis is laid upon believing. Some have thought that there is inconsistency or contradiction here. But we need to remember that John wrote years after the older Evangelists, and with the definite object in view of showing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, we might have life through His Name. He does not simply travel over ground already well trodden. Rather, he adds to and thus supplements the earlier records, inciting to confidence in the testimony God has given concerning His Son. He does not ignore the ministry of repentance because he stresses the importance of faith. On the contrary, he shows to repentant souls the simplicity of salvation, of receiving eternal life, through trusting in Him who, as the true light, casts light on every man, thus making manifest humanity’s fallen condition and the need of an entire change of attitude toward self and toward God.
To tell a man who has no realization that he is lost, that he may be saved by faith in Christ, means nothing to him, however true and blessed the fact is in itself. It is like throwing a life preserver to a man who does not realize he is about to be engulfed in a maelstrom. When he sees his danger he will appreciate the means of deliverance offered. So when the message of the Synoptics has made a profound impression on the soul of a man, he will be ready for the proclamation of eternal life and forgiveness through faith in Christ alone.
When they came to Jesus and told Him of certain Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices as his Roman legions quelled a Jewish uprising, and again when they reported the falling of a tower in Siloam as a result of which many were killed, He solemnly declared: “Think ye that these were sinners above all others? I tell you, nay, but except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.” Whether men are taken away by violence, by accident, or, as we say, by natural death, their doom is the same unless they have turned to God in repentance. We perhaps think of such occurrences as those referred to, as signal instances of the divine judgment against wickedness. But God’s holy eye discerns the sinfulness of every heart and calls upon all to take sides with Him against themselves. Until this is done, saving faith is an impossibility. This is not to limit grace. It is to make way for it. And be it remembered, repentance is not a state automatically produced. It is the inwrought work of the Holy Spirit effected by faithful preaching of the Word. But how seldom today do we hear the cry, “Except ye repent.”
When our Lord looked on to the day of manifestation He declared: “The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Could He have made it clearer that grace is for the repentant soul, and there can only be judgment without mercy for him who persists in hardening his heart against the Spirit’s pleading?
And so, when He upbraided the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, He prophesied their doom because they would not repent. Bethsaida, Chorazin, Capernaum are but ruins today because, although the testimony given was of such character that if it had been vouchsafed to Tyre and Sidon they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes, the people in these cities were unmoved. The stones of these Galilean cities are today crying out of the dust of ages, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” But how few there are with ears to hear and hearts to understand!
It has often been noticed with wonder by thoroughly orthodox theologians that, whereas many cultured preachers, whose Gospel testimony is unimpeachably correct, see few or no converts, some fervent evangelist who does not seem to proclaim nearly so clear a Gospel, but who drives home to men and women the truth of their lost condition and vehemently stresses the necessity of repentance, wins souls by the scores or even hundreds. It was so with Sam Jones, with D. L. Moody, with Gypsy Smith, with Billy Sunday, with W. P. Nicholson, with Mel Trotter, and many more. Is not the explanation simply this, that, when men truly face their sins in the presence of God, their awakened and alarmed consciences make them quick to respond to the slightest intimation of God’s grace to those who seek Him with the whole heart? This is not to set a premium upon ignorance, nor to glorify a half-Gospel, for undoubtedly where the full clear announcement of salvation by faith alone in a crucified, risen, and exalted Christ follows the call to repentance, the converts will be much better established than where they have to grope for years after the truth that sets free from all doubt and confusion of mind. The evangelists cited above all came themselves to a better understanding of grace in their maturity than in their early years. But those years were nevertheless wonderfully fruitful in the turning of many from sin to righteousness and from the power of Satan unto God.
And is it not marvelously significant that, in the three Gospels which were first circulated throughout the ancient world, the call goes forth to Jew and Gentile insisting that no unrepentant soul will ever find favor with God? Then, as the Christian testimony was better known, the sweet and precious unfoldings of light, life, and love were given in the Gospel of John. Of course, in the actual testimony of the Lord, the two were ever intermingled, for “grace and truth” are never to be separated.
Our Lord was the master soul-winner, and we who would be used of God in winning our fellows to a knowledge of Himself may well learn His ways and copy His methods, so far as human frailty will permit.
How easily He might have declared to the rich young ruler, who came running to Him asking, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” that there was nothing to do, “only believe and live.” Had He done so it would have been actually true. But He did not so say. Instead He undertook to probe the conscience of the young man by using the stern precepts of the Law, and He put a test upon him that only real faith would have led him to meet. “One thing thou lackest.” What was that? The young man had never realized his need of a Saviour. Self-satisfied and self-contained, he honestly prided himself on his goodness. The test, “sell what thou hast, and give to the poor,” was not putting salvation on the ground of human merit; but it was intended to reveal to the young man the hidden evil of his heart and to show him his need of mercy.
To the Samaritan woman He did not give the living water until He had uncovered her life of sin, so that she exclaimed, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.” This was tantamount to saying, ‘I perceive that I am a sinner.’ And after she believed in Him as Saviour and Messiah her own testimony was, “Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did: Can this be the Christ?”
Rutherford complained in his day that there were so few professed believers who had ever spent a sick night for sin. And if this was true then, it is doubly true today.
When our Lord answered the complaining legalists who objected that He received sinners and ate with them, He related the threefold parable of Luke 15. There we see the entire Trinity concerned in the salvation of a sinner. The Saviour seeks the lost sheep. The woman with the light, illustrating the Holy Spirit’s work, seeks the lost piece of silver. And all heaven rejoices when the lost one repents.
The eager father welcomes back the returning prodigal. But we should not overlook the fact, that it was when the ungrateful youth “came to himself” and took the position of self-judgment because of his wicked folly, and actually turned his face homeward, that the father ran to him, though still a great way off, and fell on his neck and kissed him. He did not wait for his boy to ring the door bell or knock in fear and anxiety upon the gate. But, on the other hand, he did not offer him the kiss of forgiveness while he was down among the swine. He hastened to meet him when in repentance he turned homeward with words of confession in his heart.
Does all this becloud grace? Surely not. Rather does it magnify and exalt it. For it is to unworthy sinners who recognize and acknowledge their dire condition that God finds delight in showing undeserved favor.
The weeping harlot in the seventh of Luke, kneeling at the feet of Jesus and washing them with her tears while she dries them with her hair — and a woman’s hair is her glory — illustrates, as perhaps nothing else can, the relation of repentance to saving faith. Her tears of contrition told out the grief of her heart as she mourned over her sins and judged her unclean life in the light of Christ’s purity. His words of grace, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven,” no sooner had fallen upon her ears than she believed His testimony, and she went away knowing she was clean. True, He had not yet died for her sins, but faith laid hold of Him as the one only Saviour who had power on earth to forgive. Her weeping, her washing of His feet, her humiliation had nothing meritorious in them. The merit was all His. He who said to another of like character, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more,” had remitted all her iniquities and won her heart forever.
“It is not thy tears of repentance or prayers,
But the blood that atones for the soul:
On Him then, who shed it thou mayest at once
Thy weight of iniquities roll.”
When Bernard of Clairvaux was dying the monks praying by his pallet spoke of his merits. He cried out in Latin words which translated into English mean, “Holy Jesus, Thy wounds are my merits.” Only a repentant man would so speak.
And so our Lord tells us that “there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance.” There, where they know what a soul is really worth, every saint and angel rejoices with the Good Shepherd when a lost sheep is reclaimed from its wanderings.
[Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), a godly Fundamentalist author and teacher for many years, served as pastor of Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948]
Doctrines of Demons
By Pastor Anton Bosch
Paul writes about the devil that “we are not ignorant of his devices” 2 Corinthians 2:11, yet it seems that many of us are ignorant of the tricks and devices the evil one uses in his attempts to thwart the plan of God. Satan knows that many cannot be persuaded or intimidated to give up the good fight, so he uses schemes that serve his purpose just as well. One of those is diversion from the central issue.
Some people speak of “chasing rabbits” when we lose sight of the real goal and begin to follow red herrings and other things that are designed to get us off course.
Our ultimate goal should be to know, glorify, and be conformed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul said:
“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence
of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whom I have suffered the loss of all things,
and count them as rubbish,
that I may gain Christ and be found in Him,
not having my own righteousness, which is from the law,
but that which is through faith in Christ,
the righteousness which is from God by faith;
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection,
and the fellowship of His sufferings,
being conformed to His death,
if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Anything else is a minor issue. Satan knows if he can get us to focus on anything other than Christ, he has us majoring on a minor and we are diverted from God’s purpose for our lives. He therefore uses many things, even spiritual, biblical, and good things to get us to waste our time on futile pursuits that rob time and devotion that belongs to God alone.
One of these areas that is trapping more and more Christians and leaders is the study of Satan and demons. I have heard preachers say that we must know the enemy if we are going to do effective spiritual warfare. Really?
From Got Questions?
“Why does God allow evil?”
Answer: The Bible describes God as holy (Isaiah 6:3), righteous (Psalm 7:11), just (Deuteronomy 32:4), and sovereign (Daniel 4:17-25). These attributes tell us the following about God: (1) God is capable of preventing evil, and (2) God desires to rid the universe of evil. So, if both of these are true, why does God allow evil? If God has the power to prevent evil and desires to prevent evil, why does He still allow evil? Perhaps a practical way to look at this question would be to consider some alternative ways people might have God run the world:
1) God could change everyone’s personality so that they cannot sin. This would also mean that we would not have a free will. We would not be able to choose right or wrong because we would be “programmed” to only do right. Had God chosen to do this, there would be no meaningful relationships between Him and His creation.
Instead, God made Adam and Eve innocent but with the ability to choose good or evil. Because of this, they could respond to His love and trust Him or choose to disobey. They chose to disobey. Because we live in a real world where we can choose our actions but not their consequences, their sin affected those who came after them (us). Similarly, our decisions to sin have an impact on us and those around us and those who will come after us.
2) God could compensate for people’s evil actions through supernatural intervention 100 percent of the time. God would stop a drunk driver from causing an automobile accident. God would stop a lazy construction worker from doing a substandard job on a house that would later cause grief to the homeowners. God would stop a father who is addicted to drugs or alcohol from doing any harm to his wife, children, or extended family. God would stop gunmen from robbing convenience stores. God would stop high school bullies from tormenting the brainy kids. God would stop thieves from shoplifting. And, yes, God would stop terrorists from flying airplanes into buildings.
While this solution sounds attractive, it would lose its attractiveness as soon as God’s intervention infringed on something we wanted to do. We want God to prevent horribly evil actions, but we are willing to let “lesser-evil” actions slide—not realizing that those “lesser-evil” actions are what usually lead to the “greater-evil” actions. Should God only stop actual sexual affairs, or should He also block our access to pornography or end any inappropriate, but not yet sexual, relationships? Should God stop “true” thieves, or should He also stop us from cheating on our taxes? Should God only stop murder, or should He also stop the “lesser-evil” actions done to people that lead them to commit murder? Should God only stop acts of terrorism, or should He also stop the indoctrination that transformed a person into a terrorist?
3) Another choice would be for God to judge and remove those who choose to commit evil acts. The problem with this possibility is that there would be no one left, for God would have to remove us all. We all sin and commit evil acts (Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8). While some people are more evil than others, where would God draw the line? Ultimately, all evil causes harm to others.
Instead of these options, God has chosen to create a “real” world in which real choices have real consequences. In this real world of ours, our actions affect others. Because of Adam’s choice to sin, the world now lives under the curse, and we are all born with a sin nature (Romans 5:12). There will one day come a time when God will judge the sin in this world and make all things new, but He is purposely “delaying” in order to allow more time for people to repent so that He will not need to condemn them (2 Peter 3:9). Until then, He IS concerned about evil. When He created the Old Testament laws, the goal was to discourage and punish evil. He judges nations and rulers who disregard justice and pursue evil. Likewise, in the New Testament, God states that it is the government’s responsibility to provide justice in order to protect the innocent from evil (Romans 13). He also promises severe consequences for those who commit evil acts, especially against the “innocent” (Mark 9:36-42).
In summary, we live in a real world where our good and evil actions have direct consequences and indirect consequences upon us and those around us. God’s desire is that for all of our sakes we would obey Him that it might be well with us (Deuteronomy 5:29). Instead, what happens is that we choose our own way, and then we blame God for not doing anything about it. Such is the heart of sinful man. But Jesus came to change men’s hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, and He does this for those who will turn from evil and call on Him to save them from their sin and its consequences (2 Corinthians 5:17). God does prevent and restrain some acts of evil. This world would be MUCH WORSE were not God restraining evil. At the same time, God has given us the ability to choose good and evil, and when we choose evil, He allows us, and those around us, to suffer the consequences of evil. Rather than blaming God and questioning God on why He does not prevent all evil, we should be about the business of proclaiming the cure for evil and its consequences—Jesus Christ!