Tag Archives: Bible

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.

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Snakes in the Pulpit

While waiting in line to order lunch yesterday I overheard a conversation between a pair of young adults standing in front of me. One had rolled up her sleeve to display a new tattoo encircling her upper arm. She explained to her friend that she had requested a fierce snake weaving its way around her arm and in a striking pose above her bicep. Instead, the body-art specialist created something that resembled a thick worm resting lazily around her arm. She was upset and felt betrayed. She complained that the tattoo artist oversold his expertise and now she had to live with the consequences. Rather than impressing friends with an intimidating serpent baring its fangs, she was subject to guffaws and ridicule. The resulting reality was radically different than the outcome promised.

Sadly, a similar scenario plays itself out in many churches across America every Sunday. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unscrupulous pastors preach sermons as unreliable as the promise of the tattoo artist, telling parishioners exactly what they want to hear irrespective of whether the message has any foundation in Scripture. Like the dodgy designer of body-art these pulpit pretenders say whatever is necessary to close the deal – and keep their pews packed. For them, the role of pastor is not a vocational calling to serve God but an occupational opportunity to exploit. They possess the oratory, charm, and resilience of an elite salesman and use those attributes to finagle their way into unsuspecting congregations.

Unlike the unprincipled tattoo artist who left a (mostly) permanent reminder of his fraudulence on the arm of the young lady, the churchgoer who embraces the deceitful teachings of a dishonest pastor risks eternal consequence. For that reason individuals should rigorously examine a minister’s message before accepting it as truth and living accordingly. They ought to confirm it comports with Scripture, for no decision is more critical.

So what does the Bible tell us about these spiritual snakes disguised as selfless shepherds? Let’s consider several passages that address the issue of false teaching to understand how these messengers of deceit operate and how to avoid falling prey to their lies.

The apostle Peter informs us “there will be false teachers among you who will secretly bring in destructive heresies… and many will follow their destructive ways.” He then notes, “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words” (2 Peter 2:1-3, NKJV). Peter highlights several important points about those peddling lies in the church.

First, false teachers exist, are active in the church, and introduce their heresies in secret. They are not easily identified and their deceptive words are wrapped in reasonable sounding rhetoric. As a result, many blindly follow their instruction and end up on a spiritual path that leads to eternal destruction. Peter leaves no room for ambiguity; dishonest pastors lead many astray. It is imperative, then, that we listen carefully to what we hear from the pulpit, we understand what the Bible says, and we ensure the two are aligned.

But why do some preachers deceive their audiences and assert untruths as the Word of God? Peter explains that it is because they operate from a position of covetousness. They speak whatever words advance their agenda, even if it costs supporters their souls. They care not about bringing people closer to God, expositing Scripture with integrity, and living the gospel. Success, stature, prosperity, and influence motivate them. They love the world and the things of the world. They prey on the innocent, naïve, and desperate to fund a lifestyle of comfort, excess, and privilege.

However, those who follow agents of deceit are not entirely exculpated. They bear a degree of culpability for failing to exercise vigilance in validating what they hear aligns with God’s Word. When we abdicate that responsibility and simply hope the man (or woman) behind the lectern preaches truth we demonstrate spiritual irresponsibility. We must scrutinize what we hear on Sunday morning, at Bible studies, and what we read in Christian books and compare it with Scripture. If we don’t, we risk establishing a foundation of faith built on shifting sand.

In some instances, though, churchgoers demand false teaching and recruit ministers who preach appealing messages that contravene truth. These are people who “will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NKJV). Many regular church attenders have no interest in hearing God’s Word. They insist on finding a pastor who shares humorous anecdotes, spins a good yarn, and makes them feel warm and fuzzy each Sunday. Biblical truth causes such persons to recoil with disgust. They want a snake in the pulpit spitting out spiritual poison.

Unfortunately, ministers who preach accommodating sermons are becoming increasingly common as are churches that demand them. Many will find this trend encouraging and celebrate the shift away from biblically sound teaching in church. But for those who want to learn God’s Word and ground themselves in truth, the development is disturbing. They must remain diligent to ensure their pastor preaches the entirety of the Bible instead of distorting selected passages. They must exercise caution in arriving at their spiritual beliefs. Otherwise they may find their faith is the spiritual equivalent of a thick, lazy worm that disappoints.

What Jesus taught about following Him as a disciple.

In my book, Difficult Is the Path: Why Life as a Disciple of Christ Is Not for the Fainthearted, we examine Scripture and identify examples Jesus provided, parables He shared, and lessons He taught about the challenge of living as His disciple. We focus particular attention on verses the American church has ignored historically or dismissed as irrelevant.  During His sermon on the mount Jesus specifically said that the path that leads to eternal life would be challenging, yet often we want to create an alternate path that arrives at the same location but follows a more leisurely and comfortable route. My book explores the dangers with pursuing that approach.9781462726233_COVER.indd

Of course, just because the path is difficult doesn’t mean it is not worth taking. This study lays the foundation for the reader to deepen his relationship with the Lord and increase his faith, and in the process enjoy a far more satisfying, purposeful, and rewarding life. Though Jesus left no ambiguity over the fact that following Him would be challenging, He also makes clear that doing so would lead to indescribable peace, joy, and hope.