In a society that consistently teaches “love of self” as a solution to almost every problem, is focusing on guilt before a Holy God counterproductive? Does acknowledging our guilt before God have any place in the Christian experience, when so often we are given the message that we must live victoriously, naming and claiming God’s promises so that we can lead abundant and fulfilled lives? Will admitting our guilt before God undermine our self esteem or our pursuit of an optimal Christian experience? Conversely, if grace is preached too freely, will this remove the motivation for Christians to live a holy life? Will grace without strings attached open up the door to lawlessness? When does gratitude for the finished work of Christ come into play? These questions have received widely different answers in the Christian world and are particularly divided along denominational lines. Dr. Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, tackles these important issues in a prologue to a broadcast of the White Horse Inn. His insights are profound and help us to understand our position of guilt before God, the grace He freely gives in Christ, and the life of gratitude Christians live in response.
Dr. Michael S. Horton
Westminister Seminary California
”Grace is the essence of theology and gratitude is the essence of ethics.” So declared one of the greatest Reformed theologians of this century, G.C. Berkouwer. It sounds so simple, and yet it is such a difficult business to arrange all of our thoughts, affections, convictions and actions around these two poles.
You see, we fear that making God’s grace alone in Christ the essence of our theology, it will lead to imbalance and apathy in the Christian life. And by making gratitude the essence of ethics, where does the fear of punishment and hope of rewards have any place? Therefore we hear the cry again and again, “Balance! We need balance!” as if the good news were just too good and the bad news were just too unbearable.
Most of our contemporaries would like to believe that either God is too nice or that we are too nice to merit divine wrath. As it has been in many self-satisfied periods in history, our day is given over to feel-good religion and there is little place in feel-good religion for recognizing our guilt before a Holy God.
Guilt, in fact, is a dirty word in our feel-good culture. This may be because many of us were raised in strict churches where guilt was a tool for keeping us in line. But for the wider culture, guilt is one of the casualties in this “triumph of the therapeutic”. The idea of guilt just isn’t warm and affirming. As the great Saturday Night Live theologian Stuart Smalley would tell us, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!”
But denying it doesn’t make it go away. We feel it, but we can’t explain it, because we aren’t allowed to believe anymore that we feel guilty, since maybe we are guilty. While the world pokes fun at feel-good religion, the church seems to be thriving on it these days.
While we may not relish a toothache, it’s the pain that pushes us into the dentist’s office and maybe saves the tooth. We can deny the tooth’s pain or pretend that it doesn’t exist, as the Christian Science or Pentecostal faith healers might expect us to do, but the Bible paints the picture of the human condition with warts and all. Like the toothache, our feelings of guilt are meant to lead us to recognize that there is in fact an objective problem of guilt before a Holy God.
Let’s put it in the following terms. Do you believe in God? Let’s start with the very basic. If so, do you believe that this God thinks that the actions of Hilter and the Nazis were wrong and deserve severe punishment? If there is a God, and He didn’t consider those actions worthy of the severest punishment–whatever that happened to be–would there be any sense of justice in the world? Could you believe in a God like that?
Even the most committed secularist secretly harbors the hope that a serial rapist who beat his rap on earth will nevertheless get his due sometime, somewhere, somehow in the next life.
So what do you think? Can you accept the idea that there is a final judgment, at least for some people at the end of it all? Is evil ever finally judged and vanquished, or will the slaughter of millions in Nazi Germany never be avenged? Can we live with the existence of a God who is that callous to our existence?
If you can accept the idea that there is a final judgment of at least some people, the next question is this: If there is a final judgment of some people, why not you? If you grant that there is a final judgment at all, and that evil is finally judged, and the wicked are sentanced, there must be some reason why you think that you don’t belong there.
Maybe you’re not Hitler or Stalin. Maybe you think of yourself as a pretty good person who gets along with people well enough. But do you have any objective, solid reason to believe right now, right where you’re sitting, that you are good enough to avoid God’s judgment?
Do you know how good you must be to receive His approval instead of His sentance? These are tough questions, and since eternity is one heck of a long time, you ought to have some reasons to believe whatever it is you believe about this whole subject.
The problem is, we–and by “we” I mean the Christian church at the end of the twentieth century–haven’t been terribly clear ourselves.
The Scriptures are quite plain about the whole business. We are born sinners and we die sinners. At no point in between are we righteous enough to stand before God. And God’s holiness and justice requires the punishment of all sinners.
So no one escapes God’s wrath, because God doesn’t “grade on a curve”. The biblical view levels the playing field. There is, says Scripture, no one who is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10-11).
No other religion has such a pessimistic, or as we would say, realistic view of human nature and the possibilities of salvation by human effort or goodness. But the good news is that no other religion has such an optimistic view of God in His grace! While the world’s religions may all point you in the direction of heaven, telling you that you aren’t helpless and that you can save yourself by pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, Christianity tells you that Christ has come not just as a moral leader to show us the path to God, but to be our way, our truth and our life (John 14:6).
That’s what I mean when I say that everybody else tones down both the bad news and the good news. The bad news isn’t as bad as Christianity’s portrait, but the good news, therefore, can’t be as good either.
The problem is, we know, deep down, when we put our head on the pillow, we don’t have the foggiest chance of getting close to God by our own resolutions or good intentions. We know that our heart is deceitful and our thoughts are far from loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourself. Deep down we know, as Adam and Eve knew when they fled from God’s presence and tried to cover up their nakedness with fig leaves of their own making that things aren’t that simple and God isn’t pleased with our lives.
We know–in every culture, in every religious tradition, that there must be an atonement–a peace offering, and either we will have to stand judgment for our sins, or we must throw ourselves on the mercy of the court, trusting in Christ alone to provide us with the justice and righteousness that we need before the heavenly Judge of all the earth.
If grace is the essence of theology, then as Berkouwer said, gratitude must be the essence of ethics.
John Wesley once declared that if we took grace too seriously, especially the doctrine of election, it would undermine our only basis for pursuing a holy life–fear of punishment and hope of rewards. But isn’t that a selfish motivation for the Christian life? That’s always been the fear–“Too much grace! It’ll throw a wrench in the whole process of Christian growth.”
But the Scriptures insist that a legalistic view of the Christian life is what leads us right back to fear and bondage. Since the Law, though good, in and of itself can never give us the power to perform what it commands, the gospel not only reconciles us to God in the first place, it’s the only fuel we have to keep us going in the process of sanctification. Therefore, gratitude–not fear of punishment or hope of rewards–is the only proper basis for pursuing a holy and God-glorifying existence.
If our salvation depended upon us for one moment, even in the slightest degree, we would eventually either become self-righteous, pretending that we were actually pulling it off, or we would despair of ever knowing whether God really accepted us. How could we possibly love God and serve our neighbor freely if we were still caught up in the saving of our own skin?
Used with permission from Dr. Horton and the White Horse Inn.
Posted on 04/20/07 at 06:00 AM.
White Horse Inn
this article in the forum
The lack of Christian joy is perhaps the poorest advertisement for the Christian life. Those who are depressed about their faith or who have no assurance in their salvation will never express the natural joy of one who really understands what God has done for him in Christ. The Welsh preacher Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones devoted an entire sermon series to this problem, later collected into a book entitled Spiritual Depression. Lloyd-Jones makes the profound observation that the problem with many depressed Christians lies not in their forms of worship, musical tastes, or outward appearances, but in their core beliefs. In essence, many have confused justification with sanctification, pursuing the latter while never fully believing in the former. As Lloyd-Jones says, “They have assumed that they are right about the first things, but they never have been right about their justification and it is just here that the devil causes confusion. It suits him well that such people should be concerned about sanctification and holiness and various other things, but they can never be right until they are right here, and that is why we must start with this. It is no use going on to deal with the superstructure if the foundation is not right.” Read on below for more thoughts from this profound chapter on justification.
“We therefore start with this great doctrine. This confusion is an old trouble. In a sense it is the masterpiece of Satan. He will even encourage us to be righteous as long as he has us confused at this point. That he is doing so at the present time is clear from the fact that the average person in the Church seems to regard men as Christian simply because they do good works, even though they may be entirely wrong about this preliminary truth. It is an old trouble, and it was the essential trouble with the Jews. It is what our Lord was continually saying to the Pharisees, and it certainly was the major argument which the Apostle Paul had with the Jews. They were entirely wrong with regard to the whole question of the Law, and the main problem was to show them the right view of it. The Jews believed that the Law was made by God in order that man might save himself by keeping it. They said that all one had to do was to keep the Law, and that if you kept the Law you would justify yourself, and that if you led your life according to the Law, God would accept you and you would be well pleasing in His sight. And they believed that they could do that, because they had never understood the Law. They put their own interpretation on it and made of it something that was well within their reach. And so they thought that all was well. That is the picture of the Pharisees given in the Gospels and everywhere in the New Testament. It was the whole essential trouble with the Jews, and it is still the essence of the problem with many people. We have to realize that there are certain things about which we must be perfectly clear before we can really hope to have peace, and to enjoy the Christian life.
This preliminary point is one which we can well put by a general exposition of the teaching of this third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. The first four chapters of this great and mighty epistle are really devoted to this one theme. The one thing Paul was anxious to make clear was this message about the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ. He had already said in chapter 1:16-17 ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written the just shall live by faith’. Yes, but the question was, why did not everybody believe that? Why was this not accepted almost automatically by all who heard it, as the greatest good news that had ever come into the world? The answer is that they did not believe it because they did not see the need of it. They had a wrong view of righteousness. The righteousness of which Paul speaks means rightness with God. There is no happiness finally, there is no peace, there is no joy except we be right with God. Now that is agreed by all, that is assented to by the miserable Christian as well as the assured Christian. Yes, but the whole difference between the one and the other is that the former, the miserable Christian, is wrong in his ideas as to how this rightness with God is to be obtained. That was the trouble with the Jews also. They held, as I have reminded you, that this rightness is attained by conforming to the Law as they understood it, and keeping it. But their whole view of the Law was entirely wrong. They perverted it, with the result that the very thing which God had given them to further His way of salvation had become in their hands the main obstacle to it.
What then is the teaching? There are certain simple principles about which we must be quite clear before we can ever hope to enjoy this Christian salvation. The first is conviction of sin. We must be absolutely clear about our sinfulness. Here I follow the method of the Apostle Paul and raise an imaginary objection. I imagine someone saying at once: ‘Are you going to preach to us about sin, are you going to preach about conviction of sin? You say your object is to make us happy but if you are going to preach to us about conviction of sin, surely that is going to make us still more unhappy. Are you deliberately trying to make us miserable and wretched?’ To which the simple reply is, Yes! That is the teaching of the great Apostle in these chapters. It may sound paradoxical–the term does not matter–but beyond any question that is the rule, and there are no exceptions. You must be made miserable before you can know true Christian joy. Indeed the real trouble with the miserable Christian is that he has never been truly made miserable because of conviction of sin. He has by-passed the essential preliminary to joy, he has been assuming something that he has no right to assume.
...the first thing we have to do is stop thinking about particular sins. How difficult we all find this. We have all got these prejudices. We confine sin to certain things only, and because we are not guilty of these we think that we are not sinners. But that is not the way to know conviction of sin…
The essential point is, that the way to know yourself a sinner is not to compare yourself with other people; it is to come face to face with the Law of God. Well, what is God’s Law? Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal? ‘I have never done that, therefore I am not a sinner.’ But, my friend, that is not the Law of God in its entirety. Would you like to know what the Law of God is? Here it is—‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Mark 12:30-31). Forget all about drunkards and the like, forget all the people you read about in the press at the present time. Here is the test for you and me: Are you loving God with all your being? If you are not, you are a sinner. That is the test.” -D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, pp. 26-30
Posted on 02/19/07 at 06:00 AM.
this article in the forum
In his book, The Dwelling Place of God, A. W. Tozer devotes a chapter to the biblical command to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). The counsel in this chapter is as relevant today as when it was published in 1966. There is something here for Adventists who are determined to defend the doctrines of the church at all costs as well as former Adventists who are tempted to feel spiritually superior to their brothers and sisters who remain. Both sides can agree that our identity is not in a church, but a Person. Furthermore, we can learn from Tozer to withdraw from our sometimes bitter arguments about Adventism and see each other as humans created in God’s image, who, in our fallen human nature, are prone to theological error. Casting aside our pride to be “right” about either our Adventism or former Adventism, let us humbly submit ourselves to God’s Word and allow Him to settle the theological fights, knowing that even then, we may not have formulated a perfect theology but we are not without a perfect Savior. Tozer’s chapter is reproduced below (click “read more” above), and is well worth the read.
These are the times that try men’s souls. The Spirit has spoken expressly that in the latter times some should depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron. Those days are upon us and we cannot escape them; we must triumph in the midst of them, for such is the will of God concerning us.
Strange as it may seem, the danger today is greater for the fervent Christian than for the lukewarm and the self-satisfied. The seeker after God’s best things is eager to hear anyone who offers a way by which he can obtain them. He longs for some new experience, some elevated view of truth, some operation of the Spirit that will raise him above the dead level of religious mediocrity he sees all around him, and for this reason he is ready to give a sympathetic ear to the new and the wonderful in religion, particularly if it is presented by someone with an attractive personality and a reputation for superior godliness.
Now our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, has not left His flock to the mercy of the wolves. He has given us the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit and natural powers of observation, and He expects us to avail ourselves of their help constantly. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good,” said Paul (I Thess. 5:21) . “Beloved, believe not every spirit,” wrote John, “but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). “Beware of false prophets,” our Lord warned, “which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Then He added the word by which they may be tested, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
From this it is plain not only that there shall be false spirits abroad, endangering our Christian lives, but that they may be identified and known for what they are. And of course once we become aware of their identity and learn their tricks their power to harm us is gone. “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird” (Prov. 1:17)
It is my intention to set forth here a method by which we may test the spirits and prove all things religious and moral that come to us or are brought or offered to us by anyone. And while dealing with these matters we should keep in mind that <u>not all religious vagaries are the work of Satan</u>. <u>The human mind is capable of plenty of mischief without any help from the devil</u>. Some persons have a positive genius for getting confused, and will mistake illusion for reality in broad daylight with the Bible open before them. Peter had such in mind when he wrote, “Our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15, 16).
It is unlikely that the confirmed apostles of confusion will read what is written here or that they would profit much if they did; but there are many sensible Christians who have been led astray but are humble enough to admit their mistakes and are now ready to return unto the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls. These may be rescued from false paths. More important still, there are undoubtedly large numbers of persons who have not left the true way but who want a rule by which they can test everything and by which they may prove the quality of Christian teaching and experience as they come in contact with them day after day throughout their busy lives. For such as these I make available here a little secret by which I have tested my own spiritual experiences and religious impulses for many years.
Briefly stated the test is this: This new doctrine, this new religious habit, this new view of truth, this new spiritual experience how has it affected my attitude toward and my relation to God, Christ, the Holy Scriptures, self, other Christians, the world and sin. By this sevenfold test we may prove everything religious and know beyond a doubt whether it is of God or not. By the fruit of the tree we know the kind of tree it is. So we have but to ask about any doctrine or experience, What is this doing to me? and we know immediately whether it is from above or from below.
1) One vital test of all religious experience is how it affects our relation to God, our concept of God and our attitude toward Him. God being who He is must always be the supreme arbiter of all things religious. The universe came into existence as a medium through which the Creator might show forth His perfections to all moral and intellectual beings: “I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another” (Isa. 42:8 ) . “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
The health and balance of the universe require that in all things God should be magnified. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.” God acts only for His glory and whatever comes from Him must be to His own high honor. Any doctrine, any experience that serves to magnify Him is likely to be inspired by Him. Conversely, anything that veils His glory or makes Him appear less wonderful is sure to be of the flesh or the devil.
The heart of man is like a musical instrument and may be played upon by the Holy Spirit, by an evil spirit or by the spirit of man himself. Religious emotions are very much the same, no matter who the player may be. Many enjoyable feelings may be aroused within the soul by low or even idolatrous worship. The nun who kneels “breathless with adoration” before an image of the Virgin is having a genuine religious experience. She feels love, awe and reverence, all enjoyable emotions, as certainly as if she were adoring God. The mystical experiences of Hindus and Sufis cannot be brushed aside as mere pretense. Neither dare we dismiss the high religious flights of spiritists and other occultists as imagination. These may have and sometimes do have genuine encounters with something or someone beyond themselves. In the same manner Christians are sometimes led into emotional experiences that are beyond their power to comprehend. I have met such and they have inquired eagerly whether or not their experience was of God.
The big test is, What has this done to my relationship to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? If this new view of truth-this new encounter with spiritual things-has made me love God more, if it has magnified Him in my eyes, if it has purified my concept of His being and caused Him to appear more wonderful than before, then I may conclude that I have not wandered astray into the pleasant but dangerous and forbidden paths of error.
2. The next test is: How has this new experience affected my attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ? Whatever place present-day religion may give to Christ, God gives Him top place in earth and in heaven. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” spoke the voice of God from heaven concerning our Lord Jesus. Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, declared: “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Again Peter said of Him, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) . The whole book of Hebrews is devoted to the idea that Christ is above all others. He is shown to be above Aaron and Moses, and even the angels are called to fall down and worship Him. Paul says that He is the image of the invisible God, that in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily and that in all things He must have the preeminence. But time would fail me to tell of the glory accorded Him by prophets, patriarchs, apostles, saints, elders, psalmists, kings and seraphim. He is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. He is our hope, our life, our all and all, now and forevermore.
All this being true, it is clear that He must stand at the center of all true doctrine, all acceptable practice and all genuine Christian experience. Anything that makes Him less than God has declared Him to be is delusion pure and simple and must be rejected, no matter how delightful or how satisfying it may for the time seem to be.
Christless Christianity sounds contradictory but it exists as a real phenomenon in our day. Much that is being done in Christ’s name is false to Christ in that it is conceived by the flesh, incorporates fleshly methods, and seeks fleshly ends. Christ is mentioned from time to time in the same way and for the same reason that a self-seeking politician mentions Lincoln and the flag, to provide a sacred front for carnal activities and to deceive the simplehearted listeners. This giveaway is that Christ is not central: He is not all and in all.
Again, there are psychic experiences that thrill the seeker and lead him to believe that he has indeed met the Lord and been carried to the third heaven; but the true nature of the phenomenon is discovered later when the face of Christ begins to fade from the victim’s consciousness and he comes to depend more and more upon emotional jags as a proof of his spirituality.
If on the other hand the new experience tends to make Christ indispensable, if it takes our interest off our feeling and places it in Christ, we are on the right track. Whatever makes Christ dear to us is pretty sure to be from God.
3. Another revealing test of the soundness of religious experience is, How does it affect my attitude toward the Holy Scriptures? Did this new experience, this new view of truth, spring out of the Word of God itself or was it the result of some stimulus that lay outside the Bible? Tender-hearted Christians often become victims of strong psychological pressure applied intentionally or innocently by someone’s personal testimony, or by a colorful story told by a fervent preacher who may speak with prophetic finality but who has not checked his story with the facts nor tested the soundness of his conclusions by the Word of God.
Whatever originates outside the Scriptures should for that very reason be suspect until it can be shown to be in accord with them. If it should be found to be contrary to the Word of revealed truth no true Christian will accept it as being from God. However high the emotional content, no experience can be proved to be genuine unless we can find chapter and verse authority for it in the Scriptures. “To the word and to the testimony” must always be the last and final proof.
Whatever is new or singular should also be viewed with a lot of caution until it can furnish scriptural proof of its validity. Over the last half-century quite a number of unscriptural notions have gained acceptance among Christians by claiming that they were among the truths that were to be revealed in the last days. To be sure, say the advocates of this latter-daylight theory, Augustine did not know, Luther did not, John Knox, Wesley, Finney and Spurgeon did not understand this; but greater light has now shined upon God’s people and we of these last days have the advantage of fuller revelation. We should not question the new doctrine nor draw back from this advanced experience. The Lord is getting His Bride ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb. We should all yield to this new movement of the Spirit. So they tell us.
The truth is that the Bible does not teach that there will be new light and advanced spiritual experiences in the latter days; it teaches the exact opposite. Nothing in Daniel or the New Testament epistles can be tortured into advocating the idea that we of the end of the Christian era shall enjoy light that was not known at its beginning. Beware of any man who claims to be wiser than the apostles or holier than the martyrs of the Early Church. The best way to deal with him is to rise and leave his presence. You cannot help him and he surely cannot help you.
Granted, however, that the Scriptures may not always be clear and that there are differences of interpretation among equally sincere men, this test will furnish all the proof needed of anything religious, viz., What does it do to my love for and appreciation of the Scriptures?
While true power lies not in the letter of the text but in the Spirit that inspired it, we should never underestimate the value of the letter. The text of truth has the same relation to truth as the honeycomb has to honey. One serves as a receptacle for the other. But there the analogy ends. The honey can be removed from the comb, but the Spirit of truth cannot and does not operate apart from the letter of the Holy Scriptures.
For this reason a growing acquaintance with the Holy Spirit will always mean an increasing love for the Bible. The Scriptures are in print what Christ is in person. The inspired Word is like a faithful portrait of Christ. But again the figure breaks down. Christ is in the Bible as no one can be in a mere portrait, for the Bible is a book of holy ideas and the eternal Word of the Father can and does dwell in the thought He has Himself inspired. Thoughts are things, and the thoughts of the Holy Scriptures form a lofty temple for the dwelling place of God.
From this it follows naturally that a true lover of God will be also a lover of His Word. Anything that comes to us from the God of the Word will deepen our love for the Word of God. This follows logically, but we have confirmation by a witness vastly more trustworthy than logic, viz., the concerted testimony of a great army of witnesses living and dead. These declare with one voice that their love for the Scriptures intensified as their faith mounted and their obedience became consistent and joyous.
If the new doctrine, the influence of that new teacher, the new emotional experience fills my heart with an avid hunger to meditate in the Scriptures day and night. I have every reason to believe that God has spoken to my soul and that my experience is genuine. Conversely, if my love for the Scriptures has cooled even a little, if my eagerness to eat and drink of the inspired Word has abated by as much as one degree, I should humbly admit that I have missed God’s signal somewhere and frankly backtrack until I find the true way once more.
4. Again, we can prove the quality of religious experience by its effect on the self-life.
The Holy Spirit and the fallen human self are diametrically opposed to each other. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:17). “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit . . . . Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:5-7).
Before the Spirit of God can work creatively in our hearts He must condemn and slay the “flesh” within us; that is, He must have our full consent to displace our natural self with the Person of Christ. This displacement is carefully explained in Romans 6, 7,and 8. When the seeking Christian has gone through the crucifying experience described in chapters 6 and 7 he enters into the broad, free regions of chapter 8. There self is dethroned and Christ is enthroned forever.
In the light of this it is not hard to see why the Christian’s attitude toward self is such an excellent test of the validity of his religious experiences. Most of the great masters of the deeper life, such as Fenelon, Molinos, John of the Cross, Madame Guyon and a host, of others, have warned against pseudoreligious experiences that provide much carnal enjoyment but feel the flesh and puff up the heart with self-love.
A good rule is this: If this experience has served to humble me and make me little and vile in my own eyes it is of God; but if it has given me a feeling of self-satisfaction it is false and should be dismissed as emanating from self or the devil. Nothing that comes from God will minister to my pride or self-congratulation. If I am tempted to be complacent and to feel superior because I have had a remarkable vision or an advanced spiritual experience, I should go at once to my knees and repent of the whole thing. I have fallen a victim to the enemy.
5. Our relation to and our attitude toward our fellow Christians is another accurate test of religious experience.
Sometimes an earnest Christian will, after some remarkable spiritual encounter, withdraw himself from his fellow believers and develop a spirit of faultfinding. He may be honestly convinced that his experience is superior, that he is now in an advanced state of grace, and that the hoi polloi in the church where he attends are but a mixed multitude and he alone a true son of Israel. He may struggle to be patient with these religious worldlings, but his soft language and condescending smile reveal his true opinion of them-and of himself. This is a dangerous state of mind, and the more dangerous because it can justify itself by the facts. The brother has had a remarkable experience; he has received some wonderful light on the Scriptures; he has entered into a joyous land unknown to him before. And it may easily be true that the professed Christians with whom he is acquainted are worldly and dull and without spiritual enthusiasm. It is not that he is mistaken in his facts that proves him to be in error, but that his reaction to the facts is of the flesh. His new spirituality has made him less charitable.
The Lady Julian tells us in her quaint English how true Christian grace affects our attitude toward others: “For of all things the beholding and loving of the Maker maketh the soul to seem less in his own sight, and most filleth him with reverent dread and true meekness; with plenty of charity to his fellow Christians.” Any religious experience that fails to deepen our love for our fellow Christians may safely be written off as spurious.
The Apostle John makes love for our fellow Christians to be a test of true faith. “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him” (1 John 3:18-19). Again he says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8 ).
As we grow in grace we grow in love toward all God’s people. “Every one that loveth him that begot loveth him also that is begotten of him” (1 John 5:1) . This means simply that if we love God we will love His children. All true Christian experience will deepen our love for other Christians.
Therefore we conclude that whatever tends to separate us in person or in heart from our fellow Christians is not of God, but is of the flesh or of the devil. And conversely, whatever causes us to love the children of God is likely to be of God. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
6. Another certain test of the source of religious experience is this: Note how it affects our relation to and our attitude toward the world.
By “the world” I do not mean, of course, the beautiful order of nature which God has created for the enjoyment of mankind. Neither do I mean the world of lost men in the sense used by our Lord when He said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). Certainly any true touch of God in the soul will deepen our appreciation of the beauties of nature and intensify our love for the lost. I refer here to something else altogether.
Let an apostle say it for us: “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:16-17) .
This is the world by which we may test the spirits. It is the world of carnal enjoyments, of godless pleasures, of the pursuit of earthly riches and reputation and sinful happiness. It carries on without Christ, following the counsel of the ungodly and being animated by the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2) . Its religion is a form of godliness, without power, which has a name to live but is dead. It is, in short, unregenerate human society romping on its way to hell, the exact opposite of the true Church of God, which is a society of regenerate souls going soberly but joyfully on their way to heaven.
Any real work of God in our heart will tend to unfit us for the world’s fellowship. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). It may be stated unequivocally that any spirit that permits compromise with the world is a false spirit. Any religious movement that imitates the world in any of its manifestations is false to the cross of Christ and on the side of the devil and this regardless of how much purring its leaders may do about “accepting Christ” or “letting God run your business.”
7. The last test of the genuineness of Christian experience is what it does to our attitude toward sin.
The operations of grace within the heart of a believing man will turn that heart away from sin and toward holiness. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:11-13) .
I do not see how it could be plainer. The same grace that saves teaches that saved man inwardly, and its teaching is both negative and positive. Negatively it teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. Positively it teaches us to live soberly, righteously and godly right in this present world.
The man of honest heart will find no difficulty here. He has but to check his own bent to discover whether he is concerned about sin in his life more or less since the supposed work of grace was done. Anything that weakens his hatred of sin may be identified immediately as false to the Scriptures, to the Saviour and to his own soul. Whatever makes holiness more attractive and sin more intolerable may be accepted as genuine. “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity” (Psa. 5:4-5).
Jesus warned, “There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they should deceive the very elect.” These words describe our day too well to be coincidental. In the hope that the “elect” may profit by them I have set forth these tests. The result is in the hand of God.
Posted on 12/06/06 at 06:00 AM.
this article in the forum
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14 (ESV)
Upon returning from a writing sabbatical, John Piper recently preached a sermon on this text. He pointed out that the pharisee in this parable rightly gave God the credit and thanked Him for all the good qualities in his life. After all, he was not an extortioner, he was fair to others, and he hadn’t comitted adultery—all by the grace of God. Yet it was the tax collector, not the pharisee, who went down to his house justified.
For the professed Christian, one of the most sober thoughts should be that we might be found, like the pharisee, unjustified. The pharisee had many redeeming qualities, yet his fundamental error was believing that God had rewarded him with these attributes for all the good he had done. In other words, he believed God’s infused righteousness produced good works that justified him, effectively placing him on a higher spiritual plane than the tax collector.
How many of us have spent a lifetime pursuing the same strategy as the pharisee? We’ve faithfully attended church, kept the Sabbath, paid tithe and read our Bibles, yet unless we have acknowledged our sin like the tax collector, we will remain unjustified on judgment day. The testimonies of two preachers who found themselves in a similar condition are reproduced below. Like these men and the tax collector, may we acknowledge our sin-ravaged souls and cry out for God’s mercy. May we be driven to our knees and to the cross of Christ, where true justification is exclusively found.
“In my first two churches I preached all that I knew, honesty, faith (not knowing what it meant), good habits, church attendance, honor, and a continual exhortation to be ‘good,’ to serve God. I talked about the fruits without knowing the roots. Enthusiasm carried me in those days—enthusiasm and youth. These two proved not to be enough.
My wife’s religion consisted of a belief in God, worship of beauty, and social and personal ethic, aesthetics, lovely music, sunsets, and nature appreciation. I believed in conversion, preached it, but did not know it.
The marriage was getting difficult. My wife believed one thing. I believed another. We decided to study Jesus, without any helps of any kind, which we did with a small group for seven weeks in Canada ... It began to dawn upon me that if I would put my will into God’s hands...that this would be equal to doing God’s will...I was committing myself to all of God I could see in Jesus, plus all of God that would be revealed tomorrow and the next day and the next ... The light broke upon me. I wept like a child calling out to my wife: ‘I have missed it. Utterly missed it.’ All these years I have preached only ethics, social and personal, but not the gospel ... The gospel was the living Christ who has come to dwell in me. He has liberated me. He assured me my sins were forgiven ... There was a new center for all my social passion—it was not centered in human striving—it was centered in Christ ... Power in some measure has come.” -Dr. Don E. Schooler (Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell, p. 331-332)
“I have been a believer in our church’s message for about a quarter of a century. I started out to preach it nearly twenty-one years ago, and I have been preaching it without a break ever since. My work has been the public presentation of the teachings of the message in various cities of the East and the South. I accepted the message with a very earnest, fervent sincerity. I believed in it, as I do now, with all my heart, and I gave to it all the energies of my life. I studied for a number of years what seemed to me to be the best method of presentation with convincing speech. In my ministry I was able, by the help of God, to convince people of the truth of the great message that I believe. And many of them were persuaded to unite with our churches and join us in this movement.
In those years of activity and of preaching the message here and there, I felt that the most important thing I could learn would be how to make convincing presentation of the message of God. I studied, therefore, not only to familiarize myself with all the teachings of the prophecies and the great doctrines, but also learn how to meet objections, how to answer questions, and how to remove from the minds of others anything that would hinder them from accepting this message as the truth.
During those years of ministry, at least during the earlier part, my standing with God never concerned me very much. There were times when I would think of it, but not in any seriousness or for any length of time. I believed, when I thought of it at all, that everything must be all right between God and me because I was engaged in His service! I was doing his work. I was preaching His message and bringing people to believe it and accept it.
Those were years of great activity, and the activity itself crowded out of my mind any conscious sense of my own personal need. I found that I had a degree of convincing speech and an earnestness of presentation that persuaded men to believe what they were told. It seemed to me that God accepted me and that my hope of eternal life was based on absolute assurance. I was preaching the second coming of Christ to others; I thorou
Posted on 08/27/06 at 06:00 AM.
this article in the forum