What Must You Do to Go to Heaven?

Nearly all religions require their adherents to earn their way into heaven: reciting a prayer, performing a religious ritual, meditating daily, practicing good works, paying alms, adhering to a strict set of rules, or some combination thereof. While these actions may appear noble and earn the approval of religious peers, they do not bring you closer to God and His everlasting Kingdom.

The reality is that God demands none of these actions from those who seek eternal life. None of us can do anything to earn his or her way into heaven. No amount of hard work, devotion to God, obedience to religious requirements, or spiritual piety will bring us any closer to eternal life. What hope do we have, then? How can anyone enter heaven?

Jesus answers that question in this way. “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He is not talking about a physical rebirth, obviously. Instead, we must be born again spiritually. Again, Jesus explains how this happens. “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:5-6). Without spiritual rebirth there is no eternal life, and without the Holy Spirit there is no spiritual rebirth.

But how can one be born again by the Holy Spirit? The Bible tells us. “To all who believe Jesus and accept him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn” (John 1:12-13). Could the answer be anymore straightforward and clear? The Holy Spirit comes upon everyone who believes in Jesus and accepts him as the Lord of their life. No matter your race, ethnicity, economic status, or background, if you place your trust in Jesus and surrender your life to him, you will be filled with the Holy Spirit, who will give you spiritual life.

While those born again in Christ will spend eternity in heaven, those who reject Jesus will experience everlasting torment. The Bible expressly makes this distinction. “Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18). And again, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So you see, Jesus offers (eternal) life whereas sin leads to death. This is what the Bible means when it says, “For you were dead (in sin), but now you have new life (in Christ)” (Romans 6:13). Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ have salvation because he died for their sins and bore the punishment for those sins. Those who do not believe in Christ have not been born again, do not have the Holy Spirit, and are condemned already. They will spend eternity in hell, suffering for their sins.

It is important to understand that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, salvation, and eternal life are just that, gifts. We cannot earn salvation. Nothing we do merits entry into the Kingdom of God. And nothing we do contributes to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As Scripture proclaims, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

The apostle Paul offers a beautiful summary of all these truths. “When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us; not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of His grace He made us right in His sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

In his epistle to the Ephesian church, Paul reinforces these points. ”God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sin, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Now some may argue they are good enough to enter heaven on their own merit. But God makes it clear we do not meet His standard. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even the holiest people are unrighteous in the eyes of God. “We are all infected and impure with sin. All our righteousness is like filthy rags”(Isaiah 64:6). Our only hope, then, is to believe in Jesus Christ.

But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Notice that an authentic belief in Christ must spring from the heart. An intellectual belief in Christ is insufficient. And a belief manifested only by a verbal profession of faith (such as saying the sinner’s prayer) is equally inadequate.

So how do we know if our faith in Jesus is authentic? The presence of the Holy Spirit, who is poured out on those who genuinely believe in Christ, confirms our faith. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on us. The Bible says, “When you believe in Christ, God identifies you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).

And we know the Holy Spirit resides in us when our lives bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit,’ which the Bible says is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Our lives should also increasingly reflect the image of Christ, in holiness and obedience. The Holy Spirit will facilitate this transformation as we cultivate a relationship with Jesus and begin to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength” (Mark 12:30).

It is critical to remember that this transformation is a product of being born again. Holiness, obedience, and a deepening love for the Lord are evidence of a genuine faith in Jesus. Any attempt to acquire those behaviors/attributes on your own strength, however, is as useless as it is futile. And realize that this transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process called sanctification, and it is life-long.

Finally, it is important to understand that the call of Christ is not easy, as the vast majority of American pastors claim. Most of the commands Jesus gave for those who place their faith in him are quite difficult. Resist the temptation to ignore these commands, as many churchgoers do. Obedience to these commands will mature your faith, deepen your relationship with Christ, and provide assurance of your being born again.

Here are a few to familiarize yourself with.

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This was Jesus’ first message and is also the first message we should respond to when we embrace Jesus as Lord. Ask God to forgive you for your sins, and ask the Holy Spirit for strength and discipline to stop practicing sin.

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). When we receive and believe Jesus we become Christ-centered and cease to be self-centered. We prioritize God’s will and set aside our own agenda for every facet of our lives.

So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). All who believe Jesus must surrender their lives to him. Not a portion of their lives. Everything. Their time, their income, their talents, their resources, their reputation, their future.

Do you believe in Jesus? Will you place your faith and trust in Him? Do you surrender your life to Him as Lord? If so, I encourage you to do three things now.

1) Get involved in a local, biblically sound church.

2) Read and study the Bible with regularity.

3) Pray daily. Ask the Lord to direct your steps and reveal His will.

And may God bless you with a steadfast and mature faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Strength & COURAGE in an age of chaos & tyranny.

Our nation and the world have witnessed an overwhelming amount of change the past couple months following the death of George Floyd. Many voices for change have been positive, such as the efforts by peaceful protestors to secure racial equality and justice for the African American community. Other voices, however, have adopted violence as their primary tool for change, evidenced by the devastating riots sweeping through many of our cities – creating chaos, social upheaval, and a trail of destruction. These agitators seem intent on hijacking the peaceful effort to end racism, and using the moment instead to create anarchy and fuel revolution. Many in the movement are especially hostile to the Church and God’s people.

Using social media and intimidation to eradicate dissent, these militants demand allegiance to their radical worldview. They are intolerant of those who disagree, insisting such people be fired from their jobs, suspended from their colleges, removed from their communities, and canceled from the culture. Their aggressive and threatening tactics have had a disturbing effect on people across the country.

Many now live in fear that something they say could cost them their career, their reputation, their safety, or their freedom. As a result, many have resorted to silence, self-censorship, or an outward embrace of an ideology they inwardly loathe. These acts of timidity and compromise are understandable when you consider the stakes.

Sadly, these feelings of fear and trembling have infected those inside the church as well. Feelings compounded by the growing effort by many elected officials to place restrictions on church attendance, Christian worship, home-based Bible studies, and obedience to our Lord. Afraid of the power wielded by these civic authorities and angry agitators, and intimidated by their threats and belligerent postures, many Christians have silently submitted to the state. Others have reluctantly conformed the expression of their faith to the rigid restrictions of elected officials, unelected militants, and self-appointed social media bullies.

As I considered this changing cultural landscape and reflected on what God would have His people do, a very relevant verse of Scripture came to mind.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).

This verse, which no doubt many readers will be familiar with, is both encouraging and challenging. It draws a clear distinction between the spirit at work in the world and the Spirit that rests on God’s people, offering us a reminder that “He who is in us (the Holy Spirit) is greater than he who is in the world (the spirit of antichrist)” (1 John 4:4). The Spirit of God strengthens us to confront and respond to those who sow chaos, hate, and deceit; to those who seek to weaken and dismantle the church.

We must remember that we do not operate in a spirit of fear, cowardice, or timidity. The world, however, does because it is not empowered by the Holy Spirit and does not have the love of God in its heart. But God’s love does abide in us, and that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).

Some may disagree and say, “Look at the disciples who trembled in fear when a storm jeopardized their safety on the water. And what about, Peter? His fear of an angry mob caused him to lie about his relationship with Jesus the night before Christ’s death on the cross.”

It is true that Peter and the other disciples displayed fear and timidity during their time with Jesus. But all that happened before the Holy Spirit descended on them in Jerusalem. Post-Pentecost Peter, in contrast, boldly proclaims Christ wherever he goes, even when Jewish religious leaders threaten him and subject him to flogging.

Instead of being saddled by a spirit of fear and timidity, then, we are emboldened by the Holy Spirit. This is not the generic power of influential and mighty people. It is power infused by the Holy Spirit. “’Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). We are supernaturally empowered to behave with boldness.

That supernatural boldness, in turn, is to be used for supernatural purposes. We are not empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill our worldly dreams, achieve worldly success, or satisfy our selfish ambitions. Instead, we use it to advance God’s agenda, do the Lord’s will, and proclaim the Good News of Christ to a dying world.

Holy Spirit power confronts evil, protects the oppressed, cares for the exploited, speaks for the voiceless, intervenes on behalf of the marginalized, defends the helpless, comforts the downtrodden, encourages the discouraged, opposes the wicked, extends hope to the hopeless, and stands for righteousness.

Perhaps most of all, Holy Spirit power speaks truth to a world engulfed by lies and deceit. When society lies, misrepresents, fabricates, distorts, and deceives, we must counter with truth. Truth grounded in Scripture: unvarnished, hope-restoring, soul-nourishing, sin-exposing, outlook-encouraging, purpose-giving, God-glorifying, biblical truth.

Truth points people back to God. Truth reveals the sin in our lives. Truth makes known the Creator. Truth unveils God’s love for us. Truth discloses our need for repentance. Truth communicates God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Truth speaks to our need for regeneration, redemption, justification, and sanctification. Truth informs us of God’s holiness and His desire that we pursue godliness, righteousness, and obedience. Truth shifts our focus away from ourselves and our circumstances, and reorients it towards God and His magnificence.

Truth exposes and refutes the relentless litany of lies the god of this age tells us: God is not real; God does not care; God did not create the heavens and the earth; God is not omnipotent; God is not worthy of our worship; Jesus was just a man; Jesus is one of many ways to God; Jesus did not live a perfect life; Jesus was not resurrected; Jesus is not coming back; We are good enough; We can earn our way to heaven; We can say the sinner’s prayer and keep living the same lives; We are the centrality of the gospel; We can ignore Scripture when it doesn’t appeal to us or it makes us uncomfortable; We control our own destinies; Absolute truth does not exist; Sin is a silly invention of man; Faith is foolish; Hell is a myth.

We could spend days listing the lies that Satan sells and tells. After all, he is the father of lies and there is no truth in him. And deception is one of the defining features of the end times and the antichrist who “through his cunning will cause deceit to prosper under his rule” (Daniel 8:25). The antichrist’s reign is built on lies crafted so cunningly that they deceive everyone in the world except those sealed by the Spirit of God. Billions of people will embrace and peddle his deceptions in the end, including the powerful, wealthy, intellectual, and elite – from politicians and business titans to cultural icons and celebrities.

Sadly, millions of churchgoers will renounce their faith and leave the church after falling for his falsehoods. These are those who claim Jesus as Lord with their lips but whose hearts are far from him. They pledge their fidelity to Christ as long as He makes them the center of His universe, gives them the worldly desires of their hearts, bequeaths them lives of comfort, leisure, success, and happiness, and makes no substantive demands of them. They proclaim Christ as long as it benefits them materially, socially, financially, and professionally. But as soon as their (faux) faith jeopardizes their career, their status, their safety, their prosperity, their reputation, their freedom, and their lives, then they repudiate Jesus and disown their faith. These are those prophesied by Hosea, God’s people who are destroyed for lack of knowledge (truth).

In addition to a Spirit of power to speak the truth boldly, the Lord gives us a Spirit of love. Love bestowed on us by the Spirit is supernatural, allowing us to love not as the world does but as Jesus loves. Unconditionally. Sacrificially. Selflessly. And not just love those who love us in return, but the stranger and enemy as well.

Love should also compel us to speak truth to those who have yet to surrender their lives to Jesus: friends, strangers, colleagues, neighbors, associates, and family alike. Refusing to share the Good News of Christ with those around us is the ultimate act of selfishness and reveals an absence of genuine love for those in our lives.

Keep in mind that a considerable cost exists for boldly proclaiming Christ, speaking truth, and sharing the Gospel. Jesus warned His followers: “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are My disciples. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other” (Matthew 24:9-10, NLT).

It seems that truth has never been as much a reality in America as it is now. Fortunately, God gives us a spirit of self-discipline (as Paul reminds us above in 2 Timothy 1:7). And as with Holy Spirit power and love, Holy Spirit self-discipline is supernatural. By the Spirit we will remain steadfast, faithful, and unshakeable in our faith irrespective of the hate, violence, and bullying that confronts us. When faced with incarceration, fines, criminal prosecution, and state-sponsored discrimination we will not compromise, soften, betray, or renounce our commitment to Christ.

Friends, the speed with which our society is devolving into a land of unbridled immorality is breathtaking. It appears we are hurtling towards the end of the age at an ever-increasing velocity. Witness the escalating violence, greed, idolatry, pride, perversion, and selfishness that define our nation and compare that with these words from the apostle Paul:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NKJV).

Regardless of how close we are to end times, though, we are definitely entering a season of deep spiritual darkness in this country. God appears to be withdrawing that which restrains sin (2 Thessalonians 2:7), allowing our nation to pursue its lusts and desires unfettered.

Which means things will get worse. Society will celebrate sin more unabashedly and condemn morality more harshly. Rebellion against God will increase in intensity. We will witness horrifying acts of wickedness on an almost daily basis. And rampant depravity will saturate society.

Brothers and sisters, we have a biblical mandate to confront this growing evil in society. But we must awake from our spiritual slumber. We must steadfastly stand in the gap, speak truth, and show love. And encourage others to do the same (encouragement is oh so important in these troubling times).

We must not fear the forces of evil. We cannot remain silent as the enemy attacks our faith. We must resist the temptation to timidly withdraw from the battle before us.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Where is God During a Pandemic?

As the Covid-19 virus continues to destroy lives, fuel fear, and dismantle the global economy, it is reasonable to ask where God is and why He hasn’t intervened to stop this plague. Doesn’t He care about our pain and suffering? What reason could He possibly have for allowing this pandemic to spread and upend our way of life?

These are good questions that God is not afraid to answer. In fact, He welcomes them. The prophet Habakkuk asked similar questions thousands of years ago when he observed the demise of his people on the horizon. He asked God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help but you do not listen! Violence is everywhere, I cry, but you do not come to save” (Habakkuk 1:2, NLT). Many of us are probably asking God similar questions today.

In response, God informed Habakkuk that He was very much at work, influencing global events in a way that would bring salvation to His people and preserve them from destruction. He outlined His plan of salvation, recognizing that in doing so Habakkuk would raise more questions and express concern that God’s plan made no sense.

Similarly, God has a plan in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic. And like Habakkuk, we probably wouldn’t understand (or agree with) that plan if God were to reveal it to us. Why? Because He tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, NKJV).

We are almost exclusively focused on the temporal – the here and now. We live our lives largely fixated on this world and our physical role in it. God, on the other hand, is as concerned about our eternal future as He is our present, and with our spiritual condition as He is our physical. Against that backdrop, it appears God is using the coronavirus pandemic to accomplish several things.

First, He is drawing a hurting world to Him. Often we have little interest in God until we reach a point of desperation in our lives. Despair, anxiety, and severe trials have a way of sending us in search of God – which a life of comfort, prosperity, and leisure rarely do. He is using the pandemic, then, to remind us of the importance of our spiritual lives. Encouraging us to explore a relationship with Him; and to place our faith in Him and not the world.

Second, He is removing many of the activities that separate us from Him. The lure of worldly distractions – such as entertainment, shopping, travel, sports, and hobbies – consumes our lives. Our lives, it seems, are oriented toward enjoying life and the pleasures of this world. For Christians, these diversions significantly diminish our time with the Lord and weaken our faith. Our focus on these pursuits has infected our hearts and damaged our relationship with God. As our love for worldly interests grows, our love for the Lord wanes. But in His mercy God is calling us back to Him. To kindle revival in our hearts and pursue Him with the same passion we have pursued the things of this world for so long.

Third, God is exposing the fraudulent worldview that man is the master of his fate and this world. Government leaders, the exceptionally wealthy, and the extraordinarily powerful all believe they alone control their destinies, as do many ordinary men and women. The Covid-19 virus lays bare the inaccuracy of this belief, and should produce in us a spirit of humility, recognizing that we are not in control of our lives. It should lead us to humbly seek God’s protection, guidance, and healing, and fully yield our lives to Him.

Fourth, God is revealing His peace, hope, and comfort in this turbulent time. The pandemic has produced alarming amounts of anxiety, fear, and despair. Many feel despondent over the risk of infection. Others watch in horror as their economic livelihoods collapse. Some are so scared they irrationally hoard toilet tissue and sanitary wipes. A degree of hopelessness hangs in the air.

If you are experiencing these emotions, consider the following verses: a) “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7); b) “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him” (Psalm 42:11); c) “The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God(2 Corinthians 3b-4).

Fifth, God is reminding us that life and faith are best expressed by acts of sacrifice. Thousands of medical personnel and first responders are sacrificing their safety (and in many cases their lives) to treat and care for those on the cusp of death. These selfless acts are an excellent reminder of how Christ calls His followers to live: to daily commit ourselves to serving others, caring for the downtrodden and marginalized, and loving others sacrificially, putting their well-being ahead of our own. And not just in times of a global pandemic or natural disaster, but every day.

Let me close by saying God created this world free of pain, suffering, and disease. But sin – man’s disobedience and rebellion against God – introduced those horrific conditions into this planetary paradise. However, the time is coming when God will create a new earth and establish His kingdom in it for all eternity. And those who place their faith in Jesus and surrender their lives to Him will live with God there.

The Bible describes eternity like this: “[God] will dwell with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There will be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4, NKJV).

With that perfect world waiting for those who call on the name of Christ, I encourage you to turn to Him in this difficult time. Surrender your life to God and begin to build a foundation of faith during this chaotic global event.

Prayer and Obedience: A Warning from Jeremiah.

Ever find yourself in difficult or troubling circumstances, struggling to identify a solution that resolves the situation with no detrimental impact on your life? Or face a consequential decision with a variety of options that lead in dramatically different directions, and will forever alter the course of your life?

Most of us encounter such circumstances and confront such decisions more than once in life. Some of us probably feel like we do so with regularity, facing one harrowing situation after another while navigating a relentless current of difficult decisions.

Such events can be a source of considerable stress and anxiety, and be emotionally draining. Which, in turn, can make us inclined to take the trail of least resistance. Pursue the path most comfortable and least disruptive. Reject any option or situation that defies common sense. Embrace the logical. Avoid unreasonable risk.

That perspective, however, can cloud our understanding of God’s view, His plans for us, and the direction He wants us to take. It can prevent us from considering the possibility that God’s agenda is in direct conflict with our own agenda. And it often convinces us that God’s desires for us align nicely with our own desires. While we may pray for God’s guidance and ask Him to reveal His will to us, in our hearts we already know what we are going to do.

The prophet Jeremiah confronted this religious mindset with the Judean people just after their governor was assassinated (see Jeremiah 41). They feared remaining in Judea; afraid it would put their lives at risk with the Babylonian king. Instead they believed it was safer to escape to Egypt. They approached Jeremiah for clarity, asking him to beseech the Lord. “Pray that the Lord your God will show us what to do and where to go” (Jeremiah 42:3, NLT).

Jeremiah agreed to their request. “I will pray to the Lord your God, as you have asked, and I will tell you everything he says. I will hide nothing from you” (Jeremiah 42:4, NLT).

However, something in Jeremiah’s response, perhaps his tone, must have suggested he had doubts about their sincerity. To alleviate those doubts they told him, “May the Lord your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do. Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea”(Jeremiah 42:5-6, NLT).

They must have known that Jeremiah believed they had already made up their minds as to what they would do; that they were simply going through the motions of seeking God’s guidance. So they insisted they would obey God’s will ‘whether they liked it or not.’

Ten days later Jeremiah returned to the Judean people and informed them of God’s response. “Stay here in this land … Do not fear the king of Babylon … For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power” (Jeremiah 42:10-11, NLT). God made clear He would protect His people if they remained in the land, despite the power of the Babylonian king and his presumed anger at the Judean people.

Sensing that they would ignore God’s guidance, Jeremiah added, “If you are determined to go to Egypt and live there, the very war and famine you fear will catch up to you, and you will die there. That is the fate awaiting every one of you who insists on going to live in Egypt” (Jeremiah 42:15b-16, NLT).

Jeremiah then revealed a disturbing truth. The Judean people were inauthentic in asking God for guidance. “You were not being honest when you sent me to pray to the Lord your God for you. You said, ‘Just tell us what the Lord our God says, and we will do it.’ And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God … So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going” (Jeremiah 42:20-22, NLT).

We all face an ‘Egypt’ decision at some point in our lives. A situation that leaves us worried, afraid, and overwhelmed. And like the Judeans, we may be convinced we know God’s will. We may be sure He will lead us down the least risky path. That the decision He wants us to make is the one that makes the most sense, appears safest, and yields the greatest blessing for us.

So we pray. We solicit His guidance. We ask that His will be done. And we assure Him that we will do whatever He asks; that we will obey Him whether we like it or not.

But are we just being religious? Are we just going through the spiritual motions of prayer, saying what we know what God wants to hear? Will we go down the risky path if God leads us there? Will we put our safety, comfort, freedom, and lives at risk if obedience requires it? Or are we like the Judeans, insisting we will follow God but having no intention of doing so?

The consequences of ‘pretend prayer’ are severe. For the Judeans they faced the very pain, suffering, and death they had hoped to avoid by going to Egypt. We, too, risk God’s punishment and the withdrawal of His presence when we refuse to obey Him – whether we like it or not.

Take time this week to examine your prayer life. What big decision or challenging circumstance have you recently brought before the Lord? Are you willing to do whatever God says? Go wherever He leads? Obey Him whether you like the direction or not? If so, He will answer your prayer. But be prepared for the unexpected answer – which might be difficult to digest.

Jesus’ Message to the American Church.

It is tempting, when considering the state of American Christianity, to assume that all is well, on both a corporate and individual level. Certainly the American Church displays a number of strengths inside its walls, within the local community, and in the political arena, as do the vast majority of churchgoers. So perhaps it’s no surprise the overwhelming view among Christians is that American Christianity offers a robust and faithful portrayal of Jesus’ teachings.

The reality, however, is much less sanguine. In fact, the American Church is in a far more perilous position than we imagine; a state of spiritual slumber so severe it undermines our relationship with Jesus and jeopardizes our eternal destination. So deep is this spiritual sleep that Christian leaders and churchgoers alike are almost entirely unaware of our condition. We mistakenly believe the Church is on the verge of revival. In fact, it is barely alive.

However, the Lord is steadfast in His desire to awaken the Church from its comatose condition. He wants us to open our hearts to His words and reject any teaching that contradicts them. He calls us to cast aside the veil of deceit that blinds us and reject the apostasy that so easily ensnares us.

Fortunately, we needn’t look far to discover Christ’s words for the American Church. The Bible captures them in clear and unmistakable language. Though His words are difficult to digest, we must accept and apply them in our lives if we truly believe and trust Him.

We must resist the temptation to dismiss His words as nonsense or inapplicable to our individual lives. Such resistance reveals their relevance more than ever, and exposes our religious hypocrisy. In fact, those most in need of hearing these truths are likely the same folks who reject them quickest and most fervently. Similarly, those closest to the Lord and in least need of hearing His words are likely the same people who’ll experience the greatest conviction and respond the most urgently.

Jesus’ message of sacrifice, selflessness, and surrender is as unpopular with the Church today as it was with His audiences two thousand years ago. No doubt many find it as unsettling as they do unpalatable. Certainly it is not for the faint of heart, which is why Christ warns potential followers to ‘count the cost’ before expressing faith in Him. For if the American Church is to experience real revival, we must meditate on and accept the Lord’s message – and transform our lives accordingly.

Here, then, is the message of Jesus Christ to the American Church. (Note: all verses are from the New King James version).

1] “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). Jesus is referring to Himself, of course. We have abandoned Him who we once claimed to love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. While we may have committed and surrendered our lives to Him at one time, our lives no longer reflect that faithfulness. We profess our love for Him but our lives reveal that other passions and priorities have supplanted our devotion to Him. The treasures and lures of this world gained a foothold in our lives and captured our hearts in the process. By any reasonable metric – how we spend our time, how we invest our income, how we allocate our resources, the plans we pursue – Jesus is not our first love. And for many of us, a love for Christ no longer remains at all. It is that diminished (or non-existent) love for Christ that, more than anything, explains our current spiritual state. Absent a repentant return to Him, the Church will never undergo revival and awaken from its spiritual slumber.

2] “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b). Jesus spoke these words to the church at Sardis, which had a reputation for spiritual vitality. Underneath its religious veneer, however, was an unfruitful and unfaithful church. Much of the American Church struggles with the same dichotomy. We have cultivated a reputation of righteousness, love, and devotion to Jesus. We are very religious and greatly esteemed within church circles. But we have never crucified the flesh or surrendered ourselves fully to Christ. Our shallow commitment to Him rarely extends beyond our comfort, convenience, and personal agendas. We regularly refuse to follow Christ when it disrupts our lifestyle, forces us to deny ourselves, or makes demands we believe unreasonable. Such a casual, half-hearted faith is no faith at all. It is dead.

3] “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). When a church loses its first love (Jesus) and focuses more on its outward appearance than on the condition of the heart, it becomes lukewarm. Add immense wealth and a self-sufficient spirit, and you create a church that fails to further the gospel and advance the agenda of Christ. The American Church shares these attributes that Jesus used to describe the church at Laodicea. Our enormous prosperity and pride (masquerading as self-confidence) have concealed our current spiritual condition: lukewarm churchgoers who lack the fundamentals of faith. Unless we repent quickly we will suffer the same fate as the Laodicean Church.

4] “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). Jesus’ warning couldn’t be clearer. But it falls on deaf ears in America, where covetousness consumes the Church. No amount of protest, however adamant, erases that truth. Evidence of our greed and materialism can be found in our homes, garages, closets, and basements. Despite Jesus’ admonition, we pursue and possess an abundance of things that momentarily fulfill our ravenous craving for earthly treasure – revealing a spirit of rebellion, defiance, and selfishness. It also demonstrates a distorted view of biblical stewardship and ignores Jesus’ example of sacrificial love. In short, our unbridled materialism indicates a lack of love for Christ and utter disregard for His teaching.

5] “And the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Jesus identifies two primary dangers of accumulating worldly treasure. First, like the cares of this world, riches prevent the Word of God from taking root in our hearts, distracting us from Jesus. Consequently, we become spiritually unfruitful and our faith flounders. Second, covetousness deceives us, leading us to adopt biblically unsound doctrine, such as the compatibility of the American Dream with the call of Christ. Those two worldviews are diametrically opposed to each other and cannot co-exist. Yet somehow the Church has reconciled them into a single hybrid quasi-religion that resonates with worldly-minded churchgoers but bares little resemblance to Jesus’ teachings. Until we dismantle this doctrinal abomination and cast it out of the Church, American Christianity will not experience a reawakening.

6] “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24). We cannot simultaneously love the world and Jesus. We cannot pursue both worldly treasure and Jesus’ agenda. We cannot chase ‘the good life’ and faithfully follow Christ. Jesus leaves no room for ambiguity. And yet the American Church believes and teaches that loving the world and all it offers (leisure, luxury, comfort, entertainment, pleasure) does not compromise our ability to fulfill the call of Christ and live as His disciples. Jesus warns us that view is heresy. Those who practice it prove their allegiance to the world and confirm their infidelity to Christ.

7] “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). Jesus provides the antidote to materialism, covetousness, selfishness, and self-sufficiency. Forsake all. Surrender our lives fully to Him. That represents a fundamental requirement of following Him. It is not optional. And yet how often does the American Church teach that unvarnished truth? Rarely. Instead the Church suggests that Jesus’ statement is not compulsory; that Christians need only be ‘willing’ to forsake all without having to actually forsake anything. That message is as astonishing as it is dishonest, and sends millions of churchgoers down a path that leads to darkness. This must stop. We must quit sanitizing and distorting Jesus’ difficult statements and instead start incorporating them into our sermons more often. Only then will the Church fulfill its duty to Christ and the lost.

8] “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus gave His life so we could enjoy eternity with Him. In return, He expects us to give our lives in service to Him. To do so, we must learn to deny ourselves, set aside our selfish interests, and count as loss anything that prevents us from fulfilling God’s will. Unfortunately, many in the church believe this passage reeks of legalism and somehow replaces God’s grace with ‘good deeds’ as the source of salvation. Consequently, they either explain away Jesus’ words or ignore them altogether. We must stop invoking legalism as an argument against Jesus’ teaching on discipleship, obedience, and sacrificial living. Yes, salvation comes by faith alone, through God’s grace. But authentic faith crucifies the flesh, yielding a surrendered life, a sacrificial spirit, and a submissive heart to the Lord who saves us. We must teach that truth and quit misrepresenting Jesus’ demands on our lives as believers.

9] “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). This scenario ought to gravely concern all who reject or disregard those difficult teachings of Jesus with which they disagree. He states unequivocally that entering heaven requires an individual to have a personal relationship with Him and to do God’s will. It is not enough to call Jesus ‘Lord.’ It is not enough to be religious or commit good deeds with selfish motivations. Examine your life. Has faith transformed your life so dramatically you no longer blend in with society? Or have you conformed to the world, leaving little difference between you and your secular neighbors, friends, and colleagues (except, perhaps, for an hour on Sunday)?

10] “These people draw near to Me with their mouths, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). The Old Testament is replete with anecdotes of people who verbalize their commitment and devotion to God but who fail to surrender their hearts to Him. Similarly, many in the Church today sound religious, use Christian language, and worship God every Sunday. But they retain ownership over their lives and refuse to submit to Jesus’ lordship in any meaningful way. Christ states such faith is fraudulent and useless. It is exercised in vain.

11] “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). Jesus reiterates the importance of aligning our hearts with God’s will. Having a veneer of righteousness or earning the approval of church leaders is worthless. What matters is an ongoing, transformative relationship with Christ. That is the essence of Christianity, and the truest expression of faith.

12] “But why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). When we truly believe Jesus and trust Him as Lord we keep His commands and fulfill His will. This is not legalism or works-based salvation. It is basic, fundamental Christianity. Our obedience demonstrates our love for Him and reveals genuine faith.

13] “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then the father came to the second and said likewise. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-30). Jesus has no interest in your words if they are not backed up with action. Professing our unwavering love for Him is meaningless if unaccompanied by an equally resolute pursuit of His will, regardless of the cost to ourselves. Asserting our faith in Christ is of no value if that faith does not manifest itself in radical sacrifice and extreme generosity. Verbalizing belief in Jesus means nothing if we do not passionately pursue His presence in prayer, silent meditation, and by studying the Scriptures. Jesus wants our words linked with substantive action. Otherwise we’re just offering lip service. And Jesus abhors lip service.

14] “Take heed that no one deceives you. [For] many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:4, 11). By and large the American Church preaches a sterilized gospel today. We have scrubbed away the rough edges, the difficult truths, and the demanding requirements of Christ and replaced them with a casual, comfortable message that emphasizes religious appearance over a contrite heart, and affirms our profession of faith regardless of any contradictory evidence no matter how overwhelming. The Church refuses to confront our zeal for leisure, comfort, and entertainment, which frequently reaches idolatrous levels, and our fervent pursuit of worldly pleasure and treasure, which often constitutes spiritual adultery. We have embraced a faith that yields all the benefits Jesus promised but few, if any, of the demanding obligations. We have been deceived by leaders, preachers, and teachers more focused on popularity, prosperity, and success than on the faithful preaching of the whole gospel. We would do well to diligently search the Scriptures and ensure our faith fully reflects the words and lifestyle of Jesus, not a distorted imitation of His gospel.

Do You Love God? Examine the Evidence.

At its foundation the Bible is, essentially, a love story. From Genesis to Revelation we learn of God’s deep love for humanity and desire for sinful mankind to be reconciled with Him. Embedded in every passage, every anecdote, every historical account is the message of God’s love.

And while secondary themes exist, they always reinforce the overarching idea that God loves people. The apostle John articulated this simple truth with three simple words: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16; NKJV).

Fortunately, His love is not something we must earn. The apostle Paul tells us “God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). God does not condition His love on our becoming good people first. Instead, He extends His love to us while we are slaves to sin.

Experiencing that love only requires we place our trust in Jesus Christ and surrender our lives to Him. That simple yet comprehensive act of faith yields eternal life with God. But it also produces the responsibility to follow God’s example of love.

When asked to identify the most important commandment in all of Scripture, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NKJV).

Jesus’ response should not surprise us. God expects us to love Him and those around us even as He loves us and every other person in the world. And we are to imitate God and Jesus in our expression of love.

What does that mean in substantive terms? Well first of all, we must understand that God’s love is demonstrated in action not verbalized in words. God doesn’t tell us about His love, He reveals it to us on a daily basis. Likewise, we demonstrate our love for God and others by our behavior and deeds, each and every day.

Second, Jesus takes great care to explain one critical piece of evidence exhibited in the lives of those who love Him:

If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV).

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21a, NKJV).

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23a, NKJV).

Jesus’ words are unmistakable. If you love Him you will obey His commandments. Not just those that are easy to follow, or those that do not disrupt your lifestyle, or those with which you agree. You will follow ALL his commands.

If that sounds like a herculean task, well it is. In fact, it’s impossible. But under the leadership of the Holy Spirit we can begin to live a life of increased obedience. And while we will never live perfect lives on this side of heaven, God does expect us to cultivate a lifestyle of holiness and more closely resemble Jesus as our faith matures.

However, our obedience does more than just evidence our love for God; it reveals genuine faith. The apostle John emphasizes this correlation in his first epistle. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4, NKJV). To eliminate any confusion or misunderstanding, John reiterates this point to his audience. “He who keeps God’s commandments abides in Him, and God in him” (1 John 3:24a, NKJV).

John connects obedience with knowing God in a real and meaningful way. Remember that at its core the Christian faith involves an intimate and personal relationship between believer and Jesus Christ. He abides in us as we abide in Him. So in that sense it is unlike any religion in the world – because it is no religion at all. It is a relationship.

John, then, is not suggesting that obedience precedes salvation. Rather, he is saying that faith produces obedience; that the call of Christ demands the passionate pursuit of holiness from would-be followers.

The above verses clearly establish a linkage between our love for and faith in Jesus with our obedience to God and Christ. An absence of obedience exposes an absence of faith and love.

Now, one might wonder, ‘What commands must I obey?’ And the simple answer is, ‘All of them.’ Every commandment captured in Scripture, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament.

If that doesn’t sound daunting enough, consider this statement from John. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3, NKJV). In other words, we are not just to obey God’s commands, we are to do so joyfully and with gratitude, not begrudgingly or with resentment.

Many readers will protest at this point and claim that all this sounds a little too legalistic. They will insist that God’s love does not require obedience nor is our salvation preconditioned on it. And they’re correct. That’s true.

But these verses aren’t about God’s love for us, which exists regardless of whether we obey Him. They are about our love for Him and our faith in Christ. And if those are real, we will desire to obey God’s commands and thirst for His will, even when His commands and plans require we relinquish control of our lives and put to death our self-interests.

All of which would be difficult enough if God’s commands were few and easy. But they’re not. They are abundant in number and often quite demanding. Consider those below, for example.

1) “Study the [Bible] continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything in it” (Joshua 1:8, NLT).

2) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).

3) “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NKJV).

4) “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a, NKJV).

5) “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39b, NKJV).

6) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28, 19-20a, NKJV).

7) “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:43, NKJV).

8) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NKJV).

9) “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciples” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

10) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).

11) “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5a, NKJV).

12) “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, NKJV).

13) “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV).

14) “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, NKJV).

15) “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11, NKJV).

16) “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, NKJV).

17) “Encourage one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, NKJV).

18) “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8, NKJV).

19) “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15, NKJV).

20) “Keep yourself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:21, NKJV).

Only when we love God, pursue His presence regularly, and submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit can we hope to partially fulfill these commands. But for those in a genuine relationship with Christ, that hope can transform into reality over time.

And as we obey God’s commands we begin to reflect Him more clearly in our lives and in our treatment of others. And we begin to understand what John means when he says, “By this we know love, because Jesus laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16, NKJV).

We realize that Christ sacrificed His life for us, as an expression of love. And He calls us to do surrender our lives to Him as an expression of love. And when we do, we experience Him and His love in a far more meaningful and powerful way than we ever imagined.

False Teachers Threaten Vitality of Christianity

One of the most confounding characters in the Bible is the false prophet Balaam. His ministry of divination is instructive in understanding the promulgation of false teaching and offers insight into the motivation that drives false teachers. And his story serves as a warning to how easily false prophets can manipulate the truth to advance their own interests.

We first encounter Balaam as he responds to messengers of the Moabite king, Balak, who offers a considerable fee for Balaam to place a curse on Israel. Balaam instructs the envoys to stay overnight as he seeks direction from the Lord.

That night God commands Balaam not to return with the men or speak against Israel. “You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed.” (Numbers 22:12, NLT). The following morning Balaam tells the king’s officials, “Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.” (Numbers 22:13, NLT).

Though Balaam refuses to help the Moabite king, his response reveals his frustration with the outcome. It’s the kind of answer a kid gives his friends when they ask him to come out and play: “I can’t. My mom won’t let me.” The response makes clear he wants to play, but the big bully in charge won’t let him. So it is with Balaam. He grudgingly obeys, but not because he agrees with God’s decision.

When King Balak learns of this, he sends a more prestigious delegation to Balaam and increases his offer. Balaam responds, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God.” (Numbers 22:18, NLT). On the surface it appears Balaam has no interest in worldly treasure but only in obeying God and communicating His truth.

But then he adds a caveat to his answer and in doing so reveals his secret motivation. He tells the delegation, “Stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” (Numbers 22:20, NLT). Balaam knows God’s will on the matter. He expressly told Balaam not to curse Israel; that they were a blessed nation.

But Balaam is hopeful God will change His mind. That he can convince the Lord to allow him to fulfill King Balak’s request and collect a significant payment in the process. So God consents to Balaam returning with the men to their homeland (a decision which almost costs Balaam his life – see Numbers 22:21-34).

When Balaam finally meets King Balak, however, God commands him to bless Israel not curse it. Balaam reluctantly obeys and blesses Israel not once but four times. His obedience not only earns him the king’s rage but also results in his forfeiture of the large fee the king had promised.

This proves too much for Balaam to bear. So he develops a devious plan to destroy Israel and thereby collect his fee from King Balak. He instructs the Moabite women to have sexual relations with the Israelite men and seduce them into worshipping their pagan gods. [See Numbers 25:1-9, and 31:16].

And it works. Many Israelites gratify themselves sexually with the Moabites and begin worshipping their gods, arousing God’s anger in the process. Twenty-four thousand people die before God finally relents and His anger subsides. Balaam succeeds in placing a wedge between God and His people.

The New Testament mentions Balaam several times and in each instance attributes to him a legacy of greed and deceit. He comes to represent the face of false prophets and false teaching. His story offers us insight into how false teachers operate and how they deceive so many into embracing a false form of the Christian faith.

The first thing to notice about Balaam is how spiritual he sounds. He says all the right things in public. He tells King Balak, “I have no power to say whatever I want. I will speak only the message that God puts in my mouth.” (Numbers 22:38, NLT).

After Balaam pronounces blessings on Israel and the king protests, Balaam reminds him, “Didn’t I tell you that I can do only what the Lord tells me?” [Numbers 23:26, NLT].

And finally, after the king flies into a rage against Balaam for blessing Israel a third time, he says, “Don’t you remember what I told your messengers? I said, ‘Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord.’ I told you that I could say only what the Lord says!” (Numbers 24:12-13, NLT).

By his words, Balaam appears to be an obedient prophet of the Lord. It is impossible to argue against anything he says. He claims to be God’s messenger and insists he only speaks those words the Lord places on his tongue. In fact, his prophesies contradict what the king demands. Surely only a man of God could stand against a king and his nation, and speak God’s words faithfully.

But beneath his veneer of religious piety, Balaam harbored a heart of greed and deceit. He may have claimed fidelity to God with his mouth, but his heart was devoted to the world and its treasures. He declared himself a faithful messenger of God simply to establish his credibility in the community and burnish his credentials as the Lord’s mouthpiece.

But it was all an act. He had no intention of denying himself the wealth and prestige the king offered. So no sooner had he pronounced a litany of blessings on Israel then he was conspiring to bring destruction on those same people. His actions revealed his words as mere lip service to God.

And so it is with the false prophets who fill our churches today. They claim to speak only those words God gives them. They make a show of standing-up against cultural leaders and speaking out against societal immorality. They eloquently declare their commitment to God and insist that His Spirit guides their Sunday sermons.

But like Balaam they are filled with deceit and motivated by greed. They refuse to preach biblical truth when it prevents them from collecting worldly treasures. They ignore Jesus’ words when those words reveal them as frauds. They dismiss and distort Scripture when it exposes their lifestyle as an expression of spiritual adultery.

Sadly, false prophets now lead a vast number of churches across the country. While they adhere to biblically sound doctrine on many topics, they are grossly negligent on others including Christianity & The American DreamIdolatry, Spiritual Adultery, Sacrificial Faith, Casual Christianity (click on each link to read more on that topic).

As with Balaam, these false prophets (which are exploding in number) are leading the nation down a path of destruction. They have bargained with the devil and compromised the gospel, exchanging the souls of their congregants for a life of worldly treasure, pleasure, and prominence. And unless you immerse yourself in Scripture regularly, studying its truths and comparing it with what your pastor preaches, you risk falling for a perverted gospel.

The risks are so great that Scripture frequently warns of the dangers of false prophets and the proliferation of false teaching in the last days. In his second epistle Peter exclaims, “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false prophets among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of the truth will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money.” (2 Peter 2:1-3, NLT).

Note that false teaching is rarely obvious. Peter emphasizes the fact that false prophets shrewdly communicate their destructive heresies, wrapping them in language designed to sound good. Unsuspecting churchgoers who innocently assume their pastor preaches truth easily digest these lies. For that reason we must remain diligent to search the Scriptures ourselves to validate everything we hear from the pulpit.

Peter goes on to explain that false prophets even deny God. Not so much verbally but in their hearts, as evidenced by their lifestyle. Peter warns that greed fuels their penchant for mistruths and willingness to distort the gospel. They want your money and will tell you whatever you want to hear to gain it. Too often those in the church are happy to oblige.

Paul tells Timothy, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NLT).

These days people want more than anything to hear that God desires to bless them materially and financially. That God wants them happy, comfortable, and safe. He wants them to enjoy the good life as they live the American Dream, chasing whatever shiny objects catch their eye.

Paul speaks of this in his second epistle to Timothy. “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will … love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that makes them godly.” (2 Timothy 3:1-2a, 4b-5a, NLT).

Paul emphasizes that many of these people who love themselves, money, and pleasure, also act religious. They are churchgoers who attend services regularly and maintain a veneer of Christian respectability. They include deacons, choir members, Bible-study leaders, Sunday-School teachers, and, of course, pastors. And they constitute large swaths of the congregation in many churches today.

But they are not Christians. They only have the outward appearance of a believer. Inside, they live for themselves and have never surrendered fully to Christ. They act holy and talk holy but refuse to deny themselves and live sacrificial lives for the Lord. They want their churches led by pastors who tickle their ears with half-truths; who mingle the gospel with the American Dream and suggest the two can cohabitate in one’s heart.

Paul says such people “have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith,” and that we should “stay away from people like that.” (2 Timothy 3:5b, 8b, NLT).

Paul also reminds us that those who do not preach the whole gospel and who fail to teach those messages of Jesus with which they disagree are “destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5b, NKJV). Unfortunately, this describes many pastors and churchgoers today. They have never died to self that Christ might live in them. Instead, they pursue an appearance of godliness in order to advance personal agendas of greed, stature, and influence. “From such withdraw yourself,” Paul advises. (1 Tim. 6:5b).

Jude adds that false teachers “bring about their own destruction. What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of … Balaam (who) deceived people for money.” Jude 1:10b-11, NLT).

False teaching thrives in America today. Sadly, it often goes unnoticed because those in the pews want to hear it as much as those in the pulpit want to preach it. And it isn’t limited to messages that declare the wrong thing. One of the most insidious forms of false teaching today involves the unwillingness to preach against the rampant materialism, pride, and selfishness that often consumes churchgoers as much as it does the unchurched, and their relentless pursuit of comfort, luxury, popularity, and leisure.

The spiritual adultery and idolatry this represents has infested a devastating number of churches in America and threatens to remove the last vestiges of genuine Christianity in this country. Until faithful prophets arise and speak out against this spiritual abomination, the Church will continue its slide into irrelevance in society.

I realize this message is difficult to swallow. Like Jude, I would prefer to share a message of joy regarding our salvation (see Jude 1:3-4). But as long as false teaching flourishes and false prophets inhabit the Church, it is critical to expose their deceit and warn others of their presence.

May the Lord awaken us and strengthen what little remains.

— Useless vs. Fruitful — Two Competing Faiths. Which One Is Yours?

Two millennia ago Jesus’ sacrificial death established faith as the determining factor in whether an individual spends eternal life in heaven. It is a seismic distinction from other religions, which place the burden on man to earn salvation through some combination of good works, obedience, and holy behavior. But with Christ’s ascension from the grave, belief in Him as Lord and Savior was suddenly wholly sufficient to avoid sin’s consequences (that is, eternal darkness and suffering in hell).

In the years that followed, however, most of Christendom reverted back to emphasizing works as an integral part of salvation. That unbiblical view survived for hundreds of years, taught by a church intent on using such heresy to acquire wealth and power. Thankfully, the Reformation arrived in the early 1500’s to counter this false teaching. In time, faith regained its proper place in Church doctrine as the defining element of salvation.

Unfortunately, in recent decades a different but equally dangerous doctrine has emerged inside the Church. This one sits at the opposite end of the theological continuum and teaches that anyone who verbalizes belief in Christ instantaneously secures his or her salvation, irrespective of how they live in the future. A profession of faith in Christ as Savior guarantees eternal life, regardless of whether any evidence exists to support the claim.

Scripture, however, clearly teaches that this version of Christianity is as heretical as ‘salvation by works.’ Its fatal flaw is its failure to recognize that not everyone who expresses a belief in Christ truly believes. Many who claim faith in Jesus continue to place their trust elsewhere. They simply deceive themselves.

The apostle Paul understood this. He notes that some inside the Church are “corrupt and unbelieving” and “such people claim they know God, but they deny Him by the way they live.” (Titus 1:16a, NLT). These people willingly, even enthusiastically, declare Jesus Lord and insist they knew Him personally. So how could anyone argue that such people possess a counterfeit faith?

Paul could, and did, on the basis of their lifestyles, which denied Christ. His insight is critically important to understanding the Christian faith. Those who possess genuine faith in Christ live lives modeled after His example. Their lives profess Him Lord as loudly as their words.

This truth may cause some to cringe. Doesn’t that suggest good works play a role in salvation, they wonder. Does that mean eternally life rests as much on effort as it does on faith, they ask.

The answer to both questions is an emphatic, ‘No!’

Paul explained the proper relationship between faith and works in his powerful letter to the church at Ephesus. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NKJV, emphasis mine).

As in his other epistles, Paul affirms the truth that salvation is by faith alone. We cannot earn God’s mercy and play no role in working our way into heaven.

That said, Paul immediately reminds his readers that God created us to advance His agenda and further His kingdom. We do this by practicing good works and committing ourselves to the lifestyle He prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

Our works and lifestyles have no impact on our salvation. They are not part of the equation. But they do represent essential evidence of our faith. Without them we have no assurance of our salvation. In fact, without good works we can be certain our faith is inauthentic.

James, one of Jesus’ brothers, provides an excellent exposition of the significance of good works in the life of a believer. He begins with a rhetorical question. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (James 2:14, NLT). After providing a couple examples that highlight his point (failing to feed and clothe believers who are hungry and naked), he declares, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17, emphasis mine).

James uses powerful language to communicate his point. He actually states that faith without works is both dead and useless. It is fraudulent and serves no purpose. The person who practices such faith possesses no faith at all. Genuine faith always produces good works.

He continues, “Now someone may argue, ‘some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:18).

James dismantles the argument that faith and good works can operate independent of one another. He shows that good works reveal faith. In their absence faith does not exist.

This leads to a very important question. What constitutes good works? Specifically, what type of good works evidence genuine faith?

James gives us two insightful examples: Abraham and Rahab.

He tells us, “Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete… So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.” (James 2:21-22, 24).

Abraham exhibited good works by surrendering to God the one thing most important to him, his only son Isaac. Abraham loved him dearly. Nothing would cause him as much pain as boy’s death. And yet, this is what God required. And so Abraham obeyed. Though God eventually spared Isaac’s life at the last second, Abraham proved his faith by his act of sacrificial obedience.

And so it is with us. God expects us to live sacrificially for Him. At various times in our lives God will test our faith. He will require us to place on the altar something of great value to us. He will ask us to crucify it to faithfully carry out his will. Maybe He will ask us to leave a lucrative job; or move to an unfamiliar country; or sell our house and donate the proceeds to further His Kingdom; or give up a hobby entirely and invest the time in spreading the Gospel. Maybe He will ask us to do all of these.

Whatever the case, we can be sure the decision will require significant sacrifice. And it will be difficult to obey; impossible, in fact, without the Holy Spirit’s strength. Moreover, we can be sure His call to sacrifice will occur more than once. In fact, it will occur throughout our lives. Each instance will be an opportunity to grow in faith and demonstrate our trust in Christ.

In his second example, James tells us Rahab, “was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.” (James 2:25-26).

You may recall that Rahab was a prostitute who lived near Jericho. She housed the scouts Joshua had sent to investigate the land and hid them when the king’s guards came in search of them. On orders from the king, the guards demanded she bring the men outside. Instead, she informed the guards that the two men already had left the city and told them the route the scouts had taken. After the guards departed, Rahab sent the two men on their way in the opposite direction.

Rahab demonstrated good works by risking her life to do God’s will. Acting in faith, she protected the scouts and sent the guards on a wild goose chase. She not only jeopardized her life and freedom (the king likely would have imprisoned or executed her if he had learned the truth), she jeopardized the life and freedom of her family. Her faith compelled her to trust God – not the circumstances.

And so it is with us. God often calls us to put our faith into practice by setting aside our best interests, our freedom, and perhaps even our life. Once again, our faith matures as a result and we grow closer to Christ. Obeying God in such instances is never easy. Our flesh demands we look out for ourselves. Our friends will likely tell us we are fools to obey God when such an existential risk exists. At times like these, then, we must remind ourselves what James said. “Faith by itself is not enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”

All of this may sound a little too extreme. Some of us might decide to follow the less radical version of Christianity. Unfortunately, a less extreme form of Christianity does not exist. While the specifics of how God calls us to live in obedience will differ from person to person, there are some commonalities.

  • God will test our faith.
  • He will do so by calling us to take action that substantively demonstrates our trust in Him.
  • He will ask us to surrender those things most important and dear to us.
  • He will send us on assignments that jeopardize our safety, reputation, and/or freedom.
  • He will give us tasks that, to some degree, disrupt our comfortable and organized lives.

As you live this vibrant expression of faith under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, you will draw closer to the Lord and more clearly understand His plans for you.

What an exciting way to spend the rest of your life!!

Disturbing Trend In Christianity: Embracing Jesus But Rejecting His Message.

One theme that consistently appears throughout Scripture is how much mankind misunderstands God, what He values, and His expectations for His people. To overcome humanity’s misperceptions, God sends messengers throughout the ages – from Old Testament prophets to New Testament apostles – to clearly communicate His identity and truth. His effort to reach (and redeem) mankind with His message of repentance, reconciliation, and restoration culminates with the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

During the three-year ministry that precedes His death and resurrection, Jesus teaches, commands, encourages, instructs, and declares God’s Word on a range of subjects. He places particular emphasis on discipleship and what it means to trust and follow Him as Lord, using a variety of metaphors and parables to depict the lifestyle of His followers.

Jesus also models the attitudes, priorities, and behaviors of this lifestyle on a daily basis, to supplement and reinforce the truths He proclaims to His audience. In doing so He removes any ambiguity as to what a decision to follow Him requires. Casual observers and carefree listeners alike quickly learn that those who place their trust and faith in Christ necessarily undergo a radical lifestyle transformation. The magnitude of this impact is enormous, extending into and influencing every nook and cranny of a Christian’s life.

Sadly, though perhaps not surprisingly, modern Christianity, as practiced by an increasing number of churchgoers, fails to reflect Jesus’ lifestyle or incorporate many of His teachings. Its adherents suffer the same spiritual sickness that gripped religious predecessors who shared a common pedigree (the Old Testament nation of Israel and the Pharisees). Though the modern churchgoer claims Christ as Lord with his lips, too often his or her life does not mirror the example Jesus taught and lived.

Jesus renounced this inconsistency, calling those who practice it ‘Hypocrites’ and quoting the prophet Isaiah to describe their condition. “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15: 8-9, NKJV). This brief passage conveys several critical truths worth examining.

Jesus uses Isaiah’s portrayal of Israel to describe the Pharisees. They prayed to God, worshipped Him, and studied the Torah. That veneer of religion, however, failed to capture their true spiritual condition (as was the case with the Israelites before them). It simply masked reality. Absent a heart that desires the Lord’s presence and actively pursues His will and righteousness, faith does not exist – at least not in any authentic or meaningful capacity.

That’s why Paul emphasizes the heart when he tells believers in Rome, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus AND believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10, NKJV; emphasis mine).

Paul informs his audience that a profession of faith in Christ is meaningless unless it springs from the heart, which leads one to pursue the righteousness of Christ under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. This pursuit is not an effort to earn salvation (which we know is by grace alone) but a manifestation of genuine faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Absent that desire for and pursuit of holiness, one does not truly believe.

The churchgoer who mouths praise for God and claims Christ as Savior on Sunday morning but lives for himself the rest of the week possesses an untenable faith. It will fail on the last day when Christ returns. He will stand in disbelief when Jesus refuses him entry into heaven; he will weep in horror when he finally realizes his faith was constructed on sinking sand that the Living Water has washed away.

That a churchgoer who publically professes Jesus as Lord and actively serves in the church may not experience eternity with Christ is a difficult concept for us to digest. Yet Jesus makes it clear that such a scenario is not only possible but will be the reality faced by untold numbers of churchgoers on Judgment Day.

Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount with these words. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23, NKJV, emphasis mine).

What’s so shocking about this passage is Jesus’ description of the people He refuses to grant access to heaven; those He casts into the lake of fire with its eternal darkness and suffering. They refer to Jesus as ‘Lord’ and have performed many works in His name, as well as enthusiastically professed their faith in Him for salvation. These are not humanists, secularists, or practitioners of other religions. They are, by all outward measures, Bible-believing, Church-going, Jesus-loving people of God who sit in the pews every Sunday.

Inwardly, however, they have never surrendered their hearts to Christ. They never really know Jesus. The religious externalities they exhibit at church and within the Christian community are rooted in selfish motivations and personal agendas. None of it flows from a substantive relationship with Jesus. It is all an act. An act so compelling it not only fools their fellow churchgoers, it fools them as well.

Sadly, this scenario isn’t limited to a handful of churchgoers in a few isolated churches. Jesus says that “many” face this future when He returns to judge the living and the dead. While impossible to quantify such an imprecise term, it certainly seems possible the figure will reach into the millions, perhaps tens of millions, in the United States alone, where a glaring disconnect between the lips and lives of many churchgoers exists.

It is also important to highlight the fact that in the above passage Jesus links obedience to God’s will with knowing Him. Those who genuinely know Christ on a personal basis pursue His will on a daily basis. That desire to do the Lord’s will represents the evidence of an authentic relationship with Christ; and it is not limited to a few areas of our lives. Jesus expects us to place all areas of life under His authority and follow His leadership in each area. We are not to retain control over some areas of life and yield to Him other areas.

For some Christians, the struggle to abdicate authority of our possessions, pursuits, and passions to Jesus represents one of the greatest challenges of the Christian faith. Countless others never struggle in this area because they never learn of Jesus’ expectations; they attend a church that completely ignores the numerous passages that address the subject. Still others know what Jesus wants but in an act of willful rebellion refuse to obey.

Whatever the case, the fact that millions and millions of Christians fail to yield their lives fully to Christ does not validate that version of Christianity. Jesus repeatedly describes His expectations for those who follow Him and never suggests that a casual, half-hearted commitment is acceptable. He wants our whole heart, our full allegiance, and an unwavering commitment to Him as Lord and Savior. And we evidence this commitment by reordering our priorities, redirecting our income, reevaluating our schedules, and restructuring our agendas to reflect His Lordship.

This transformation is not easy. In fact, it cannot happen without the Holy Spirit. Continual prayer is another essential element to success. And we must familiarize ourselves with biblical passages that address the lifestyle of a disciple, harboring in our hearts the truths that Jesus and the apostles taught.

And we must sever our infatuation with the world. It is not enough to dial back our obsession. Nor is it sufficient to place our love for the world on simmer. We must renounce the relationship completely. We must remove every last vestige of its existence in our lives. We cannot be the bride of Christ and maintain a mistress on the side. Jesus demands full fidelity. He will not share our allegiance with the world.

However, he does understand how easily worldly possessions attract and mesmerize individuals of all economic backgrounds, even the relatively poor people of His day. He knows that as society’s wealth escalates and the availability of goods expands, the temptation to acquire more possessions will increase – even for Christians. Aware that this attraction poses a potentially catastrophic threat to the health and existence of His followers’ faith, He offers this compelling guidance.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NKJV).

What’s so remarkable about this passage is its simplicity. In three short verses Jesus communicates everything we need to know about collecting worldly possessions, which can be summarized in two words: Avoid it.

Despite the simplicity of the message, Jesus’ counsel contains several powerful truths. First, the obvious: earthly treasures don’t last. At best, they survive until we die. More likely, the elements destroy them, or someone steals them. Either way, we no longer have them to enjoy.

In contrast, the treasures of heaven are eternal. They last forever. No one can steal them and nothing can cause their decay. We will enjoy them for all eternity.

Embedded in this distinction is an important insight. A treasure is either earthly or heavenly. It cannot be both. No investment pays an earthly and heavenly dividend. So we must decide whether we want to enjoy immediate gratification, in which case we invest in earthly treasure, or whether we are willing to delay our enjoyment for some period of years, perhaps decades. The instantaneous pleasure of the former is offset by its limited duration (a hundred years at best). The deferred satisfaction of the latter is enhanced by its unlimited duration (it lasts forever).

When we consider the choice in such simple terms, the decision should be easy to make. I’m certainly convinced Jesus intended it that way. He wanted His followers to resist the temptation to attain earthly treasure and instead seek the kingdom of God. So He spelled out our options in basic terms.

What’s so surprising is how easy the decision is for those who act in their own self-interest. Why would anyone choose a treasure that lasts for 100 years when they can instead have a treasure that lasts forever? And when you consider the fact that the eternal treasure will undoubtedly surpass the temporary treasure in magnificence, there is absolutely no reason to choose the earthly possession. Unless, of course, you don’t believe Jesus.

Maybe that explains why American churches are packed with people who chase, collect, and consume earthly treasures with as much vigor as our unchurched neighbors; churchgoers who willingly forfeit the opportunity to build a broad portfolio of heavenly treasure because they prefer to satisfy their craving for earthly goods instead. It is at once a decision as unfathomable as it is unfortunate.

Of course, losing out on heavenly treasure is not the only consequence faced by those who embrace earthly treasure. A far worse one awaits them. Jesus identifies it in the last verse of the passage. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus informs us how to recognize the object of our heart’s affection. The heart always remains loyal to the treasure. If a man stores up treasure on earth, his heart is loyal to the world. If a woman lays up treasure in heaven, her heart belongs to the Lord.

Which brings us back to two earlier verses we examined. In the context of Romans 10:9-10, we might conclude that the man with a heart loyal to the world does not truly believe. He possesses a false faith. In the context of Matthew 15:8-9, we might conclude that such an individual is the spiritual descendant of the Pharisee. He honors God with his lips and draws near with his mouth, but his heart is far from God; and like the Pharisee is destined for destruction.

Of course, false worship of God predates the Pharisees by hundreds of years. The Jewish people struggled with this issue throughout the Old Testament. One particularly powerful passage occurs in Ezekiel, where God tells the prophet:

Your people talk about you in their houses and whisper about you at the doors. They say to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go hear the prophet tell us what the Lord is saying!’ So My people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts only seek after money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it!” (Ezekiel 33:30-32, NLT).

Sadly, this message is an accurate representation of what happens in thousands of churches across the United States every Sunday. We express enthusiasm for the Word of God and profess to each other a desire to know God more intimately. We sit in the pews spellbound. We take copious notes and appear attentive.

But like the Israelites we have no intention of doing what God wants if it conflicts with our own desires and agenda. We are merely pretending; putting on an Oscar-worthy performance. Like the Israelites, our hearts seek after earthly treasure and our mouths are filled with idolatry. We find the singing entertaining and commend the pastor on his message but we do not act on it. We will continue to spend our time and income satisfying our own worldly cravings, all the while claiming Christ is Lord.

I have no doubt these words will offend most readers. They will insist I am casting judgment on the Church and individual believers. They will contend that my claims are false and salacious. They will assert that the Church, their congregation, and their individual faith are beyond reproach in this area.

Which leads us to the last point. Following His comments on storing up treasure in heaven and His proclamation, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus makes the following statement:

Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23).

His point? ‘Christians’ who pursue earthly treasure and whose hearts belong to this world actually believe they pursue heavenly treasure. They have convinced themselves they are filled with light and have a healthy faith. In fact, they are filled with darkness and have no faith at all.

They deceive themselves. The darkness that consumes them distorts their view of reality. They are so far from Christ they are spiritually blind, and can’t see they have no real relationship with Him. How great is that darkness indeed.

It is time to awake from our spiritual slumber and return to the Lord.

Spiritual Adultery: An Explosive Epidemic Wrecking the Church.

When President Trump nominated a number of prominent evangelicals to lead various departments of the federal government following his inauguration, I viewed it as a tremendous opportunity. These men and women could demonstrate to the nation that those who follow Jesus govern much differently than those driven by other motivations. Their leadership would be marked by humility, diligence, and most of all integrity. Scandals that rocked prior administrations would not surface at agencies led by those committed to Christ.

Sadly, some of these ‘Christian’ leaders betrayed the trust of the American people. Even worse, their behavior dishonored the Lord. Not only did they fail to establish a high-water mark in government ethics and maintain the highest standards of integrity, they left a trail of corruption and financial malfeasance in their wake.

Federal officials are investigating one of these men for violating anti-corruption laws surrounding efforts to leverage his government position for personal gain, using public funds for personal travel (in first-class no less), having employees perform personal tasks, and demanding a personal security team that cost millions of dollars.

Another cabinet official resigned after reports revealed he regularly traveled on private charter and military jets at taxpayer expense rather than travel on commercial flights that would have saved nearly a million dollars. Compounding his graft was the hypocrisy behind it. As a congressman he regularly railed against government waste and demanded more accountability from profligate bureaucrats.

Of course, senior Trump officials aren’t the only Christian politicians who have besmirched the name of Jesus in recent years. It also includes multiple pro-life congressmen who, despite their public policy positions, insisted their mistresses obtain an abortion after they became pregnant. In contrast to the conservative political platforms these men supported – predicated on family values and Christian principles – they pursued extra-marital relationships and then demanded the murder of a life they helped create. Such hypocrisy nauseates those already cynical of Christianity.

What’s more, each of these officials denied all wrongdoing, insisting he had crossed no criminal, ethical, or spiritual lines. Perhaps that’s not surprising. The ‘Christian’ motivated by self-interest and personal gratification rarely cares about confessing his sin and repenting.

Sadly, the tarnishing of Christianity isn’t limited to prominent and powerful people. It includes celebrated churches and popular pastors as well. For example, last August one of Houston’s mega-churches refused to open its facilities to those left homeless from the historical flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Despite the massive size of the sanctuary (which seats nearly 17,000) and an enormous church campus, the pastor ordered the doors locked. Apparently there was no room in the inn for those in desperate need of compassion.

It was an act of incomprehensible selfishness. How could a pastor worth upwards of $40 million (and who owns multiple homes including a $10 million estate) and a church that spent nearly $100 million on renovations turn away the needy from its doors? The response stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ expectations for His followers, as illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The pastor’s explanation merely compounded the problem. He insisted the church was inaccessible to outsiders because of flooding in and around its property. When photographs surfaced online refuting that claim, he quickly backtracked and opened the church doors.

But the damage was done. In the midst of one of the worst natural disasters in America’s history, the nation watched a prominent evangelical church and its pastor model behavior marked by greed, selfishness, and dishonesty instead of generosity, sacrifice, and integrity. What it learned was that the Church too often reflects the values of the world instead of the teachings of Christ.

More recently a highly esteemed evangelical pastor at a renowned suburban Illinois church resigned amid reports that he met in private with female leaders and congregants at hotels, in his summer home, on his yacht, and inside his private jet. He claimed that nothing inappropriate happened with these women; his actions simply reflected bad judgment. But according to the allegations of a half dozen women it wasn’t for lack of trying on his part that nothing happened.

That one of the nation’s most respected evangelical pastors could have a pattern of pursuing women that goes back decades is disturbing enough. But at least church leadership eventually intervened and secured his immediate resignation. They recognized that the pastor’s behavior violated biblical standards of holiness and purity. They understood that keeping him on staff would sully the reputation of the church and dishonor Christ.

What makes this story even more alarming, however, is that these same church elders found no issue with the pastor owning a second home on the lake, a yacht, and a personal jet. It never occurred to them that such ownership constituted a troubling misunderstanding of biblical stewardship and revealed an unbridled love for worldly possessions. (Click here for a detailed discussion on stewardship). Their indifference to the greed and selfishness evidenced by such misuse of the Lord’s resources signaled an astonishing message to society: Evangelicals believe such behavior is not sinful. In fact, it is to be celebrated as a sign of God’s blessing. God gives some Christians (including pastors) exorbitant sums of money to lavish themselves with luxuries, while other believers suffer in extreme poverty.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated or infrequent incidents; they simply reflect the most extreme and egregious examples of a dangerous condition gripping the heart of the Church. American Christianity increasingly ignores the growing greed, selfishness, materialism, and covetousness that has taken root and is flourishing in thousands of churches across the country, especially inside evangelical congregations. American Christians increasingly exhibit the same insatiable appetite for worldly treasure, power, and popularity desired by society as a whole.

What we fail to realize is that such behavior is more than a minor blemish on the Christian community. It has fully disfigured the body of Christ. Our unabashed embrace of this world is an affront to Jesus and mirrors the idolatry practiced by Israel in the Old Testament.

It ignores Jesus’ repeated statements on the subject and His numerous warnings to avoid pursuing the things of this world, and it reveals a willful and rebellious rejection of Scripture. Worse, it signifies a willful and rebellious rejection of Jesus Christ.

How could American Christianity – especially evangelicalism with its emphasis on orthodox doctrine, a personal relationship with Christ, and salvation by grace – enter into such an adulterous relationship with the world?

Obviously, it didn’t happen over night. Like most adulterous relationships, it happened over time. Initially, Christians and the Church simply flirted with the world. Over time that seemingly innocuous relationship grew to include secret kisses, which then evolved into heavy petting, and eventually morphed into full-blown adultery. Of course, like most adulterers the Church attempts to maintain the appearance of a healthy marriage with its betrothed (Jesus) and tries to hide its clandestine affair with the world.

Oddly, it largely succeeds in keeping its adultery hidden in plain sight (though it’s glaringly obvious to independent observers), because an overwhelming number of American Christians have bought into this grotesque expression of faith, ignoring Jesus admonition that “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches.” (Matthew 6:24, NLT).

It continues to thrive and spread throughout the Church in part because pastors are unwilling to confront this issue with their congregations since their lives and lifestyles evidence the same adulterous relationship with the world. This pattern of adulterous behavior continues to escalate in intensity and frequency among churchgoers because they have no interest in learning the truth. Of such people Paul says, “They follow their own desires and look for teachers who tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They reject truth and chase myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

This ongoing and blossoming affair does more than discredit the name of Christ and undermine the mission of the church; it consigns millions of churchgoers and would-be believers to eternal darkness by sanctioning an abominable sin and selling the souls of parishioners in exchange for this world’s momentary pleasures.

So what’s the solution? How does the Church exit this adulterous affair and renew its commitment to Christ? How does American Christianity return to its first love and extinguish its self-destructive love for the world?

Ideally, God sends a few prophets to preach a message of repentance and burdens thousands of prayer warriors to pray for national revival under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

If this fails to galvanize the Church and Christian community to return to the Lord, then it’s likely God will intervene by removing the object of our affections from our lives: our prosperity, comfort, and security.

I hope and pray we quickly and wholeheartedly turn back to Him before it comes to that. Or worse, it becomes too late.

Commentary: Faith, Politics, Culture, and Bible Prophecy.