Category Archives: Christian Living

Friday’s Featured Sermon: “The Path to Prosperity, Part 1”

2 Corinthians 9:6–11

Code: B171117

God’s favor and blessing is not for sale. If there’s one thing our recent series on indulgences has made clear, it is that simple point.

Yet we now live in a day where Johann Tetzel has been emulated and duplicated by prosperity preachers. While Tetzel sold bogus promises about the afterlife, the prosperity gurus of today sell bogus promises about our bank accounts. The prosperity they sell is a lifestyle of affluence and ease in return for giving generously to their “ministry.”

So many people have now been scarred or scared off by the false gospel of health and wealth that they’re understandably wary of anything to do with prosperity. But there is a true biblical form of prosperity.

The critical difference between the prosperity gospel and true Christian prosperity is that the former is man centered, while the latter is God centered. One feeds our lusts and carnal cravings—the other furthers God’s kingdom. One relies on extortion—the other flows out of godly generosity.

In his sermon, “The Path to Prosperity, Part 1,” John MacArthur examines the New Testament pattern of Christian giving and the cycle of divine blessing it produces. The message centers on 2 Corinthians 9:6–11, which opens with the familiar words, “He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).

The paradigm John lays out is in stark contrast to the inherent greed of prosperity theology. As he explains, true biblical prosperity is utterly selfless.

The reason God gives back to you with such overflowing generosity is so you can use it to do more good deeds. It is not to consume it on your own desire. You will be given by God all you need to meet the demands of your generous heart so that you are able to do every good deed you desire to do. God will just replenish your supply. When God finds a giver, a generous giver, He sets an unusual element of His affection on that generous giver and keeps replenishing in abundance because He knows the heart of a giver is going to continue to give. You just get into a constant flow—you give, God replenishes so you have more to give, and your generous heart is allowed to express itself and do every good deed it desires to do.

Second Corinthians 9:6–11 describes a glorious cycle of Christian prosperity—a pattern of joyous giving, being blessed in return, and then using that blessing to continually grow in God-honoring generosity.

Even so, giving cheerfully doesn’t come naturally to many Christians. Spurgeon said, “It takes a great deal of grace to make some men cheerful givers. With some the last part of their nature that ever gets sanctified is their pockets!”

In a world full of spiritual sharks and charlatans it is easy to grow cynical. Our fallen instincts gravitate toward stinginess, born out of a lack of personal contentment. But “The Path to Prosperity, Part 1” rightly points out that discontentedness is usually the result—not the cause—of our own miserliness. In fact, John MacArthur considers the lack of generosity of many believers to be the reason they miss out on so much of God’s generosity in their own lives.

There are God-glorifying purposes in both our generosity toward the Lord and His reciprocal generosity to us. New Testament giving is not to be done “grudgingly or under compulsion” but freely and joyfully according to our own convictions, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

“The Path to Prosperity, Part 1” reminds us that all our possessions ultimately belong to God. Consequently, we should embrace a lifestyle of godly generosity and break free from the crippling cycle of worldly greed. John’s message sheds much-needed light on how we should give as Christians, and how we should examine our hearts as we do so.

Click here to listen to “The Path to Prosperity, Part 1.”

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Why Christians Should Not Get Angry with the Lost

Imagine for a moment that you are responsible for parking at the Super Bowl. The cars are jammed in, bumper-to-bumper, and when the game is over, your job is to clear the parking lot as quickly and as safely as possible.

Your strategy is simple: As soon as the drivers in the first row of a section arrive at their cars, you begin moving them into the exit lane so that others parked behind them can follow.

You notice three drivers, seated in their cars in the front row of one section, so you raise your flag and wave them forward. Nothing happens. So you point to them and wave the flag again, but still nothing happens. Then you notice something strange—these people are in their cars, but they haven’t even started their engines. What in the world are they doing?

By now, the folks in the cars behind are wondering the same thing. Some of them are sounding their horns. They are getting frustrated. Why are these people at the front not moving?

The First Problem

You start getting angry yourself. It’s your job to clear the parking lot, and these guys are holding you and everyone else back. So you walk over to the cars. That takes time and leads to even more blaring of horns. Some people are rolling down their windows and shouting abuse at the drivers on the front row.

You get to the first car, and bang on the windshield: “Get moving!” The driver rolls down the window. “I don’t know what happened,” he says, “but I can’t see. I got in the car, and everything went dark. I can’t drive— I’m blind!”

The Second Problem

You go quickly to the next car, and bang on the windshield: The second driver tries to roll down his window, but he has great difficulty. You look at his wrists, and you see that he is in handcuffs. “I don’t know how this happened,” he says, “but when I got in the car, someone was hiding in the back seat. He slapped these handcuffs on me and then took off. I can’t drive— I’m bound!”

By now, the folks in the cars behind are getting ready to riot: Horns are blaring, and people ten rows back are standing on pick-up trucks, waving their fists, and hurling abuse.

The Third Problem

You move to the third car, and bang on the window. “Sir, these people have a problem. They can’t move their vehicles. I need you to move your car now!” There is no response, and when you look more closely, you see that the driver in the third car is slumped over the wheel. He is dead.

Now picture the scene: Crowds of people are shouting abuse, blaring their horns, and bellowing what they will do to the drivers in the front row, if they don’t get moving.

Everyone is angry, but you have compassion. Why? Because you understand the problem: One man is blind, another is bound, and a third is dead.

Understanding the Human Condition

There is a kind of Christianity that is angry with the sinful world and rails against the evils of our time. It is angry because it does not grasp the human condition: By nature, we are blind, bound, and dead. We cannot see the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). We do not have the power to stop sinning (John 8:34), and we will not come to Christ and follow him (John 5:40).

Blaring the horns of condemnation may give vent to Christian frustrations, but it does nothing to solve the human problem. People who are blind, bound, and dead need a Savior who is able to open their eyes to the truth, set them free from the powers that bind them, and raise them up in the power of a new life—and this is precisely what God offers to all of us in Jesus Christ.

Our mission is to bring the light, liberty, and life of the gospel to people who are blind, bound, and dead. When we grasp the extent of the human problem, we will exercise this ministry with compassion.

[This article is adapted from Pastor Colin’s November 2017 column in Mature Living Magazine.] [Photo Credit: Unsplash]


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God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle

“It’s all too much,” I cried into my coffee. “I can’t do it. I’m not enough.”

Sitting in that quiet coffee shop, reality hit with force.

Every day is filled with one reminder after another that I am not sufficient. I am not enough for my small group girls; I am not enough for my best friend; I am not enough for my parents; I am not enough for counseling others; I am not enough to teach the Word of God; I am not enough for the church; I am not enough to write helpfully; I am not enough to consider marriage or parenting or anything else God calls me to.

I am not enough.

Do you feel it too?

Do you feel strained by the seemingly endless litany of tasks before you, the weight of burdens in community and ministry, and the demand to do and be it all without cracking under pressure?

During those times I’ve heard well-meaning people say, “Yeah, what you’re going through is hard, but God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

The problem with that and Mother Theresa’s famous quote—“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much”—is that it’s not Scriptural.

And anything meant to be a comfort becomes a confine when it isn’t based on Scripture.

What if Scripture actually says God intentionally gives us more than we can handle?

Too Much For Us to Handle

Listen to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9a:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. (emphasis mine)

Does that sound like God gave Paul something he could handle? No—he was so utterly burdened beyond his strength that he despaired of life itself. Everything was so weighty and burdensome it felt like death.

We can relate, can’t we?

Jesus brings to light our weaknesses so his sufficiency shines like the satisfying treasure it is.
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The burdens seem too great. The needs too many. The hurts too deep. The responsibilities too endless. The journey too painful. The heartache too heavy.

Our weakness, limitations, and frailties glare at us with paralyzing precision. And Paul says that’s the point.

But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:9b)

God the Father, committed to purifying us by fire, turns up the heat in our lives and gives us more than we can handle so we look outside ourselves for the answer. The circumstances that burden us beyond our own strength are designed to expose the futility of self-reliance and drive us to depend on the Lord.

He places us in situations where he is our only hope so we join with Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:16 and ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?” The answer? Only God’s grace through Jesus (12:9).

Human Insufficiency

The entire Bible proves this point. Scripture is filled with situation after situation of people unable to handle what God, in his mercy, allowed them to experience.

  • Noah built an ark for a catastrophic flood, though they had never seen rain.
  • Abraham heard God’s call into the unknown.
  • Laban cheated Jacob.
  • Joseph’s brothers sold him, and he was imprison
  • Hannah trusted God through her barrenness.
  • Joshua took command of the children of Israel.
  • David ran from Saul and, later, his own son.
  • Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the temple.
  • God commanded the prophets to speak to people who would never listen.
  • God commanded Ezekiel not to cry after his wife died.
  • A virgin birthed the Messiah.
  • A Nazarene carpenter called fishermen and tax collectors to leave everything familiar to follow him.
  • The lame, Jesus commanded to walk, though their legs had never worked.
  • God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh (and shipwrecks, floggings, abuse, imprisonment, and persecution).

That’s barely scratching the surface of Scripture’s record of how God’s servants were ill-equipped to carry the load he gave them.

But let’s zoom in on Jesus and his disciples for a moment. He was constantly placing them in situations with tasks and commands they couldn’t manage to expose their weakness and cause them to run back to him for clarity and help.

Has Jesus changed his mode of operation?

Christ’s Sufficient Strength

No, he continues to work the same way in us, bringing to light our weaknesses so his sufficiency shines like the satisfying treasure it is.

When we’re crying into our coffee and feeling burdened beyond our strength, we recognize we need a Savior, from sin and from all the human weaknesses that accompany it. That’s when we feel what’s true all the time: We are helpless on our own. We need a strength beyond our own to rescue us. If we were enough, there would be no reason for Jesus.

That’s what I need to hear when life feels so heavy I’m convinced I will break apart at the seams. I don’t need someone offering a warm platitude to help my strength grow. I need someone reminding me this debilitating weakness is intentionally purposed to lead my weak soul to the One who raised the dead.

Debilitating weakness is intentionally purposed to lead my weak soul to the One who raised the dead.
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The empty grave of Jesus proves his sufficiency to bear our burdens and carry our sorrows. We must take our hearts there, gluing our eyes to the gospel and baking our minds in the truth of our sin-defeating Hero who alone is equipped to handle all he gives us. We command our eyes to behold the resurrected King, knowing that, while our circumstances may never be resurrected, he is working to resurrect us through them.

His scars prove he can handle anything—he endured the suffering of the cross for our sin. His wounds whisper safety for us—for with his wounds we are healed. His death gives life. His victory brings deliverance.

He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:10)

So, in the face of overwhelming inadequacy, we set our hope on the One who gives us more than we can handle. We look to the One who handled it all, who has declared in his all-sufficient strength, “It is finished.”


The post God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

The Fury of the Prince of Peace

Code: B171113

There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

The Catholic Church was not pioneering a new heresy with the sale of indulgences. Marketing God’s grace and favor is an ancient lie. Organized religious corruption and extortion go all the way back to Christ’s earthly ministry. In that sense, the Pharisees are the spiritual forebears of the religious racketeers we’ve discussed in this series.

First—century Judaism drifted far from God’s design. The sacrificial system, in particular, was perverted into a money-making scheme for the religious elite. By the time of Christ’s incarnation, the outer courts of the Jewish Temple had been transformed into a marketplace of corrupt commerce.

The Temple grounds were capable of accommodating thousands of worshipers. The whole complex comprised several courts layered within each other, with the Holy of Holies at the center. The outer court was known as the Court of the Gentiles, the nearest place a Gentile could be to God’s holy presence.

By the first century, the Court of the Gentiles had become a place of odious corruption. Unscrupulous money changers had set up shop there to take advantage of currency exchanges with any foreign worshipers who needed to pay the annual Temple tax (cf. Matthew 17:24). Since the Temple tax could only be paid using Jewish coinage, the money changers would cheat those who’d traveled from other countries with severely lopsided currency conversions.

Likewise, animals brought to the Temple for sacrifice were regularly deemed unsuitable by the Jewish priests. The priests would point out some minor defect in the ox, lamb, or dove to be presented—forcing the man who had brought the sacrifice to purchase one of their “approved” animals at a grossly inflated price. The religious mafia in the outer courts were trafficking God’s favor and forgiveness, and profiting handsomely from their deceit.

Nothing Christ encountered aroused His indignation more than the actions of those corrupt religious leaders. John MacArthur describes the scene.

The sound of praise and prayers had been replaced by the bawling of oxen, the bleating of sheep, the cooing of doves, and the loud haggling of merchants and their customers. [Jesus was] filled with holy anger at the crass desecration of His Father’s house. [1]

We can easily forget that our Lord, who went to the cross “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7), also delivered ferocious and physical displays of His righteous indignation. On two occasions (John 2:13–16Mark 11:15–17), Scripture records His response to the obscene commerce going on in the Temple. He abruptly brought a halt to their corrupt business, overthrowing their tables and driving them out with a whip. John 2:16 captures His condemnation for their wicked abuses: “Do not make My Father’s house a house of trade.”

Scripture explains that our Lord was consumed with zeal for His Father’s house (John 2:17). In the same way, Luther’s zeal for God was manifested in his red-hot indignation towards the pope.

But what about us? Do we have similar zeal for the purity of God’s truth? Or do we overlook blasphemous abuses for the sake of religious diplomacy? Have the protocols of twenty-first century civility quenched our passion for the supremacy and authority of God’s Word?

Today, there is no shortage of Christian leaders who abdicate their role as gatekeepers for the church, preferring an open-borders policy that invites spiritual terrorists of every stripe. They argue that “it’s not my job to judge,” forgetting that shepherds are supposed to protect the sheep from the wolves. They essentially ignore the biblical exhortations to warn God’s flock of danger, as if that responsibility falls outside their jurisdiction.

But what we learn from the Lord and from Luther is that ignorance is not an option when faced with those who extort and abuse God’s people. We cannot watch silently. We cannot respond passively. We cannot speak with ambiguity.

Like God’s great ambassadors that have gone before us, we must boldly proclaim His revealed truth—fervently resolving to “exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). We must “not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). In the words of Paul, we must “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17, KJV).

Christ’s ministry shows us that righteous indignation is appropriate when it comes to the abuse of His Word and His people. We ought to have the same outrage for every modern peddler of indulgences. We must have no patience for people who attempt to put a price tag on God’s blessing. And we must learn to channel that righteous hostility in a way that protects God’s people, disarms the enemy, and honors the Lord.

Next time, we’ll conclude this series by considering what that response should look like today.


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Friday’s Featured Sermon: “Handling Treasure, Part 1”

1 Timothy 6:17–19

Code: B171110

“How you handle your riches . . . in many ways marks the character and quality of your Christian faith.” That’s how John MacArthur describes the importance of Christian stewardship in his sermon “Handling Treasure, Part 1.”

Our attitude toward money should stand in sharp contrast to the insatiable lust exhibited by the false teachers and charlatans who now dominate Christian television. But a godly approach to money isn’t demonstrated through taking a vow of poverty, joining a commune, or embracing a monastic lifestyle. We need to steward our wealth, not shun it.

In “Handling Treasure, Part 1,” John lays out a biblical worldview concerning finances and how we should handle them. The message centers on 1 Timothy 6:17–19:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

That’s a passage easily skipped over by many middle class Westerners. After all, it sounds like an admonition to people who are materially rich—those who live at the higher reaches of our socioeconomic strata. But John MacArthur points out that is simply not the case. He reveals parameters for defining wealth that fly in the face of our modern, Westernized perceptions.

All of us are rich in the sense that we have discretionary dollars. If we choose to spend them on how we eat rather than that we eat, or on how we dress rather than that we’re clothed, or on how we live rather than that we live in a place that’s warm and provides shelter for us, then that is how we have chosen to use our discretionary dollar. . . . I am not starving, barely clothed, unsheltered, and crying to God for tomorrow’s provision. I’m not, in that sense, a poor person. I have to make decisions about my money. I have to decide what to do with it. And that happens every day and that makes me rich. I have more than I need.

Clearly then, Paul’s exhortation in 1 Timothy 6:17–19 is broadly applicable today. We are the people Paul exhorts to be “generous,” “rich in good works,” and “storing up” eternal treasure. We need to carefully contemplate Paul’s instructions to “those who are rich in this present world.”

John’s message brings the vital importance of Christian stewardship into clear focus. He expounds Paul’s instructions, revealing what it looks like to practice wise generosity and perform good works that glorify God. John points us to the true eternal riches awaiting those who wisely steward their temporal resources. And he explores the profound biblical connection between our handling of finances and our worship of God.

What we do with our money is not a peripheral issue. In fact, our financial stewardship provides a clear indicator of the state of our relationship with Christ. “Handling Treasure, Part 1” reveals that connection in a powerful and convicting way.

Click here to listen to “Handling Treasure, Part 1.”

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Beware These Seven Counterfeit Gospels

A friend of mine worked in a bank overseas for about a year, handling large amounts of money. During training, she studied various bills and learned their details, so she could easily discern counterfeits if they came along.

She studied the real thing so she could identify distortions.

The same goes for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to know the true gospel so we can identify counterfeit “gospels” and grasp how the truth applies to our lives.

But where do we start?

What Is the True Gospel?

Romans 5 answers three questions that we can use as a framework to help us grasp the true gospel:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:1-2, 8-9)

Saved from what? The wrath of God.

There is no gospel apart from the wrath of God and his righteous judgment against sinners (v. 9). This is an uncomfortable reality, but one we must hold to because ignoring or belittling sin does not mean sin goes away. Jesus is the standard—each one of us has fallen short and sinned against him.

Saved by whom? Jesus Christ.

Christians are saved from the wrath of God by the righteous blood of Jesus, the spotless sacrificial Lamb who absorbed the wrath on our behalf (v. 8). Only Jesus has the power to save desperate, dead sinners from God’s wrath by giving them eternal life in his Name, accomplishing what we never could.

Saved how? By grace through faith.

True faith says, “I bring nothing to the table. I come empty-handed, but Christ gladly gives himself to me.” For, faith is trusting that when I was dead in sin, Jesus did everything to purchase eternal life for me by his death on the cross and his resurrection to new life. And faith is trusting that Jesus did this apart from anything I have done.

Seven Counterfeit Gospels

As we seek to believe and proclaim the true gospel, we should be aware of these seven counterfeit gospels about sin, Jesus, and faith:

1. The Good-People Gospel

This one says, “We’re all basically good people. We make mistakes – nobody’s perfect – but we’re good people at heart.”

This claim is wrong and dangerous. Ignoring sin does not make it disappear. Recognizing sin means there is Someone to whom we will be held responsible. Even though our pride doesn’t roll with that idea, sin is real, and it’s a power we need rescuing from. No one is good, not one (see Psalm 14:3).

2. The Self-Esteem Gospel

This distortion claims, “Believe in yourself! You might have some struggles and issues, but you’re resilient. There’s a Savior who will give all you need to solve your problems.”

This dangerous false gospel masquerades sin as “insecurity” or “negative self-image,” rather than calling it what it is. Remember, belittling sin does not make it go away. When we belittle sin, we lose the gospel. For Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

3. The Expressive-Individualism Gospel

This one claims that Christianity is all about “being true to yourself,” “following your heart,” and “living authentically.”

But this idea runs counter to everything the gospel says. We’re sinners who can’t trust our hearts because they’re deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Apart from Christ, we’re slaves to sin, not free in ourselves (Romans 6:17). And our sin darkens our minds and blinds us to God’s reality so we’re unable to discover what’s authentic and true (2 Corinthians 4:4).

4. The Optional-Jesus Gospel

This belief says, “Jesus is a way, not the way. A person can find their way to God through a number of different spiritual experiences.”

To say that Jesus is optional not only goes against the Bible’s teaching about who Jesus is (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), but it thwarts the gospel. For if Jesus is not really the holy, righteous Son of God, who came to bear sin, absorb God’s wrath, and make peace with God through reconciliation so I wouldn’t be condemned forever, there is no good news to believe.

You can intellectually assent to the gospel—you can know it—without ever grasping it.
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Think about this: If Jesus is only “a way” to God, he’s either a lunatic or a liar for the divine claims he made, and his sacrifice on the cross was for nothing. It was a waste of a life. And if this is true, then “our faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

5. The Prosperity Gospel

This distorted view of Jesus says that he guarantees his followers a happy, healthy life with no troubles.

But the truth is this: Jesus suffered. Those who believe in him will suffer too. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

We must guard against the belief that Jesus is here to cozy up our lives and make everything easy for us. If we’re deceived into believing this, we won’t follow Jesus for long, for we will be disappointed, bitter, even hardened to God when things don’t go our way. The truth is, we follow a Suffering Savior in a fallen world affected by sin. Our Jesus did not avoid suffering, but entered into it to bring us salvation.

6. The Faith-And Gospel

This distortion claims that “faith and” something else is sufficient to save me: Faith andmy good works; faith and enough self-loathing; faith and a right understanding of God.

It’s hard to believe that God would give salvation as a free gift without requiring that we earn it. Because our sin-nature screams for independence and control, we want to have something to do with our salvation. But we cannot add one thing to the work and person of Jesus Christ. “It is finished” (John 19:30); death is defeated; evil is overcome.

7. The Faith-So Gospel

This opposite end of the spectrum is what theologians call “cheap grace,” which says, “Jesus is my righteousness and perfection, so I can live however I want because in the end, I’m saved!”

Yes, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), but we are set free from sin’s power to live for Christ, not to remain in our sin and live any way we want. To take wrong advantage of God’s grace and forgiveness that “sin may abound” belittles what Christ did and cheapens his free gift of grace. Faith does not give us the freedom to stayin sin; it frees us from sin so our lives increasingly point to Jesus.

Grasping the Gospel

Friends, though we need to know the truth of the gospel from its counterfeits, we must know that the gospel is about the person of Jesus Christ and his grasp on us. You can intellectually assent to the gospel—you can “know it”—without ever grasping it, without ever marveling at what a miracle Christ has accomplished, without it ever transforming your heart.

But Jesus came so you would love him, walk closely with him, worship him, and see him at work in the realest moments and seasons of your life.

[An adapted version of this article originally appeared at Revive Our Hearts.] [Photo Credit: Lightstock]


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Is God’s Blessing for Sale Today?

Code: B171108

Are indulgences for sale in your local evangelical church? Think carefully before you answer that question.

It’s certainly easy (and legitimate) to point the finger at charismatic faith healers and prosperity preachers. As we saw last time, their trinket sales and false promises are the obvious modern equivalent of the indulgences Johann Tetzel and the Catholic church peddled in the sixteenth century. But there is another, stealthier indulgence industry thriving today, right under our noses in the evangelical church.

Today many conservative evangelical pastors are reviving and promoting the practice of tithing. They argue that this Old Testament pattern—giving one tenth of your income—is still a requirement for New Testament Christians.

Unlike the crass forms of indulgences we’ve encountered thus far, the modern tithe has an air of biblical credibility. Tithing actually precedes the Mosaic law and first appears in Genesis 14:20. Abraham returned from a victorious battle—rescuing his nephew Lot—and gave Melchizedek, the king of Salem, one tenth of his victory spoils (it’s worth noting that Abraham’s first tithe didn’t come out of his own personal wealth).

A far closer parallel to modern tithing occurred under the Mosaic covenant. It became a requirement for citizens of the nation of Israel to demonstrate faithfulness to the Lord and fund the Levitical priesthood and sacrificial system. “Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 26:30; cf. Deuteronomy 14:22-29).

But do those Old Testament requirements apply to New Testament Christians? Many evangelical pastors today answer emphatically yes. They appeal to the almost supernatural qualities of tithing described in Malachi 3:8–11:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the Lord of hosts.

Modern proponents see a two-fold mystical power in tithing based on that passage: access to God and protection from Satan. The formula is quite simple: Tithing purchases God’s blessing and doubles as Satan’s kryptonite. If you don’t tithe you’re stealing from God (verse 8); if you steal from God He has pronounced a curse on you (verse 9); and if you’re cursed, the devourer—Satan—has free reign over your health, relationships, and finances (verse 11). Conversely, if you do tithe, God will pour out His blessing on you and protect you from Satan’s attacks (verse 10). In many ways, it echoes Tetzel’s ancient sales pitch.

Ronnie Floyd, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, explicitly condemns nontithers as sinful: “When we do not practice giving the first tenth of our income and enter into the sphere of generosity, we are practicing and choosing greed.” Floyd goes on to say that tithing is the “only one way” for churchgoers to avoid the sin of greed: “Giving the first ten percent of their entire income to their local church” because when you tithe “you are getting God involved in your life supernaturally.”

James MacDonald, the founding pastor of the Harvest Bible Chapel church network, expands on that idea. He argues that the failure to tithe causes a blockage in God’s pipeline of blessing:

Some people look at other’s lives and wonder, “Why don’t I have what they have?” and “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers like He answers theirs?” They may speculate on all the horizontal reasons, but I can tell you why. The flow of God’s blessing into their lives has been plugged up by their own stinginess. They are not experiencing the grace of giving.

One of the most important decisions you make as a believer is to give your tithes and offerings to the Lord’s work. . . . God knows what you give. Every time that offering plate comes down the aisle, He sees you take that huge step of faith, cheerfully giving what you can. But His blessing is stopped up if you sit there fearfully, miserly withholding.

To be clear, I wouldn’t consider it automatically wrong for a pastor to encourage you to tithe, or if you decided that ten percent is what you want to regularly give to your local church.

But both Floyd and MacDonald went well beyond that in the above quotes. By making tithing (giving ten percent) mandatory and using their pulpits to strong-arm their congregations, they crossed the line between error and extortion. Telling people that they’re in unrepentant sin by not tithing, or demanding that people tithe under threat of being severed from God’s blessing, is straight out of the Tetzel textbook.

In his book Whose Money Is It Anyway?, John MacArthur explains that tithing was an Old Testament form of taxation that supplied the necessary funds to operate Israel’s theocratic government. He concludes that the principle of Malachi 3 does not apply to believers under the New Covenant.

For years, many conservative, evangelical, and fundamentalist churches . . . have promoted tithing as the basic standard for what their members should place in the offering plate. But such a rigid concept, viewed as a universal and eternal principle for all believers, simply is not taught in Scripture.

The New Covenant principle on giving—the one you and I should live by—is not derived from some mandatory percentage. New Covenant giving flows from the heart and is personally determined. . . . “He who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6–7). [1]Sadly, rigid and unbiblical rules about tithing have become ingrained in the culture of many churches. For many there is simply no turning back from the massive budgets they now operate on. It will be no small feat to break those patterns and free congregations from those legalistic practices.

Those pastors who threaten satanic attacks and separation from God’s favor rightly deserve a place alongside the worst indulgence peddlers throughout church history—including the scribes and Pharisees Christ confronted during His ministry. In fact, our Lord modelled how we ought to respond to that kind of spiritual extortion during His earthly ministry. And we’ll consider that next time.

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Believers Are Not Out On Bail

We are not nervously awaiting a final adjudication. We are not on probation. Our salvation is not provisional. It is not retained nor maintained nor continued by good works. It is “apart from the works of the law.” Give thanks today and seek to grow in sanctity and in consequent love and good works not in order to pass a final test but in union with him who has passed the test for us, who is at work in us.

In the American criminal justice system, for many charges, after one has been arrested and booked (photographed for a “mug shot,” fingerprinted, and paperwork completed) one goes to jail to await a preliminary hearing and after that a trial of the charge. The only way to be released from jail is to “post bond.” That is the process of paying a percentage of a substantial sum of money to the court as a guarantee that the person charged will appear as needed for hearings and especially for the trial.

A person out of jail on bail, who has been charged with a crime, is in a legal limbo. Legall is still innocent but a cloud hangs over his head. He has been charged but he has not been either convicted or cleared. He is waiting for a future adjudication of his case. He is still subject to criminal penalties (e.g., fines) and punishment e.g., prison or even death).

Anyone who has ever been through the crimnal justice system can testify to the anxiety such a state ordinarily creates. The process is typically slow and difficult. As God’s ministers of civil justice (see Rom 13) police officers ordinarily do great work under difficult and frequently dangerous circumstances. As officers of the court prosecutors and defense attorneys are sworn to seek justice and to protect civil liberties but mistakes happen. To become a defendant is no game.

It is useful to have some idea of the rudiments of the justice system in order to appreciate what God’s Word means when it says that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have been “justified.” It means to be declared righteous, to have met the requirements of God’s holy law. Paul has this legal (forensic) context in view when he writes, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (Rom 2:13; ESV). The law must be satisfied. It is a covenant of works. It says, “do this and live” (Luke 10:28) or “the day you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17).

Paul says, however, that none of us has met or can meet that test (Rom 3:20). The only way to be declared righteous is by God’s free imputation (reckoning, crediting) to us of the perfect performance of another, Jesus the law-keeper (Rom 3:24). The only way to come into possession of that staus is through faith (trusting, resting in, receiving) in Christ as the only Savior. This is why we speak of justification and salvation from sin and judgment as coming by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide). This is why Paul says that believers have been justified “apart from the works of the law” (Rom 3:28). Our performance of the law does not enter into our right standing now or ever.

To make his case Paul appeals to Abraham (Rom 4:3), who was justified by grace alone, through faith alone as a Gentile and as a Jew. Only Jesus has ever been declared righteous on the basis of his personal performance of the law.

Thus, Paul’s announcement of the justification of believers is momentous: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1; ESV). The basis of this once-for-all declaration about us is Christ’s obedience for us, credited to us. The only instrument by which we receive that righteousness is faith.

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Selflessness in a Selfie World

I am dealing with how to be selfless when I feel like someone is invading my space. Annoyances pop up, one after another, making my frustration level run high. Why won’t they go away? Can they not use their own stuff? Sinful thoughts like these fill my mind as I justify them. I earned this; they didn’t. They owe me. My sin escalates: I don’t care if they know Jesus or not. I just want them to go away—forever.

Our attitude defaults to selfishness, even at the beginning of our day. We get mad if someone wakes us up before the alarm jingles, or if our morning time with our Bible and coffee is interrupted. We naturally think of ourselves first—our needs and our wants. It takes effort and, most of all, it takes Christ to overcome our selfishness.

A Selfish World

The world doesn’t help us pursue selflessness. It encourages selfishness and self-idolization. We pose for selfies, edit our images, and self-promote the best parts of our lives. We post selfies to get “likes” and admiration, while the time we spend thinking of ourselves (and refreshing the notifications) grows as a result.

Our selfies shout, “Look at me! Look at what I’m doing! Look at what I have!” This world feeds our innate ability to be selfish. We improve our looks. We do more document-worthy stuff. We acquire more things to “snap” and “share”. Tony Reinke interviewed an Instagram protégée in his new book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You:

“I buy a lot of things to maintain my image,” she said. “I pay for meals out…beautiful printed dresses nearly once a week, fresh flowers religiously once a week, etc…I spend money to make my life look a certain way.” (67)

We may not be famous on Instagram, but perhaps we think of ourselves too much. Scrolling through or actively posting to social media adds to such overthinking. The less we guard ourselves in this world of selfies, the more we turn the lenses of our minds onto ourselves.

We must turn the selfie lens away from our faces, onto others, and onto Christ.
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We think:

I want to look like her. So, we spend our resources selfishly to improve ourselves.

I want to do things like him. So, we spend our time selfishly to gain fulfillment through activities.

I want to have what they have. So, we spend our money selfishly to possess similar things.

A Selfless Call

The more we think of ourselves, the less we think of others, and the more self-centered we become. Jesus tells us that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 12:31). Again, our default affection is for ourselves. We love ourselves and care for our bodies by eating and sleeping. We rarely ignore our own needs. Jesus says to think of our neighbors with the same affection. We must care for them, give to them, and seek to meet their needs.

Paul, through the authority given to him by God, explains Jesus’ command further. Not only do we need to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we also need to value them more than ourselves. He says this in Philippians 2:3-4:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others.

A Selfless Savior

How do we get past such self-centered thinking and lifestyles as we see (or post) selfie after selfie on our screens each day? The ongoing self-glorification on social media may not have directly caused you to stumble into the sin of selfishness today. But, the social acceptability of this self-worship feeds our tendency to make light of such sin in our world today. When we feed our minds constantly with thoughts of ourselves, we easily disregard others, and justify our own sin. Paul continues in Philippians 2 with this:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (v.5-8)

To love our neighbors and think of them above ourselves as the Lord commands us to in Philippians 2:3-4, we must have the mind of Christ—a humble mind. The way to fight the sin of selfishness is to ask God to renew our minds so that they become like Christ’s. In perfect selflessness, he regarded the greatest need of every human—forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God—and the will of his Father as more important than his own glory, to the point of laying down his life for us at the cross.

Turn Your Camera Around

We must turn the selfie lens away from our faces—away from our needs and wants—onto others, and onto Christ. We must pray that he will humble us enough to care for our neighbors above ourselves.

When our point of fixation changes, we will start using our resources differently by inviting others into our homes, giving more than we receive, helping others succeed, admiring others’ beauty, and doing more activities for the sake of lost souls, not just lost “likes”. Humility will never be our default attitude on our own, but it is Christ’s. Let us keep running boldly to his throne of grace in our time of need and ask for help (Hebrews 4:16). We need help from the only one who is perfectly selfless, and he promises to give it.


The post Selflessness in a Selfie World appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

Barna Update | How Faith Influences Military Service

As Americans prepare to honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces on Veterans Day (November 11), new Barna data explores the presence of faith in the military. The study, in partnership with American Bible Society, reveals a military made up of men and women who think positively of Christians, welcome the Bible’s influence and are shaped by their profession.

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Christians, We Need To Talk About Hollywood

From Berean Research:

Tim Challies addresses the Hollywood crisis. He reminds us that there is a lack of godly character in the entertainment industry. In light of the serious allegations, Christians must consider our relationship to Tinseltown, says Challies. “I think we as believers need to think seriously at this juncture about our participation in this world, this world which is proving itself to be absolutely vile, absolutely full of the worst kind of sin and depravity.”  Tim has done a short video and includes a transcript. So you can watch or read — or both!

These have been some dark days for Hollywood. I’m not talking about box office receipts. I’m not talking about Rotten Tomatoes reviews. I’m talking about scandal. A few weeks ago, a scandal erupted in Hollywood. Since then, it’s risen, it’s grown, and it’s threatened to become a full-blown crisis that might disrupt the whole industry there in Hollywood. I think it’s important that we as Christian at a place like this start to think about our relationship to Hollywood. Christians, I think we need to talk about Tinseltown.

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Source: Christians, We Need To Talk About Hollywood

The Spirit of God Provides Assurance of Salvation

Josh Buice of Delivered by Grace examines 1 John. Find out how a person can know if they are a true Christian:

Yesterday I had the opportunity of preaching from 1 John 4:13-21 in our series through the epistle of 1 John.   As we’ve pointed out all through the series, John has a desire for his readers to know some things about God, about themselves, and to have assurance of their salvation.   We have purposely titled the series, “Know” for that reason.

Millions of professing Christians wake up everyday and approach life without concrete assurance of their salvation.  They ask themselves often if their faith is real, if their religion is genuine, and if they have truly pleased God.  However, they continue to fall back into ongoing patterns of sin and seem to have very little if any love for God’s Word and their local church.  How can a person know they are indeed a true Christian?

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Source: The Spirit of God Provides Assurance of Salvation