Sunday, November 25, 2007

If you have eyes to see, ears to hear....God is exposing

There is so much that God has been doing these last few weeks and months to shed light and make a distinction from the just and the unjust, the right and the wrong, the true Gospel and the false Gospel. I don’t know where to begin. To be sure not everyone is still falling for this false and anti-christ Gospel that is so infiltrated every Christian Denomination in America. The only way one can believe this false Gospel is…they want it that way.
(James 1:14) But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

You cannot be tempted by something your heart does not want. God said he would answer you according to the idols of your heart. That is how you will believe the lie. But, if your heart only wants the truth even though it means death to your life and everything you thought you knew, only then will you be protected from the lie. Any thing short of that will cause us to come short of the calling and not be among the few that will be chosen of God.

Is that scary? You’re darn right that is scary! If we have not taken up our cross, dying to our own want and desires, if we are not working out our own salvation with fear and trembling we are on very shaky ground. (Philippians 2:12b)
If you have subscribed to the “I’m ok, you’re ok” doctrine of Grace without addressing sin in any way because it might offend someone, you have subscribed to the anti-christ doctrine.

I watched Wolf Blitzer interview Joel Osteen on CNN, here are a couple of questions:

Wolf Blitzer: All right. What about many evangelicals would call the moral issues whether abortion or gay rights? Do you get involved in trying to express your opinions on those sensitive issues?

Joel Osteen: You know, I would say this, Wolf, I don't crusade against them or crusade to make my opinion known. Again, I feel like my calling is to bring hope and encouragement and teach people how to live their everyday lives. But I'm not for abortion and I don't think homosexuality is God's best but I just try to stay in my calling and the main thing is we're for everybody to bring them hope and encouragement and not to exclude a certain group from our following.

Wolf Blitzer: And what about same-sex marriage or same-sex unions. If two men love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives with each other or two women love each other, should they get the benefits, the rights that heterosexual couples have?

Joel Osteen: You know, Wolf, I'm not up to speed on all that. I just - I don't believe again that it's God's best for us to say that a marriage is between a man, I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I don't know about all the technical issues. I'm certainly for everybody having a chance in life and being kind and respectful to everyone. But I just don't know if I'm up to speed on it all. (CNN, The Situation Room, November 9, 2007)

Not God’s best? Not up to speed? What in the world are you talking about Joel? Was Jesus not clear about sin? Were not Paul, Peter and John clear about sin? Did God the father think sin was bad enough to have his only son Jesus die a horrible death because of sin? Do you think God would now say it was ok, maybe not his best…..but, let’s not focus on it now?

To me it should be clear Joel is trying to hide something. He does not want to say that it is an abomination unto God. (Lev 18:22 & Romans 1:27,28) He does not want to offend anyone. He does not want it to keep them from coming to his church or buying his books. It is clear he is ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the power of salvation. Without the knowledge of sin, there is no repentance (turning away from) sin. And without repentance there is no salvation. So we have to preach the truth. That is what Jesus preached, (Matthew 4:17) That is what John the Baptist preached, (Mark 1:4). That is what all the apostles preached. Read what Paul and Barnabas preached in Acts 14:15 when they tried to worship them.

I understand, it is hard to speak the truth when you know it will offend people. I too have struggled with that. If we just go with the flow, don’t rock the boat, people will like us, maybe they will listen to us. But that sounds like the easy path, the wide path that Jesus warned us about. The end of it is destruction, not salvation.

Churches would rather give people a new car than give them the truth. Pay people to come to church seems to be the popular way now. Free give away programs with large advertising budgets. I even heard one try to justify it by using the story of Zacchaeus found Luke chapter 19. Not sure how they made the connection, since Jesus didn’t offer him anything to come hear him. It was Zacchaeus that was looking for Jesus; he was already rich and didn’t ask Jesus for anything. In fact it was Zacchaeus that offered to give back to those whom he may have cheated. But somehow, people will believe this false gospel. But it is a gospel born of the flesh and it will burn up when the fire hits it. Because these people cannot stand the truth, they will turn away when it gets tough. They will turn away because they were never called of God, but were called of men. They were brought in by merchandising programs, selling Jesus. But Jesus will not be sold.

From Joel Osteen’s “preach no sin” gospel to Church “give away programs”, to John Hagee “denying Jesus came as the messiah” and all the ministries being investigated for corruption, all these speak of God exposing the truth to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

To be sure there are some of the remnant of God that will see the exposing going on today and “come out from among them”. Make God’s word the authority on everything we believe. See if it lines up the with the “sum” of God’s word, our very lives depend on it!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Rick Warren's false gospel

“I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:18a). It is a great day for the Lord when a disciple of Jesus learns this most basic lesson: that in “me”, in myself, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.

Before he saw the Lord, Paul was self-confident and dangerous. Those who trust in themselves have neither seen themselves nor seen the Lord. I am afraid that many people have the idea that Jesus came only to lend them a hand and help them feel more successful and fulfilled. Today the most popular Christian books tell us how to have a better life, how to prosper, how to be a “winner”, how to improve our circumstances, and how to think nice, positive, encouraging thoughts about ourselves. The focus appears to be on making life here on earth more enjoyable and making believers more self-reliant and self-confident. This may not be the stated intention but it is the inevitable result – and if a few Scriptures can be used in the process, so much the better. It would be a mistake to equate holiness with misery and drudgery; but it is an even greater mistake to tell someone how wonderful they are until they have first despaired of themselves and learned the lesson that Paul learned: “In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing.”

We do not need Self-Esteem, we need Christ-Esteem. The more we see of Jesus the less we will trust in ourselves. That is why, once Paul learned his lesson, he wrote, “We have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3b). He then goes on to list quite a number of things that seem important in terms of religion, status, social order, education, and good works – all the things that tend to make one self-confident and self-righteous. With one grand stroke, Paul says, “Yet, I count them all as dung, that I may win Christ.” He simply discards what some people spend a lifetime trying to achieve. Here is a man who knows the sufficiency of God as well as the insufficiency of himself.

Excerpts from Chip Brogden article “No Good Thing”

In light of God's word, you can see the false Gospel that Rick Warren teaches (Rick Warren is the one speaking in this video):

(Matthew 20:1-16) For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that was a householder, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard.

And when he had agreed with the laborers for a shilling a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing in the marketplace idle; and to them he said, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.

Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.

And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing; and he saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?

They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard.

And when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the laborers, and pay them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.

And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a shilling.

And when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received every man a shilling.

And when they received it, they murmured against the householder, saying, These last have spent but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.

But he answered and said to one of them, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a shilling?

Take up that which is thine, and go thy way; it is my will to give unto this last, even as unto thee.

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? or is thine eye evil, because I am good?

So the last shall be first, and the first last.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Deception in the Church

In 1997 I began to cry out to God and ask Him to reveal Himself to me. I had labored in traditional church ministry for almost 35 years, was tired, frustrated and convinced that the church as I knew it was a fraud. But I knew God was real and His promise was true, “The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” (II Chronicles 15:2)

I am now prepared to begin to share at least some of what the Lord has been teaching me, and to warn people of the deceptions that have come into what we have always called, “the Church”. But before I do, I feel I have to explain something. I love the people in the churches and the pastors who are trying to lead them. However, as you read through this, it may not sound like it. Some of what I have to say will appear critical. It may sound harsh, even sarcastic. But there are times when truth sounds that way.

In Matthew 23 Jesus is speaking out against the religious rulers of His day. His tone was angry. He was both confrontive and critical. He even used biting sarcasm several times to make His point and illustrate how far these men had departed from God’s righteousness and truth. But His heart was pure. His love and compassion for them was evident. I’m not Jesus, and I can’t say my heart is pure, even though I’d like it to be. But, I can identify with Jesus in this one thing: when I see the religious deception perpetrated on people, I grieve.

Some time ago the Lord took me to Jeremiah 5 and showed me that this passage doesn’t just describe the condition of Israel in Jeremiah’s day, it also describes the condition of churches today. This is what it says:

“And should I not punish them for this rebellion? Declares the Lord. Should I not avenge Myself on a nation such as this? A horrible and amazing thing has happened in the land: the prophets are liars, telling the people only what they want to hear; the leaders deceive my people, using a false authority that I have not given them; and worst of all, the people want it this way. But what will they do when the end comes, and they are still bound up in all this deception?” (Jeremiah 5:29-31)

Herein lies my greatest fear: that most people in the Church are happy with the way things are and will not be interested in anything that opposes the truth as they see it. But all I can say is that I’m confident of the message God has given me, and I know the Word of God can take care of itself. Since most of what God has given me represents a serious departure from conventional wisdom, I can only quote Paul:

“Remember what Isaiah said, God will turn conventional wisdom upside down. The time will come when the so-called religion experts will be the ones who look foolish. So where does that leave the one who thinks he’s wise, or the well educated, or the one who understands the ways of the world? Isn’t God going to expose all this pretentious nonsense? The world never had a clue when it came to knowing and understanding God. That’s why He uses the things that the world thinks are foolish or just plain wrong, even unpleasant, to guide those who trust in Him on their way to salvation.” (I Corinthians 1:19-21)
Now I’ve already mentioned several times that there are deceptions in the Church. What are they? Actually, there are two major deceptions. The first, and most destructive, is the over-all view of what constitutes salvation. I’ll deal with this in some detail in this paper, and also in the paper entitled “The Kingdom of Heaven”. The other major deception has to do with both the organizational form and the present-day function of religious institutions and will be dealt with in the papers entitled “The Chronology of the New Testament”, “Leadership in the Early Church”, and “What Does the Real Church Look Like?”

For the most part, the Church today presents salvation as something the Bible doesn’t know anything about. Depending on whom you listen to, salvation can be based on church membership, several forms of baptism, some variation of denominational doctrinal classes, or a profession of faith. And a profession of faith is usually nothing more than an intellectual agreement with some of the basic facts of scripture (Jesus is the Son of God and He died on the cross for your sins). Some major denominations today don’t really even consider salvation to be an issue. Their position is that God is a benevolent Being who will not allow anyone to go to such a terrible place as hell (if such a place even exists). Salvation becomes a moot point - everyone’s going to heaven.

Other groups have their “Simple Plan of Salvation” based on certain isolated verses, put together in such a way that salvation does indeed appear to be simple. When you add to this simple plan of salvation, an insurance policy known as the “Doctrine of Eternal Security”, you come up with a salvation that is quick, easy to obtain and impossible to lose. However, when you read what Jesus says about salvation (long passages of red letters in the Gospels), you’ll see a salvation that is difficult, that requires the commitment of a lifetime, and can be lost, if you fail to endure and persevere.

I’ve been involved in conservative, evangelical ministries for over 35 years now, and I know how they think. The prevailing concept in these churches is centered in a magical profession of faith that somehow propels people into an automatic relationship with God. But what these people call relationship doesn’t fit the definition of any relationship I’ve ever seen or experienced. Many of them say they have a relationship with God, but the only time during the week they even think about Him is the couple of hours they spend in church activities. But then, they’re really not intimately involved with Him in any way. They’re only listening to someone else talk about Him. And for many, by the time they’re finished with lunch, they couldn’t tell you what the Sunday School lesson or sermon was about anyway.

When you ask most people in churches today if they’re going to heaven, they’ll say, “Yes”, with no hesitation. If you ask them how they know, they’ll probably describe an event (usually their version of a profession of faith) that took place sometime in the past.

Let me drop this little zinger on you: anytime you base your salvation on something you did in the past, you’re in trouble. Salvation is always based on what you’re doing today. This is important, and if you’ll keep this in mind as you read what Jesus says about salvation, you’ll see what I mean. Now, when you ask people about their salvation, what they probably will not do is outline a current relationship of submission and obedience to God. What they probably will not do is talk about their participation in an on-going process of being conformed to the image of Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. What they probably will not do is tell you about a relationship with God that will, at times, be both excruciatingly painful and wonderfully loving, as He strips away the flesh and replaces it with His righteousness and holiness. And what you probably will not see is the repentance and humility He has wrought in their lives.

Instead, what you will see is a plastic mask-like smile that is supposed to tell you everything is just great. You’ll hear them talking about all the things they’re doing or planning to do, where they’re going or what they’re buying. The name of Jesus will rarely, if ever, come up in their conversations. And, even though they sincerely believe they actually have a relationship with God, there’s a perceptible distance, an easily recognizable detachment from Him that says there’s no real relationship there. It’s absolutely impossible to have a real relationship with the living Christ and not talk about it constantly!

My challenge to you is to forget everything you’ve ever learned in church about salvation and simply get your Bible out and read the red letters in the Gospels. Just concentrate on what Jesus said. And ignore what people say about what He said. Forget the books from the Christian bookstore, forget the sermons, and forget anything I have to say in these papers, and just ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth.

God’s plan of salvation is the only one that counts. And it was revealed to us through His Son. That’s basically what Jesus says in John 12:46-50:

“I’ve come to be a light to show the world the way to God, the way to eternal life. Everyone who learns to trust in Me will not have to be in the dark, wondering, Where is God? Or, how can I find Him? You carefully listen to what I have to say, then, carelessly dismiss it. You’re disappointed by what you hear. I don’t condemn you for that. I didn’t come to condemn. I came to save. But you need to listen carefully and understand that those who disregard My message are choosing their own condemnation. My message isn’t going to get any easier. And this is the message that will judge you in the end. It’s not My message. The Father sent Me, and it’s His message. And this message is given to you for only one reason - to show you the way to eternal life. Believe Me, everything the Father tells Me, I tell you.”

In Mark 8:34-38, Jesus gives the Father’s plan of salvation in a fairly concise form. But as you follow the text, you’ll see that it is neither quick nor easy:

“Then Jesus turned to the crowd that had been following Him and said, If you intend to go the same way I’m going (the way to the Father), you’ll have to let go of your own self-interests and submit your life completely to God. You’ll have to embrace suffering, because that’s how the Father perfects His children. And, you’ll have to continually follow me. I’ll have to show you the way. You can never find it on your own. Think it over carefully. The choice is yours. You can live this life any way you
choose, and miss out on the life that is to come. Or, you can willingly miss out on whatever this life has to offer, so you can enjoy what the Father has for you in the life that is to come. What’s the sense in trying to have everything now, if you’re going to lose it for all eternity? Besides, the temporary things of this world could never be compared to the eternal things the Father has. And if you’re disappointed now, because all your friends are living the good life in the world, just try to imagine how disappointed you’re going to be when I return in the glory of My Father with the Holy angels and you realize you made the wrong choice.”
Most professing Christians today believe that it’s up to them to decide how they’re going to live their lives and it’s up to God to bless them in whatever they decide. But Jesus says, if you want to know the way to the Father, you have to be willing to let go of your plans and desires, be willing to renounce what you want, and accept what God wants. This will make most people uncomfortable, but I’m going to just come right out and say it anyway - salvation requires that we give up the control of our lives to God; we can’t be in charge anymore! No one wants to hear that. But, it’s true. This is how Paul said it:

“Don’t you know your body is a sacred place? It’s where the Holy Spirit lives now. He’s God’s special gift to you (God’s presence inside of you, all the time). And your life no longer belongs to you. It belongs to God. It’s bought, and paid for - at a precious cost. So honor God and bring glory to Him through your submission and obedience.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
Many people today have bought into the Americanized gospel that tells them to come to Jesus so He can give them everything they ever wanted. When I talk about the Americanized gospel, I don’t mean to imply that Americans are the only ones that believe this. Actually, we’ve been very diligent in exporting this deception all over the world through our mission programs. There are great blessings to be gained in following Jesus, but most of them are spiritual and eternal, not material. In fact, Jesus never saw material wealth as anything but a disadvantage. And, while it’s true He talks about money, He never says anything good about it. He clearly says in Matthew 6:24 that men don’t have the capacity to serve God and manage material wealth (mammon).

The account of the rich, young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 illustrates this principle as well as anything you can find in Scripture. Look at what it says:

“As Jesus was getting ready to leave, a man came running up to Him, and kneeling down he said, Master, I know that You are a spiritually perfect man. Please tell me, how can I have eternal life? Jesus replied, How do you know that I’m spiritually perfect? Only God can be described in such a way. But in answer to your question, you know the commandments as well as I do: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie or cheat or steal, and always honor your parents. And the man said, Master, I have kept all these perfectly, since I was old enough to understand them. Jesus knew he was telling the truth, and He loved him intensely. But He was saddened, because He knew that wasn’t enough. So, He said, there is one thing you lack. You need to sell everything you own and give the money to the poor. Then you won’t have any distractions that would keep you from following Me, and you’ll have treasures laid up for yourself in heaven. Now, when the man heard that, he lost all his enthusiasm for God. And for the first time in his life he was grieved, because he had many possessions and had no intention of letting any of them go"

Here, the rich young ruler represents the very best that the world has to offer, a good, conscientious, moral man. But Jesus knew that even this man, as good as he was, could not successfully serve both God and material wealth. Later, in this same passage, Jesus explains to His disciples that it is virtually impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Actually, He says that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. I’d say that pretty much makes it impossible, don’t you think?

Now, I know I’m touching a nerve here. A lot of professing Christians today truly believe that God wants them to be wealthy. (Supposedly, it’s so they can support ministry. But for most that’s a farce. The more money they make, the more they spend, on themselves. Do you see these people living in modest homes, driving older cars, making any kind of sacrifices for God?) Tune in to any Christian television station and it won’t take long to see that the prosperity message is the most popular message out there. I’m amazed at the lack of Scriptural content and the brazen deception employed by these TV preachers.

At this point, I need to share an unpleasant principle concerning the ways of God. When people choose the wrong course for their lives, God judges them by giving them what they want. You might want to read that again, so you can be sure it says what you think it says. Then, I hope you’ll pay attention to this, because it’s extremely important. The prevailing attitude in the world seems to go something like this. You can ignore God’s Word and do whatever you want to do in this life. If it’s something really bad, there’s a slim chance God will get mad and just strike you dead. If He doesn’t, that means whatever you’re doing must be O.K. with Him. That’s a deception. But, it doesn’t stop there. Many actually take it a step beyond that and boast that it’s God’s blessing. Let me explain what I mean. There are thousands and thousands of very wealthy people in the Church today. The reason they’re wealthy is because the accumulation of wealth has been their priority, the focus of their existence. In spite of what God says about idolatry, rebellion, the importance of making Him your first priority, avoiding the snares of this world, or anything else, they insist that their wealth is God’s blessing on their lives. It’s their way of justifying what they’re doing.

And they can find plenty of others who will agree with them. This is the philosophy of the world: the majority is always right. That’s why politicians take polls. They’re not interested in doing what’s right, they’re interested in doing what keeps their constituents happy, so they’ll be re-elected and retain their power. The Biblical principle is just the opposite: the majority is always wrong, God is always right. When you follow the flesh, there will always be people around who will agree with what you’re doing. When you follow the Spirit, you find yourself virtually alone, avoiding what everybody else is doing.

But wealth is not a blessing. It’s a curse. It’s what keeps you distracted and in deception, so you can never know God in the relationship of intimacy and dependence He requires. Everyone who believes God wants them to be rich should have Luke 12:15-21 tattooed on the inside of their eyelids. This passage starts with Jesus telling people to keep themselves free from covetousness, which is described correctly in the Amplified Bible as the “immoderate desire for wealth, the greedy longing to have more than you need”. He then ends the discussion with a description of the death of these fools (His word, not mine). They died because they spent their lives gathering wealth, instead of making themselves truly rich in their relationship with God.

Now, if you don’t believe God will give you what you set your heart on, even if it’s wrong, consider this:

“But they quickly forgot all the awesome things God had done on their behalf and how He had provided everything they needed, and they grew impatient and greedy- not wanting to wait on God and on His provision. Instead, they lusted after the things of the world and provoked the Lord, because they wanted the things of the world more than they wanted Him. So, He gave them what they wanted; and, even though it satisfied their flesh, it brought emptiness to their souls.” (Psalms 106:13-15)

The context of the passage above is Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Not long after this, Israel became infatuated with heathen idolatry. Did God’s wrath come down out of heaven and strike them dead? No! God judged them by giving them what they wanted. Look at this passage in Ezekiel 20:23-26:

“Also (because of their rebellion) I swore an oath against them in the desert, that I would disperse them among idolatrous peoples and scatter them throughout the heathen nations. I did this because they would not obey My word. They had rejected My commandments and polluted My holy days - defying My authority. They lusted after strange gods, just like their fathers. So, because that’s what they had chosen, I let them have the heathen idols and all the things that could never bring them life. I let them destroy themselves in the midst of evil. They even sacrificed their children to these false gods. But, when they realized the emptiness and utter worthlessness of what they had done, in the depths of their despair, when it was too late for them, I made them know and understand that I AM STILL THE LORD.”

Israel made the wrong choice. God judged them by giving them what they wanted. Today, most professing Christians are choosing the things of the world, and God is allowing them to have all those things. But, it’s a deception to believe that it’s His blessing; because it’s not, it’s His curse. So, where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about Jesus’ plan of salvation in Mark 8:34-38. His plan is not simple, it’s not quick, and it’s not easy. The first thing we have to do is deny ourselves. We have to forget our plans, forsake our goals in life, turn our backs on what the world has to offer, and refocus our lives, submit to Him, give Him control, and want only what He wants. We have to understand that salvation requires us to do just the opposite of everything the world tells us is right or reasonable (see the paper entitled “How To Know It’s God”).

The second thing Jesus talks about in His plan of salvation is taking up your cross. Here’s another sore spot with the Church today. Everyone wants a painless, trouble-free salvation. What can I say? Wrong again! It’s obvious that in Jesus’ mind, suffering is a part of the deal. Let me quote a couple of verses, just to give you an idea of what I mean:

“And anyone who is not willing to persevere and embrace the suffering that is required in following Me, can never be My disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
“And Jesus replied, trust in what I’m about to tell you. No one who has been willing to give up houses, brothers, sisters, mother, children or lands because of Me or the message I have, will ever really lose any of those things. I’ll make sure they get it all back, multiplied many times over. But, keep in mind, there will always be suffering along the way, and following Me is never easy. Just remember what’s waiting for you in the end - eternal life!” (Mark 10:29-30)
The way Paul describes his circumstances in I Corinthians 4 is significant to me. This is approximately 20 years after his conversion. And at this point in his life (and with all the great revelation God had given him) he obviously still had not grasped this healthy, wealthy, if you’re really a child of God then everything should be wonderful in your life - kind of Gospel. Look at what he says:

“To this very hour, we experience both hunger and thirst, we can afford only one undergarment and shiver in the cold. We’re treated badly by most people we encounter, and wander from place to place - homeless. We’re forced to work hard every day just to get by. And when we feel the sting of evil accusations against us, we simply bless our accusers. When we experience persecutions, we suffer them patiently, determined to endure. When people lie about us, we try to answer softly; when they lie to us, we let it go. We’re treated like garbage, the filth of the earth.” (I Corinthians 4:11-13)

When you read what Jesus said, then what Paul experienced, you have to wonder, when did God change the rules? I know He didn’t. Men changed the rules, but it doesn’t matter. In this universe, God’s rules are the only ones that count. Men crafted a religion that says what they want it to say. It offers people what they want, it doesn’t require any change, it doesn’t cost them anything and it makes them comfortable with God. And it’s false!

Let’s go on (we’re still talking about Jesus’ plan of salvation). The third thing He talks about, after denying yourself and taking up your cross, is about following Him daily. Now, I know that the KJV doesn’t say “follow me daily”. But, if you check it out, you’ll find that the verb is a present imperative in the Greek, which means it’s a command to start doing something and keep doing it continually. Most contemporary versions translate it correctly. For instance, the Amplified Version says, “...follow Me [continually, cleaving steadfastly to Me].” That’s the right idea. As I’ve already mentioned, most people base their salvation on something they did in the past. You really can’t do that. Your salvation depends on what you’re doing today.

There are several things Jesus says related to this that I think are worth looking at. Consider what Jesus says in Luke 13.

“Earnest effort is required to force your way through the narrow door that leads to salvation - to God! Many think they will enter this door, but will not be able to, because they were not willing to do what they had to do. They made a fatal mistake. Instead of being diligent and persistent in their pursuit of God, they simply followed the foolish crowd.” (Luke 13:24)

If you’re going to follow Jesus, you have to be willing to spend the time and effort required. Again, it’s not quick and it’s not easy. And, you’re going to have to be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to you, because you’re not going to find the truth in the traditional church. In fact, you’ll never find all the truth you need by diligently searching the Scriptures; you need the revelation ministry of the Holy Spirit, as well (John 15:26). I know that’s a strange thing to say, it sounds wrong. I can’t believe I’m saying it, myself. But, I’ve been listening to pastors of all denominations for almost 40 years now, and none of them have been saying what Jesus said. They’re good at talking about what they, and others, think. They know how to entertain you. They’ll tell you what you want to hear, and it will make you feel good. But it’s not God’s truth!

“And as they were walking along the road, a man came up to Him and said, Lord, I’ll follow you no matter what. Jesus was skeptical, and said, Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to call His own. Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself in to? Then, to prove His point Jesus asked another man standing nearby, Will you follow Me? But this man could only come up with some phony excuse about having to bury his father. But, Jesus wouldn’t let him off the hook, and He said to him, Let the dead bury their dead. You should take this opportunity to experience real life. Then you could tell others what you’ve found. Then another man stepped forward and actually volunteered, saying, I’ll follow you Master. But first, let me go home and explain to all my relatives what I’m doing and give them all a proper farewell. Then Jesus said, Forget it! That’s not the kind of commitment I’m looking for. You can’t straddle this fence! You’re either in or you’re out! If you’re going to enter God’s Kingdom, come with Me now, and don’t dare look back.” (Luke 9:57-62)
Following Jesus requires sacrifice and commitment. I know this isn’t sounding like the “I’m O.K., you’re O.K., let’s just rejoice and enjoy the revival” - kind of message most people hear on Sunday morning. I’m just quoting the red letters.

“Following Me is like building a new barn. You have to count the cost. If you don’t have enough money, you’ll put in the foundation, maybe get part of the walls up, and have to quit before you get the roof on. People will make fun of you behind your back, because you started something you couldn’t finish. If a king decides to go to war against another king, if he’s smart, the first thing he’ll do is try to find out if his army is strong enough to defeat the other king. If it’s not, he’ll send someone to work out a truce. So, let me put it this way, if you’re going to follow Me, you’d better know what you’re getting yourself into. Because this is the bottom line: if you’re not willing to give up everything that’s dear to you, you can’t be My disciple. You must be able to focus totally on Me, able to set aside every distraction. Otherwise, it’s useless. It won’t work! Do you understand what I’m saying?” (Luke 14:28-35)
The Gospel that some men preach today tells you to come to Jesus because of all the neat stuff He’ll give you. Others will tell you to follow the time-honored traditions and rituals of men and those will lead you to God. Still others will tell you to learn the accepted doctrinal positions of denominational religion. Then there are those who will tell you to reject all other organized religion and submit to a man who has received “special” revelation that no one else has or understands. And finally there are those who insist that none of these variations of religion or religious thought really matter, because God stands ready to accept anyone who has made an attempt, no matter how feeble, at living a good, moral life. All of them are wrong.

God cannot be found in man’s religion. He cannot be found in your participation in religious programs provided by religious institutions. God did not give any man or organization of men the authority to confer salvation on you. The only way that you will ever find God is to personally, individually submit yourself to Him and allow Him to reveal Himself to You. For more information on the deception in the Church regarding what constitutes salvation, see the paper entitled “The Kingdom Of Heaven”.

Ken Brown

The Kingdom Of Heaven

The Kingdom of Heaven (literally, the Kingdom from the Heavens) is a term used only in Matthew’s Gospel to represent the realm of professing Christians from the time of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (Matthew 4:17), through the present, and forward to the time of His second coming.

The Kingdom of Heaven is different than the Kingdom of God. These are not inter-changeable terms, as many suggest. The Kingdom of Heaven is an imperfect, earthly realm, inhabited by both the good and the bad. This is illustrated in many of Jesus’ parables, which begin with the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven is like...” In these parables there is a comparison made between those who will enter the place of blessing or celebration, and those who are sent to a place of everlasting punishment (the wheat is gathered to the Master’s barn, but the weeds are burned; the wise virgins go in to the marriage feast, but the foolish virgins are denied entrance; the good fish are separated from the worthless fish, so the worthless can be cast aside; and so on). The Kingdom of Heaven actually precedes the final fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, the things Jesus taught regarding the Kingdom of Heaven apply to this age. This is important, because His teaching exposes current deceptions in the church. In groups that many would consider liberal, the deception is that God is a benevolent Being, willing to accept all who make an attempt at being religious or moral. In more conservative, evangelical groups, the deception may be just as deadly. It goes something like this: anyone who, at some time in their life, agrees with the simple Gospel and makes a profession of faith in Christ, is guaranteed entrance into God’s Kingdom. This guarantee is based on what is generally called the “doctrine of eternal security”.

However, the things Jesus said about the Kingdom of Heaven make it clear that neither of these positions can be defended. The real issue is, and forever will be, relationship! Jesus does not teach us that salvation may be found in following certain religious traditions or rituals. His on-going battles with the religious leaders of His day are proof enough of that. Neither does He describe salvation as something that is established by making a profession of faith. A profession of faith is to salvation, what an introduction is to a relationship. When one person is introduced to another, the introduction does not constitute a relationship - only the possible beginning of one. And that’s all a profession of faith could possibly be - an introduction to Jesus. It’s what happens after the introduction that determines whether or not a real relationship exists, and that is what determines true salvation.

The question will always be: “Do you know Him?” It will never be: “Do you belong to a church?” or, “Do you attend church regularly?” or “Have you made a profession of faith in Jesus?” John 17:3 makes it clear enough, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The verse is a simple equation. On one side of the equation is eternal life, and on the other side is what constitutes eternal life - knowing the Father and knowing the one He sent, Jesus Christ. The key issue is, knowing God.

Throughout this presentation, I will italicize know and knowing to remind you that the issue is knowing God, that is, having a relationship with Him that is real. Knowing is not determined by what you’ve been taught about God in class. It’s not determined by what may have happened in a moment of time at some point in the past. It’s determined by what happened yesterday, what you’re doing today, and what you’re going to do tomorrow. It’s a continual, moment-by-moment existence with God characterized by your real experiences with Him, your understanding of Him, of what He wants to do in your life and your submission and obedience to that.

If anyone thinks that knowing God is not the determining issue in who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell, look at Matthew 7:21-23,
“Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter my Kingdom, but only the ones who do the will of my Father who is in Heaven. There will be many who will say to me on the day I come to separate the sheep from the goats, Lord, Lord, don’t you remember all those great things we said about you, and how we were always yelling at the Devil, and all those powerful things we did that impressed so many people? Then I’ll tell them (and this will be the first time they have ever really heard my voice), I don’t know you, so you must leave now. You were evil, because you disregarded the things I clearly taught.”

This passage illustrates the difference between knowing God and knowing about God. These people obviously knew about God and about religious matters and were willing to do things that, in their estimation, were things God would approve of. It is also obvious that they were able to live this kind of life without ever really knowing God, because this is the indictment He delivers against them - “I don’t know you.”

There is a deception in the church today that is related to the question of who, or how many, will actually be saved. In the preceding passage, Jesus says that on the occasion of His Second Advent, “many” will experience the sad event described. It was evident to some, on the basis of what Jesus taught that salvation would be difficult to achieve. This was the case in the following passage found in Luke 13:23-30:

“Then someone asked Him, Lord, are only a few people going to be saved? And this is how He answered. Earnest effort is required to force your way through the narrow door that leads to salvation - to God! Many, and I’m telling you this for your own good, think they will enter this door; but they will not be able to, because they were never willing to do what was required. They made the fatal mistake: they should have been serious in their pursuit of God; but, instead, they simply followed the foolish crowd. (Compare Matthew 7:13,14) When time runs out, the Master will shut the door, and many are going to find themselves on the outside looking in. They’ll be saying, Lord, there’s been a terrible mistake, open the door and let us in! But He’ll tell them, I’m sorry. I don’t know you. Where did you come from? I’ve looked, and you’re not on my list. Then, they’ll try to argue their way in, saying, Lord, we’ve known about you all our lives. We know all the rituals, we’ve done some really good things, and we’ve listened to countless sermons and Sunday school lessons. Come on; ask us anything, we can prove it! But the master’s reply will be abrupt and final, Your kind of knowing and my kind of knowing are two different things. You may know something about me, but you don’t really know me. And I don’t know you either; so now you must leave, because you did not care enough to look for the truth. What a commotion that’s going to cause, they’re going to panic. You can’t imagine the loud wailing and the unbelievable anguish there will be as they watch their heroes, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets, going in, just as they are being thrown out! And as they’re being led away to their appointed place, they’ll turn and see others coming from all directions, being taken into the Master’s house.
And they’ll be confused, wondering, What happened? We don’t understand. Then, in an instant, everyone in this rejected multitude will be made to remember this penetrating truth, this all-important truth they had chosen to ignore: The one who is willing to humble himself (and do what God commands) will be exalted, but the one who insists on exalting himself (doing only what he thinks will make him look good) will be humiliated.” (This last part of verse 30 is a paraphrase of Matthew 23:12, which is used interchangeably in some texts for the phrase “there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last")
If this paraphrase is accurate, and I believe it is, then the issue of making a simple profession of faith has been addressed. The religious notion of knowing God has more to do with a simple acknowledging of His existence accompanied with some degree of knowledge about Him. God’s idea of knowing Him has more to do with a relationship in every true sense of the word (there is time spent, information exchanged, a connection is made that influences behavior and decisions, intimacy is enjoyed, etc.). A true relationship can never be defined by what one person knows about another, it must be defined by what one person has experienced with another on a personal level. And this is how we must define our relationship with God. It was never God’s intention for us to simply know about Him, He wants us to experience Him. He wants us to know that He is real, and not just an idea or concept (Hebrews 11:6).

In John 5:39 Jesus confronts the religious notion that knowing about God is tantamount to salvation:
“You’re continually studying the scriptures, taking great pains to learn all you can about God; because you think mere words are the way to eternal life. But with all the knowledge you’ve gained, you still don’t understand that these same scriptures point to Me as the only way of salvation.”

Jesus’ point must be taken seriously - salvation cannot be found in words on a page! There is no such thing as a “simple plan of salvation”. It is not 3, 4, or 5, easy steps, then back to living your life the way it was, business as usual (except, maybe you go to church sometimes, so you can learn more about God).

Real life, eternal life is found only in the person of Jesus Christ. He is life (John 1:4; 5:26; 6:35; 8:12; 11:25; and 14:6). Without Him, there is no life!

Another point that must be mentioned, if only briefly, is what Jesus says in verse 24, “earnest effort is required to force your way through the narrow door that leads to salvation - to God.” Having a relationship with God isn’t easy. It’s hard, because it is opposite everything we see, or know, or want in our natural senses. It requires effort to discipline ourselves and set the right priorities in our lives, so we have time to spend with God. Then, it takes determination to focus on Him, and not let our rebellious mind wander (it’s amazing how my mind wants to think about everything except God, when I try to get alone with Him).

Jesus talked about this in John 6:27-29,
“Stop wasting your time and energy on the things that don’t matter. Instead, give the best of both to gain the only thing that does matter - eternal life. If you do what I’m telling you to do, I have the Father’s permission to give you this life. Then, those who were listening to Him asked, What are we supposed to do? What does God want? And Jesus answered, This is what God requires: that you learn (by experience) to trust in the One Who He has sent.”
Making your relationship with God your first priority in life would be a foreign concept to most people today. For many, putting marriage, family, career, even hobbies or leisure time before God is perfectly acceptable. Think about this: the world, the flesh and the Devil want to make salvation easy. But, God says salvation is difficult, because, to achieve it, we must overcome the world, the flesh and the Devil.

There are about 48 parables in Matthew. Jesus used many of them to teach different aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven. Some illustrate various characteristics of the Kingdom itself, others point out either good or bad qualities found in those who inhabit the Kingdom.

The English word “parable” comes from the Greek parabole, and means comparison. Jesus used parables to illustrate truth and clarify it by comparing it to things familiar to those listening. However, it is evident that, even though the illustrations were familiar, the spiritual truths were not apparent to all who heard them.

This is why the disciples came to Jesus in Matthew 13:10 and asked Him why He used parables instead of speaking more plainly to the people. The following is Jesus’ answer:

“Then after Jesus had finished the story about the sower, the seeds and the different kinds of soil, the disciples came and asked, Why do you speak to the people in stories that are hard to understand? And this is how He answered, You are given insight into the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but this is not for everyone. Only those who have a willing heart, a real desire to know God, will be given this understanding, and they will receive a rich abundance. But these people aren’t looking for God. They came to see miracles. They’re looking for excitement - they want to be entertained. So, what little insight they might gain from listening to Me tell them stories will soon be forgotten, because that’s not what they’re interested in. And that’s why I do it. They have eyes like you, they see the same things you see; and they have not recognized Me. But you have. They have ears. They hear the same things you hear; and they don’t understand what I’ve said. But you do. Don’t you see the difference? The more you know, the more you want to know. But, this is all going right over their heads. Isaiah said it best, Your ears aren’t plugged, you can hear just fine; but you pretend not to understand, because you don’t want to. And your eyes are wide open, you can see everything clearly; but you act as though you don’t see anything at all, because it’s too convicting. These people don’t want to face the truth. They’ll cover their ears, so they can’t hear; and they’ll shut their eyes as tight as they can, so they can’t see. Why? Because, they don’t want their sin exposed! They don’t understand the Father only wants them to repent, so He can heal them. But, they won’t - they love their sin too much. But, good for you! You want to see everything and hear everything. You want to know all you possibly can about God. The truth is, there have been many prophets and other good men who have longed to see what you’re seeing and hear what you’re hearing; but they couldn’t, because it wasn’t time. Now, let me explain the story about the sower, the seeds and the different kinds of soil. I want to make sure you understand it completely.” (Matthew 13:10-18)
As I’ve already mentioned, the end of the Kingdom of Heaven is described in detail in Matthew 25:31-46, when the sheep are separated from the goats. This separation is mentioned in many of the parables, as well. And here, in Matthew 13, as Jesus is explaining to His disciples why He teaches the people with parables, the same idea of separation is evident. Jesus taught parables to separate those who were interested in knowing God from those who weren’t.

This same principle of separation is in operation today. In Luke 13:24 Jesus said earnest effort was required to push your way through the narrow door that leads to salvation. In other words, knowing God requires effort, it does not come easily - it is not automatic. If we are going to know God, it will require determination on our part. Be assured, God will bless the effort. He wants us to know Him, and He’s not hiding (His promise today is the same as it’s always been - if we seek Him, we will find Him, He’s not far from any one of us, Deuteronomy 4:29-31; Jeremiah 29:11-13; Acts 17:27). But, effort is required. A simple profession of faith, church membership, or even consistent church attendance will not suffice.

This is what separates the sheep from the goats in the Kingdom of Heaven today. Those who are content to trust in their religion are the ones taking the broad, easy road that leads to destruction. Their religion is teaching them to know about God. On the other hand, those who expend the time and effort necessary to know God are the ones forcing their way in to God through the narrow door (remember Matthew 7:13,14; Luke 13:24).

The thought has occurred to me that this whole presentation might seem to be somewhat critical, or that I’m attempting to judge everyone’s salvation. I don’t want to appear critical, nor do I have any desire to judge. My only purpose is to tell any who are interested what I believe Jesus is saying. I only want the truth to be known and understood. However, I’m afraid this message will be no more popular with people today than Jesus’ message was with the religious leaders of His day. However, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and God is revealing His heart to those who will listen.

One more thing and this paper will be concluded. Some have asked me if I thought it possible for so many to be deceived. In our circles, it was more or less accepted that the more liberal of the denominations were, in fact, deceived and did not so much as have a clue when it came to salvation. But, to say that the evangelical groups are deceived as well is frightening - it’s too close to home. But, this deception is documented in many of Jesus’ parables. Let me just mention one of them here. The parable of the mustard seed is found in Matthew 13:31,32, and says:

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a single mustard seed, which a man planted in his field. Even though it is the smallest of seeds, it grows into one of the largest plants. And when it is grown, it is the size of a tree, and birds come to live in its branches.”

Since parables are comparisons, what Jesus pictures here is fairly obvious. The analogy of the mustard seed vividly contrasts the smallness of the seed with the greatness of what the seed produces. During the time of Jesus’ public ministry, His influence in the relatively small area surrounding Jerusalem seemed insignificant when compared to the whole world. Yet, that influence became world encompassing!

But, it is the last part of this parable that is relevant to our discussion at this point. The term “birds of the air” represent deception sponsored by the enemies of God; specifically, Satan himself. This term (peteinon, that which is able to fly, used with ouranos, heavens) literally means “those who are able to traverse the heavens”, a reference to demons.

In Matthew 13:3-9, Jesus tells the parable of the sower, the seeds, and the different types of soil. In verse 4 He talks about the seeds that fall by the side of the road and are quickly eaten by the birds. Then, later in this same chapter, He gives the disciples an explanation of the parable to make sure they understand it. In verse 19 He explains that the birds are those sent by the wicked one. From this we can easily conclude that the birds are demons under the supervision of Satan, sent to lodge in the Kingdom of Heaven for one purpose: to destroy truth and deceive the inhabitants of the Kingdom. Jesus uses this prophetic parable of the mustard seed to illustrate a worldwide, earthly Kingdom filled with religious deception, and that's exactly what it is.

So, let’s go back to our original question. Could so many be deceived? The answer is, yes. Jesus predicted it. The parable of the leaven, which follows the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13:33 illustrates much the same point, but from a little different perspective. Here, Jesus uses the illustration of how yeast is added to a flour mixture and has the ability to spread its way through the whole lump of dough in a short time. The result is that the whole lump is changed by the presence of the yeast. Yeast illustrates corruption, in this context, it's deception. The point is that traditional religion is completely affected in every part and in every way by this deception.

There are a couple of applications that should be made here. The first is that it's not possible to find good, useful things in religion. Some like to think they can participate in religion and benefit by it because they think they have the ability to take the good and reject the bad. As I've said before, I believe Jesus makes it perfectly clear that we can't have religion and God at the same time. They just don't mix.

The second is that there are always those who think they can go into the midst of the corruption and deception and change it because they have this great revelation of truth all of a sudden. Wrong! Why do you think there were far more who opposed Jesus than who ever believed and followed Him? Why did they kill the prophets? Most people are dominated by their fleshly natures and they don't want the truth. And, like it or not, this includes most religious, self-professing Christians.

How many today are trusting in church membership, what they know about God, or even their profession of faith to get them to heaven? I happen to know that it’s a very large percentage. Eternal life is found in only one thing, a real, personal, experiential relationship with God. This puts Matthew 4:17 in proper perspective:

“And from that time on, Jesus began to preach this message, saying, Change your minds and acknowledge the truths that I’m giving you, and change your ways so they line up with these truths, because the Kingdom of Heaven is here.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is here. The realm of professing Christians needs to take relationship with God seriously. This is the time that determines who will be the sheep and who will be the goats. Jesus is warning us. The time of final separation may be closer than we think.

Let me encourage you, find a red-letter edition of the Bible and just read the red letters in the four Gospels. Don’t just read these papers and try to determine if what you’re reading is right or wrong. Submit yourself to God and to His Holy Spirit and let Him reveal the truth to you. That is the only thing that will give you the understanding and determination you need to truly follow God.

Ken Brown