The sin and consequence of independence
"Who is the man who fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose" [Psalms 25:12]
"Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the river and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve….." [Joshua 24:15]
As the verses above make evident, each of us as individuals are responsible before God to serve the Lord and to practice that service with three absolute necessities in mind, not necessarily in this order:
(Proverbs 9:10) "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding"
(Proverbs 23:17) "Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the Lord always"
(Acts 9:31) "So the ekklesia throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase"
Fearing God is an absolute requirement for personal growth as an individual believer and that from beginning to end. Furthermore, it is also a necessity within each local ekklesia and aids in keeping the corporate gathering and expression of their service and worship pure.
(Acts 2:46, 47) "Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved"
(1 Corinthians 5:7, 8) "Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth"
(2 Corinthians 2::14-17) "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma of life to lfe. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God"
Many people claiming to be Christians both within and without various local groups of saints have a variety of reasons and motives for what they claim to believe. It is vital that each corporate expression seeks to weed out those with alterior motives, those spreading "death" among the saints and severely chastise those who permit willful sin to persist among the assembly of believers. It is not merely necessary and proper to remove those who persist in sin- it is the reqirement and command of God Himself.
(John 3:21) "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God"
(John 8:31, 32) "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
(John 17:17) "Santify them in the truth; Your word is truth"
(Ephesians 4:14, 15) "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ"
The truth of God dramatically and radically changes individual lives- if that truth is both practiced and persevered in. This truth, although embraced by individual believers, ultimately finds its home among a local congregation of saints. Herein is it proven to be of God and beneficial to others.
A refusal and neglect to fear God
In the beginning….God created. Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a suitable helper for him." (Genesis 1:1, 2:18)
The origin of mankind through the person of Adam "proves" that Adam was discontent with God alone. This of course was no suprise to God, who knew this ahead of time and planned to bring to Adam a helper suitable to him. Not only did Adam find the female God brought to him as suitable, but so suitable that he esteemed his wife's actions in disobeying God to be desired more than the commandment of God. Adam knew full well the commandment of God and chose to disobey it. The consequences were severe and affected all of mankind throughout history ever since. (Genesis 3:17-19)
As we noted above, a fear of God, both reverentially and in terror of are part of the Christian life. This is found to be all the more true practically if such a fear is cultivated amongst a local assembly of saints. There are many reasons why this fear of God is so neglected in our day, some of which follow.
|The fear of God||No fear of God|
Elders teach the fear of God
Leaders do not teach the
fear of God
|Local assemblies practiced discipline||Little or no discipline practiced|
Local saints witnessed discipline in
action among them
|Members rarely saw discipline|
Teach the difference between wrath
|Confuse wrath and discipline|
|Love and fear coincide||Love and fear are opposites|
Local saints are accountable for
their actions within and without
|Rarely are members accountable|
Local saints responsible for their
duties and use of spiritual gifts
Members neglectful or abuse their
God given abilities
|Mandatory holy lifestyle||Holy living is an option|
Rebuke and correct evil- exercise
God's judgment among the saints
|Often overlook evil practice/attitudes|
|Fear of failing to conform to Christ||
Fear of failing to conform to religious
tradition and man-made rules
|Fear of Christ's authority||Fear of religious leaders/authority|
|Fear of excommunication||No fear of excommunication|
|Fear the consequences of sin||Often ignore sins consequences|
|View fearing God as a benefit||View fearing God as a detriment|
All saints teach and promote fearing
God's truth and judgment
Rarely does anyone even discuss
this unpleasant topic
|Fearing God glorifies Him||Fearing man glorifies man|
= work out salvation with
fear and trembling
|= no use nor desire for fearing God|
Divided affection and half-hearted sincerity
Unlike many who esteem sincerity of belief over and above truth, we do not echo those sentiments. Sincerity does not save anyone, nor is God in any manner justifying anyone outside of His grace alone despite how sincere they may be or appear. Sincerity matters, although it will only be apparent or found in those already having been redeemed by God's grace.
As was noted above and is quite obvious throughout societies around the globe, many are found claiming to be adhering to Christianity and yet their motives are quite obviously selfish and self-serving. Some of the more blatant examples of this can be found among the Word Faith adherents, those who teach and believe that God desires all men to be wealthy and healthy every day of their lives. Needless to say, this message is all too popular among sinful men, many of who profess to be Christian all the while they continue to feed what their flesh desires. Below are some example of a divided affection and a half-hearted sincerity.
|Devotion to benefit||Devotion to Christ|
|What I need sufficient||God's grace sufficient|
|I can have what I claim||
Satisfied with God's
|God can make me somebody||Destined to decrese daily|
|God will bless me materially||God has blessed me spiritually|
|God will heal me||
God may heal according to His
will and timing
|My words have power||Only God's words have power|
|Prayer and faith are powerful||
No inherent power in either
prayer or faith. The power is in our
God who is faithful to answer.
Give money and service to
|Give to bless without concern|
Preach and teach to be
recognized and popular
Preach and teach to be faithful
|Avoid the cross life||Embrace the cross|
|Avoid suffering||Embrace suffering|
Attempt to use God to
feed their flesh
|Abandon themselves to God|
Find teachers who tell them
what they want to hear
|Follow Jesus and Him alone|
Convert others to supposedly
Direct others to Christ alone
through grace alone
The solution to life is what Jesus
can or will do for them
The answer is Christ alone for
He is Life
God honors the truth of His word and the truth of His witness among men
In this day and age we find the few faithful continuing to contend for the many inspired truths found within God's Word. This is as it should be. Without an intellectual understanding of truth via revelation and the appropriation of truth, we will be hard pressed to make much headway in our walk with Christ. We need to know truth experientially, not just an intellectual knowledge of the truth.
We live in an age where men and women everywhere are maligning and misrepresenting God's truth. Not only, but many others, due to their claims to the truth or Christianity itself have infiltrated and influenced adversely the people of God. This is usually the result of speaking a degree of the truth along with various errors- quoting from scripture despite often failing to rightly divide the word or read within the context of various passages. Although their is no guaranteed manner in which all error and heresy among the saints can be prevented, their is a manner in which God's truth can be preserved among the people of God.
Where we went wrong
Within the pages of Scripture we find various characteristics defining the people of God and their corporate expression. God has designated His people a spiritual family, ties that are closer than those of our own natural family members. As a spiritual family, God calls us to lay down our lives, to become our brothers' and sisters' keeper, to be willing to die to all forms of self-expression for the sake of our spiritual family. The call is to die to self, Jesus placing the emphasis upon anything we might claim as our own.
What does God require?
In the Garden of Eden we find Adam and Eve both succumbing to the temptation to find some form of satisfaction and fulfillment outside of what God had promised. The only way they could accomplish this was in an attempt to reach out and claim something for themselves as "their own." In their case they thought that to be "becoming like God" as the devil promised them. Today the lie is even more subtle than that although quite similar to it- what we can have for ourselves. In other words, despite God making it more than obvious that as believers in Christ that we no longer have a right to ourselves (due to our having been purchased by Another), we still want to believe we have the right to create an environment with ourselves at the center. Despite our attempts to "Christianize" these pursuits, they are nevertheless just another attempt to save for ourselves what God claims as His own.
Sadly, and partially as a result of an attempt to implement an outdated tithing system of works upon the people of God, both the giver and receiver are duped and deceived by our adversary the devil once again. First, the greedy spiritual leader exchanges a heavenly reward for an earthly one as he or she attempts to take from "church members" what rightfully is God's alone. We are not talking here about 10% of an individuals income but any amount a spiritual leader claims is due "them" or "their ministry." Since when does lying to others about an outdated system of works righteousness entitle some supposed spiritual leader to take from what they also falsely claim as "their flocks" worldly income? It doesn't.
If only the above deception stopped with the self-appointed leaders this would be bad enough. Sadly, deception also runs rampant within the participants who fall prey to these above and its easy to discover why it does. It leaves those who give the delegated amount to retain and distribute the remaining amount upon themselves! In other words, provided the individual Christian gives the specified amount to God or the religious institution of their choice, that same individual now retains the right to spend the remainder of what they have earned upon themselves. Is this actually true? Is this what is exemplified in the Bible as proper stewardship for a Christian? Or would such an action be more representative of an individual acting out a desire of their own, a desire specifically characteristic of a professing Christian fulfilling their own will?
A few years back a professing believer I knew asked a few friends to help out building an addition upon a home they had purchased a few years earlier. They supposedly needed the extra space and quite a few of us showed up to help for free over a weekend. Upon the completion of the project the home in discussion was appraised at far more than expected, the excess of which was later squandered by the owners on various recreational toys and trips. Why did the owners act in such a manner? Was it due to poor management or was it because they believed they had a right to do what they wanted with what they believed was "their own." Wouldn't such an action be more representative of an individual acting out a desire of their own, a desire specifically characteristic of a professing Christian fulfilling their own will?
The truth be told, if God really has me as a purchased possession of His own, their will never be any question about who owns my possessions. God owns them all. That means He decides how and what I possess and the manner in which they are to be used for His name's sake. For any individual professing believer to actually think or believe he or she owns anything, let alone possesses the right to act independently of God with it, is to sin in the exact manner and independent spirit of Adam and Eve in the garden. As a Christian, the spirit that prompts one to say "mine" is completely and totally antithetical to Biblical Christianity.
Actions follow beliefs
Consider how each of us acts when we actually convince ourselves that we have ownership over anything.
1) My home. As mine, I decide who lives there, who visits, when they visit and how and when I use my home and for what purposes.
2) My money. As mine, I decide who spends it, spends it on what and how and where it is spent or saved.
3) My business. As mine, I decide how all operations are to be handled and how my business will interact with this world.
4) My ministry. As mine, I decide how and where I serve and in what capacity.
In "my own" best interest
Can I ask you a question or two? Why do you live where you live? Why do you drive the car or truck you drive? Why do you frequent that establishment? Why do you cultivate that hobby? Why do you associate with those people? Why did you move to that town? Why are you dating that person?
If your answer is anything other than Jesus Christ than you are surely being disobedient, living in the flesh or simply pursuing your own desires. As such, Jesus is not your master despite how much you may claim Him as such.
A refusal to count the cost
Many professing Christians are aware of the manner in which believers both interacted and worshipped in New Testament times. They know full well that believers met in their homes, kept the assemblies small, had a plurality of elders, served the local sinners and saints, and served one another daily. Despite this, one in a thousand will obey God along these lines. The other 999 will make excuses of all sorts, any excuse they can find and why…to retain their independence. I repeat- to retain their independence. 999 individual professing believers will not be accountable for what they claim are "their rights" – a manner of living inconsistent with New Testament Christianity.
The Scriptures are chock full of God's "one anothers," commands He demands we exercise in service one to another. This is the very manner in which this world "will see Jesus," the manner in which we become a city on a hill and a light to the world. Despite this, no greater failure is found among Christians everywhere than a neglect of the household of the faith. God could care less about our so-called worship, church services and of of our so-called ministry pursuits and evangelistic campaigns. He cares greatly about His own and the manner those who profess His name treat one another. Isn't it overdue that we start caring for the family at our own expense? How dare you or I think otherwise.
"Neither the word nor the witness fulfills God's ultimate desire. It is the combination of both the spoken word and the living witness of Jesus Christ that brings all of the Father's intentions to fulfillment.
Become a sacrifice
In Romans chapter 12 God makes clear that as Christians we are to become living sacrifices, that this is a reasonable service for those who profess faith in God.
"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship"
Now think about the above command for a moment. This command comes upon the heels of eleven chapters of Christian truth and doctrine. The very first command which requires action on our part is this…..present your bodies a living sacrifice. Note that the command is given to individuals…that each of us would become a living sacrifice. Why?
Before Christ, what characterized our life was our own selfish pursuits. It was all about me and what I could obtain or accomplish for my own benefit. Outside of Christ, God had formerly characterized you and I as dead before Him. Therefore it was no surprise that we acted such. These days, God calls those who are trusting Him alive, but alive unto who or what? So we can continue to pursue our own interests?
Please forgive the redundency but I love this applicable verse;
"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, (Christ) therefore all died (who are in Him); and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf" [2 Corinthians 5:14, 15]
Now may I ask, "Just how can you or I become a living sacrifice for the sake of Christ?" Is this something I will just naturally become as I attend some church or read my Bible? Am I even aware right now how I am a living sacrifice for Jesus' sake? Does the following come to mind:
The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' [Matthew 25:31-46]
It would do most of us well to read the entirety of the passage above. Who were those who Jesus considered righteous? Was it those religious folks who went to church? Who gave money? Who claimed to know Him or said a prayer asking Him into their lives? Nope. It was those who served the least of Jesus' brothers and sisters. It was those who laid down their lives as a living sacrifice was it not?
Over the past few years I've seen many individual professing believers leave my home town for other places. When I asked a few of them why, what do you suppose they said? Was it due to God leading them so? If so, what was He leading them unto? Was it a better job or in some way a better place or situation for their family? Would that be an acceptable reason? The fact is, not in any single instance was it told me that God led them in that direction for a spiritual reason. They may have believed that, nonetheless it was always God supposedly leading them to a place that would be more practically beneficial…or so it would appear. Can practical benefits be considered a valid reason for abandoning one's local fellowship of believers for other ones? Even if my leaving causes them undue heartache and pain?
The sad reality is that despite what we say or claim, our individual worldly pursuits are still trumping our concerns one for another. When God says; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others, He's not just referring to your immediate family. He's talking about the local spiritual family- the one your about to abandon for your name's sake- for your individual benefit.
The place of sacrifice
Despite all the clamor and defense of our local religious institutions, they really don't work in the real world do they? Not if we're honest. The above example is just one more proof of that fact. When God calls us to become living sacrifices (for the sake of our local brothers and sisters) daily, we've exchanged that intimacy for a return to dead formal religion where we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of some name and place we frequent. Instead of using our time and talents to serve the family, we serve the institution instead. Our devotion is sacrificed to it, our money to it, our time to it, our allegiance to it. Yes, of course, all in the name of Jesus no doubt.
Can I ask, "Is this how God's family functions?" "Is this how your family functions?" I sure hope not. Jesus says, As you….unto the least of these. Until I abandon what is so obviously competing with Jesus for my sacrificed life, in vain will I truly ever know and exemplify the living word and witness of Christ. I am, and will continue to live double-minded and with a divided affection.
The fear of abandonment
God's ways are perfect. They always fit, they never fail.
In man's religion, he can skirt both the cross and feign a superficial love of the brethren. All it takes is to show up at meetings and go with the flow. If you participate at all, you will considered faithful as well. Such is man's worthless appraisal of reality. God is far more serious and when He gathers souls they gather with a far more serious intent. That intent is to obey the dictates and commandments of God without fail and to be held accountable to the highest standard. That's what daily intimacy creates and sustains- a healthy fear of God among the brethren, a sincere service that embraces and lives the truth.
Among those professing Christ, some are more serious and intent than others. Some toy with sin, others overlook it, some feign being obedient. Thankfully, none of that can persist for long where intimacy abounds. Sin is seen, found out, rebuked, corrected and judged. Leaven is ousted, purity is retained- just as God would have it.
In the 1st century, there was one ekklesia in one geographical area. If a soul was found sinning and refused to repent, guess what resulted? That's right, they were ostracized from the saints, they were rejected in the hope of their ultimate restoration. In our day, we're tame in comparison. Our judgment is clouded by our own false standard of what we think is acceptable service. In most cases that's anything but becoming a living sacrifice for others.
In our day, an ostracized believer just attends another church down the street, likely just another which rarely if ever disciplines those among the family. Nothing really changes for the benefit of either party. Now consider what used to happen back in the day. The ousted member was thrown back out with those on the outside. Not a real comfortable place and quite lonely at that. Before long a real believer would soon be convicted, much like the prodigal who in time returned to His father. Therein is both God and the families desire met. A son or daughter is restored. The fear of abandonment keeps those considering sin and straying close to home. God designed His families that way.
There are times when someone must be sacrificed for the benefit of all. God means what He says…a little leaven leavens all. We are the one's who don't believe this. If we did, we would never continue to fellowship in the manner we do which all but prohibits us from ever being intimate or really getting to know one another at all. Once again, we prefer our independence. We want to be around other believers, especially if they keep their distance. I love you…but not all that much…that is, until I need you.
Who is wise among you?
In relation to how a man builds Paul writes to us:
"Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.'
After giving the reason why we each must become foolish to be wise he concludes with this:
"So then let no one boast in men." Now why would they do that? And what was Paul's solution to that problem? "For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." [1 Corinthians 3:18-23]
The wise man no longer sees himself as separate from his brothers and sisters in Christ. He does not view himself as separate, he does not view his belongings as separate, he does not view his job as separate- he views nothing in this world (present) or even things to come as separate. He sees all in Christ; and needless to say that those who wisely view things and their family as such will live in such a manner that exemplifies that view…that is consistent with that view…the ways God sees things.
Gone are allegiances to men. "My pastor" will no longer work. Gone are allegiances to various entities. "My church" will no longer work. Gone are allegiances to things. "My possessions" doesn't cut it. Can you see why these are all opposed to true Biblical Christianity?
It's seems unfortunate for the few who have been ostracized from formal religion to be cast aside as unnecessary or unwanted. Just as we once thought this unfair and ourselves wronged, oh how now we see the bigger picture as it really is. No longer are we deceiving ourselves. Just as Him who was cast far from the eyes and hearts of men, so we too know the pains of being sacrificed for the few He will eventually call unto Himself. We no longer regret having died to that former manner of living now do we?
These days, God's still calling for men to be sacrificed once again. We are called to a new manner of living, all divisions aside, nothing remains but a cross laid upon the path in front of me. It is my duty, my my responsibility, my privilege in sharing that cross. Only as I do, will any remaining independence and the pride of independent accomplishment be diminished and abandoned.
So be it.