Imagine a vain thing? That’s what mortals do when they conspire against God, with or without the aid of demons. They did it in Noah’s day. They did in at the Tower of Babel. The results were not favorable for the rebels.
But one thing the Bible demonstrates so clearly for us is that each new generation resorts to rebellion. It has always been that way. We can see it in our own world today. All we have to do is hang around and live long enough.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us this truth: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
It’s true of all manner of rebellions, too. There’s no new form of rebellion under the sun. The evil men do today is no worse than the evil they did in Noah’s day, prompting God to destroy all life save one family.
We can’t save ourselves with a carbon tax or by banning air travel or by eradicating plastic straws.
That’s why God tells us in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”
What do we need to do? “Be willing and obedient,” He says. Just return to Him and His ways.
There isn’t any sin you can commit that hasn’t been committed – or forgiven.
“But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” Isaiah 1:20 says.
“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” asks the psalmist. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
God is speaking to us still today in this generation with the same message He has always had for us throughout the eons.
Trust in Him – and His Son.
There is no other way – no other prudent path, no other road that leads to life.
He commands: “Let’s reason together.” It’s irrational not to walk with God. How many times must we see the folly of the way of the heathen? Why do the heathen still rage against Him? Why do they imagine a vain thing – that there is life in the way of rebellion against God Almighty?Top of Form
The east boundary of the place where we live has two fences side-by-side about twenty feet apart, running the length of the property. When I asked about it, I found there was an error in the original survey that was corrected when the place was bought. This is quite common since a more accurate way of surveying is now used, but the appearance of a narrow strip of land between neighbor’s fences has been a historical evidence of a problem, called in some areas, the Devil’s Lane.
My dad, just in recent years, told me of such a lane he knew about in his community when he was a boy. The neighbors could not agree on the line for their fence, so each man stepped back and built his own fence. This Devil’s Lane was a testimony to everyone that they couldn’t agree and public knowledge of this gave credit to the origin of the conflict to the devil. Each man refusing to give an inch for a life time made a sad commentary of disagreement, discord, and division.
We would like to say that we do not have this fault today, where a relationship problem has become public, but it has been a human problem from the beginning, and still is. Paul addressed the issue in letters to Corinth, Rome, and Galatia. In the letter to the Philippians he pleaded with two women by name to deal with the problem of disharmony. “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1-2). He told them to “stand firm in the Lord.” They were to put aside their personal position and determine where the Lord stood. “Now stand firm.” We need to apply this, not stand firm on Baptist tradition, or stand firm with my group, or stand firm for what I want. It’s amazing how the Lord’s name tends to bring a different way of looking at things when He is the main subject of the issue. Then Paul addressed them separately, “I urge Euodia, and I urge Syntyche.” He was probably saying that there was fault on both sides and that they were to find common ground and learn to live in harmony. To harmonize means two people singing different notes, but the notes must be agreeably related. Each person is to consider his own position in relation to the Lord and in relation to each other. In our study of Experiencing God, Blackaby states, “You cannot be in fellowship with God and His Son, Jesus, and not walk in godly fellowship with one another.” There is no doubt about this being the teaching of the Scripture. Even though we believe this, it sometimes becomes necessary to get a mediator to see how it could possibly work for us. Paul called on a brother in the church, “a loyal yoke fellow” to “help these women.”
These women were important to the church and had shared in the gospel with Paul. They were important as testimonies of God’s grace, but now their conflict was hurting the testimony of the church. It needed resolution. Their dispute was public knowledge.
Something must be done for everyone could see that they had each staked their fence line and had built a Devil’s Lane.
[Retired pastor, Allen Elston, has graciously given me permission to reprint a collection of inspiring newsletter articles he authored from 1994-1996 (like this one). I thank him for his generosity.]
Why does our culture and our world continue to spin deeper and deeper down the drain of sewage and depravity? Everywhere we look, good is called “evil” and evil is called “good.” Everything is backwards from God’s natural order. Everything is a demonic counterfeit of God’s perfect plan and design.
Today, as we read in Romans 1, it seems God has given the world over to depraved, reprobate minds. Vile affections, blood lust, worship of false gods.
“Filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, spiteful, proud, boasters, INVENTORS of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection (even for their own children); undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.”
Is it any wonder that God has given most people in this world over to reprobate minds?
A dark cloud of judgment has fallen upon our land. And it is our own fault. Why is the church today, so powerless? Or perhaps better stated, why is modern American Christendom — the INSTITUTIONAL so-called “churches” — why are THEY so powerless and effeminate? Outwardly, they practice a FORM of godliness, but they deny the power of GOD. I dare say that MOST professing Christians and church-goers today are just as carnal as the worldly. They may act “holy” during the “worshiptainment” they enjoy at their local “Godmart.” But they really have no idea whatsoever what being a Christ-follower is really all about. Salt that has lost the savor, therefore USELESS — except to be thrown out and trampled under the feet of men. That is, if they ever HAD any “salt” to begin with.
Increasingly, Lucifer and his demons are reigning on this earth. Mind you, it is only because God Almighty allows it, for now. But nevertheless, the demonic realm is very REAL, and very effective at destroying all who will fall for his lies and deceptions. And make no mistake, ALL he offers are lies and deceptions, because he is the father of lies and there is no truth in him. His goal is to lie, deceive and twist as many minds into godless rebellion as possible, leading to the ultimate death and destruction of as many of God’s image-bearers as possible. That means YOU, friend. We are ALL targets, simply because we are made in God’s image, and though our Creator is not willing that any should perish, MOST will, by their own choice.
In the book of Job, we read that:
“One day, the sons of God (the angels) came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord asked Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ ‘From roaming through the earth,’ Satan answered Him, ‘and walking around on it.’”
Ezekiel 28 is a two-fold prophecy — regarding the proud, boastful King of Tyre, who thought he was a god. The King’s judgment was pronounced:
“Because you regard your heart as that of a god, I am about to bring strangers against you, ruthless men from the nations. They will draw their swords against your magnificent wisdom and will defile your splendor. They will bring you down to the Pit, and you will die a violent death.”
Such is always the end of those who celebrate “pride.”
The second part of this message in Ezekiel seems to refer to Lucifer, Satan. It reads:
“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every kind of precious stone covered you…You were an anointed guardian cherub, for I had appointed you. You were on the holy mountain of God…From the day you were created, you were blameless in your ways until wickedness was found in you. Through the abundance of your trade (evil), you were filled with violence and you sinned. So I expelled you in disgrace from the mountain of God, and banished you, guardian cherub.”
The Lord goes on:
“Your heart became proud because of your beauty; for the sake of your splendor you corrupted your wisdom. So I threw you down to the earth…”
Yes, Satan is a CREATED being, and was anointed by God and given the position of “guardian.” But he rebelled against the Most High, and was cast down to the earth, where he remains today, as the father of lies, the enemy of our souls. 1 Peter 5 warns us that he now:
“prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
We are therefore warned to be SOBER-MINDED and WATCHFUL, and we have God’s promise that if we resist him, firm in our faith, he will flee from us. You see, he HAS to. Because we — IF we have the Holy Spirit of God within us (and not ALL who claim the name of Christ actually DO) — then WE have the very power and authority of God within us also to trample Satan beneath our feet.
In Matthew 10, we have this:
“Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.”
In Matthew 28, starting at verse 18:
“Then Jesus came near and said to them, ‘ALL authority has been given to Me in heaven AND ON EARTH. Go therefore, and make discples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to oberve everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Yes, JESUS is with us — He is IN us — and gives us HIS authority on this earth. And the authority of GOD includes authority over the devil and his demons.
Look also at Luke 10: Jesus commanded the seventy to go out, two by two into ‘every city and place.’ His directives were to:
“heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with diseases and DRIVE OUT DEMONS.”
But He warned that while the harvest is great, the workers are few. He warned that His disciples would be going out as sheep among wolves. The Christian life is NOT one of ease and comfort, not one of potlucks and ice cream socials and youth group pizza parties. This is serious business. This is our JOB.
When the seventy returned to Jesus, they came with joy saying:
“Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name!” And Jesus replied, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold… I give you… all power over the enemy, but rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Friends, do you REALIZE — do you UNDERSTAND — that the supernatural spiritual realm is REAL and PRESENT right alongside us? Though we cannot see it in the natural, it is no less real. Demons and angels walk among us on this earth and the spiritual battle rages in the heavenlies and in this world. The “prince of the power of the air” commands legions of demons to do his evil bidding among us every day. But he can only do this if WE allow it, and open the doors to the demonic.
But knowing that God is INFINITELY more powerful than the father of lies, knowing that Jesus Christ Himself was manifested in this world, died, was buried and rose again, that He might destroy the works of the devil, WHY then, is this world descending so rapidly, now, into utter destruction?
1 Timothy 4:
“Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, THROUGH THE HYPOCRISY OF LIARS whose consciences are seared.”
I could do an entire sermon on that verse alone. Today, MANY have departed. MANY are following the deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. And this Scripture TELLS US that these demonic teachings come through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. Dare I say that many — if not MOST — of our “churches” today have become nothing more than carnal, satanic social clubs, where professing “pastors” NEVER address the topic of spiritual warfare. Hireling “shepherds” that will NEVER talk about the social, cultural, moral and political issues that are twisting our own minds and those of our children, destroying marriages (indeed, even redefining MARRIAGE to include unholy sodomite hedonism), tearing apart families, and dragging millions of souls to hell every day. By their silence, they have given their consent. Sadly, there are now an increasing number of churches CELEBRATING all this wickedness as well. Not just remaining silent — now they are ADVOCATING for and CELEBRATING sodomy, infanticide, Islam, fornication, pornography, socialism, fascism and more.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
“I fear that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ. For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly!”
Yes, there are MANY false Christs and false gospels and false spirits being preached today, and there are MANY who put up with it splendidly!
God has placed before us a choice, between life and death. Sadly, most have chosen the broad path that leads to destruction. Even MOST who attend church regularly and do all the vain religious rituals, having neglected ENTIRELY the weighter matters. But Paul continued:
“Since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up. Instead, we have renounced shameful secret things, not walking in deceit or distorting God’s message, but commending ourselves to every person’s conscience in God’s sight by an OPEN DISPLAY OF THE TRUTH! But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
What an admonition! We are NOT to walk in deceit or distort God’s message but seek to touch EVERY PERSON’S CONSCIENCE. How? By AN OPEN DISPLAY OF THE TRUTH! We are not to tell the carnal, worldly person “Jesus loves you, brother, just the way you are!” That is a lie from the father of lies himself. UNTIL we come to Christ in humble repentance and faith, we remain under God’s wrath, an enemy of the cross, and Scripture tells us we are of our father the devil, and the deeds of our father we will do. And that is NOT OK! God is not “alright” with that. The wages of sin are death. Instead, as much as we are able, with all our might, through the POWER of the Holy Spirit within us, we are to present to EVERY PERSON’S CONSCIENCE an OPEN DISPLAY OF THE TRUTH! Unashamedly. Boldly, but humbly. For such WERE some of us!
But the world is growing darker, folks. And at an alarming speed. Why is evil getting so bold so quickly? Why are we seeing things coming upon the earth now that we would have never dreamed possible just a few years ago? Because we have opened the doors — we have rolled out the red carpet — we have opened “portals” into the demonic spiritual realm. We have done this by believing lies and by hiding from God’s light. We do this every day through the entertainment we choose, through the sin habits we continue to indulge in, through continuing to allow millions of babies to be slaughtered in the womb. And make no mistake, the devil and his demons FEED on the blood of the innocent. The blood of the innocent is CURRENCY in the demonic spiritual realm. We are under blood guiltiness, but few professing Christians can be bothered to actually DO anything about it, or demand justice.
The same is true with the sodomite agenda. Christians remain silent. PASTORS remain silent on ALL of these things, as thousands upon thousands of our young people and young CHILDREN are indoctrinated into this death-style. Parents even march their little kids in the “pride” parades and take them to “Drag Queen Story Time” at their local libraries. Countless children and young people are lured into the human trafficking market, sold as slaves and prostitutes. Then we celebrate the death-cult of Islam, welcoming demon worshipers into high places in government, education, media and other areas of great influence. I could go on: the plague of Pharmakea; the indoctrination of children in public schools — and the rest of us through constant use of our “screens” — the invasion of our country by hostile foreign enemies. The list is endless.
And we do ALL of this with PRIDE. Yes, we have willingly opened massive portals into the demonic realm, allowing an ever-increasing number of demons to have free reign in every area of our lives and our world. As we invite and welcome and celebrate the arrival of more and more demons, we seal our fate. Only God’s faithful remnant will find eternal life with Him. Yet we must press on, we must boldly proclaim TRUTH at every opportunity and seek and demand righteousness and justice! Most of all, we must remember the words of Moses — and actually DO what we have so woefully failed at. From Deuteronomy 6:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. These words I am giving you today are to be in your heart. REPEAT THEM to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. BIND THEM as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
This spiritual battle — this spiritual WARFARE — is REAL and it is intense, and the enemy is seeking to devour us all — especially our precious children. We need to step up our game. We need to “amp it up.” We need to be bold WARRIORS for Christ, seeking to be a restraining influence against the enemy. But we can NEVER DO THAT if we never speak up, or never leave the four walls of our local Religious Service Providers. Salt that has lost its savor cannot be made salty again. It’s too late for them. But for the faithful, NOW is the time. TODAY is the day for us to BELIEVE what Jesus said: we have ALL authority over the enemy; Jesus will be with us, even to the end of the age. Christ is IN us — and as His disciples we have the very authority of God to cast these demons OUT, and they have no choice but to OBEY… WHEN we understand and BELIEVE that authority, and come out of our hiding places and begin to exercise it. Just as Jesus commanded.
Sometimes all we need to do is believe and stand on GOD’S promises to us.
It is when you KNOW that GOD will do what HE said HE would do, when you’ve done all the fasting, all the praying, have been delivered of all things standing in your way, done all the pressing, all the crying, the lamenting, have waited patiently…
That’s when you know that now, all you need to do is stand and believe.
When it is all that you actually still CAN do.
The results may not be visible YET in the world – but in your spirit, you simply KNOW that GOD will not only do it, but that HE has already done it for you.
This knowing, it gives you peace, strength and a certain kind of confidence that you never ever had before in your entire life.
It is not pride, it is not arrogance, it is simply a confidence, a sense of being comfortable in your own greatness, in the destiny GOD has meant for you, in the life HE has meant for you to live, even though you may not be seeing it yet in the world, even though you may still SEEM to be living in the same circumstances which let you be sad and desperate, but yet, something has changed in you, in your spirit…
You know that GOD has blessed you, that HE has upgraded your life, that HE has granted you what you have been asking for for sooooo long.
NOW is a crucial moment in your life.
When you are at this point, it is important to be very strong.
It is important now that you don’t make any mistakes in order to KEEP the blessing, which is already yours – you are just one yota away to truly and fully step into your destiny, into the life GOD has meant for YOU.
There is only one more hurdle you will have to master.
Can you guess what it is, my dear friend?
Have you perhaps experienced it and know what I am talking about?
It is the devil – correct!, I bet you knew it already.
So what will happen when you are just about to enter your LIFE is that an angel of satan will stand in front of your open door and will do ALL they can to prevent you from stepping in.
The greatest temptation of your life, the sin you are still prone to, the lust you have not fully conquered yet – no matter what it is, if it is a woman or a man, if it is fame or earthly riches, if it is something or someone else you are still lusting after, something from your past, something you could never get but have been wanting and desiring for soooo long – the devil will now serve it to you on a silver plate!
He will do ANYTHING to keep you from totally, completely and fully living with and for GOD, because he knows that once you have entered through this door, into YOUR GOD GIVEN LIFE, he will have lost you forever.
Even after you have made the step, he will keep following you – he won’t ever admit it, but he will know that he has lost the battle for YOU.
In fact, a part of him knows that he has lost the battle for all souls for good and that he is doomed for damnation and eternal hell fire – but what is he supposed to do?
Shall he give up and go to hell before his time?
He will never do that.
He knows that GOD will not forgive him, that he has lost and that his destiny, too, is determined.
As long as he is still here, he will do whatever he can to drag as many as he can down with him.
Don’t let this be you, my dear friend!
GOD has a plan for YOU!
He wants you to have LIFE and have it more abundantly, that’s why HE came and that’s why HE gave HIS only begotten son, because HE loved us, loved you and me, all of us.
Even before you were born, GOD knew that HE had a plan for you!
JEREMIAH 1:5 BEFORE I FORMED THEE IN THE BELLY I KNEW THEE; AND BEFORE THOU CAMEST FORTH OUT OF THE WOMB I SANCTIFIED THEE, AND I ORDAINED THEE A PROPHET UNTO THE NATIONS.
The devil is a liar.
You must NEVER, ever forget this, my dear friend.
The challenges which will come your way just before you are about to succeed, just before GOD will grant you the victory, they will intensify, will seem even more unbearable and un-conquerable, but that is A GOOD SIGN!
It means you are almost there, it means that the enemy is gathering all he has left for one final, last blow… just like in a physical battle, when the losing army is calling their headquarters for all the reserves they can send, because they KNOW that the war is already lost, but they don’t want to admit it – not to themselves and not to their leaders.
It is the same with the enemy and his army – perhaps he himself is fighting against you, perhaps it is “just” one of his earls or lords, who is in charge to destroying you personally… but you can be sure that if he loses, whoever he is, it will not go well with him. The devil has no mercy in him and whoever fails him will not take many more breaths or if they are a spirit, they will not be a spirit for very much longer…
This is not to scare you, it is just to make you see just HOW determined the devil IS to make you fall.
Just as mercyful and loving and kind and benevolent as OUR FATHER is and just as HE always has our very best interest in mind and wants us to be well and saved, just as wicked and evil and malevolent and destructive and deceptive is the devil.
And just as OUR FATHER will ALWAYS love us and forgive us and never forsake us and always help us, the devil will do whatever he can to destroy us, to make us perish with him, to lead us astray, to deceive us, to hurt us and he, too, will never give up on us, just not out of love, but out of HATE.
The devil is a hater and violence, hate, betrayal, lies, destruction, oppression, manipulation, rebellion, possession, compulsion, addiction, torture, hate, malice, slander, these are his domains and means – often not openly, but disguised as something more pretty, more attractive, but once your spiritual eyes have been opened by GOD, you will see right through his snares…
My friend, NOTHING and NO ONE can prevent you from living the life GOD has for you.
Once you have a personal relationship with HIM, once you know HIM and once HE has promised something to YOU, to you personally, nothing can prevent this thing from coming to pass.
Only unbelief and fainting on your side…
So if any of this sounds familiar, be encouraged, my dear friend, it means that your breakthrough is very, very close and that all you have to do is STAND.
Stand on GOD’s word, stand on HIS promises, stand on your relationship with HIM.
DO NOT MOVE!
Do not move one inch, you are already standing on YOUR ground!
If you keep standing and believing, the devil will HAVE TO flee, he has no other choice.
Submit to God, Resist the devil and the Devil will flee from you.
Remember the story about GOD’s people when they were told to go around the walls of Jericho SEVEN TIMES…?
They didn’t do anything other the seventh time than they had done the previous times… and yet, after the seventh time, the walls came down!
SO THE PEOPLE SHOUTED WHEN THE PRIESTS BLEW WITH THE TRUMPETS: AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN THE PEOPLE HEARD THE SOUND OF THE TRUMPET, AND THE PEOPLE SHOUTED WITH A GREAT SHOUT, THAT THE WALL FELL DOWN FLAT, SO THAT THE PEOPLE WENT UP INTO THE CITY, EVERY MAN STRAIGHT BEFORE HIM, AND THEY TOOK THE CITY.
(PLEASE READ THE FULL STORY IN JOSHUA 6)
If your breakthrough is not fully here yet, has not manifested in the physical realm yet, that doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong or missed anything or that it your breakthrough won’t happen.
All it means that you need to stay strong and believe.
Be encouraged, my friend.
If GOD has said it, HE will do it!
You will see!
If GOD has brought you from a life of sin or from dire circumstances into your destined life, please let us hear your story (here in the comment section or on the “Your testimonies” page) and rejoice with you…
I hope and pray that this will inspire, heal and bless you and that THE LORD will bless you abundantly in all areas of your life, that HE will keep you and shine HIS face upon you and give you peace. In JESUS’ name I pray. AMEN.
June 14, 2016 BY AMERICAN COUNCIL OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
Few will deny that we are living in evil times. The enemy has “come in like a flood.” Every perversion imaginable to sinful man is now promoted as “good” or “normal.” Basic standards of morality and decency, which once prevailed in the United States, now have been largely abandoned. Sadly, as our society’s culture has sunk further into the swamp of moral degeneracy, a love for the world has eroded the standards of many Christians, which were once grounded upon the teachings of God’s Word. Selections of music, entertainment, clothing, and other choices necessary to godly living have become more similar to and less distinct from those of the lusts of the world. Many of God’s people lack a zeal for putting a cultural difference between the clean and the unclean (Lev. 20:22-26).
The true child of God must reject and resist such worldliness. The Bible warns that the world in which we live is in an important sense the domain of the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). What God has ordained for life in this world, Satan has sought to corrupt. For this reason, Paul warns in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
1 John 2:15-17 commands us to “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. For 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 forever.” To love the world in this sense is to fail to love the Father. To conform to the cultural norms produced by this lack of love for the Father is to communicate a similar lack of love for Him.
Some justify a greater conformity to the world by divorcing what is in the heart of a Christian from his outward appearance and actions. God indeed told Samuel: “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). However, what is in the heart will always manifest itself outwardly. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil” (Luke 6:45). Paul is concerned with both the transformation of the mind and the consecration of the body to holiness (Rom. 12:2). Matthew Henry, in commenting on the holy behavior of older Christian women in Titus 2:3, says that Christians should have “an inward principle and habit of holiness, influencing and ordering the outward conduct at all times.”
God has commanded us: “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). The Scripture is clear about the fruit of true holiness in the child of God: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). This fruitful holiness produced by God’s Spirit is antithetical to worldliness, the works of a flesh that produces both sinful desires and a wicked walk (Gal. 5:16-21). Cultural choices are included among the works of the flesh. Any music, clothing, entertainment, speech, or other cultural choice promoting fruitful holiness must not be conformed to styles developed to promote the worldliness of 1 John 2:15-17. This mandate applies equally to our personal lives and our corporate worship. Our love for the Father provides powerful motivation for careful conservatism that draws a clear line well-removed from the gray of compromise in this regard.
Therefore, the American Council of Christian Churches, at its 71st Annual Convention, October 23-25, 2012, in the Cedar View Independent Methodist Church, Kingsport, Tennessee, affirms the need for all Bible-believing churches and individual Christians to separate from conformity to the cultural norms produced by this world’s love for possessions, pleasures, and pride. As children determined to love our heavenly Father faithfully, we commit ourselves to the promotion and practice of consistently conservative, godly Christian living, regulated by cultural standards that demonstrate the distinctiveness of our calling as pilgrims and strangers in a world ruled by “the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience.” It is our desire that in every area of our lives, the change that has called us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” would be seen plainly by others in a way that will “glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:9-12).
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, …
During the 33 years that I was preaching regularly in the worship services of Bethlehem Baptist Church, I resisted with all my might any reference to the one half of the service as worship, and the other half as preaching or teaching.
No! I insisted that the way we talk about it be the way it is. In the one part of the service, we worship through song and prayer and confession and affirmation; and in the other part of the service, we worship through preaching and hearing preaching. It is all worship.
Which meant that the aim of my exposition in the sermon for those 33 years of preaching was in that moment of preaching to fuel in myself worship — to awaken worship, to experience worship — and at the same time draw my people into the experience of worship over the word — in response to the reality shining out of the word.
Preaching’s Highest Priority
The aim of preaching was only secondarily that marriages might hold together, or that our people might be honest and just in all their business dealings, or that they might witness with boldness to unbelievers, or that they might pray with fervor, or that they might give themselves to the cause of global missions, or that they might be generous so that the church budget can be met, and all the ministries carried out. If any of those things ever became the primary goal of my preaching, I believed I had ceased to preach biblically.
“My primary task, week in and week out, was to handle the Scriptures in such a way that I laid open the reality of God.”
And, of course, I longed for and prayed for the health of their marriages and their honesty in business, and their boldness in witness, and their fervor in prayer, and their zeal for missions, and their radical wartime lifestyles and sacrificial generosity. All of that is essential to the Christian life. But many pastors are so burdened by the urgency of these precious, practical things, that they subtly — or blatantly — make those things the primary aim of their preaching. And I think that is deadly.
I think all of those things — and the thousand other beautiful, practical fruit of biblical truth — flourish in the soil of worship. So, my primary task, week in and week out, was to handle the Scriptures in such a way that I laid open the reality of God and his work in Christ and in the human soul and in the world, so that hearts — first mine and then the people’s — might be enflamed with worship. Heart’s aflame with worship of God, kindled by a sight of the glory of God through the word of God — that’s the soil in which all God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent fruit of righteousness grows. And if it doesn’t grow there, it’s probably not Christian fruit at all.
Reality Demands a Response
So, what I want to persuade you of is that biblical preaching — the kind that Paul commands in 2 Timothy 4:2 — is worship. Or to say it more fully: preaching is expository worship. Or the phrase that I like to use for biblical preaching: expository exultation.
The text is opened so that the true meaning — the author’s intention in these words and clauses — and the reality communicated through that meaning, can be seen for what it is; that’s exposition.
And as it is opened, the preacher is responding to it — with his mind and his heart and his body — in a way that signals its proportionate worth and beauty; that’s exultation.
What I mean by the preacher’s signaling the proportionate worth and beauty of the reality behind the text is that the preacher’s response — with his heart and mind and body — should be fitting, suitable, proportional to the kind of reality seen through the text. So, for example, if the reality in the text is heavythe preacher is not lighthearted. If the reality in the text is sweet he’s not sour or dull. If the reality in the text is tender, he’s not harsh. If the reality is harsh, he is not tender. If the reality in the text is glorious the preacher is in awe.
And believe me, brothers, this can’t be faked. Spiritual people can tell if you are an actor playing an emotional role. Unspiritual people — you can fool them. But not real Christians, who have the Holy Spirit.
If every truth in the text elicits from the preacher the same pitch, the same tone, the same spiritual intensity, or if majestic realties find him in the same casual, chatty mode he uses for the illustration about his dog, or if the tender embrace of the prodigal by the Father finds him in a hard, condemning tone, the preacher is just not in touch with reality — and his people know it. Many of them are so used to that kind of preaching, they have lost a sense of how tragic it is and assume it’s normal.
So, here’s where we’re going. First, I will try to define what the inner essence of worship is. Then I will make try to show why biblical preaching not only aims at this worship in every message, but also is this worship in every message.
The Inner Essence of Worship
Let’s define the inner essence of what worship is. The reason I focus on the “inner essence of worship” is that the New Testament, unlike the Old Testament, is stunningly silent on the external specifics of what corporate worship should look like.
To Every Culture
I think the reason for this is so that the New Testament will be a relevant book of faith and life for all the cultures of the world. Old Testament Judaism was mainly a come-and-see religion. And New Testament Christianity is mainly a go-and-tell religion. And that means we are to take God’s word and incarnate it in every culture. So, there are hundreds of cultural outworkings of the inner essence of worship that are not prescribed in the New Testament.
It doesn’t tell us whether to worship in a building or under a tree, with two songs or ten songs, with or without worship leaders, with or without instruments — let alone which ones — with singing before or after or in the middle of preaching, in a thirty-minute service or a five-hour service, sitting or standing, with babies present or not, with pulpits or not, with banners or not, with men and women on the same side or separate, with casual clothes or formal, with a set order and flow or a different one each time, with congregational prayer or only from leaders, and on and on.
Worship by the Book
Worship in the New Testament is radically oriented on the experience of the heart, and is freed from specified forms and places. Jesus set the trajectory when he said to the woman at the well in John 4:21–23:
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
You see the shift in categories: worship will not take place only in this mountain or in Jerusalem, but (shift in categories) in spirit and in truth. Spirit and truth replace mountains and cities. So, the external, formal, geographical dimension of worship diminishes and the inner essence of worship is foregrounded. To many people’s surprise John Calvin put it like this:
[The Master] did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended on the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages) . . . Because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary to salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones. Indeed, I admit that we ought not to charge into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause. But love will best judge what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe. (Institutes, 4.10.30)
And Martin Luther, as you might expect, put it like this:
The worship of God . . . should be free at table, in private rooms, downstairs, upstairs, at home, abroad, in all places, by all people, at all times. Whoever tells you anything else is lying as badly as the pope and the devil himself. (What Luther Says, 1546)
What Happens in the Heart?
In my effort to define worship biblically for Christians, I am not focusing on the external, but asking: What is the inner essence of it? What happens in the heart when the heart is worshiping? Of course, God intends for there to be outward acts of worship — spoken prayers and songs and affirmations of faith and so on. And of course, Paul says in Romans 12:1 that our entire bodily life of obedience is to be “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
“Worship in the New Testament is radically oriented on the experience of the heart.”
So, I’m not discounting or minimizing the necessity of external expressions of the worth of Christ. What I want to know is this: What must happen in the heart so that any of those external things are not just muscular movements, but real expressions of something authentic in the heart?
The Pharisees did many external acts of worship, but Jesus said that inside there were dead men’s bones and hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27–28).
Whether by Life or Death
The text that has crystalized the inner essence of worship for me most helpfully is Philippians 1:20–23. I’m going to streamline the argument here so we can get to preaching, but I hope it will be compelling. Paul says,
It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
CHRIST BE WORSHIPED
Now I am assuming that worshipping Christ is virtually the same as magnifying Christ. So, this is really a text about Paul’s eager expectation and hope that Christ be worshiped in or through his body in life and death. Then he gives the basis for how his death would magnify Christ — or be an act of worship.
For to me . . . to die is gain.
And then he explains in verse 23 that the reason death would be gain for him is that death means departing and being with Christ, which he says is far better.
MAGNIFIED IN DEATH
So here’s his argument: My dying will be a magnifying — an honoring of Christ, a worshiping of Christ — if in my dying I experience Christ as a treasure that is more satisfying than everything I am leaving behind. That’s what “gain” means. Death is gain because I get Christ.
But that’s only true if I experience Christ as a treasure that is more valuable, more satisfying to my soul, than everything I am losing in death. That is what turns my death into an act of worship — because the inner experience of my heart is to value him, treasure him, cherish him as more satisfying than everything I lose in death. That is what makes death worship.
And this is confirmed if we see how Paul later unpacked the other half of verse 21, “to live is Christ.” He said in Philippians 3:8,
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
So, death is “gain” because it brings us closer to Christ who is a more satisfying treasure than everything we lose in death. And life is Christ because, even before death, Paul had already resolved to count everything as loss compared already to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.
EXPERIENCE THE TREASURE
So here’s my conclusion about worship: Experiencing Christ as a more satisfying treasure than everything we lose in death, and everything we have in life, is the inner essence of worship. That heart-experience of being satisfied with Christ — and all that God is for us in him — is the inner reality and essence of what Paul called magnifying Christ in life and death.
Let me clarify again: I’m not saying this inner essence is the totality of worship. Worship includes the outward expressions of that essence: We sing, we pray, we confess our sins, we affirm our faith, we sit, we stand, we kneel, we bow in silence, we lift our hands, we may even leap for joy — all that is worship, if it comes from this inner essence. And none is worship if it doesn’t. As Jesus said,
This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me. (Matthew 15:8–9)
So to say it again, the inner essence of worship is the heart’s experience of Christ — and all that God is for us in him — as a more satisfying treasure than everything the world can give or death can take.
CAN YOU GET SATISFACTION?
You may ask: Why do you use the word “satisfying”? Why don’t you just say, “The inner essence of worship is having Christ as a greater treasure than everything in the world”? Why do you have to insert this word, “satisfying”?
First, being satisfied with Christ really is implied in saying Christ is your greatest treasure, and I want to push it into people’s consciences that that’s what they’re saying when they claim to be Christian: to have Christ as their treasure. Because I fear that many people say he’s their treasure when in fact he doesn’t satisfy their souls. Money satisfies their souls. Earthly security and comfort satisfy their souls. Being married satisfies the soul. Or success or sex or sports or movies.
“I fear that many people say Jesus is their treasure when in fact he doesn’t satisfy their souls.”
I want to slam the door shut on the assumption that you can have Jesus as your greatest treasure, and yet have all your heart and emotions and affections cleaving to another reality for satisfaction. That’s not true. To have Jesus as your supreme treasure is to have him as your supreme satisfaction. And I think more preachers need to make this explicit, so that we help people not deceive themselves that they are Christians when they’re not.
Here’s the second reason I define the inner essence of worship as experiencing Christ as a “satisfying” treasure, not just a treasure. Jesus said in Matthew 13:44,
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
I use the word “satisfy” because of that little phrase “from his joy” (apō tēs charas autou) he sells all that he has. This man did not just sell all that he had to get the treasure in the field. You can imagine doing that, oddly as it seems, with a dour disposition and under some kind of external coercion where he has no real delight in that treasure, but is driven by some ulterior motive. But Jesus utterly rules that out with the words, “in his joy” he sells all that he has.
The most essential inner mark of reality in closing with the treasure of the kingdom is that we don’t just sell everything else as less valuable, we feeleverything else is less valuable. We sell it all in joyful abandon in order to have the all-satisfying Christ.
Where Righteousness Grows
So I’ll say it again: the inner essence of worship is experiencing Christ — and all that God is for us in him — as a more satisfying treasure than everything the world can give or death can take.
To be a Christian is to be born again into that. That experience of the inner essence of worship is the mark of the new creature in Christ. To live the Christian life in all of its practicalities is to continually act out of that. That experience of worship in the heart — the treasuring of Christ — is the soil where all the fruits of righteousness grow.
The Ultimate Aim of Preaching
And, therefore, the inner essence of worship must be the ultimate aim of preaching in every message, no matter the text, no matter the topic.
And my argument is that preaching that would awaken such worship in the hearts of the people, must strive, by the Spirit, to experience such worship inpreaching. Preaching that would awaken worship by the Spirit, must seek to be worship by the Spirit. Preachers that aim for the people to be awed by the glory of Christ in the word of God, must stand in awe of what they have seen of Christ in the word of God.
Therefore, as we preach the treasure, we are treasuring. As we hold up the pearl for all to see in exposition, we are prizing the pearl. As we invite people to the banquet, we are savoring the feast. If, week in and week out, we are not awed, not treasuring, not prizing, not savoring, not worshiping over the word — we are hypocrites, and unfit for this great calling of expository exultation.
The Devil Can Do Exposition
Remember, the devil can do exposition of Scripture. He can take it and explain. And up to a point, he can even explain it accurately. And empty-headed, irrational people can exult over a biblical text when they have no idea what it means or what the reality is behind it. But neither the devil nor empty-headed, irrational people can exult over the glory of God revealed in a true exposition of Scripture.
“If you have some years left in the sacred privilege, don’t waste your pulpit.”
In other words, the devil cannot preach. Irrational, emotional people cannot preach. That is, they cannot do expository exultation. They cannot see the glories of Scripture for what they are, and love them, and exult over them for their true spiritual beauty.
But that is what preachers do. Preaching is a peculiar kind of worshiping speech designed by God for bringing the glories of his word to the people of his favor for the awakening of worship. And that peculiar kind of speech is captured in the New Testament by the two Greek words that “preaching” translates. It translates euangelizō and kērussō.
Heralds of Good News
Euangelizō is the speaking of one who brings good news of great joy. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news (euangelizōmai) of great joy (Luke 2:10). Kērussō is the speech of one who heralds the weighty message of a great authority — like a town crier representing his king. Which is why Paul says in Romans 10:15, “How are they to preach (kēruxōsin) unless they are sent” — that is, unless they have some great authority behind them?
So, preaching, in bringing those two kinds of speech together, is unique. It’s not just teaching, it’s not conversation, it’s not discussion. Preaching is a unique kind of speech: It is heralding of the best news in all the world, from an infinitely powerful and glorious authority. It makes clear the meaning of biblical texts, and opens them so all can see the beauties and the glories of Christ in the good news; and it manifestly loves the goodness of that good news; and it feels the weight of God’s authority in it all. The King did not send his messengers to get the words right while the heart is wrong.
There is no speaking in the world like Christian preaching. It is utterly unique. And if the herald of this King, and the proclaimer of this news does not exult in this King and in this news, he is an unworthy herald. And he is not preaching.
A Constellation of Glory
The Christian preacher is never dealing with a mere body of facts to be clarified. He is dealing with a constellation of glories to be treasured. Paul calls them “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). And the preacher’s aim is that the people would experience these riches as a more satisfying treasure than everything the world can give or death can take.
And he knows — you know — that the pathway to their worship throughpreaching, is his own experience of worship in preaching. And I bear witness from decades of preaching that God in his mercy loves to show up behind the pulpit and turn exposition into exultation. And when he does, the joy is unsurpassed.
If death did not mean a closer, deeper, sweeter communion with Christ, I could wish to be young again. And if I were, I would preach. There is nothing like it in all the world. The weight of God’s authority. The unsearchable riches of Christ. The privilege of showing them to God’s people. The pleasure of seeing them yourself. And, by the Spirit, the awakening of worship in the hearts of God’s elect. O brothers, there is no greater calling. If you have some years left in the sacred privilege, don’t waste your pulpit.
Exult over the glorious realities of biblical truth, make them plain, and draw your people into your worship over the word.