Fighting For The Prize.

fight

Yesterday I reflected on the powerful and dynamic faith of Corrie Ten Boom who steadfastly kept her eyes on Jesus while harboring Jewish refugees, being arrested and enslaved at a concentration camp and losing her sister and other family members to the atrocities of WWII.  The entirety of the New Testament promises that when we look to Jesus and remain in Him and in His words, we will have Spiritual peace.  But it also promises that we will be persecuted, hated and even killed because of our faith.  Jesus Himself stated:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

– John 16.33

You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”

– Matt 10.22

Paul even goes so far as to say,

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

– 2 Tim 3.12

There it is, in black and white.  Everyone who desires to live godly lives in Jesus will be persecuted.  We will be hated by the world, by everyone who does not know Jesus or have saving faith, because of our faith and our actions.  This is not a license for us to act in an unbecoming way.  We are commanded to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and to live at peace with all men so much as it depends on us (Matt 5.44, Rom 12.18).  We are to turn the other cheek, give more to those who steal from us and return love for evil (Matt 5.39-40, 1 Peter 3.9).

These commands seem impossible at times.  Sure, we can romanticize them and have idyllic pictures in our minds of being the ever-loving victim that never holds a grudge, but it is an entirely different picture when someone intentionally seeks our harm or attacks us without cause.  We can return good for evil in our own strength once or twice, but it is impossible to make a lifestyle out of the habit without Christ.  Sometimes a soft answer does not turn away wrath.  Sometimes loving our enemies does not heap burning coals upon their heads.  Sometimes they have already made up their minds to hurt or destroy us and it is only years down the road that our loving response impacts them on any level.  All we can do is trust God for His plan in those situations.  Our obedience is driven by love for God, not a desired outcome in the other person – our enemy.

But yet we still continue to believe the lies that God will make our lives soft and comfortable if we follow Him.  Many have sold out to the health and wealth gospel, following false prophets like Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn faithfully.  Consider this:  if God pours out blessings, security and health on those whom He loves, He must have despised Paul and the apostles.  They all had no homes, no security, they were persecuted and all but one murdered simply because of their faith.

Even if we deny the traditional health and wealth gospel with our mouths, we often believe it in our hearts and exemplify it by our actions.  When we find a job, get a raise, have healthy and obedient children, and go an entire year without visiting the doctor, we proclaim “God is good!”  When tragedy strikes, when a job is lost, when a loved one dies, when radical Muslims attack our cities, we cry out “Why me?” and “Where is God?”

Have you ever been hated on account of your faith?

I am not advocating self-imposed suffering or intentionally seeking martyrdom.  Jesus told the disciples to flee to the next city when persecution arose, and it was only by the direction of the Holy Spirit that Paul was led to Rome to be murdered – and that after fleeing numerous other times.  However, it is indeed the promise of Scripture that all – not some – but all who desire to live Godly lives will be persecuted and hated because of our faith.  If you are hated for any other reason, it does not count.  Peter says,

“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?  But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

– 1 Peter 2.19-20

When we sin, we should suffer the consequences patiently and in humility.  That is just common sense.  But it finds favor with God when we suffer unjustly, and bear it with patience and humility.  When was the last time you were wrongly accused – because of your faith – and counted it a blessing to be able to join Christ in His sufferings?  Or did you cry out “this is not fair”, and rebuke God in your heart?

Peter teaches us that we should always be prepared to give an answer or defense for the hope that we have.  Does your living, in the wake of trial and tribulation, cause people to stop and ask you about your hope?  Or do you only proclaim God’s goodness when things are good and life is rosy?  Isaac Watts bemoaned the point beautifully:

Must I be carried to the skies
on flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
and sailed through bloody seas?
Sure I must fight if I would reign
increase my courage Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
supported by Thy Word.

– Isaac Watts

So let’s step back and reconsider.  What is it that we consider a blessing and benefit from God?  What is it that leads us to proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness?  What is it that we pray for, long for and lose sleep over?  A job?  Health?  Life itself?  Money?  Do you fight to persevere in your faith?  Do you fight for the prize rewarded to those who serve God and die to the flesh?  Does your life look like the American Dream, or like the apostles?  Have you ever had to defend the seemingly nonsensical hope that you have?  If not, we need to reconsider our faith and our priorities.  Let’s start storing up treasures in Heaven and dying to our flesh.

Is it wrong to strive?

work

Since the beginning of time, there have been false prophets.  The greatest tactic of Satan is not to completely dissuade people from God, but to twist His words just enough to get people off the straight and narrow – though often times believing they are still on the path to Heaven.  In the Garden of Eden, Satan twisted God’s words – nothing he said to Eve was untrue, it was just a distortion of the truth.  They did not die right away, they did “become like God”, knowing good and evil – but they disobeyed God and brought the curse upon mankind (Gen 3.4-5, 22-23).

The failure of the Pharisees and Sadducees was that they distorted the Law of God, keeping the letter of it without obeying the first and primary one:  to love God.  They added to the Law in order to make their reputation great for being pious without knowing God, thus while they appeared to be holy, they were far from the heart of God.

Jesus Himself warned strongly of false prophets.  He foretold that there would be many who would arise within the Church, who were wolves in sheep’s clothing, who were tares among the wheat – they look just like believers but truly are not (Matt 7.15, 13.25-30).  The apostles and epistles deal with many heresies and distortions of the Gospel in the early church and also continue to warn against false prophets.

And we have seen this trend continue throughout Church history.  This is why councils were held, doctrines defined, heretics discredited and sadly many cults and false churches started.  In the early days there were major disputes about the nature of Christ:  was He man, was He God, was He both?  And these debates led to conversations about the trinity.  Such doctrines we now take for granted, but were difficult in the beginning.  Other false doctrines have been believed at various times throughout history, such as the belief that human nature is good, apart from God, and will seek God on its own.  While it was condemned as heresy early on, as Christianity has become a major world religion and Christians have less conviction to the knowledge of the Word and doctrine, such heresies gain more traction.

Another dangerous teaching was the Keswick movement that started in England in the early 19th century.  Also known as the Higher Life Movement, it influenced many of our heroes in the faith.  The core of the belief system was that the true Christian life required two major crises:  the first led to conversion and the second led to maturity or the “deeper” things of Christ.  They defined these as justification (salvation or conversion) and sanctification (maturity, the deeper things).  This second crisis is similar to the Pentecostal belief of the baptism of the Spirit, and it is called a variety of things, such as “entire sanctification”, “second touch” or “second blessing”.  The benefit of this experience, they believe, is the Christian realizes his unity with Christ and thus can stop striving.  He has that fullest communion with Christ, His joy is complete, the Holy Spirit is living through him, and he can even attain perfection.

As Christians are less and less learned, we are doomed to repeat history (and believe false doctrines)- just like all other disciplines of study and life.  And while there are those who still believe in a second touch – namely the baptism of the Spirit – there are also those who are adapting the “cease striving” aspect of Keswick theology all across the United States today.  This appeals greatly to our culture who has defined herself by individual autonomy, lack of absolute truth and tolerance.  Essentially they are saying it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin and I am a passive agent in my (and other’s) sanctification.

It is indeed the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin and righteousness:

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

– John 16.8-11

No one can be convicted of sin and long to turn to righteousness without the work of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot drum that up in our own hearts, and we cannot force it upon someone else.  But just because the Holy Spirit works in and through us does not mean that we are off the hook in terms of responsibility before and to God.

Even under the covenant of grace, even with salvation by faith alone through grace alone, the entire New Testament continually commands us to strive, to work, to obey, to die to our flesh, to live unto the Spirit (Luke 13.24, Phil 2.12, Heb 5.9, Rom 8.13, Gal 5.25, etc.).  We must root out sin from our lives, we must be active in our Spiritual lives, and through that we will have peace knowing that our sanctification is being established.  There is a dual responsibility:  the Holy Spirit enabling us, and us doing what He leads and enables us to do.

If we do not work, if we do not fight, the battle between the flesh and Spirit will allow the flesh to prevail:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

And we are also solemnly warned that if we continue in sin and do not submit to the sanctifying work of the Spirit and commands of Jesus, we are not saved:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

It is sin alone that separates us from God, and therefore when we are saved, when we are born again and have Spiritual life, the Holy Spirit enables us to fight sin.  We abide in Christ, drawing the life-giving sap through Him, the vine, and thus we are able to die to our flesh.  We see the work He does through us, and because of that we have peace and rest, knowing that our eternity is secure.  The rest is a Spiritual rest.  The peace is the knowledge that no matter what happens to us on Earth, we will one day be glorified with Him.  It is not necessarily temporal peace or rest.

Unfortunately, we take promises that are not for us and try to claim them, like Ex 14.14.  God wanted to show His power to the Israelites and reveal to them who He was, as He was preparing to bring about the Mosaic Covenant with them, write the Law, lead them through the wilderness and into the promised land.  He was revealing Himself to them, and exemplifying His power by parting the Red Sea, providing a way for them, and destroying the Egyptians – all at once (after He had shown His power by the plagues in Egypt).  Thus Moses proclaims:

“The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”

This was a situational promise, this was to the Israelites while they stood on the shore of the Red Sea.  This is not an ongoing command for how we are (or they were) to live their lives.  As they conquered Canaan, there were times that they fought, there were times that God fought for them.  He likes to change it up and be unpredictable.

There is another verse that Keswick Theology loves,

Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

– Ps 46.10

What does this mean?  If the command is to cease striving, and the response instead is to “know that I am God”, then this is not a command against working towards holiness.  It is a command against proving God.  John Piper gives this illustration:  imagine that you commit a substantial amount of time in prayer, asking God to reveal or give you something.  We ask, we communicate our need, we are emotionally involved.  While we are deep in prayer, imagine God walking up to us with the provision on a tray, handing it to us.  When we finish our prayer, however, we turn around and go right back about our day, instead of looking up and receiving that which He is handing to us.  When we rely on and depend on God, when we ask Him for things, there is a moment where we must receive that which He is giving us.  God has given us provisions for the Christian life, and often times we ask for those things instead of taking them up, even though they are already ours.  If we know that He is God and recognize His gifts and provisions, we receive and our striving in satisfied.  Our sanctification, however is a life-long process for which we continue to work, in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

Sanctification (becoming more like Christ, growing in Spiritual maturity) is part of our salvation.  God promises that all who are justified will be sanctified:

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

– Rom 8.29-30

We will have a variety of experiences with God throughout our life, and we might even have a variety of crises.  But there is no Biblical teaching of a second revelation whereby we go into a deeper relationship with God, and the exhortation is clear that we are to work out our salvation continually, and not be passive.  Not only that, but we are to hold one another accountable and help each other work out our salvation.  That is why God gave us the body.

Are you actively working out your salvation today?  Are you fighting for holiness and sanctification?  Or are you just coasting through life, expecting the Holy Spirit to work through you without your participation?  Let’s get up close and personal with Him today.  Let’s be aware of the false prophets and false teachings that have led many astray and fight for the purity of doctrine and belief within our own hearts and churches.  Let’s unite with those around us to push one another on to holiness, and give the Holy Spirit glory for enabling us to obey!

The Most Successful Scheme of the Devil.

wolf

The workings of the devil and the Spiritual world are an interesting topic nowadays.  Some Christian denominations err on the side of ignoring the Spiritual world, considering it only as far as Jesus saving our souls.  Our scientific worldview keeps us from acknowledging those things we cannot understand or perceive.  We live our lives as though the Holy Spirit and the demons do not exist.  Other Christian denominations overemphasize the Spiritual world, requiring people to speak in tongues as a mark of their salvation, looking for a demon under every leaf and attributing all temptations and difficulties in the world to demonic forces.  I was raised in the former but spent four years living on an island amongst tribal people who are heavily involved in witchcraft, and thus was exposed to a spiritual realm which I had never seen before, and while I still cringe when people call someone or something demonic, I am much more aware of daily Spiritual warfare.

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

– Eph 6.11-12

If we would claim to be Christians, we must acknowledge the Spiritual world.  Not only at the level of our souls and Jesus’ intervention for their salvation, but as to the existence of demons.  Jesus Himself not only believed in demons, but He talked to them, and exercised authority over them.  Scripture is also clear, however, that many times our temptations and trials are a direct result of our own sinful flesh – not the influence of an outside force.  We are wicked enough in our own sinful nature to preform many of the sins we do (James 1.13-16).

Satan has been around since the beginning of time.  He has had thousands of years to perfect His schemes, and He understands cultures, personalities and how to best work within and against them.  He might be more active on the supernatural level in cultures where people are driven by fear and open to believing in miracles, while he might be more active on the academic level in cultures like ours.  But all-in-all, the greatest victory he will have is to convince people that their souls are safe when indeed they are not.

Paul wrote a lamentation and instructional letter to the Church he planted at Galatia.  The Galatians were not Jews, they were Gentiles.  He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them and they believed.  After he left, however, Judaizers came in and attempted to convince the Gentiles that they had to be circumcised and obey the Jewish Law on top of their faith in order to be saved, and the Gentiles fell for it.  In addressing their spiritual situation, Paul makes an astounding statement:

“However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.”

– Gal 4.8-11

It is no surprise that Paul would argue that the Galatians, before they heard of Jesus and salvation through Him, were slaves to demons – those spiritual beings who are not gods.  They were real beings, by which the Galatians were enslaved, but they were not real gods.  They were not God.  What is shocking, however, is that Paul would claim that they were returning to slavery to such gods.  The Galatians were not returning to witchcraft or idol worship.  The Galatians were being tempted by Jews to follow the Law of the Old Covenant.  And Paul says that that is demonic, and could possibly prove their faith to be worthless and his efforts in vain.

This is the greatest threat to the Church.  There are countless people who not only attend Church, but are the most faithful servants within the Church because they believe that their deeds, their obedience and their piety will save them.  They obey the Ten Commandments, they get up and read the Bible in the mornings, they teach Sunday School, share the Gospel with everyone and shovel the parking lot when it snows.  They look really good on the outside.  But their deeds and actions are not based out of love and desire to please God, their actions are based out of self-righteousness and desire to earn their salvation and put God in their debt.

The reason this is so important is that such a one can look identical to the one who knows and loves God.  When we come to God for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God takes away our old, wicked hearts and gives us new hearts that love Him, are inclined to Him, and long to serve Him because we love Him (John 14).  He give us the gift of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin and empowers us to die to sin (John 16.8).  He changes us from the inside.  But when someone who simply desires to be rescued from Hell reads the Bible, he thinks that if he obeys the Bible then he will be saved by nature of being a good person in His own strength.

Both people obey the Bible.  Both people serve the Church.  However, one is saved and one is not.  And Paul states undeniably that the one who is unsaved is actually enslaved to demons:  spiritual forces who are not gods.  Satan knows the Bible, he knows the commands of Jesus, and he tricks and deceives many into believing that they are spiritually secure by enslaving them to Jesus’ commands without knowing Jesus, without loving Him.

So let us stop and examine our hearts today.  On what foundation are you basing your life and eternity?  Jesus has promised that those who have been saved will be sanctified and changed – made more into His image.  Are you being changed?  Do you obey Jesus?  If not, then you need to meet Him.  If you do obey Jesus, what is your motivation?  What is your drive?  Do you find pleasure in the work?  Or is it a chore that you enact in order to be a good person and hopefully be saved ultimately?  Is the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, enabling you to change and convicting you of sin?  Or do you read the Bible and force yourself to comply, against your Spirit?  If obedience is not a pleasure, then you need to meet Jesus.  Do not let the enemy give you false assurance of your salvation.  Do not live life in your own strength, only to be disappointed at judgment day.  Examine your heart.  Guard your heart.  And love Jesus lavishly.  Eternity depends on it.

Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  He will entice us by what we desire most, he will not look like a threat.  He will look beautiful, tempting and alluring.  If you want to beat your enemy, you must know his tactics.  No one goes into battle without a battle plan.  Let’s draw ours up today.

Seven Churches, Six of them dying.

danger

The book of Revelation is perhaps the most difficult book in the Bible to read and to grasp.  Jesus gave this revelation of the End Times and what is to come to the seven churches in Asia through the Apostle John.  It is the only book in the Bible which promises a blessing upon the reader, and it looks towards things yet to come with great trepidation and hope.  Jesus reveals Himself to John standing amongst seven lampstands which represent the seven Churches who were intended to read and apply this prophecy, and then He takes two chapters (or nearly one tenth) of the book to write specific letters to these Churches regarding their individual and specific situations.

Six of the seven Churches to whom Jesus gives the prophecy of the end times are in dire situations.  Six of the seven churches have missed the proverbial boat when it comes to the faith.  Six of the seven churches are in danger of proving themselves to not even be believers – to have their lampstand removed – to not enter into eternal rest with Jesus.  Their six sins are unique, and yet similar at the core:  unbelief.

  1.  Ephesus – This church has persevered and toiled hard by performing good deed, but they are doing these good deeds without love for Jesus, they have “left their first love”.  The are morally upstanding but have no passion or love.
  2. Smyrna – This church has been faithful but yet is about about to enter tribulation and some will be thrown into jail.  Jesus warns them to hold fast or else they will perish.
  3. Pergamum – This church was tolerating the false teaching of “cheap grace” – it does not matter what you do because Jesus already forgave it.  In essence they were allowing sin and thus abusing the forgiveness and ransom that Jesus offers.
  4. Thyatira – They have perseverance and good deeds, and are even growing in them, but they have allowed a false prophet to remain and gain a following perpetuating immorality and idolatry.
  5. Sardis – This church has a name that they are alive but they are dead.  They are doing “good deeds” but do not know or honor God.
  6. Laodicea – Their deeds are lukewarm, Jesus says He will spit them out of His mouth.  They do not need God because they are wealthy and self sufficient, they are complacent.

The other Church, the Church at Philadelphia, receives no warning and only praise and encouragement.  Philadelphia knows Jesus, loves Him and is obediently serving and honoring him.  These six temptations and pitfalls are prevalent today.  Many churches in the United States are like Laodicea in that they are so wealthy and comfortable that Church is just an event or “good thing” to do on the weekend, to help us feel more comfortable about the afterlife.  Very few of us rely on Jesus daily and focus on earning eternal rewards because we are so fat and lazy here.  Many church here in the United States and around the world are much like Sardis and Ephesus in that they have good deeds, but their deeds are of their own strength and not centered in the will and power of Jesus.  These churches look really good to the outside world, but they are actually dead.

Many churches also look like Thyatira and Pergamum – not only tolerating but following false teachers.  False teachers do not infiltrate the church by preaching some crazy doctrine.  They start out sounding solid and Biblical and then slowly drift away from the Truth.  They twist the truth just enough to take Jesus out of the equation, and yet still remain convincing.  Most tolerated and followed false prophets teach half truths or promise blessings that Jesus simply does not promise, but yet they enchant the follower with their charisma and hope that people are blinded.  Turning a boat by one degree at first seems like no variation, but when it travels the length of the Atlantic, it ends up no where near its intended course.  So it is with false prophets.  And Jesus says that following such a one will lead to damnation.

Lastly, there are churches in the world today like Smyrna, who have a faith but run the risk of apostasy in the face of persecution and tribulation.  We know that Jesus does forgive those who fail in a moment of weakness like Peter, but the whole teaching of the Scripture is that those who persevere until the end are those who will be saved.  Jesus suffered greatly, and it is promised that all who love and follow Him will also suffer.  We will not all experience the same persecution and tribulation, but perseverance in faith through every trial is that which marks true believers.  There are some churches in the world who reject the idea that our faith will result in suffering, and there are many who would believe Jesus as long as it requires nothing from them, and thus suffering turns them away from their faith – like the seed sown on the rocky ground.

This admonition of Jesus should be a sobering one for us today.  There are churches on every street corner, even in cities that are considered “less churched” in the United States.  But Jesus, who sees all and knows all, and who will be the judge over everyone at the end, has pronounced condemnation over six of the seven churches.  These are not good statistics, folks.

What does that mean for us?  What is our take away?  Firstly, we need to examine closely the sins that Jesus says will lead a church away from Him and from salvation, and we need to check ourselves on all of those fronts.  Do you know and love Jesus?  Do you obey Him and preform good deeds as an overflowing of that love?  Are you persevering through trials and persecutions?  Are you faithful to the Scripture and not entertaining false teachers?  And are you relying on Jesus and storing up for yourself treasures in Heaven instead of here on Earth?  If so, then you are living a life like the Church at Philadelphia.  If you are unsure, or if you see any of these tendencies in your life, examine the commanded repentance in each situation instructed by Jesus.  There is still hope.  So long as you can repent, there is hope.

Let us test the Spirits, let us examine our hearts, and let us be ever diligent over our salvation and our souls, so that we do not find ourselves amongst those who thought they knew Jesus but never did.  It is not risking eternity for a moment of comfort or pleasure here.  Jesus is faithful and will grant salvation to all who call upon His name!

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

– Phil 2.12-13

Keep on keeping on.

keep on

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:  ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 3.7-13

In His address to the seven churches in His revelation to John, there is only one church which Jesus does not chastise and warn of coming judgment – and that is the Church at Philadelphia.  Jesus does not have something “against” them.  He still identifies Himself, and it is still relevant to the exhortation He makes, as in His message to the first five churches.  Jesus is self-declared as “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.”  We know that Jesus is Holy: He is God, He never sinned, and He is set aside with a special role and purpose as Savior.  He is also true:  He created everything, He wrote the moral law, He defines truth and gave us truth by which we can be saved.  He also has the key of David:  this is a bit more obscure, a reference from Isaiah:

“Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder,
When he opens no one will shut,
When he shuts no one will open.”

– Is 22.22

A key, throughout Scripture, represents authority.  We see it in reference to Hades, Hell, and death and also the house of David.  David was the second and arguably the greatest king of Israel, and thus for one to have the key to David’s house would be the key to David’s domain:  Jerusalem and Israel.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the ruler over the New Jerusalem and the Earth.  He is sovereign, and thus what He opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open.  This is important because we must understand Jesus as the one who controls and guards entrance into eternity – either into eternal rest in the presence of Jesus on the New Earth, or in Hell.

But the Church at Philadelphia has an open door in front of them leading to eternal rest, and Jesus has opened it.  No one can close it.  Why?  Why is Philadelphia set to meet Jesus and the others are not?  Because they have kept Jesus’ word and they have not denied His name.  There are many who claim to follow Jesus, but truly do not.  They have either deceived themselves or they are deceiving others intentionally, and Jesus calls them of the “synagogue of Satan”.  Jesus will humble them before true believers.  He also promises the church to keep them from the hour of testing.  This is a tricky promise, as some have interpreted it to mean that the Church will be kept from the final tribulation.  In light of the full teaching of the New Testament, however, I believe it to mean the hour of judgment.  We will go through two judgments as believers, and the first is the separation of the sheep and goats – the believers and non believers.  At that moment, those who did not repent of their sins and turn to Jesus for salvation will be cast into Hell.

Regardless of your interpretation of that Scripture, the point is simple and true that Jesus will save us.  We know that our deeds will be judged and we will be rewarded according to what we have done while on the Earth, and ultimately Jesus has opened a door into eternity for those who trust Him and obey Him, and He will protect us until we enter through that door.

Jesus them promises to come quickly and exhorts the Church to hold fast to their beliefs and their disciplines.  He paints a beautiful picture of the reward awaiting them, provided they continue in the faith:  they will be forever in the presence of God, they will be branded as His, and rewarded with life in the New Jerusalem.  Why does Jesus put in that small caveat?  Reward and consequence greatly affects everyone’s behavior.  If we had no judicial system and no police, people would be much more quick to do those things that we have forbidden by the law.  Our motivation should not only be the consequence, but we must also be aware of the consequence as we go about our decision making.

This is the Church we should seek to emulate.  It is balanced, they know and love Jesus and they apply that knowledge and love of Him into their daily lives by obedience to Him.  They are functioning well as a Church and they are standing up against the false prophets who would infiltrate them and lead others astray.  And they are fighting the good fight of faith which Jesus promises to reward.  Jesus Himself has no critique.  Let us seek to obey to the point that Jesus has no critique other than, “keep on what you are doing!”

Is there a false prophet in your church?

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Yesterday my husband and I were discussing the various ways that a demon might act in order to lead people astray.  We see in Scripture that there are demons who cause people to act irrationally and cause others to be mute, suffer from seizures, or roam around without cause.  We also see that there are demons who enable people to see supernaturally and thus work as diviners and fortune tellers.  I think, however, that one of Satan’s greatest tactics in hurting the Church and leading people astray is through false prophets and religious teaching that is so close but just not the complete Gospel:  assuring someone of a false salvation so that they never encounter Jesus is the greatest deception.

The fourth Church that Jesus addressed in His revelation to John was the Church at Thyatira.  In this warning, Jesus defined Himself as the one “who has eyes like a flame of fire” and “feet like burnished bronze”.  Jesus not only sees everything, but He is jealous for His glory and will ultimately and eternally cast into judgment (the lake of fire) anyone who does not repent of their sins and come to Him for salvation.  His feet are burnished bronze:  they will trample all of His enemies.  This self-description explains the wickedness that has infiltrated the Church:

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:  ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.  Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.  And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.  But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you.  Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.  He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONSAND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 2.18-29

The Church at Thyatira had excelled in acts of service.  They met Jesus, they were transformed by His gospel, and they were growing in faith, love and persevering through life’s trials.  And they were continually adding to their faith by greater deeds of service.  In their determination to serve and in their hearts of love they chose, however, to tolerate a false prophet and not remove her from their midst.  Church discipline and inter-personal accountability is extremely difficult and many who have the Spiritual gift of service and compassion struggle with the confrontation that is required to remove someone who is walking in sin or teaching a false truth.  This is exactly what we see happening at Thyatira.

Jesus had no more patience for this false prophet.  He says that He has given her time to repent – whenever we encounter someone in sin, we should be patient with them as we attempt to hold them accountable – but there will come a point when a person either chooses obedience or chooses sin.  And once that decision is made, Jesus promises to destroy such a one.  This false prophet had led many in the Church to immorality and to idol worship.  While this might mean actually participating in worship of a foreign god or creating images of Jesus and offering sinful sacrifices to it, they had been led astray.  Jesus promises to destroy her while she is alive and all of those whom she has led astray will suffer severe tribulation with her.

Jesus then says that others will see the judgment that has come upon this church and know that He sees the hearts and minds of people and judged accordingly:  rendering to each one according to his deeds.  They will be an example.

Jesus then proclaims to the rest, who have not bought into this false teaching, to keep on keeping on.  He praises their perseverance and conviction and promises that if they continue until the end, they will be placed in a position of authority and saved on the day of judgment.  Romans 9 teaches us that God has created some people as “vessels of wrath”, who were created for destruction.  He uses the imagery of a potter creating some beautiful pots for honor and some worthless pots for destruction (picture a chamber pot), and the imagery is continued in this prophecy given to Thyatira,

“To him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces.”

Those who persevere will be welcomed into eternal rest, will rule (over the angels, Paul teaches us, 1 Cor 6.3), and will watch as God destroys and sends into an eternity separated from Him in Hell.

False prophets are wicked and have already infiltrated the Church, John says (1 John 4.1).  That is why we must be a wise as serpents but as innocent as doves (Matt 10.16).  We must hear teaching and immediately evaluate it against Scripture and test it to see if it is from God (Acts 17.11, 1 John 4.1).  We must intentionally protect our churches, our families and our own hearts from false prophets who would lead us astray and into destruction by God’s righteous judgment.  We should never be a passive listener.  When you go to church, when you listen to podcasts, when you read devotional material, test it.  No one is infallible and no one is guaranteed to always teach the truth.  That is why we have the Holy Spirit residing in us to help us discern sin and righteousness (John 16.8).

We must be on guard because the devil is prowling around looking for those whom he can devour (1 Peter 5.8).  He is actively against us, and he has sent out false prophets who will entice us and lead us astray with the smallest untruth which can lead to our destruction.  Stand firm in the faith.  Know the Word and know God, and rest in His perfect Truth.

Faithful Unto Death

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The second church Jesus addressed in the letters of Revelation was the church in Smyrna.  While at first the admonition does not sound as harsh as the condemnation of the Church at Ephesus, Jesus does give a qualifying stipulation to the Church at Smyrna regarding their admission into Heaven, which is quite sobering:

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:  I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death’.”

– Rev 2.8-11

The Church at Smyrna was (is) facing severe persecution by which some will be cast into prison.  Jesus, because of their fate, defines Himself as “the first and the last, who was dead and has come to life” (v 8).  He does this to remind them of the fact that their salvation rests in the fact that Jesus walked the path which they are destined to walk.  He, in fact, walked a more difficult road of tribulation and death.  And in all of this He is sovereign, He is the first and the last – He is in control of all things.  Jesus is aware of the false prophets in their midst, just like He was over the Pharisees, and He knows that they have been faithful in the midst of the false teaching.

Jesus’ admonition, based on His sovereignty and His understanding of having walked through what they are facing, is to not fear and persevere until the end.  The New Testament teaches us a doctrine of salvation known as “the Perseverance of the Saints”, which essentially states that everyone who has been saved will persevere until the end, and unless one perseveres until the end, he has not been saved.

Jesus taught this plainly,

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

– Matt 24.13

James echos Jesus:

“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

– James 1.12

Paul also taught this truth:

“If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us…”

– 2 Tim 2.13

And the author of Hebrews:

“For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end…”

– Heb 3.14

We also see clearly that some will infiltrate the Church, utilized by the devil to create discord and problems, but they are false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing.  We will ultimately know these by the fact that they do not continue with the faith or they will stray so far from the Truth that they will become evident:

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

– 1 John 2.19

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

– Matt 7.15-20

This is an extremely difficult doctrine to grasp.  Some people, throughout the generations since Jesus’ ascension have suffered to the point of death for the sake of their faith, and some have had little to no persecution.  The early church suffered greatly under some of the Roman Caesars, and the church actually split over this doctrine.  Some people gave in under the persecution, and denied Jesus verbally.  Some people avoided taking a stand and hid.  While others claimed Jesus and suffered greatly.  Some of those who never denied Jesus and survived considered those who did deny or who avoided taking a stand as false believers and desired to excommunicate them from the Church.

We see the provision made for Peter, who denied Jesus three times and was restored, and thus need to be able to test the fruit of those who might falter in a moment of weakness.  But we also see the clear teaching that there are many who will be proven to be false prophets and false believers, and we need to be able to discern them when possible.

Thankfully, God looks on the hearts of men and He alone has the final judgment over the sincerity or validity of one’s faith.  We also know that it is God who gives us faith and God who is working out our salvation in our lives:

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

“…if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.”

– 2 Tim 2.13

But let us take the admonition of Jesus seriously.  He commanded us to be faithful until death, and if we do so we will receive the crown of life!  We will be given eternity in His presence.  We may suffer persecution, we may be put in jail.  We may have to make a bold claim of faith in the face of an enemy of Christ, and if we do so, we will follow in the footsteps of Jesus and immediately be with Him in eternity.