This is a teaching I gave Saturday evening, 4/4/15 at Delaware Christian Fellowship.
Started in the Spirit
Robert Wurtz II
Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3 KJV)
In the winter months in the central United States we have our fair share of cold weather. Many places are colder, but we still endure temperatures that can make life challenging. One of those challenges is the simple process of starting an automobile. Generally a car is “started” by rotating the ignition key to the start position and when it starts the key is released and a spring rotates it back to its default position. Other cars have a either a push button or toggle type switch that is pressed until the car starts and then it is released.
Anchored Behind The Veil
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11–12 NKJV)
For the Jews of the First Century, the Temple was central to their religious experience. Although synagogues served as the place of weekly meetings, Jerusalem and the Temple were key to all the festivals and offerings. For the Jews, Jerusalem was a name that meant foundation, the abode, and the inheritance of peace. The Rabbis believe it was named Jehovah Jireh by Abraham, but since Shem named it Shalem, the words were combined into Jireh-Shalem or Jerusalem for short. It was here that Melchisedek met Abraham and blessed him; while a few miles south Abraham took his beloved and promised son Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice at Moriah. It was there, on Arnon’s old threshing floor, that Solomon built the Temple — the exact spot where the destroying Angel had showed mercy after David had numbered Israel.
The writer to the Hebrews brings most of these events to mind as he explains their significance. They serve as a reminder that the first covenant and the Temple were only part of the ongoing history of the sons of Abraham. This was a tough pill to swallow. Most of the people grew up seeing the sun rise and set on this awesome city; now the earth begins to tremble and all the familiar things — the place of peace, the abode, the very foundations were about to be shaken.
If God shook Jerusalem, He will shake anything and everything. As human beings we tend to place our faith and hope in anything that seems secure. Indeed, above all things we want to feel safe. What happens when we find our security in something other than God?
I’m reminded of God’s words to Abraham, “I am your shield and your exceeding great reward.” Notice he did not provide Abraham a shield, He would be his shield. Often we look for God to provide us something we need and His intention is to provide us with Himself. Not only was God going to be Abraham’s shield, He would also be his savior from sin. He went to Moriah with Isaac believing that God would provide for Himself a sacrifice — saw the ram and offered it. These things were only a figure. God provided Himself as the Lamb at Calvary.
It is hard to let go of the past. There is no sense pretending it should have been easy. Sometimes the past has to be thoroughly done away with before we can go forward in what God has for us. Paul suffered a foretaste of these things when he boarded the ship for Rome. He tried to warn the leaders not to take the ship in the way it went. Likewise, the Zealots were warned not to continue to provoke the Romans. Neither listened. The ship master did everything in his power to spare his ship from the storm he charted into. It was too late. The 276 people on board were so distressed that the did not eat for two weeks. When the Romans finally marched on Jerusalem in 70AD, the people were starving to death as they laid siege to it.
As the ship was about to be torn to pieces the order went out and four anchors went down over the side of that ship. All they could do is pray for morning to come. As for the Zealots and the people of Jerusalem, the city and its Temple were utterly destroyed. Not one massive stone was left on top of another it was so completely thrown down.
For the believing Jews who watched the events of AD 70 take place, they had to drop anchor as well. With everything around them going to pieces, they had to have their faith and hope in something greater than the muddied sea floor or the rocks that perchance the arms of the anchor may take hold of. Their hope was in Jesus Christ alone.
We can learn from this. Sooner or later all that seems so stable is going to be shaken and all that will be left are the things that remain. When all of our life seems to be in flux, we must set our hope eternity. The chain between the anchor and our soul must pass through the torn veil. As the old hymn proclaims:
Upon life’s boundless ocean where mighty billows roll,
- I’ve fixed my hope in Jesus, blest anchor of my soul;
When trials fierce assail me as storms are gath’ring o’er,
I rest upon His mercy and trust Him more.
I’ve anchored in Jesus, the storms of life I’ll brave,
I’ve anchored in Jesus, I fear no wind or wave;
I’ve anchored in Jesus, for He hath pow’r to save,
I’ve anchored to the Rock of Ages.
When “Something” is Worse Than “Nothing At All”
Robert Wurtz II
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6–9 KJV)
How often have we heard the saying, “Well, it’s better than nothing?” What about the sibling notion, “Well, at least they are doing something.” From a Biblical perspective one might say, “Well, nevertheless, Christ is preached.” These sayings are certainly valid in proper contexts; however, what are we to make of them when it’s the Gospel itself that is in view and at risk?
Galatians is the only epistle that Paul wrote with his own hand. Typically he employed an amanuensis to do the writing — as he did the dictating. Men like Tertius (Romans 16:22), Tichicus or Onesimus (Colossians 4:18) wrote the epistles, and Paul would write the salutation at the beginning and end (see 1 Corinthians 16:21, 2 Thess. 3:17). However, in Galatians 6:11 we don’t have the signature of an amanuensis; we have the words, “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!” Undoubtedly Paul’s eyesight did not allow him to write in normal sized characters. It must have looked like a first grader had written those words. Why the sudden change of process? Why no amanuensis?
The situation at Galatia was too urgent. He had to get the letter off to the people and right now. When they beheld his writing they must have been horrified. What could possibly be so serious that a man half-blind would take the time to write out with his own hand a letter such as this. Their alarm would not have been unfounded. They had hardly passed the salutation when they were confronted by the sentence, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. The word accursed comes from the Greek anathema and means Divine disfavor. It is the opposite of grace and peace. Paul uses the word again in 1 Corinthians 16:22 where we read, If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come! (NKJV) These sayings strike most Christians as harsh, but that is more of the result of the world’s influence on them than anything else. God is who He is and His word is what it is — not as He is or His word is as seen through the lens of God’s enemies. Comprehending Paul’s use of anathema will go a long way in restoring a proper reverence to God and the Gospel. Otherwise, the offenders will be accursed.
A Gospel of the Flesh
The enemy doesn’t seem to care what kind of fleshly means he uses, so long as he can get Christians to employ the flesh instead of continuing in the Spirit. What did Paul say? “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3 NKJV) This is any means of perfection and maturity in Christ other than walking in the Spirit. Some prefer coming under the Law to walking in the Spirit. It is the flesh. Others are living in sin and abusing grace (trying to) and that is also flesh. Flesh is flesh is flesh is flesh; and it comes in many flavors. Again, the enemy doesn’t care what version of flesh you choose — so long as he can stop you beginning in and continuing in the Spirit.
The consequence for those who teach these type of things is that they are accursed. Whether they realize it now or not — they… are… accursed. It will be evident in the Judgment if they don’t turn from their ways. Why? Because people who take it upon themselves to pervert the Gospel deserve to be without grace. If they didn’t, God would not have inspired Paul to pronounce a curse on them. Are we nicer than God? Paul said it, “Let them be accursed.” The word let in the Greek is in the present imperative.
It would seem to me that ministers and teachers would examine what they are preaching and teaching against what Paul has preached to make sure they are not cursed. None are exempt from the possibility of cursing. Not even angels. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. Paul preached repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ until the end of his ministry. They who would pervert the Gospel and turn grace into lasciviousness will not admit this. However, we have it in Paul’s own words. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. (Acts 26:20 emphasis added) From here folks were to be baptized in water and receive the Holy Spirit. This “receiving of the Holy Spirit” is what Paul describes as “having begun in the Spirit…”
Let us keep our minds on what Paul said, “If anyone preaches any other Gospel than what we have preached to you — let them be accursed.” I can’t feel safe preaching the Gospel according to Martin Luther, Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Bill Bright, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen or (insert favorite preacher here ________): I have to preach the Gospel that Paul preached; that is, if I am to avoid the curse pronounced in Galatians 1. We cannot look to men, we must look to God’s word. Nevertheless, multitudes are willing to risk being cursed and all the while proclaiming to be blessed. How many today are preaching grace, but are really under a curse? Any Gospel that does not result in a Christian receiving the Spirit by the hearing of faith and continuing on walking in that Spirit that they began in… is not Paul’s Gospel. There are a great many names we can apply, but Paul’s would not be one of them.
Going back under the Mosiac Law is a curse waiting to happen. Bringing in the world’s hair-brained schemes to supplement the Gospel is as much madness as when Sarah tried to help God by giving her husband Abraham an Egyptian slave woman to have relations with. Paul called Ishmael a child born after the flesh. The Gospel is being preached “after the flesh” every time someone tries to freshen it up with worldly – secular – God-hating contributions. What fellowship has light with darkness? Certainly it was serious enough for Paul to rush off a letter written with his own handwriting. I suppose if that didn’t get their attention — nothing would.
What is Compromise?
Robert Wurtz II
You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:18b-21)
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26, 27)
The word “therefore” signals the end of Paul’s sojourn in and around Ephesus. He is leaving the area, but before he goes he reminds the leaders a second time that he has faithfully declared to them the whole counsel of God. He says, “I kept back nothing” and then “I have not shunned” to declare everything you needed to know about the Gospel. Both phrases are translated from the Greek root hupostello. You will remember this word from the pair of uses in Hebrews 10:38, 39 where the writer states, “the just shall live by faith, but if any man draw back my soul shall have no pleasure in him…” The word means to furl the sails or to shrink back out of fear. When the winds were carrying a ship in a direction repulsive to the navigator, he may order to “furl the sail” (hupostello) to slow the ship down. In other words, Paul means to say that he suppressed nothing of the truth through fear of giving offense. He did not compromise the Gospel.
This is significant because the history of the church at Ephesus is recorded from its conception — through to its appearance in Revelation chapter 2. When we think of Ephesus we should think of a church that was planted and cultivated rightly. Nothing was held back. Ephesus became one of the premier churches of the first century. There can be no doubt that the details recorded in Acts chapters 18-20 are intended to instruct us in the basics of establishing a church. People may change and cultures will differ, but the basic call to repentance and the establishment of that church under the head of Christ is worthy of all acceptation.
Reading the account of Paul’s work at Ephesus, and contrasting that with modern day evangelistic practices and church growth strategies, I am brought to understand his use of the phrase “I beseech thee.” Paul would beg people to do what God’s word says to do. He was prepared to take a beating or even lose friends in order to protect the authentic Gospel. He wanted the truth of the Gospel to continue on. The feeling back of the words “I beseech thee” goads us to feel the seriousness of such matters. Paul begged and wept over these things. We ought to follow his lead and do likewise.
Free From the Blood of All Men
It is because Paul refused to shrink back, but went ahead and declared the full counsel of God, that he could declare, “I am innocent of the blood of all men.” The inverse of this would have been that he refused to declare the full counsel of God and was guilty of the blood of all that heard his Gospel. This is a clear allusion to Ezekiel 33:1-6. In Paul’s theology, the Old Testament passage was still in play. This makes Ezekiel 33:1-6 axiomatic and applicable to all who know and preach the truth of the Gospel. Is God a respecter of persons? Or is God telling us in the clearest of terms that He expects that His Gospel not be compromised?
What does it mean to be guilty of the blood of a man? Clearly it means that there is a sense in which the one who was supposed to properly warn the sinner shares in that sinner’s ruin. Just as Isaiah cried out “woe is me” in Isaiah 6; Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16b) Taken together Paul’s attitude of life was simple; “Woe is me, if I do not declare the full counsel of God — and cleanse myself from the blood of all men!” He knew he had to discharge his role as a steward of the Gospel. He had to fulfill his calling. This meant communicating the facts of the Gospel no matter who they offended.
Compromise and Its Children
The greatest compromise of all is the compromise of the Gospel. Compromise begets more compromise; it brings forth after its own kind. It is foolish for men to think that compromising the Gospel and its core message of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus will not bring about the ultimate compromise of all that is called Christianity. I’m asked on an almost regular basis; “What is going on today with people that call themselves Christians? Why do they condone everything from flagrant worldliness to homosexuality?” My answer is always the same. I ask the person if they really want to know the answer. Because you are not going to like my answer. The reason why things are going down the tubes is because we are failing in our evangelism of the lost. We have been failing for over 100 years when Billy Sunday put away the need to inquire with sinners individually and pray them through to a real experience in God. We started manufacturing Christians like Ford motor company manufacturers automobiles.
Some ministers do well to bring people into a state where they know they are lost and that God is dealing with them. The failure is when the person is told to say a little prayer and made to believe that the prayer means they have “repented of their sins.” Repentance is not something you merely say (such as “I repent!”); it is something you do. The Greek word means to change your mind about your sin. It is not a feeling. Paul said that Godly sorrow works repentance, but it is not repentance itself. Godly sorrow is a sorrow God-wards. It is distress for our realizing what we have done to God. That sorrow or grief can work a change of mind that we will not regret. We will be glad we changed our mind. In other words, we don’t look back with regret and wish we would have kept on in sin. When we realize that we have offended God, we are able to call upon Him in a way that is meaningful.
As soon as a person says the salvation prayer they almost always stop seeking God. A sense of relief comes over them. The whole process of Godly sorrow and repentance ends. Why? Because they are made to believe they have done what is expected of them. It is totally mechanical.
By way of illustration, imagine you are in court and have been convicted of ten felony offenses and are facing the death penalty. You have heard the charges and you understand what you deserve. Now imagine that your lawyer tells you to come forward and stand before the judge as a sign of surrender. He then asks you to repeat after him; “Dear judge, … I have committed these terrible crimes… and I ask you to forgive me… etc.” Who could do such a thing in good conscience? Do you think the judge would believe him? Who would actually believe the judge is going to pardon this man? I dare say not 1 in 10,000 people would think that would work. Yet it goes on every day in evangelistic circles. The whole spectacle was fabricated by the lawyer to get the guilty man to say what he believes the judge wants to hear. Do you believe such a practice would be effectual? And if it were, do you think the guilty man would cease committing crimes? I trow not on all accounts. And if a judge, fallible as he be, would reject such a thing as a fabrication — how much more would the Judge of all the earth who searches the hearts and knows the thoughts and intentions?
People are being made to believe they can “get saved” without counting the cost, forsaking their sin, and following Christ with all of their might. The consequence? No real regeneration. No miracle of salvation. No born again experience. No new heart. No new birth. No mind of Christ. No new creature. The old is still around, and the new has not come. Nevertheless, because they repeated the prayer they are told they are saved. Believing they are saved they begin attending church meetings. They aspire to ministry and learn how to be a Christian by watching others. They get bolder and bolder and begin challenging Biblical practices and doctrines. They advocate what God hates and hate what God loves. Why? Because they are still in the carnal mind and few if any are willing to admit that it is because they were never properly born into the Kingdom. They prayed a prayer and were made to believe they were all that God has done in Christ.
If we fail to make known the full counsel of God, and leave people in a false state of salvation, or in a false hope of assurance, we have done more damage than had we spoken nothing at all. We will have have made people believe that they can “be saved” without changing their mind about their sins and turning to the Savior for forgiveness and freedom. The prayer ended the process. “I did it” … “I’ve done what you said” and they are unchanged. There are exceptions to this, but they are few and far between and must never be allowed to serve as a defense of such a failed practice.
Understand that the duty of a lost sinner is not to come forward in a meeting or to pray a prayer forged in the mind of someone else; but they are to comprehend the facts of the Gospel and call upon the name of the Lord on the basis of what they understand to be their condition. If the prayer is not of their own heart, it is not genuine — no matter how many times we encourage them to be sincere when they say it. Even the thief on the cross cried out to Christ from his own heart. This is what must take place. This is the beginning of the end of the great compromise of the last 100+ years. If we will get back to Paul’s attitude of preaching until he was clear of the blood of all men we will see this thing turn around. If not we will plunge into oblivion and our whole identity will be lost.
Unconverted and Unconcerned
“The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:2–4 KJV)
Nicodemas came to Jesus by night, perhaps, to ask some questions. Many people today are asking questions like, “Why is there so much evil in the world?” or “Why are so-called Evangelical ministries compromising on homosexuality?” “Why are Christian ministers more afraid of holiness than sinfulness?” Nevertheless, our generation must insert itself into this passage in John 3:2-4 in order to understand what is happening in our times.
Jesus, knowing the thoughts of all men cut to the very heart of Nicodemas’ lack in understanding. No need for Jesus to answer a hundred questions and the man end up as confused as ever or even arguing the finer points. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus is saying that until a person is Born of the Spirit, they have no perceptive and reasoning capacity- nor experience in the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. There can be no aliens in the Kingdom of God; one is either Born Again or they are not a partaker of it. To try to explain the principals of the Kingdom of God to the unregenerate is to speak gibberish to them. However, this reality changes the moment a person is Born of the Spirit.
Blind to the Main Thing
It is shocking to hear the Lord asked Nicodemas, Are you a teacher of Israel, and you do not know these things? Jesus reveals the main problem with mankind as a sort of “master key” to all relevant subjects, and yet dear Nicodemas did not have a clue. He was a teacher but did not have a grasp of the very subject he was teaching. I recall how one of my son’s math teachers in High School was a genius and had such a grasp of the subject that he did not need or use the text book to teach. He could explain the subject to even the most difficult students so that they could grasp the concepts. This is what happens when the teacher actually understands what they are teaching. Nicodemas was a teacher in Israel and did not know the main subject.
I don’t believe the Lord was angry that he did not know, maybe disappointed. Nevertheless, the Lord suggests that Nicodemas should have known. It would almost be like a doctor not knowing something as basic as CPR or that a person needs food and water to live. New birth is as basic to Christianity as it gets; however, like Nicodemas, many teachers and ministers simply do not understand. Multitudes of Christians have never been told “you must be born again” from a person that actually understood the statement. It became cliche between the 50s and 80s until everyone that “started to church” and “agreed with basic evangelical doctrine” was considered a “born again Christian.” This fact has muddied the waters to the point that only a miracle of God’s grace will once again bring clarity to the subject.
Born of the Flesh
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10 NKJV)
There are two categories of people in the world: they who are of their father the Devil and they who are of their Father in Heaven. It is a hard saying, but we have to come to reality. We are all born into this world in a sinful, selfish-state. This selfishness manifests first as rebellion against authority, and later as full-on rebellion against God (usually about the time a person becomes a teenager). People generally spend their whole lives doing things that they know are wrong (we call it sin) – resisting every dealing of God and conscience. When the person knows they are doing wrong, they just push on through the uneasiness. This hardens the person into a sinful, calloused person who needs a whole lot more than a new years resolution or a makeover. They need new birth.
As a consequence of the fall of man, we are all born “in Adam” by first birth. That is, we are born “in the flesh” and “of the flesh.” God is bringing many sons unto glory, but to accomplish this we have to be reborn of the Spirit. Perhaps you are asking now as Nicodemas, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? This is where modern evangelistic practice proves itself to be in a spirit of Nicodemas that has taught many things without understanding what they were teaching.I suggest, this is why we are losing Christianity.
Nobody knows better than God that people must individually be born again. Nobody knows better than God that man is totally helpless to accomplish this by himself. The principal of New Testament scripture is that God knows what we need and desires to give more than we desire to receive. God does not pass out stones where He knows we need bread, etc. So we need not stress on the thought that God is somehow up in heaven playing games with people telling them they must have something – and then refusing to provide it. The question is not on God’s end – it is on man’s end. Paul asked the great question, “How shall they hear without a preacher?”
In the last 120 years the goal of preaching changed from getting folks genuinely born again, to convincing them to pray a little prayer and start to attend church. I trace the history of this fact in my latest book Televangelicalism. When the evangelist does not know the purpose for which he is preaching, how could he possibly achieve the goal? Moreover, if he downplays the necessity of being born again, because everyone else is doing it, how long will it be until absolutely nobody is being born again? If Jesus says, “you must be born again” how dare a man come along and undermine the emphatic nature of the fact. The problem over the last 120 years has been than men got bolder in repackaging the words of Jesus until it has made the word of God of no effect. You must be born again is a stand alone fact. How we get to that reality can be discussed, but it is an absolute truth that we cannot side step. it is a necessary process that cannot be substituted or circumvented.
Unconverted and Unconcerned
If ten generations of preachers in a row decided to follow the popular trends until few now live that still believe in regeneration (New Birth), it is the responsibility of those who rediscover the discarded truth to begin studying and preaching it. More importantly, they must know with certainty that they are in fact born again. Take John Wesley for an example. He began preaching at a young age having been raised to know God and his word from his mother Suzanna’s knee. It was finally at the age of 35 (thirty-five), on board a storm tossed ship on the Atlantic that he finally realized that he was not truly regenerated. What a shocking revelation! He had never truly placed his faith and trust in Christ. He was raised in church and even preached. He had strict codes of living, but he was not truly changed. Converted at 35 he preached for 53 years and died at 88. However, he had had 88 years of teaching with 35 years of them in an un-reborn state.
Likewise many today are in the same boat. They have been in church all their lives, but cannot tell of a time when they truly surrendered to God, repented of their sin, and placed their 100% faith in Christ alone for salvation. Many have a “learned faith” in which they figured out how to do it and because they can imitate Christian conduct they believe they are one. How about it? Have you ever come to a place in your life where you realized you were not really born again? Can you remember a time when you were in anguish for your sinful condition and cried out to God to change you? We mustn’t fool ourselves. Are you concerned that you have not really been born again or are you trusting in the powerless words of a well intended, but incompetent evangelist who told you to pray a prayer and you will be born again? The first step is to be concerned. Take yourself to the night where Nicodemas came to Jesus and let God lead you to truth from there.
How Shall They Hear?
Robert Wurtz II
For “WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO PREACH THE GOSPEL OF PEACE, WHO BRING GLAD TIDINGS OF GOOD THINGS!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” (Romans 10:13-16 NKJV)
I have quoted this passage at length in order to focus on the importance of “hearing” the Gospel. Certainly, there is a sense in which all people everywhere ought to know that there is a Creator. We know that the world is filled with people that should acknowledge the light that they have, but they suppress it. In fact, God has written His laws in the hearts of men and women, so that from birth, we all have a basic sense of right from wrong. Nevertheless, unless people are challenged in some way they will go on suppressing these realities. Paul reminds us that some are so hardened in heart that they do it and approve of others that do it as well. How will they hear? God’s method of challenging these sinners is through what Paul called, “the foolishness of preaching.” Not that preaching is foolish, but rather people (especially those who consider themselves educated) often view preaching as a foolish thing to do. Nevertheless, this is God’s method.
Unless They Are Sent
It stands to reason that there are realities that must be true before a person can be sent to preach. Saul of Tarsus is an example. Until his Demascus Road experience, he was not qualified- nor did he desire to preach the Gospel. In fact, he was at odds with God’s revealed Gospel in mind and in practice. To a lesser or greater degree, all unbelievers (the unregenerate) are in a state of disagreement with God when it comes to the Gospel. Saul went so far as to persecute those who believed and would have stamped out the preaching of the Gospel if he could have. However, when Saul was converted and became (as it were) Paul (as a new creation in Christ) he satisfied the first requirement for preaching the Gospel.
Until Paul was truly born of the Spirit he was not in agreement with God from the heart and could never preach the Gospel. This is because the carnal mind is at enmity with God and cannot be made subject to His law. Bear in mind that I am speaking of the Gospel as it is known in the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament and not the post-tent crusade, man-centered gospel as it has been known now for roughly a century. The unregenerate can preach the “modern gospel,” but they could never preach the Gospel of the book of Acts. So we have to make the distinction between the preacher of the modern gospel and the Preacher that Paul is speaking of when he says, “And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” (Romans 10:16)
Paul, referencing Isaiah, calls the Gospel message “our report.” The first aspect of the message is the revelation of the sinfulness of all men and women. This is argued extensively in the early chapters of Romans and was preached regularly in the book of Acts. It typically produced one of two responses: anger or trembling. When Stephen preached, the people got angry and stoned him. When Paul preached to Felix, he trembled. Paul heard Stephen’s message and later repented. We have no record of Felix repenting. So we see then that it is not enough to tremble at the notion that we have offended God and are accountable to him in the great Judgment. We have to repent (change our mind) and turn to Christ. We have to agree with what God has said about our sinful behavior and our sinful condition.
Roman’s 10:16 equates obedience with believing the report (message). If a person does not believe they will not obey. This is an act of the will- not a matter of being convinced. God Himself has shown man the truth. Many people have received far more “light” than they should have ever needed to believe, but they go on in disobedience. The religious leaders even saw Lazarus raised from the dead; and rather than believing- they sought to kill him again. Amazing. But this is how obstinate man can be. This is how hostile to the truth of the Gospel some people are.
A God and A Gospel that Sinners Will Accept
Israel was loaded with false prophets that told the people what they wanted to hear. How could these wolves in sheep clothing ever bring Israel to a place of repentance? They were too busy telling the people about peace and safety. The same is true today. Men and women have fabricated a “god” that will accept their sinfulness and be available at their beckon call. Grace has become a synonym for license to sin. Some people will go to their grave worshiping this god- because the process answers their inward need to worship their Creator. It is a placebo. It is false.
Paul was greatly challenged by Jews that believed they were the elect and could not possibly be at enmity with God. They saw no need to repent under the deceptive religion they believed. We get the impression in Romans that many believed themselves above the common people because they were teachers of the law and of “babes.” In their mind this made them exempt from the very things they taught. They were born and raised Jews and therefore were God’s people by divine right. Paul thoroughly challenged this belief.
In modern times we have a similar dilemma. Many people are born into Christian homes, and like the Jews, believe that this is what makes them a Christian. They would never admit this, but we have to account for the fact that historically the many children of true Christians are likely to have never undergone a true conversion experience. The Puritans experienced this in the 16th and 17th century in America and had to make compromises in church procedures to accommodate them within the churches. Paul would have challenged these peoples’ assurance-just as John the Baptist had done. God is able of stones to raise up children in Christian homes; nevertheless, this does not make the person a true child of God.
We can train up a child in a way he or she should go, but this does not make them believers. This was Paul’s message in Romans. We all, no matter our upbringing, have to come to a place of Godly sorrow and true repentance. We have to acknowledge our sins just like everyone else. We have to repent of many of the sins that run rampant within churches and go completely unchallenged. In fact, we have to begin to see how many churches have established their rules of conduct in such a way that it allows children raised in church to fly under the radar. There are a lot more sins in the world than drunkenness and homosexuality (sexual immorality). Hypocrisy, greed, lying, gluttony, pride, and a host of other like things are often the very sins that answer to sinners rebellion. This is what the Pharisees and religious leaders (who thought they were elect) we often guilty of. When these go unchallenged-many people never see their sinfulness and therefore will never repent. Stephen was the type of preacher that could look at Saul (Paul) who was “blameless as touching the law,” and declare “you stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did – so do you.”
How Shall They Hear?
If there is any question that I dwell on more than any other it is this, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” Until we get some people truly born of the Spirit and called of God- there is no hope in our lands. We have “ministers” a dime a dozen- but where are the preachers like Paul and Stephen that will call the people to repent and believe the Gospel? How long must we go on wearying ourselves as did Israel with false prophet after false prophet? The only hope we have is for the preachers that are truly born again to preach the Gospel as it is supposed to be. Not ear-tickling, and not abusing the people, but ministering the “report.” I have no doubt that if men will do this God will back the words and we will begin to see real change in our lands.
Keeping the Faith
Robert Wurtz II
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Paul is writing to young Timothy prior to his appearance before Nero and his eventual martyrdom. 2 Timothy is loaded with figurative language comparing the spiritual life to to our physical lives. Here he uses a favorite figure of fighting the good fight of faith, as it were an athletic contest. This is how Paul explains the life of faith. Many run, but one receives the prize. We are to run that we might obtain. Paul gives insight into his approach to the life of faith telling us that he brought his body into subjection lest when he had preached to others he himself would be a castaway. (1 Cor. 9:27) Some of the Corinthians desperately needed teachings concerning sexual immorality, so the language employed is particularly strong. The passage means to “hit under the eye.” This is not a literal smiting, but to take himself by the scruff of the neck, if necessary, to keep control of his natural physical desires. This takes discipline. He was conditioned to fight a good fight. Why? Because he wanted to finish his course.
Finishing our course
When Saul was confronted by Jesus on the road to Demascus, He was given a task to complete that would consume the rest of his life. He was to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, preaching the Gospel in places never before reached. Paul states at the end of life, I have finished my course. The word course (dromos) is used by Luke (and Paul) to first describe the ministry of John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of Christ and when he had “completed his course” of preaching repentance declared he was not worthy to loose the shoes of Christ. (Acts 13:25) It is used by Paul in Acts when he tells the Ephesians that he wanted to finish his course with joy, in spite of the fact that the leaders wept hoping he would remain there. (Acts 20:24) Writing to Timothy at the end of life he could declare, I have finished my course. He did everything necessary to bring his body into subjection that he might fight a good fight. This set the stage for the lifetime accomplishment of finishing the course that had been set before him. He worked out his own salvation with fear and trembling. It’s what we all have to do if we are to share Paul’s testimony.
Keeping the faith
It would be beyond the scope of these thoughts to even begin to explore the great many sufferings and trials that Paul endured over the course of his life. He suffered the loss of all things and was frequently alone being tested for his faith. He was a true leader that knew Him in whom He had believed. His trust was in Christ. In his own words, I have kept the faith. What a staggering miracle! He had been beaten enough times to kill multiple men and yet, he could say “I have kept the faith.” He lived with a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan buffeting him, but he kept the faith. He watched as people he had ministered along side abandoned Christ, but he kept the faith. His life was one dramatic act of suffering after the next. He confessed at one point, For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus. (2 Cor. 7:5-6) The Devil threw everything he had at him, but he kept the faith.
The battlefield of faith
I wish to end this entry with a passage from the writer to the Hebrews:
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:35-39)
Our word here for draw back is hupostello and it means to furl the sail. When a ship was going into battle it might lower the sail or ‘draw back’ so as to avoid the danger. As believers we must keep the sail raised and at full mast. that is to say, we must allow the Holy Spirit to carry us along to what He has for us. There will be a great many trials along the way. Some will be very difficult. This was Paul’s experience. His ultimate destination was martyrdom under Nero. Not all people end their life this way. Some suffer terribly with sickness or loss. Keeping the faith at these times will come as a result of walking with God all the other times. We must bring our bodies into subjection and be disciplined for this fight of faith. All that we are experience right now is preparing us for our future. Paul was ready when the time came. He could state with confidence, For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)