The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The WHOLE Truth

"And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them" - Matthew 13:4

God wants you to know the WHOLE truth. It seems that there is a great deal of watering down, changing, and editing of the gospel and God’s word occurring in the world and unfortunately, in the church today. The popular reason for altering the gospel is the feeling that it is outdated and needs modernizing, or that its too offensive or too narrow minded, or too intolerant. Some alter the gospel with “good" motives; they want to make the gospel palatable and seeker friendly. From the seeker friendly church we see an evolving emerging church whose stated goal is to provide a culturally sensitive ecumenical experience oriented “gospel.” You can put on a show and attract a large crowd in the church, but that doesn't mean what is happening is spiritual, of the Spirit or is the "Church."

Large crowds don't necessarily mean the Spirit is moving or what is happening is from God. Jesus was followed by a select few and then all deserted Him as He went to he cross. Was Jesus a failure? No! Jesus resurrected and then ascended and then poured out the Spirit upon His followers creating the church. Three thousand were added at the birth of the church (Acts 2:41). After that we see mention that the Lord "added to the church "(Acts 2:47; 5:14; 11:24) and even "multiplied greatly" the disciples (e.g. Acts 6:7; 9:31). But there is another multiplication that we don't see so much of in our day, and that is , "But the word of God grew and multiplied" (Acts 12:24). We see people being coaxed into the church today but often at the expense of God's word not by the increased multiplication of the teaching and preaching of God's word. That should tip us off that something is wrong.

Outside of Pentecost we don't see the "mega" or the BIG of today's "Church" happening in the early church or really historically. What wee see today is really historically unprecedented. That doesn't necessarily mean "BIG" is bad. It simply means its unprecedented and unusual based on what we see in God's word about how the Holy Spirit works. And therefore we should question it and prove it based on God's word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

On one occasion Jesus described the kingdom of heaven saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches" (Matthew 13:31-32). Now its possible that Jesus is alluding to the future "growth" of the kingdom. But note something. When interpreting parables its best to be consistent in what certain things represent. Earlier in this chapter of Matthew Jesus gives the Parable of the Sower. In Mark's account of Jesus giving this parable he is inspired to record Jesus commenting, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?" (Mark 4:13). The Parable of the Sower is a kind of starting point to interpret succeeding parables. And based on the Parable of the Sower I'd like to point out that "the birds" that devour the seed on the surface of the ground are representative of agents of Satan who snatch God's word away (Matthew 13:4 and 19).

The point I'd like for us to consider here is that the Parable of the Mustard seed speaks about abnormal growth. And in the abnormally large mustard tree, if we are consistent in our interpretation, "the birds of the air" just might be agents of Satan too in some way; agents who snatch the seed of God's word ("Seed" = God's word - Mark 4:14). Some BIG churches are teaching God's word, some are not. I think it prudent to assess or prove these churches accordingly.

By stating this I don't mean to paint with a broad brush condemning all "mega" or large size churches. I would however, like to note that this interpretation mentioned above (i.e. that the birds of the air are evil agents of Satan) I heard at a Calvary Chapel Pastor's conference and was taught by Pastor Chuck Smith. The Calvary Chapel movement has some of the largest churches in the world. Thankfully our heritage of ministry is one based solidly on the teaching ministry of God's word. There are many BIG churches around the world outside of Calvary Chapel churches. We look at these BIG churches and assume they are a magnificent work of God. But while BIG may mean better by the world's standards, it isn't always the case from God's perspective. In the Middle Ages there were some mighty BIG church cathedrals built. Yes, they were built really BIG by a "Church" that had become corrupt to the core and was in dire need of a Reformation. Thankfully God sent reformers through whom He worked to save His church. But looking at the church o our day I think we may again need some reforming.

Pastor Chuck Smith has gone home to be with the Lord now, but the church he pastored was in excess of 10,000 at the time. And as a pastor of what we would define as a mega church Pastor Chuck had a good and wise perspective on the church. His teaching is worth mentioning for this study. When Pastor Church taught about the "birds" in a BIG tree, I think he was perhaps giving a warning that "bigger" is not always "better" and something less can be best too. What matters most is a church has Jesus as its foundation based on the revelation of God's word (1 Corinthians 3:11; Acts 2:42). Our job is to teach and live by God's word in the power of the Spirit. The size of each church is something God will settle in His sovereign determination.

You see, the problem is that when our focus is on building a BIG church our focus is on the wrong thing. A lot of people have made and are making a lot of money pitching church growth strategies or "How to make a REALLY BIG church." But church growth strategies too frequently come at the expense of relying on God’s word, God’s truth, and in reality, God’s true gospel. They tend to look beyond God's word and prayer and the Holy Spirt to more human methods of "building" a church. And in so doing some of these churches can really become nothing more than Towers of Babel or human efforts to reach the heavens (Genesis 11).

The only One whose word really matters in all of this is Jesus. He gives us the final word on the Church and the Gospel. What does Jesus have to say about all of this? 

Jesus stated, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). Often times people discard God's word and the gospel because they say, "It doesn't work." Why doesn’t this “gospel” work? Those who alter the gospel would say that it is out of date, archaic, and needs to be modernized. They blame the lack of power in the gospel on being an outmoded message. The cross of Christ and the blood of Jesus are seen s being too coarse. But Jesus and His word are unchanging (Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 13:8). The gospel of God’s word is still powerful (Romans 1:16-17). If that is so, why are people missing out on that power, on that life changing power? The reason there is no freedom from sin is because the "gospel" being presented is "really no gospel at all." What is the cause of such a truth heist? The truth is robbed from the gospel because well intentioned messengers filter the gospel for fear of offending listeners. The consequence of such actions is an inoculation against the true gospel.

"The Great Inoculation"

Medically, inoculation is the injection of a controlled amount of microorganism or toxic material into the body. This is done to allow the immune system of the body to build up a resistance to the alien substance infecting the body. There is another area where inoculation takes place. "The Great Inoculation" is an inoculation in the spiritual realm. It is an inoculation against the gospel and all that God calls holy.

This inoculation takes place whenever God’s word is castrated by spurious paraphrase renditions. This inoculation takes place when the gospel is given in dosages judged to be inoffensive or non-threatening. Gospel inoculation takes place when the gospel is watered down. The premise underlying this practice is that the gospel is too offensive or too likely to "turn off" the recipients if spoken directly. The concern and worry of the Gospel inoculators is that "relationships" need to be established before the gospel is shared.

This brings us to some questions. What comes first, establishing a relationship unassociated to Christ with the hope that in the future Christ can be injected into the relationship? Or, first being associated with Christ which draws people into redemptive relationships? It's a question of honesty. Will we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)?

Charlatans, false teachers, politicians and shady lawyers may feel it is acceptable to bend, and mutilate the truth, but God's ministers certainly should not! If you detect an air of urgency in my words it is because we live in times perilously close to the completion of the scriptural prophecies concerning the last days (2 Timothy 3). Given global unrest, economic instability and uncertainty, ecological disruption and natural disasters, even the common person on the street can see something is going on that we need to take notice of. Then we have in relatively recent times works like the DaVinci Code, and the presentation of Gnostic gospels as alternatives to the true gospel. These and their ilk are evidence of the wave of deception that serves as a one-two punch combination that has many people reeling.

Besides the propaganda and negative reporting in the media, we still have the perennial problems of immorality, abortion, crime, self-indulgence, the Middle East "Peace" etc. And on top of all of this, people are losing faith in the church because it is in the church where much of the deception, abuse, and manipulation is taking place.  It looks at least as though we are in the twilight years of planet earth as we know it. The apostle Paul warned of these last days writing, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

And what of the psychologizing of the church? If gospel counsel from God’s word is avoided by those who would be ministers, what is ultimately communicated is that counsel does not have to be based on the Gospel and God’s word. If scripture is avoided in counsel, then scripture is not seen as foundational or even necessary as a means to healing life problems. Instead counsel can be humanistic or based on another resource. Furthermore, the appearance of lukewarmness is communicated as well as a lack of commitment to Christ and His holy Word. The impression left is, "Maybe Jesus and His Word aren't the 'only way'." The so-called minister of Christ loses their identity and their effectiveness as Christ's ambassador. The image of Christ is lost. Their reason for being becomes vague. And there we have it, the germs of gospel inoculation! Inoculated by a "gospel" that is really no gospel at all.

This issue is nothing new. In the first century Paul wrote the Galatians stating, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7). Paul goes on to warn, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 6:8-9). Those are Paul's inspired, clearly stated and clearly condemning words toward those who would alter or teach a different gospel than the one taught in the New Testament.

You see the problem with the premise that we can water down the initial presentation of the gospel in hopes of maybe later divulging the full gospel is that such a transition often never takes place. What happens is because the truth has been so minimized and the churches filled with “seekers” attracted by palatable sweets, the fear of losing the crowds is so great that they settle for living on the watered down milk toast, wishy washy word and non-gospel. Those introduced to the church with an inoculating gospel become immune to the true gospel.

I would ask those who defend this "gospel" inoculation to consider the following observations.

First, the nature of the gospel is that it is offensive. When the apostle Paul referred to the gospel he often described it by way of the Greek word skandalon. Skandalon is translated "stumbling block" and "offense" (1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11). We get our English word "scandal" from this word. The gospel by nature is scandalous! The apostle referred to Jesus as, "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense [skandalon]" (1 Peter 2:8 NKJV). Because of this, we ought to expect some people to take offense at the gospel, no matter how much we speak the truth in love.

Second, to depend on mere human perspective to gauge the extent to which we share the gospel is sinful. Such an attitude comes perilously close to trying to usurp the throne of God. It betrays a lack of trust in the work of the Holy Spirit. It is God who works on the heart of humans and draws them to Himself (John 6:44; 14; 16). When a person attempts to take over the role of God, the mission is doomed to failure (see Saul for example - 1 Samuel 15). Doomed to failure because the human perspective is limited to the surface of people's reactions. God can plumb the depths of our being. We can view the blank stare of a recipient as either thoughtful agreement with our message or daydreaming disinterest. God is the Knower of the heart (kardiognostes - Acts 1:24; 15:8). He has no such confusion or will He make any such mistake.

Third, to carve up the gospel and present it in an inoffensive way results in modeling an air of non-urgency. The gospel becomes a secondary life source of direction. The recipient is tempted to wonder, "The gospel can't be that important if nobody wants to talk about it." Suppose you are waiting for the train that arrives 6:55 a.m. and someone comes to you at 6:50 a.m. and asks, "Do you think I have time to go grab a bite to eat and do some window-shopping before the train comes in?" You answer in a way that you think will bring comfort and peace, "Sure go ahead, enjoy yourself, you've got plenty of time." How do you think that inquisitor is going to respond when he or she returns half an hour later to find both you and the train are long since gone? Or maybe they get back in time to see you and the train pulling away. How do you think they will feel? How do you think you will feel? It's safe to say no one will be happy. And you will have had exactly the opposite effect that you intended.

The apostle Paul wrote, "Now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2 NKJV). Each day is a gift from God and only He knows each persons allotted amount (Proverbs 27:1). Jesus can return for His Church at any time (Luke 21:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:2). What right has anyone to presume on the time a person has to make a decision to accept Christ? To assume such responsibility is to tread where angels fear to go.

Fourth, the convert of a non-urgent and secondary gospel message would likely be doomed to lukewarmness from the start. The strategy of inoffensiveness plays into the hands of those who seek only an undisturbing amount of Jesus. The result is a generation of those who talk-the-talk but overlook walking-the-walk of Christianity. Jesus warned, ". . . Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:16 NKJV). The first words out of Jesus' mouth in Mark's gospel involved a call to "repent" (Mark 1:15). The Greek word for "repent" is metanoeite which literally means "to have a thorough change of mind." Change is integral to gospel salvation. Without repentance, the good news is out of the gospel.

Fifth, being inoffensive is often justified by those who say, "love does not offend." But "love" is said to "rejoice in the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). A heresy is a half-truth. It's hardly an act of love to expect someone to make a decision of eternal consequence based on half-truth. Jesus wants us to speak the truth in love. That means loving people enough to risk offending them. True love peaks the whole truth. There is self-denial, a cross and following involved in coming to Christ (Luke 9:23). Paul wrote, ". . . I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Galatians 6:17 NKJV). Peter wrote, "It is written, 'Be holy for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:16 NKJV). Jesus said our top priority was to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37 NKJV). God takes a back seat to no one and no thing!

I once heard a youth worker comment on another youth worker's interaction with some youth during a Bible study. Their comment was, "It was a pretty good study, but too much Scripture is a real turnoff." That’s what is being said in many of the seeker friendly and emergent church groups. That's what is being said in many trendy church settings. Maybe this preoccupation with what is and isn't a "turnoff" is the cause of lukewarmness amongst many of the youth in churches today. Maybe people haven't rejected the gospel or the church because maybe they haven't been exposed to the real thing. Young people and all people need to be given a chance to accept or refuse the gospel in its entirety. People ought to be permitted to make an educated decision.

The Apostle Paul was inspired to write to the Ephesians (who would eventually walk away from their first love Jesus - Revelation 2:4), ". . . We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ" (Ephesians 4:14-15 NKJV). Maybe if the Ephesians would have heeded these words they would not have had to later be rebuked by Jesus.  

It is a disservice to "lead" someone to Christ under the mistaken notion that it is a comfortable thing to do and requires no tangible life changes. It is counterproductive and only results in inoculating the recipients against the gospel. Those who have slipped into the inoculative mode need to turn around and trust in God to draw people to Himself. If you call yourself an ambassador of Christ, then represent truthfully The King you claim to serve!

Maybe you've been reading this and wondering "Where do I stand with the Lord and His gospel? Am I saved?" If you are uncertain about where you stand with God then the way to find assurance of your salvation is in God's word. The word of God is clear about the gospel (literally "good news") of salvation. This is what it says:

1.     All people fall short of what God requires to get into heaven and are sinners (Romans 3:21-25). People are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). Everyone has broken God's Law and even just one offense condemns (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10). Jesus is God's standard to get into heaven (John 16:8-11). Jesus said the destiny of the sinner is separation from God (Matthew 25:32), everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 19:20), everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46), and an everlasting sad, lonely, darkness (Matthew 8:12).

2.     God Himself has made provision to reconcile us to Himself in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Only God incarnate could live the required perfectly just life and pay the price for the sins of all people (Isaiah 53:4-6; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11).

3.     God's salvation is a gift to be received on His terms, by faith (Ephesians 2:4-10). Jesus requires us to make a decision about Him. To make no decision is to decide against Him (Matthew 12:30). Indecision is decision. He also requires us to publicly confess our faith in Him (Matthew 10:32-33). God forgives us when we repent (Acts 2:38-39) and trust Him to forgive us on the basis of the work Jesus has done (Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-8). Salvation is free, but it wasn't cheap. It cost Jesus His life. God loves us and knows we can't save ourselves. He has done the work for us. He sent Jesus to die and pay the penalty for sin instead of us (2 Corinthians 5:21). We need only accept it. An acronym for the faith that saves is Forsaking All I Trust Him to forgive me of my sin. Your prayer for forgiveness could be as follows:

Father, I come to You in Jesus' name. I admit I am a sinner and have sinned against You. Right now I am turning from my sin to You in faith. I ask You to please forgive me of my sin. I believe Jesus died on the cross for me; to pay the penalty for my sin. I ask Your Son Jesus to come into my life to be my personal Lord and Savior. I ask You to please fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Help me to be your disciple. In faith I thank You that You have forgiven me. Thank You that I'm now a child of God. Thank You that I'm going to heaven. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

When you pray that prayer from your heart, understand that the Bible states you are born again (John 3:1-21); a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); a child of God (1 John 3:1); you are forgiven (Colossians 2:13).
  1. When you become a Christian you are born again into the Body of Christ which is called the Church (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Holy Spirit has a spiritual gift for you to use to serve God (1 Corinthians 12-14). You have a part to play. God has a plan for your life (Jeremiah 29:11-14; Ephesians 4:11-16). You need to be taught God's word and learn about your faith and Who God is (Acts 2:42; Philippians 2:12-13; 2 Timothy 1:12). Find a church where you can be taught the word of God and where you'll find the support of loving fellowship (1 John 2:3-11). Read God's word on a regular basis and pray to your heavenly Father in the name of His Son Jesus. Begin by going back and reading all the scripture references in this study. Let them sink in prayerfully.

Don’t settle for half truths or anything less than the whole truth of God in His word. Don't let any devilish birds steal the whole truth of God's word from you. Only the whole truth of the whole gospel provides a way for you to enter into a powerful life changing personal saving relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for anything less than the whole truth! (I John 1:1-4).




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