Thursday, 20 April 2017

AVOIDING DANGEROUS EXTREMES

In order to understand God as He truly is, we must give equal emphasis to His attributes of love, mercy and grace as well as to His justice and holiness.

While the Parable of the Prodigal Son reflects the former, the Parable of the Ten Virgins shows us the latter.

Our concept of God must be balanced. God’s love, mercy and grace must be seen in relation to His attributes of justice and holiness.

                      
To emphasise the former without the latter (or vice versa) would be disastrous to our soul.
Thus, there are two equally dangerous extremes:

Firstly, it is when we think that God will not be gracious and merciful to us because of the greatness of our sin, forgetting that He will welcome us back to Him with open arms once we come to our senses and repent as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

God loves the sinner and whosoever calls upon His name and believes in Him will be saved (John 3:16, John 1:12, Romans 10:9).

Secondly, it is when we think that God will always overlook the sins of believers because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us, that He will not point out our faults, that the Holy Spirit will never convict us of sin, and that sin consciousness is negative and comes from the devil. http://bit.ly/1OczgqH

When we take this second position, we are forgetting the fact that the attribute of God’s justice requires Him to punish us for our sins (Hebrews 10: 26-31).

If we deny God, renounce our faith or continue to willfully sin against God, His mercy will no longer avail for us even though we have been genuine believers once upon a time. Instead, we will be judged (2 Timothy 2:12, Hebrews 6:4-8; Hebrews 10:26-31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

                                                                 
Some people argue that those who deny God, renounce the faith or continue to willfully sin against God were never been really saved in the first place—and that this would never have happened if they were truly born again. Let me give you four reasons with scriptural support, why such thinking is flawed.

Why did Jesus repeatedly warn believers in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) to stay faithful, be watchful and not fall away?

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”
(Mark 13:3-4)

It is clear from the above passage in Mark that Jesus was addressing genuine believers in the Olivet Discourse. Christ was concerned, first and foremost, about their eternal destiny as they might grow cold and fall away due to increased deception, lawlessness and persecution during the end times.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
(Matthew 24:9-13)

                                                                     
Now some might argue that these ‘believers’ might be professing believers as well as genuine believers. Well, that is possible. But Jesus’ loving concern and warning in the Olivet Discourse are mainly directed at those who are truly saved—not professing believers.

If believers can take it easy, everything will turn out well—they will invariably be ushered into heaven, no matter what happens—why did Jesus take the trouble to repeatedly warn believers? Would Jesus waste His breath sounding out warnings? Why would Jesus continue to warn believers to pull up their socks, spiritually speaking?

 “Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”
(Luke 21: 34-36)

And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
(Luke 13:23-24)

Secondly, in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the foolish virgins who had all the characteristics of genuine believers slackened in their faith and got complacent and, as a result, were shut out from heaven (Matthew 25:1-13).

This parable highlights the rewards of watchful preparation in contrast to the judgment of careless security. http://bit.ly/1L0vOLy

Thirdly, in Hebrews 10: 26-31, it is clear that God will judge His people—His mercy will not avail for them—if they persist in willful, deliberate sinning.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Fourthly, the passage in Hebrews 6: 4-8 warns us that genuine believers who renounce their faith (commit apostasy) will be judged and condemned:

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.

From the above four instances, we see that even genuine believers can grow spiritually cold and fall away and, as a result, lose out on what they have initially attained when they embraced Jesus by faith.

Can genuine believers grow spiritually cold and fall away? You bet! it is possible.
  • Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard.
               (Colossians 1:22-23)
  • Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.
               (Hebrews 3: 12-14)
  • But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
              (Hebrews 10:38-39)

Those who cannot hold fast to their faith, but shrink back, will lose their salvation.

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
(1 Timothy 4:16)

                                                                      
The implication is that if our lives do not reflect obedience and holiness or we are deceived by destructive heresy, we might lose our salvation—even though we have placed our trust in Christ once upon a time. This sounds serious. 

While it is true that, at the point of conversion, a believer is justified in Christ, he can fall into sin, harden his heart, deny God and, thus, lose God’s favour. His righteousness is not necessarily permanent but dependent on his will, and susceptibility to deception and temptation.

If justification brings about an unassailable position of permanent righteousness for a believer, why is there a need to overcome temptation and deception? Why are there warnings against falling away and apostasy (Hebrews 6: 4-6)? Where do we get the notion that the Christian life is passive and that victory comes easy (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)? Did not Paul proclaim he was glad he fought the good fight of faith and kept the faith till the end of his life (2 Timothy 4:7-8)?

It would be sad if we would only see God as the Heavenly Father—epitomised by the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (full of “unconditional” love and ready to forgive)—BUT refuse to acknowledge God as the Judge who shuts out from heaven those who are spiritually cold and complacent as taught in the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

Unfortunately, for many believers accustomed to “feel good”, liberal teaching over the pulpit such a tendency reflects a modern-day trend, which has already been predicted long ago by the apostle Paul.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
(2 Timothy 4:3-4)


The whole truth can only be understood when we study and reflect on both these parables. 

Whereas the Parable of the Prodigal Son reflects the love, mercy and grace of God, the Parable of the Ten Virgins shows us His justice and righteousness. http://bit.ly/1L0vOLy

RELATED POSTS

GRACE AND TRUTH
The fact Jesus is the personification of grace and truth—not grace alone—has practical implications in the life of believers.

WATCHFUL AND READY
Will Christ return to earth as a baby or sacrificial lamb? Or will He come again as the Judge and King of Kings?

IS IT TRUE THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT DOES NOT CONVICT BELIEVERS OF SIN?
A prominent teacher made a bold statement in his book: “The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. He NEVER comes to point out your faults. I challenge you to find a scripture in the Bible that tells you that the Holy Spirit has come to convict you of your sins. You won’t find any.”

IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO
Though believers in Christ are heaven-bound, there are conditions to be fulfilled before we arrive at our final destination and claim our eternal reward. Some say that God will never forsake believers and that nothing will ever separate us from His love (Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20, Romans 8: 38-39). But has this ever crossed our minds? God may not leave us but we can walk away from God. It takes two to tango.

CAN WE TAKE GOD’S LOVE FOR GRANTED?
God’s love towards believers is immeasurable but can we take it for granted?

CAN A BELIEVER FALL OUT OF FAVOUR WITH GOD?
Is it possible for Christians to fall out of God’s favour permanently? What can we learn from the exodus generation who failed to enter the Promised Land?

SHOOTING OURSELVES IN THE FOOT
Five ways believers could possibly jeopardise their eternal destiny

WHY PERSEVERANCE IS NEEDED
Why we have to be steadfast in our journey of faith. What are the possible consequences if we fail to persevere?

REPETITIVE SINNING
What fate awaits those who sin repeatedly?

THE GREAT FALLING AWAY
Spiritual decline is characteristic of the end times we are now living in. Will believers be affected by this turning away from the faith?


HOW TO SHARE THIS ARTICLE:
AVOIDING DANGEROUS EXTREMES
There are two equally dangerous extremes:
Firstly, it is when we think that God will not be gracious and merciful to us because of the greatness of our sin, forgetting that He will welcome us back to Him with open arms once we come to our senses and repent as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
God loves the sinner and whosoever calls upon His name and believes in Him will be saved (John 3:16, John 1:12, Romans 10:9).
Secondly, it is when we think that God will always overlook the sins of believers because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us, that He will not point out our faults, that the Holy Spirit will never convict us of sin, and that sin consciousness is negative and comes from the devil.
http://bit.ly/2opymNR

REFERENCES

PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
(Luke 15:11-32)    

PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
(Matthew 25:1-13)

Thursday, 6 April 2017

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Sweet and succulent grapes; wild grapes; thorns and thistles

Vivid imagery from agriculture gives us a good idea of the type of fruit that God approves and disapproves



Most believers are familiar with the passage in John chapter 15 where Jesus is the vine and believers are the branches.


                                                                       
Once we become believers, we are expected to bear fruit—good fruit, abundant fruit, the kind of fruit that lasts.
                                      

The secret of fruit-bearing is to abide in Christ; for without Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Believers who bear much fruit bring glory to God and prove that they are true disciples (John15:8).

The logical question you might ask, next, is this: What are the various types of “spiritual fruit”?

Well, here are some of the "fruits":
  • Fruit of good works (Colossians 1:10)

  • Fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11)

  • Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23)

  • Fruit of evangelism—lives impacted by Paul’s ministry (2 Corinthians 3:2)

  • Fruit of lips—praising God (Hebrews 13:15)

In the Parable of the Sower, the seeds that fell on good soil yielded abundant fruit—thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold. Now, what does this good soil represent? It is symbolic of those with receptive hearts who are obedient to God and do His will (Mark 4: 20).

In the Parable of the Talents, the men with two talents and five talents each made a 100% return on investment for the master. These faithful stewards utilised well the “talents” that God has entrusted to them—time, skills, knowledge, experience and money (Matthew 25:14-30).


Having dealt with the good fruit, let us now focus on the bad fruit.

In Isaiah’s story of the vineyard, God showed His love and care for the vineyard (Israel) and, in return, was expecting to reap good, sweet and luscious grapes. But what happened? God’s people yielded wild grapes.

“He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.”
(Isaiah 5:2)


                                                                                 
By the way, how do we know that the vineyard represents Israel? The answer is found in this verse: “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel” (Isaiah 5:7).

In response to the bad fruit, which left a sour taste, what did God do?

And now I will tell you
    what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
    and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
    and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
    it shall not be pruned or hoed,
    and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
    that they rain no rain upon it.”
(Isaiah 5:5-6)

In other words, God unleashed His judgment on Israel because of their disobediencedespite His love for them.

Having considered both the good and the bad, let us now take a peek into the ugly.

A farmer eagerly awaits to see the fruit of his labour. The months or years of toil give way to joy the moment he can savour succulent and luscious fruit. But what happens if what he gets are just thorns and thistles? He will be justifiably angry and bitterly disappointed for things have really turned ugly. All his effort and investment have come to nothing.

Failure to produce good fruit—bearing bad fruit instead—is bad enough. But nothing could be worse than producing thorns and thistles, which are truly ugly

In God's eye, what do these thorns and thistles symbolise?  We shall soon find out as we examine more references.


                                                                          
                                            Thistle: wild plant with sharp pointed leaves and purple flowers

Let us examine a passage in Hebrews which is difficult and often avoided for it seems harsh to believers, many of whom prefer something soothing and comforting. This passage is on renunciation of the faith (apostasy) and its consequences:

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
(Hebrews 6: 4-8)

In a sense, God is also a farmer. God, the father, is the vinedresser (John 15:1). He looks for good, abundant and lasting “fruit” from those who believe in Him. But if believers willfully turn their backs on God and renounce their faith if they bear thorns and thistleswhat will be God’s response?

Apostasy is defined as an abandonment of one’s faith. Apostates are those who renounce their faith. Notice that apostasy is different from backsliding. Believers may sin in a moment of weakness under temptation but that is different from apostasy, which is a willful renunciation of the faith.

Why is this condition of apostasy so serious? Because, once the point of no return has been reached, it is impossible to restore apostates to repentance (Please compare this passage with Hebrews 10:26-31 below).

First, this passage in Hebrews 6 clearly outlines FIVE characteristics of a true believer:
  • Enlightened

  • Tasted the heavenly gift

  • Shared in the Holy Spirit

  • Tasted the goodness of the Word of God

  • Tasted the powers of the age to come

Truth be told, this passage in Hebrews chapter 6 tells us that there will be genuine believers who chose to turn their backs on God and willfully live in sin—and, inevitably, incur God’s judgment and lose their salvation. http://www.jesuswalk.com/hebrews/apostasy.htm

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
(Hebrews 10:26-31)

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were in danger of abandoning their faith and returning to Judaism. They were exhorted to hold fast to Jesus, who is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Hebrews 4:14 and 5:9).

Though he warned them concerning apostasy (Hebrews 6: 4-8), the author felt that they had not yet reached the disastrous state of no return (Hebrews 6: 9). He hoped that they would earnestly press on—with faith and patience—to inherit the promise of God, which is eternal life (Hebrews 6: 11-12 and 10:39).

Thus, the optimism of inheriting God’s promise of salvation—provided they held fast to their faith—was set against the backdrop of a stern warning against apostasy.

Another passage, similar to Hebrews 6:4-8, also sheds light on the serious consequences that befall those who turn their backs on God and willfully live in sin:

And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. They prove the truth of this proverb: “A dog returns to its vomit.” And another says, “A washed pig returns to the mud.”
 (2 Peter 2: 20-22)



To know God, to be set free from the clutches of sin, and then become enslaved to sin again is a state likened to a dog swallowing its own vomit. And God’s judgment upon such believers is worse than if they had never believed in Him in the first place.

To recapitulate, by examining three key passages found in John 15, Isaiah 5 and Hebrews 6, we discover for ourselves the type of fruit that God approves and disapproves:

According to John chapter 15, God is the farmer (vinedresser) and believers are expected to bear good fruitabundant fruit that lasts. The secret of fruit-bearing is for the branches (believers) to abide in the vine (Christ).

Believers who—despite God’s love—fail to demonstrate obedience are compared to those who produce bad fruit (wild grapes). Consequently, they will face judgment, just like God’s favoured nation, if they do not repent (Isaiah chapter 5).

Believers who turn their backs on God and willfully live in sin are likened to those who produce thorns and thistles. This is truly an ugly state to be in—for it is impossible to restore such ones to repentance (Hebrews chapter 6).

Failure to produce good fruit—bearing bad fruit instead—is bad enough. But nothing could be worse than the ugly state where thorns and thistles are produced.

                                                                        
As believers, are we producing good fruit, bad fruit or worse, thorns and thistles?

FURTHER WARNINGS ON FAILURE TO PRODUCE GOOD FRUIT

Cut down, thrown into the fire … serious overtones

“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down’”(Luke 13: 6-9).

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John15: 5-6).

In John chapter 15, Jesus was addressing believers. Furthermore, the fact that the branches (believers) are originally attached to the vine (Christ) means that these people are genuine believers. Those who fail to abide will not be able to bear good fruit and thus are thrown into the fire and burned. This is a scary prospect and a slap in the face for eternal security aka Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS).

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3: 8).

“And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”(Matthew 3: 10).

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”(Matthew 7:19).

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3: 8).

“And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”(Luke 3: 9).


                                                                  
RELATED POSTS

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Can a true believer give up his or her faith?