I don't know about you, but for many years after I found out about Jesus and believed in Him as my Saviour, I thought I needed to do things for God to merit His salvation. In other words, I tried very hard to be good, so God would not be disappointed in me, change His mind, and revoke my salvation. I was simply terrified that if I made a mistake, it would be the end of my relationship with the Lord.
In my last post I talked about whether or not God was lifting His hand of restraint. One thing I learned from studying 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 was that the man of lawlessness (also called the son of perdition) could not come until apostasy began in the church. Now it was pointed out by one of my readers that there has always been apostasy in the church, even from the time of the Apostles (Galatians 1:6-10). So how is our time any different to the early church or the church in general, throughout the years? How do we determine if there has been more apostasy in this generation compared to others? Let's start by looking at the differences between apostasy and false doctrines.
Apostasy is the total departure from one's religion, principles or beliefs. False doctrine as it pertains to Christianity, are teachings that stray from the main message of the gospel - that salvation comes through Christ alone, by faith alone. False doctrines and their false teachers take the emphasis off the cross and add non-scriptural doctrines to what the Bible teaches about salvation, repentance, confession and redemption in Christ. False teachers twist scripture to suit their own agendas. They often take scripture out of context and lie and deceive to achieve a certain goal. In today's churches false doctrines like the prosperity gospel for example, take the focus off of Jesus' atoning sacrifice for us and instead place it on monetary gain and the health and welfare of the believer.
The key to understanding apostasy and false doctrines is that they go hand in hand. Without false teachers and false doctrines, there is no chance for the body of Christ to be deceived and turn from the truth to a lie. Unfortunately, there have ALWAYS been false doctrines and false teachers, that as Jesus warned, would deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).
So what does Paul mean in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 when he says, "For that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first?" Clearly, he is talking about a massive apostasy within the church body. An apostasy so bad that the body of Christ as a whole turns from the truth to a lie. Until that happens, the man of lawlessness will not be revealed. So did that happen in the early church?
We know from Revelation, that false teachers infiltrated the church right from the beginning. In Pergamum for example, they encouraged the teachings of the Nicolaitans. These false teachers put themselves forward as believers in Jesus Christ and, at the same time, practised black magic, offered sacrifices to the numerous idols in Pergamum, were sexually immoral, and were teaching new believers that all this was okay with God. Yet the Pergamum believers allowed them to stay within the church. They turned a blind eye to what the Nicolaitans were doing and settled for a “peaceful” compromise with them rather than call them out on their wrong doctrine and sinful lifestyles and insist on repentance. So we can see that apostasy and false doctrines go hand in hand, because when people accept false doctrines, the danger of totally abandoning their previous beliefs becomes greater. This is why Jesus called the church of Pergamum out in Revelation 2:12-17 and threatened to spit them out of his mouth. (If you are interested in a study on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, my book He Who Has an Ear, Who the Seven Churches of Revelation are Today goes into this further.)
Has apostasy increased in the church?
When you look at the horrific things that were taking place in the church of Pergamum we might confidently say the modern church has never been that bad. We don't worship idols. We are not encouraging sexual immorality. We never turn a blind eye to sin. Or do we? Is there idol worship in the church? Sadly, yes there is and it is shocking. Do we now have churches that say homosexuality is not a sin? Yes we do. Do we have well known believers in Christ encouraging Christians to disregard scripture in order to accept homosexuality? In other words - to turn a blind eye to sin? Yes, we do. In fact, I believe it is the issue of gay rights that will cause many of the faithful to turn away. Why? Because at heart, all Christians want gay people to feel accepted by the church. We want them to know Jesus loves them and that they are welcome in our churches. We want them to feel loved and we want to extend mercy and love in Jesus' name to them in any way we can. For some, that will mean compromising their beliefs that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, in order to be more open and accepting to the gay community. For others however, it will mean loving and accepting the gay community, but standing firm in their beliefs, which unfortunately, comes across as hate.
I didn't want this post to be about homosexuality. I wanted it to be about apostasy in the church. But unfortunately, I think this particular issue will play a part in the downfall of the church, paving the way for a massive apostasy. So how do we stand on the truth of God's Word and let the gay community know they are loved? First, we let them know that salvation is not dependant upon repentance. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). However, repentance is part of the Gospel message, in that once we make the decision to follow God, turning from our sin is a natural aspect of how we honour Him. To continue to sin therefore, would be to crucify Christ over and over again. Even Jesus Himself said, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). And there is the main problem - the gay community doesn't believe they are sinning, while the Bible says they are. And Bible believing Christians won't budge on their belief that the Bible is the Word of God.
But we live in an age where people are putting down their Bibles and ignoring them in favour of man's opinion. Eighty-two percent of Christians do not read their Bibles at all and these will be the people the apostasy begins with. They will be easily deceived and if possible, will deceive others. Just as Jesus warned (Matthew 24:24). If we continue on the course of favouring man's opinion over God's Word, the great "falling away" will continue to grow and the church, because she has not stood firm on the Word of God, will be the reason why the man of lawlessness will appear.
The last two months have been horrible ones for me and my family. In August our cat died (I know some may think that's not a big deal, but we loved her as we would a member of our family). We also lost a beloved aunt and on the day of her funeral, my mother (her sister) had a stroke from which she never recovered. We said our final goodbye to my mom this past Tuesday. Her funeral was beautiful and at times it had my mind racing.
There was a deacon (a woman) from the Anglican church, who has known my mom for 20 years or so. She officiated the service. She quoted all the right Scriptures and everything she said was lovely. And then she said, and I'm paraphrasing here because I can't remember it clearly, but it went something like - “Jean never talked about her faith, nor did she wear her faith on her sleeve. I would like to believe she had a deep faith in God.” And there it was . . . and I was torn. Was my mom in heaven or in hell? I can't remember her ever going to church, although I do remember her telling me she often prayed. In Evangelical circles some would probably say she was either a nominal Christian or not a Christian at all because she never made a public confession of her faith. To be honest I struggled with that interpretation since the moment she died. Do I choose to believe John 3:16 which reminds us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” or do I take the evangelical approach that if someone hasn’t verbally confessed their sin, repented of it and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, then they are not saved? One belief says my Mom, although quiet about her belief in God still believed in Him, and resided with Him even now. The other says she is in a place of eternal torment because she never spoke about her faith. So I asked myself – who was it that taught me to pray? My mother. Who made me go to church on Sunday mornings and Vacation Bible School every summer as a child? My mother. Who taught me to be kind to strangers? My mother. Who taught me to help those less fortunate? My mother. Who was my greatest encourager during my singing ministry years and often brought her relatives and friends to my concerts when she knew I would be singing about God? My mother.
My mother left me a great heritage (my salvation) without really saying anything at all. Her actions, her giving and loving spirit, her generosity and hospitality towards strangers set a great example for me on how a Christian should live. She made me want to be a better person. Her life inspired me to pursue God. I only wish I was half the person she was because when I look back at my life I see my many faults, failures and sins and wish I had been as gracious and loving as my mother was towards others. I can be impatient, headstrong and at times too blunt with my words. So, yes I am thankful for the gift of forgiveness that Jesus offered me through His death and resurrection. I am thankful He offers His love and forgiveness to someone like me. Someone who doesn't deserve it. And I may speak openly about my faith, but that doesn't make me more of a Christian than someone who does not. So to all those out there who have lost family members or friends and you have wondered, "Were they saved? Did they really know the Lord?" You are asking the wrong questions and are stuck in an evangelical mindset that says only "certain" kinds of people will enter heaven. Did your loved one believe in God and in His Son? Were they generous with their time? Did they visit the sick, feed the poor or entertain strangers? Rest assured they are with the Lord and enjoying their reward even now. Just look at these assurances of their salvation from the Lord's own lips - John 6:47; John 14:6; John 5:24; John 3:16: John 3:36.
At her funeral yesterday we listened to one of Mom's favourite songs which was The Prayer, by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. It was a fitting tribute to a woman whose faith in God, while not exhibited verbally, was lived out in her daily life.
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?" And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:37-40, NKJV).
Life sucks. Yep, I said that and yes I believe it's true for a large number of people in the world. After, all, this life we have here on earth was never meant to be the life God wanted for us. If you have never been touched by heartache, disease, fear or death then you have beat the odds. There was never supposed to be any of it. There was never supposed to be murder, terrorists, refugees, children dying, hunger, war, etc. We were never meant to struggle with disease, heartache, catastrophes, death or sin. We were never meant to be forever wondering if there is a God. We were never meant to wonder why God lets bad things happen. We were never meant to fight over our "rights" . . . gay rights, religious rights, women's rights, etc. All of it was never meant to happen.
God's original design for his creation was so vastly different than where it is now. God made us in his own image (Genesis 1:27). Beings that were meant to be in communion with God and with each other. We were never meant to kill for our food. All the food we needed was supposed to come from plants and trees - fruits and vegetables were supposed to be our mainstay. Not other living creatures (Genesis 1:29-30).
We were meant to be able to walk and talk with God as we do with each other. Paradise was ours - no problems, no worries, no sickness, no disease, no terror - just peace and communion with God. And yes, we can blame Adam and Eve for screwing us all over, but in truth, most people would have done the same thing. We were conceived in innocence and are easily deceived because we don't expect people to betray and hurt us. When Eve met the serpent in the garden he wasn't a snake on a branch in an apple tree as some artists like to render it, he was one of God's guardian angels (Ezekiel 28:13-15) and because of this Eve (in her innocence) would not have expected to be "tricked" into disobeying God by one of God's angels. We know what happened from there - Eve tasted the fruit, saw it was good, encouraged her husband to do the same thing and it was at that moment, when their eyes were opened and they recognized that they had just destroyed the best thing they ever knew - total communion with God in paradise. They were cast out of Eden and were cursed (Genesis 3:16-19) and that curse (which resulted in us being separated from God) went out into the world and we have been trying ever since to get back to paradise.
Thankfully, we did not lose full communion with God, because God created us in his image. By that I mean he made us spiritual creatures, able to communicate with him through prayer by faith. But he went even further. He provided a way for us to escape the curse! No more death, no more sin, no more condemnation. Through the sacrifice of Jesus' blood on the cross, we have been saved from an eternity of condemnation. Yes, our physical bodies still die. There's no getting around that. But that part of us that was made in God's image, that spiritual part, never dies. It lives on and it is the element which gives us the ability to have an intimate relationship with God (John 4:24). It is when we come by faith in God to receive His Holy Spirit that we are once again uniquely joined to our Creator as we were in Eden. This communion is precious and sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ, who poured out His life for us, so that we might be saved from the curse of eternal separation from God.
As spiritual beings made in God's image, we are also unique in that we have souls. The spirit connects us to God, but the soul is who we are. It is our personality, the essence of our humanity. It is the part that lives on after our physical body dies. The soul is the part that chooses to continue in sin and wilfully do what it wants. In other words, it remains under the curse and is subject to the result of the curse - death and eternal separation from God. Or it can choose to align itself with the spiritual part and receive the Holy Spirit (which comes from God) to become one in Christ Jesus.
Jesus said, "Abide in me and I will abide in you" (John 15:4). So our spirit is uniquely joined with the Holy Spirit of God, because of Jesus. Eternity therefore, begins the moment you invite God's Holy Spirit into your life. And paradise? It's guaranteed.
In Luke 4:14-30 we read about the time Jesus announced in his home synagogue, to his friends and family, his purpose in life. He had just spent 40 days in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-2) being tempted by Satan and immediately after that, filled with the Spirit, he went to Galilee and began teaching (not preaching, there is a difference) in the synagogues there (Luke 4:14-15), and everyone who heard him praised him. But then he arrived in Nazareth. His hometown. It was here that he would reveal what God had called him to do. His purpose for living if you will. Scripture says it was Jesus' custom to be in synagogue every Sabbath. So it was normal for him to be there. He knew the people who attended and they knew him. At first they were receptive to Jesus' words and spoke well of him. Many of them were probably thinking, "Wow! When did our little Jesus become such a great teacher? He's Joseph's son, for crying out loud! He never had any formal training, but here he is speaking like a learned Rabbi." They were astounded that this carpenter's son was given such a gift from God. But then he hit them with a bigger announcement. You would think his friends, the people he'd known all his life, and his family would be supportive and excited for him. Two minutes ago they were shocked at his teaching gift, but then something happened and the tables turned and they were so angry at his announcement, that they tried to throw him off a cliff in order to kill him. Talk about overreacting! With friends like that, who needs enemies, right?
So what exactly did Jesus announce? Let's look at the five reasons he came to us in the first place and then we'll look at the "big announcement". You can find the five reasons in Luke 4:18-19, which I've printed out below. But since Jesus was reading from the scroll of Isaiah, I have printed out those verses as well, so you can have a better perspective.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. To set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19, NASB).
The spirit of the L-rd GOD is upon me; because HaShem hath anointed me to bring good tidings unto the humble; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the eyes to them that are bound. To proclaim the year of HaShem's good pleasure (Isaiah 61:1-2, JPS).
Reason #1: to preach the gospel to the poor
According to the New Testament version, the first reason Jesus came was to preach the gospel to the poor. In the Jewish Bible it was to bring good tidings to the humble. Three questions present themselves: what is the gospel, who are the poor and why does the New Testament version sound different from the Old Testament?
What is the gospel Jesus came to preach? The word gospel literally means "to bring or announce glad or good tidings." In Greek it is the word euaggelizō which comes from the adverb eu, meaning "well, well done, or good" and aggelos, meaning "angel or messenger". So we see right away that the old is not so very different from the new and also the first thing Jesus is telling us here is that God has anointed him to bring good news, to be his messenger. Usually this job of bringing good news fell to angels, like the ones who announced Jesus' birth to the shepherds in the field (Luke 2:8-20). But according to the NT, Jesus' good news was for the poor. Does this mean rich people would not benefit from his good news? Not at all! Jesus wasn't talking about those who were poor monetarily. He was speaking of those who were meek, humble or more accurately, poor in spirit. In Matthew 5:3 Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." In other words, those who recognize their need for God are poor or humble in spirit. They see their sin and depravity and long for God to make them whole. The good news, is that Jesus came specifically for those people who recognize they need saving.
reason #2: to bind up the brokenhearted
You will notice that the NASB doesn't include this verse. In fact, many Bibles omit it in Luke 4:18-19, but since Jesus was handed the scroll from Isaiah which clearly has this verse, I am stumped as to why translators would do this. Even the original Greek texts (which you can find online) include "to heal the brokenhearted."
So, who are the brokenhearted and why do they need to be bound? The word "bind" in Hebrew is chabash and literally means to tie, bind, bind on, bind up, saddle, restrain, bandage or govern." In Greek it is translated as iaomai, which means to "cure, heal or make whole." In other words, Jesus is saying that he has come to heal (cure, bind, bandage) those who are brokenhearted (without hope). Strong's G4937 says brokenhearted literally means, "ones having been crushed." So Jesus' second reason for coming to us is to take our broken lives, heal them and make us whole.
reason #3: to proclaim liberty to the captives
Have you started to notice how each reason flows into the next? Jesus' third reason for coming to us was to "proclaim liberty" or "release" to the captives. The word "release" in Greek is aphesis and has two meanings, "release from bondage or imprisonment" and "forgiveness or pardon, of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed), remission of the penalty." Jesus third reason for coming, was to forgive us of our sins and set us free from the penalty of death (Romans 6:23).
Reason #4: sight for the blind
Who are the blind? The Greek word for blind is typhlos which comes from the root word typhoō, which means "to be proud, lifted up with pride or to be high-minded." The Old Testament translates this part of the verse as "the opening of the eyes to them that are bound." I like the KJV translation best because it really gets the point across. It reads - "the opening of the prison to them that are bound." So the fourth reason Jesus came to us, was to open the eyes of those who are held captive to sin, but don't see it. For example, before I believed in Jesus and accepted his gift of salvation, I did not acknowledge that I was a sinner. I knew the basics of what was right and what was wrong (don't steal, don't kill, etc.) but I was blind to my need of a relationship with God. I was blind to what displeased God. I was still in Satan's camp, so to speak. I didn't worry about eternal life or life after death. My perception of "being good" was based on my own values and not on the Lord's. So what I believed was good, God frowned on. But I didn't know that because I was blind to my sin. The song Amazing Grace has it right, "I once was blind but now I see." Only the work of the Holy Spirit can bring a person to a place in their life, where they question their mortality and their need for God. And Jesus came to make that relationship with God possible through his death on the cross. He is our bridge to God, because as a sinner I could never approach a Holy God, but as someone saved through the blood of Christ, I can now go freely before Him. I am no longer blind to my sin. I am no longer bound to my former way of life, but free in Christ Jesus! So the fourth reason Jesus came was to open the eyes of sinners, so they may see their sinful state and seek forgiveness and be granted it because of Jesus' sacrifice.
reason #5: to proclaim the year of God's pleasure
One of the amazing things about these verses and why Jesus quoted them was where he stopped when reading them. Do you know that he didn't even finish the rest of the last verse? It actually reads:
To proclaim the year of HaShem's good pleasure, and the day of vengeance of our G-d. (Isaiah 61:2, JPS).
How interesting that he omitted speaking of the vengeance of God. Luke 4:20-21 goes on to say that after Jesus stopped reading "the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him." They were fixed on Him because they knew he hadn't finished the verse. They were waiting for an explanation. So Jesus gave them one and said,“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And everyone in the synagogue was impressed by his gracious words and marvelled that Joseph's son could speak so eloquently. Jesus had just announced that God had sent him for a specific mission - to bring the good news that God had a plan of salvation for them and that Jesus would be the one to proclaim that good news starting that very year. It was a "feel good" message and everyone loved it! But then Jesus hit them with his "big announcement." He told them that they (meaning his own people) would not accept him and that this "feel good" message he had just announced wasn't meant for them. Why wasn't Jesus' good news for the people in his hometown? Because he knew their hearts. He knew they would reject him and because of their anger at being compared to lepers they tried to kill him.
But Jesus' big announcement had a broader connotation to it, he used his hometown as a metaphor to make a point about how some people would accept him and some would reject him. The Jews in particular had a hard time (and still do) accepting Jesus' gift of salvation. Some (not all) would ultimately reject him and his good news of salvation and we know what happened after that - Jesus was crucified. But praise the Lord, He rose again! And he left his disciples with this commandment, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15). And in Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commanded his disciples to, make disciples of all the nations, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teach them to observe all he commanded them.
Our mission therefore is clear - to share the good news and baptize and teach those who receive that good news, which is this - Jesus came for those who recognize they are sinners, to heal them, forgive them and set them free from condemnation. When you share that message you are being an obedient disciple of Christ. Don't demand someone make a "commitment" to God right then and there. Don't pressure them to say a "sinners prayer" (FYI - that's not even biblical). Just share the good news and let the Holy Spirit take it from there.