When looking at the apostle Paul’s ministry and letters to the various churches, there are 3 typical tones of instruction. A tone refers to a certain inflection in sound that creates variance in meaning. A person could say a word or use a phrase changing nothing of the substance but changing the pitch or tone which could convey something different than simply the words themselves. A dear brother pointed out the necessity for “3 tones” in our discipling and was encouraged by the clarity. Then I really saw it in Paul’s life and ministry as well.
First Tone of Instruction
Paul’s first tone of instruction was to teach “how/what”. For example, in the book of Galatians, Paul is instructing them about sound doctrine, which in this case, was the importance of salvation by faith alone, no works included! The “how/what” that he is teaching is sound doctrine in regards to faith and works. Many of us are familiar with this tone, it is the baseline tone of all teaching and instruction.
Second Tone of Instruction
The second tone of instruction is teaching someone how to teach “how/what”. For example, Paul tells Timothy in chapter 4 of his first letter to Timothy, “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching…” Paul is teaching Timothy to teach sound doctrine. He is not teaching Timothy sound doctrine in the tone that he did with the Galatians, instead telling Timothy to teach sound doctrine.
Third Tone of Instruction
The third tone of instruction is one that is not always easily recognized or taken into account yet nearly as crucial to a gospel movement as the rest. In this tone Paul is teaching how to teach others how to teach “how/what”. A good example is in the letter to Titus. Titus was in Crete and Paul says he left him there “so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed.” In Crete, there were men who were teaching things that did not align with sound doctrine, they were “insubordinate, empty talkers, and deceivers..” In order to solve this disorder, Paul does not write a letter of instruction to those false teachers to tell them of sound doctrine like he did for the Galatians. Paul doesn’t even tell Titus to teach sound doctrine like he instructed Timothy to do. Instead, he taught Titus, to teach and raise up leaders/teachers (elders) to teach and correct these false teachers, and provide right instruction to the people. Amongst other reasons, many “revival”-like movements come and they go because the leaders and the pioneers do not grasp the importance of this 3rd tone of instruction and lack the willingness to embrace the intentional tactfulness of instructing in the 3rd tone. One person was never meant to bear the burden of teaching and discipling the many. In other words, tone one teaching by itself, lacks the capacity to see the longevity of depth and width in a gospel movement. Instead, the call is to pour deeply into a few faithful people, teach them the Word, then teach them to teach the Word to a faithful few, then teach them to teach others to teach others the Word.
It is balanced, compassionate, and I believe will convict anyone who reads (it did me). Most importantly, it is thoroughly biblical (and trying to bring us back to Scripture), Christ-centered, and gospel-centered in its approach to these very raw, painful, and difficult issues.
I believe all who can work through the 21 pages, with some large words (Google is only a click away ;), will be greatly built up in the Lord on this matter.
Though a lot more could be said here, what is stated below speaks to foundational elements. Without which, any continued building on these matters will be on sinking sand.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black man, tragically died with a white policeman kneeling on his neck.
This heartbreaking and awful scene (which, sadly, seemed all-too-familiar of heart-wrenching mistreatment of the black population through the centuries) mixed with existing tensions. The combination catalyzed outrage, protests, and riots.
Further, it deepened the polarization of an already divided country and church, this time on the extent of existing racial injustices and how the church should respond.
Thankfully, our God isn’t a, “mute idol,” (1 Cor. 12:2). He speaks on this to all with ears to hear.
God Sides With No One
First, let’s begin with Joshua 5.
Israel is about to fight Jericho to begin their long promised Canaan conquest (see Deut. 7:1-2).
Up to this point, Israel: wandered in the desert 40 years following God through a cloud and fire; endured 400 years of slavery in Egypt; were, “the fewest of all peoples,” (Deut. 7:7); had God’s special love (Deut. 7:8); and God promised they’d conquer the land (Lev. 20:24; Deut. 7:8; etc.).
In contrast, the Canaanites about to be attacked: lived 400 years in sin and wickedness (Gen. 15:12-16); sacrificed their children to idols (Lev. 20:2, 22-23); consulted evil spirits (Lev. 20:6, 22-23); committed perverted sexuality (Lev. 20:11-17, 22-23); and more (Lev 20; 25; etc.).
Surely God chose Israel, right?…Well, shortly before Israel began battling, Joshua (leader of Israel) met God’s armed angel. Joshua asked: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Josh. 5:13).
“‘Neither,’ he replied…Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence…” (Josh. 5:14).
God took no sides here, and, “shows no favoritism,” anywhere (Acts 10:34). He takes no sides with the police or the marginalized. God stands alone on His side, seeing who will join Him.
A Marginalized, Innocent Man Murdered By The Authorities
Next, consider the only absolutely innocent man in history: Jesus. He led a marginalized community. Then the authorities gruesomely executed him.
2 from his community tried to understand this, when the resurrected Jesus clandestinely joined them. He asked, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” (Luke 24:17a).
They were still and sad (Luke 24:17b), but replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18).
Pause…They didn’t recognize Jesus among them. They didn’t understand the events properly themselves. And they had the audacity to presume that Jesus was the one who didn’t know.
Then, 2 things changed everything:
Jesus rebukes them for not looking to Scripture to understand their experiences. He then teaches what the Bible says on the matter (Luke 24:25-27, 32).
They pleaded that Jesus would stay with them (Luke 24:28-29). So He did, and, “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him,” (24:31).
From there they left with a completely hope-filled understanding of Jesus’ sad and unjust death.
Following this pattern, we also must:
Humbly look to Scripture to best understand, discern, and respond to our experiences.
Plead with Jesus to come near us and reveal Himself to us.
Job’s Revelation & Repentance
Next, consider God’s revelation through the book of Job.
Though the reader of Job understands why Job suffered terribly (Job 1-2), Job and his friends don’t. 70% of the book (by chapter count) is a debate on the “why” behind Job’s experiences:
Job interprets his own experiences 1 way (he assumed he was faultless).
The 3 friends interpret his experience a different way (they assumed he deserved this).
Sound similar to the systemic racism debates over the decades?…After the arguments, a young man wisely rebukes Job and his 3 friends (Job 32-37). Then God:
Corrects Job (Job 38-41).
Rebukes Job’s 3 friends for speaking wrongly (Job 42:7-9).
Never explains “the why” behind Job’s experience.
Begins by asking things like, “Who is this…Who determined its measurements…who shut in the sea…?” (Job 38:2-8). This contrasts Job’s, “Why?” (cf. Job 3). In other words, God wants focus on Himself (the, “Who,”), rather than the “Why?” we naturally debate.
Like Luke 24, once Job sees God, all changes: “Now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and repent,” (Job 42:5). Then Job prays for his friends, and is truly restored.
So far, we see that we struggle to discern God’s ways and justice, our hope is revelation of Jesus/God (leading to repentance), and this comes clearest from Scripture and prayer.
These principles are magnified even further when considering true biblical unity.
Long before race divisions in the U.S., Jews segregated from (Gal. 2:11-13), showed hostility toward (Luke 9:54), and excluded from salvation (Acts 15:1) the Gentiles.
In contrast, the gospel reveals great unity between Jews and Gentiles in 3 important areas:
We are one human race, equally created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26)
We are equally condemned as sinners before a holy God (Rom 2:9)
We are equally forgiven through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 3:22)
In fact, in Romans, Paul spells out that both Jew and Gentile equally share sin and redemption through Christ.
As such: “He himself is our peace, who has made us both [Jews and Gentiles] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility,” (Eph. 2:14)
Such groups that were culturally at war are now one in Christ (Col. 3:11), told to greet each other with kisses (1 Cor. 16:20) and chastised by the Lord for not uniting in heart and body to celebrate communion as one church (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
Outside a revelation of God and His Gospel, all efforts to unify will be shallow at best. And they will be unified around someone/something other than Christ and Him crucified!
Pray Against Satanic Division
Lastly: “the Lord hates…one who sows discord among brothers,” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
And: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but…against the spiritual forces of evil,” (Ephesians 6:12).
The church must know that we fight satanic efforts of division and discord (over skin color and a million other things), as well as efforts of false unity not centered on Christ and His gospel.
Jesus prayed directly about this (John 17). And He tells us to pray desperately against our enemy, like a widow with only an unjust judge to help us (Luke 18:1-8). Our life depends on it.
In conclusion, all of this is not to minimize or trivialize the very real and raw and sad and tragic death of George Floyd and other events that have catalyzed this maelstrom of racial tensions.
No. Instead, I pray this gives a proper foundation to tackle this in God’s way, seeing with God’s eyes, for God’s glory, all the way through.
More than 400 years elapsed between the writing of the Old Testament and New Testament. During this time, various books were written about God and the Bible, including 1 Enoch. But none of these have been (or should be) included as part of the Bible, including 1 Enoch.
The tricky part of 1 Enoch (also called The Book of Enoch) is that Jude (a book of the New Testament) seems to quote from it:
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all…’
So if Jude is part of our Bible, as some argue, why shouldn’t 1 Enoch also be in our Bible?
Here are my quick and dirty reasons why Christians can confidently exclude 1 Enoch as part of our Bible, and happily use the same 66 books the church has used for about 2,000 years (considered the Protestant Canon of today):
Jesus references a fixed collection of books (we now call the Old Testament) as God’s Scripture, which excluded 1 Enoch. This is seen in Luke 24:44 where Jesus speaks of “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.” To this day, those are the 3 sections of the Old Testament Bible, commonly called the Tanakh (which itself is an acronym for these 3 sections: Ta/Torah [Law of Moses] + Na/Nevi’im [the Prophets] + Kh/Ketuvim [Writings]). Each section was a fixed unit and we know exactly which books comprised it in the time of Jesus (and 1 Enoch wasn’t there). Similarly, in Luke 11:51 (and Matt. 23:35), Jesus references “bookends” of martyrs. Namely, He speaks of Abel as the first martyr and Zechariah as the last matyr. Why did He choose these 2 martyrs as starting and ending points? The death of Abel is recorded in Genesis 4, whereas the Zechariah Jesus refers to is found in 2 Chron. 24. Though there were other martyrs that died after Zechariah in 2 Chron. 24, he is the very last martyr listed in 2 Chronicles. This is significant because the fixed Jewish Bible of Jesus’ time began with Genesis and ended with 2 Chronicles (as it does today). Thus, this seemingly small reference to martyrs found in Luke 11 and Matthew 23 speak loudly that Jesus (and his audience) respected a fixed set (and order) of Old Testament books that decidedly has always excluded 1 Enoch.
The New Testament consistently appeals to Old Testament books as Scripture. This usually includes a preface like, “Scripture says,” or “God says,” or “Have you not read,” etc. I’ve read that Jesus does this with 24 of the 39 Old Testament books, and of course other New Testament writers extend this. It is significant that they never introduce 1 Enoch (or any other writing outside of the Old Testament) in this kind of a way, even though they are aware of (and do reference) other writings not in the Bible (see Jude 1:14-15, and below, for instance).
Certain phenomena about Old Testament events (that are not found in the Old Testament itself) were known and recognized by Jesus and the apostles, just as such phenomena were also written in various books between the Old and New Testaments. For instance, they acknowledge that angels were part of the giving of the Mosaic law (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19), that the names of the magicians in Moses’ day were, “Jannes and Jambres,” (2 Tim. 3:8), that Moses, “was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” (Acts 7:22), etc. And though things like the angels being present with Moses could perhaps be hinted at in the Old Testament (Deut. 33:2; Psalm 68:17), they are more expressly discussed in inter-testamental books (that is, books written between the Old and New Testaments). This does not mean Jesus and the apostles thereby grant authority to the entire contents of these books anymore than they grant authority to the entirety of what the Pharisees or others of their day said when they agree with them on certain points of doctrine (cf. Matt. 16:6 and 23:3). Instead, we simply conclude that events affirmed by the New Testament and1 Enoch (or other such books) are correct because the New Testament affirms those events, while no such authority should be granted to sections of 1 Enoch (or other such books) where the New Testament is silent. Further, in 1 Enoch, I’m not sure it’s correct to believe that the author originated the content of the book as much as he may have repeated content already widely held by others of his time. In either case, we continue to conclude that the current contents of our Old and New Testaments are authoritative in ways that 1 Enoch is not.
Jesus’ sheep know his voice(John 10:27). Thus, we should look at what the church (as well as Jews before Christ) received as God’s Bible throughout history. In doing this, we realize that it has been virtually unanimous that the Jews and Christians have excluded 1 Enoch from God’s word throughout history. Guthrie writes that, while the early church father Tertullian affirmed 1 Enoch‘s authenticity, “in this he is unsupported by any others,” (Donald Guthrie’s, New Testament Introduction, 3rd Ed., 1970, p. 917). And as of my writing this, according to the Wikipedia entry on the Book of Enoch: “While the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church consider the Book of Enoch as canonical, other Christian groups regard it as non-canonical or non-inspired.” Again, is it conceivable that Jesus’ sheep know his voice (John 10:27) and yet the vast majority of his sheep throughout the ages have totally missed that 1 Enoch is part of Christ’s word/voice the way the rest of the Bible is?
The Bible quotes plenty of non-biblical sources. Joshua mentions, “The book of Jasher,” (Josh. 10:13). Numbers references, “the Book of the Wars of the LORD,” (Num. 21:14). King David is written about in, “the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer,” (1 Chron. 29:29). Paul quotes non-Christian poets (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12) as well as referencing a letter he wrote that is clearly not part of the New Testament (1 Cor. 5:9). Thus, having Jude quote 1 Enoch makes it no more part of the Bible than all of these non-biblical sources quoted throughout Scripture. Again, it is one thing to show agreement or reference points on specific elements of books, but it is another thing altogether to say such-and-such a book is completely trustworthy and part of the Bible. God forbid!
On April 26, 2020, Jack Langham–a friend, mentor and co-laborer in the gospel–passed away. Jack was an evangelist. Maybe more so than anyone I’ve met.
On June 3, 2020, I had the honor of speaking for 5 minutes at his funeral. Here is an edited version of that talk.
Jack’s 4 Min. Eulogy
My name is Brian Holda.
Jack was a friend, a mentor in many ways, and most of all a dear brother in Christ to me, and I’m honored to speak at his memorial.
I’d known Jack for about 20 years, especially starting when I went to Hope College, and he and Sue routinely travelled 2 and a half hours each way to visit and minister Christ to us students.
He had so many traits I admired, but the thing that sticks out most was his straightforward truth-telling. He didn’t beat around the bush…I have a feeling most of you know what I mean. But it was really what us college kids needed most.
This continued after college, when I was engaged, and Jack took me on a walk to talk about the birds and the bees. Anyone else relate? Maybe it was just me. Anyway…he assumed I needed help and he was just the guy to give it. It was awkward at first, but I was touched by his love and frankness to help me out. And here I am with our fifth child on the way, so can’t argue with the results.
But much more, Jack’s straightforward truth-telling was the most moving to me when Jack shared about Jesus with anyone who would listen…I think many of you know what I mean. He explained to us how Jesus met him after telling God, “this life sucks,” (even though everything seemed pretty decent on the outside). And he had such a love and urgency that others would turn to follow Jesus and be saved from their sins as well.
In fact, one day he told me I needed to learn how to share this Jesus with others at my college the way he did, and so he was going to take me around Hope College to mentor me on a beautiful Saturday morning.
We went and had great conversations about Jesus, but I’ll never forget an encounter we had in the snack lounge. We sat down with an older man, and Jack made small talk at first. Then he asked him a question about Jesus. The man got so upset that he irately told Jack to beat it, in so many words. I was a bit embarrassed for myself and Jack, but Jack didn’t seem to flinch. And we soon were talking to the next person about the hope he had in Jesus.
That encounter was tense, uncomfortable, and what I feared the most. Maybe some of you here today even had similar exchanges with Jack yourself. But I keep asking myself, “Why?”
“Why would Jack take time to seek out others only to be scolded on an otherwise perfectly sunny Saturday?”
“Why would someone endure so many people giving him uncomfortable and unwelcome faces during his time on earth?”
Well…right now, Jack gets the privilege of looking into the only face that matters: Jesus. And surely seeing Jesus smile at you face-to-face is worth seeing a million frowns in this lifetime. I think Jack did it to make Jesus smile. He also, as I recall, felt like he wanted to make up for 40 years he sadly lived without Jesus. And finally, I know Jack shared Jesus (knowing some will reject) because he hoped and longed to help others find the same joy of being forgiven that he did. If you’re one of those people who had those uncomfortable conversations with Jack, he risked it because he loves you and thought you were worth the risk. And the only thing that could add to the joy Jack has right now with Jesus is if we, too, can join them both when we pass as well.
As the Bible says: “How precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints”.
In Jeremiah 23, God confronts false prophets. We don’t know how many there were, but if 1 Kings 22 gives any clue, there were likely MANY more false ones than true ones.
I get the impression that false prophets always outnumber true ones (both from Scripture and experience). This includes (and maybe is even more prevalent?) at the present time.
In any case, the prevailing flaw of the false prophets of Jeremiah 23 was their insistence on something they called, “the burden of the LORD,” (23:33, 34, 36, 38).
In fact, God was so nauseated by this focus that He told Jeremiah that, when someone asks him for, “the burden of the LORD,” he is to tell them that they are God’s burden themselves, and will be cast off! (23:33)
What is the burden of the Lord?
In context, this “burden of the Lord,” seems to relate to inner feelings, “unctions,” etc. These are subjective, internal notions, as opposed to God’s objective, external, revealed word. In other words, they were fashioning their false prophecies and concepts of God based on what they felt within.
Thus, “they speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD,” (Jer. 23:16), and, “the burden is every man’s own word,” (Jer. 23:36).
Unlike the false prophets, Jeremiah, “stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word,” (Jer. 23:18).
As a result, in contrast to deceptive inner thoughts and feelings, Jeremiah (like all true prophets) spoke according to God’s objective, external word, as the LORD revealed it to him.
In fact, God (through Jeremiah) imagined a day where his people would stop looking to internal feelings/senses, and instead look to God’s objective, revealed word (23:35-36).
What God is Saying to Us
Though Jeremiah was written roughly 500 years before Christ, it still is part of God’s, “living,” word (Heb. 4:12) that speaks to us today.
Consider, for instance, that Jesus could quote words God had spoken privately to Moses in 1500 B.C. as being words God was publicly speaking to the audience of Jesus’ day (Matt. 22:31-32), 1,500 years later.
And in the same way, are we willing to receive the true words of God from 2,500 years ago in Jeremiah 23 as words God is speaking to us today?
If so–if Jeremiah 23 is just as true today as it was then–then I believe we must grieve right now.
I say this because it seems there is a large emphasis on internal feelings, experiences, subjective understandings of things, etc., and such notions seem to dominate the discourse of the day. Even, God forbid, among the church!
Meanwhile, there seems so little emphasis on God’s objective, external, revealed word that all of our feelings, experiences, and thoughts must bow to.
I sincerely hope I’m reading things wrong. Either way, I plead with you to seriously consider with me what God is speaking to us through Jeremiah 23 (as well, of course, as the rest of Scripture–God’s external, objective, and revealed word for us).
Sadly, many groups and churches today claim they are Christian but in reality are not.
This shouldn’t be surprising, since even in the days of Jesus and his first followers, the same problem persisted. In fact, Jesus repeatedly tells of people meeting God the Judge, thinking they are good with Him, only to be surprised that God says He never knew them (Matt. 7:22-23; 25:11-12, 41-46; Luke 13:25-27; etc.).
Even more sobering, Jesus compares true followers of God to people going through things like a, “narrow door,” (Luke 13:24) and a, “small…gate,” that, “only a few find,” (Matt. 7:14).
Thus, we repeatedly read about, “false apostles,” (2 Cor. 11:13), “false prophets,” (1 John 4:1), “false christs,” (Matt. 24:24), “false brethren,” (2 Cor. 11:26), etc.
All to say, false churches/Christians aren’t new problems, and they aren’t going away.
Where To Look
Given that sobering warning, we are not helpless in discerning true churches from false ones.
The first place to examine is the leadership. Namely, what do they teach and how do they act?
Though both are very important to consider, I think their written statements of belief offer the best starting place, as these tend to be the most thought out, vetted, and pointedly answer the questions of whether they are truly orthodox (that is, if they truly are Christian as the Bible defines it).
Now that we know where to look, we need to know what to look for.
The 4 questions that Scripture (and church history) seem to gravitate toward the most in discerning true from false Christianity are the following (along with the rationale for their importance):
Is GOD correctly identified as Triune? (that is, He is 1 God who exists in 3 Persons)
Believing there is only 1 God is part of, “the most important” commandment (Mark 12:29), repeatedly assumed by the church (Romans 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:4-8; Gal. 3:20; 1 Tim. 2:5), and is considered so basic that, “even the demons believe that,” (James 2:19).
Likewise, God the Father (e.g. John 17:1-5), God the Son [Jesus] (e.g. John 1:1, 14-18; 8:56-59; Heb. 1:8; Phil. 2:3-11), and God the Holy Spirit (e.g. John 14:15-24; Acts 5:1-5) are all affirmed as God in Scripture, while simultaneously being 3 separate Persons (e.g. Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14). Even more, Jesus warns that, “if you do not believe that I am He [God, cf. John 8:58], you will indeed die in your sins,” (John 8:24).
Thus, any true Christian must affirm only 1 God who simultaneously exists as 3 Persons.
Is JESUS correctly identified as fully God and fully man?
As said above, Jesus strictly charges that all must believe He is God – John 8 (especially vv. 24 and 58).
We also read that, “any such person,” who does not acknowledge that Jesus came as a man (i.e. “in the flesh”) is “the deceiver and the antichrist,” (2 John 1:7).
Thus, any true Christian must affirm Jesus as fully (and truly) God while simultaneously being fully (and truly) human.
The gospel (i.e. “good news”) of the Bible is the means whereby sinful humanity (that’s all of us) are reconciled to a Holy God (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:12-21; Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21-23).
On God’s end:
He came to earth as Jesus (John 1:1, 14),
lived perfectly (2 Cor. 5:21),
took on the full wrath of God we deserved in His tortuous death (John 19:30; Rom. 3:25),
then bodily resurrected 3 days later to prove the payment for our sins was PAID IN FULL (1 Cor. 15:1-4, 17)!
On our end, we must:
repent (i.e. turn toward Jesus/God as our new Boss/King/Lord; see Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 3:19) and
believe/trust that Jesus’ finished work alone reconciles us to God (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Eph. 2:8; etc.).
Thus, any true Christian must affirm this true gospel.
The evidence we have truly done our part–and are thus forgiven and made righteous in God’s eyes (past, present, future)–is that from the point of our conversion onward, God the Holy Spirit indwells us, leading to a transformed life and character that more resembles God/Christ over time (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 1:13; 1 John; Heb. 10:14; etc.).
Is SCRIPTURE the ultimate authority?
Jesus sees Scripture as:
“the word of God,” (John 10:35; cf. Matt. 19:4-5),
the ultimate authority (e.g. Matt. 5:17; Jn. 10:35; 17:17)
surpassing the commands of religious rulers (Matt. 15:3-6),
our final judge (John 12:48; Rev. 19:15),
relevant at all times (Matt. 22:31-32),
best interpreted by the Bible itself (Matt. 4:6-7).
Thus, when dealing with Satan in the desert, Jesus said three times, “It is written,” to introduce Scripture as the final authority on Jesus/God (Matt. 4:4-11). By doing this, He demonstrated that Scripture is a greater authority than:
the words of God-appointed leaders (Matt. 3:11-14),
God’s audible voice (Matt. 3:17),
and Holy Spirit-led experiences (Matt. 4:1)
In contrast, Jesus warns his disciples to trust Scripture over:
religious leaders (Matt. 15:3-6; 16:6, 11-12)
God-appointed apostles such as Judas Iscariot (e.g. Jn. 13:27; Acts 1:18) or Peter (e.g. Matt. 16:22-23; 26:34; Gal. 2:11-14).
Thus, any true Christian should teach and obey Scripture as their ultimate authority.
Though a failure to do this may not explicitly be stated as damnable in the Bible, it completely ignores Jesus’ teaching and example, and always eventually leads to serious and damnable error (as the Bible and experience demonstrate).
4 Questions In Brief
Said again, when assessing true from false Christianity, ask:
Is GOD correctly identified as Triune?
Is JESUS correctly identified as fully God and fully man?
Is the true GOSPEL affirmed?
Is SCRIPTURE the ultimate authority?
Lord willing, I’d like to take these 4 questions to assess whether specific churches/organizations are true or false.
If there are any places you’d like examined, please leave a comment.
As calls for, “justice,” and, “social justice,” grow in intensity within (and outside) the church today (with some special focus on sins of our forefathers), I’d like to examine what God says about such matters using Ezekiel 18 as a template.
Israel’s Sins Prior to Ezekiel 18
The prophet Ezekiel lived when God’s people reached a historically low point.
Not long before Ezekiel, 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel (those living in the North) were expelled from the land due to their exceeding wickedness. It was so bad that 20 out of 20 of their kings rejected God and promoted idolatry.
In fact, remember that whole golden calf episode in the desert with Moses (see Exod. 32)? Well, they basically “resurrected” the calf and set him up all over again for the people to worship instead of God.
So finally, after sending prophets for hundreds of years to warn them, and yet seeing no repentance, God had enough of it and brought Assyria to kick his people out of their land.
That left only Judah (the “Southern Kingdom”) in the land. They had a few good kings sprinkled in there, and sometimes removed their idols, so God let them stay a little longer.
But they were still prone to wickedness. Thus, God sent many prophets to them as well. And, similar to the Northern Israelites, there was little true and lasting repentance. So God sent Babylon to take them out of the land.
This is where Ezekiel comes in. He is a prophet speaking to Judah from Babylon (where God’s people were being sent, due to their sin).
Israel’s Sins During Ezekiel 18
As bad as the Northern Israelites were, God shows Ezekiel that Judah (i.e. the Southern Israelites) had become worse. Consider Ezekiel 16:
Ezek. 16:1-14: God had shown love to redeem, forgive, and glorify his undeserving people.
Ezek. 16:15-43: Instead of honoring Him, though, they took all these great things God gave them, and used them to reject God and worship nations and idols. In fact, God says, “you were different from other women in your whorings. No one solicited you to play the whore, and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you,” (Ezek. 16:34).
Ezek. 16:44-47: It gets worse. Remember how bad the Northern Tribes of Israel were (see above)? And remember how Sodom was destroyed by God’s fire for their unthinkable wickedness in Genesis (chaps. 18-19)? Well, God tells Judah that, “within a very little time you were more corrupt than they [Northern Israel and Sodom] in all your ways,” (Ezek. 16:47).
Ezek. 16:48-58: Sodom’s sins included pride, self-centeredness and comfort at the expense of their poor neighbors (while also intending to homosexually gang rape Lot’s visitors, see Gen. 19). But Judah, guilty of similar sins (cf. Ezek. 16:47a), went even further by committing gruesome idolatries, including sacrificing their very sons and daughters as “worship” (Ezek. 16:20-22). Thus, in justice, God had to punish them (Ezek. 16:58).
Ezek. 16:59-63: Spoiler: God was still willing to forgive and restore them even after all this. More on that later.
Free From Your Ancestors’ Sins
In the midst of such sinfulness, God’s people cluelessly repeated this proverb to themselves: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” (Ezek. 18:2).
In other words, they thought they were innocent victims, and it was their ancestors’ sinfulness that was bringing God’s judgment on them.
But the Lord said, “This proverb shall no more be used…” (Ezek. 18:3).
Because God is truly just. He judges you for your sins, not your parents. The Israelites of Ezekiel’s day were not the innocent victims they claimed to be.
And in case this wasn’t clear, God paints a scenario:
A righteous man (Ezek. 18:5-9) has
a wicked son (Ezek. 18:10-13) who has
a righteous son (Ezek. 18:14-18).
The righteous grandfather and grandson in this scenario will live because they chose justice (Ezek. 18:9, 17), while the wicked son will die because he chose wickedness (Ezek. 18:13, 18).
This doesn’t mean there are no consequences passed down generationally based on how we live today. God seems to indicate as much in the 10 commandments when stating that God will visit, “the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,” (Exod. 20:5). Though also note that God’s love passes to thousands (or “to the thousandth generation”) when we love and obey Him (Exod. 20:6). See, God’s mercy always bleeds out (figuratively and literally) even in the midst of his call for justice. In fact, God’s “mercy triumphs over judgment,” (James 2:13).
Similarly, God warns Israel in Leviticus 26 that He will eject them from the land if they continue in sin (fulfilled during Ezekiel). But even then, after they are kicked out of the land, God still says: “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers [that is, they repent of, and break from, the ways of their ancestors]…then I will remember my covenant…I will remember the land…” (Lev. 26:40-42). Yes, they will still have to stay longer in foreign land as consequence for what their forefathers did (Lev. 26:43), but God will return to them regardless of how dark their past was, when they repent. In fact, this very thing is shown in detail in Daniel 9. Further still, again, God’s mercy, in the face of our unrighteousness, bleeds through later in Leviticus 26 when He proclaims: “Yet for all that [the consequences of their sin]…I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them…” (Lev. 26:44-45).
But, and I pray we hear this, Ezekiel 18 helps us see that in terms of our standing before the living God (which is the very point of the gospel), you and I are free in regards to what our ancestors did. America (and every nation) is free in regards to what our ancestors did. Instead, we must answer for our own sins.
Your dad was a murderer and great-great-grandfather a slave master who mercilessly beat his slaves? They must answer God for that. But you? You are free! You are a completely clean slate. You can choose to follow the sins of your forefathers or break from that, confessing those things formerly done as sins and completely repenting from following those ways.
Of course, this freedom cuts both ways.
Maybe your forefathers feared God and lived righteously. Is that merited to your account? Absolutely not. You have to answer to God for yourself, today. Not for your ancestors of yesterday.
Further, Israel’s arrogance in quoting the proverb about fathers eating sour grapes reflects their belief that they were innocent. That God was only judging them based on their fathers’ sins. And God is making absolutely clear they know that this is not the case. You/they/we all have to answer to God for our own sins.
Free From Your Own Sins
Continuing in Ezekiel 18, the opportunity to get a clean slate goes even further.
Not only are you free in regards to any sins of your forefathers. You also can be free from all of your own past sins:
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him…” (Ezek. 18:21-22).
Did you catch that? Anything you did unjustly will be forgiven and forgotten by the Lord if you turn to Him after committing these sins. In fact, even if you sin repeatedly in the same day and in the same way, and yet still repent, you would be forgiven (Luke 17:3-4). This is also true at a national level (see Jeremiah 18:5-11).
Because God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He wants them (that’s you and me) to live (Ezek. 18:23)! In his justice he could punish all of us in an instant for our sinfulness. But His mercy and love persist in giving us chances upon chances to repent and live instead.
Though, this too cuts both ways:
“But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice…shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered…he shall die.” (Ezek. 18:24).
So if you live for the Lord for 89 years, then turn away from him in the 90th year, you can’t say, “Just forget about that last year.” Sadly, “in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie,” (Ecc. 11:3). In other words, where you are at with the Lord at the end of your life is the ultimate determiner of your judgment. Said in another way, Paul celebrates that he “finished the race,” (2 Tim. 4:7), not that he merely started it.
So far, I hope this sounds amazing. Truly, the gospel (that Jesus died for your sins, and you receive this total forgiveness through repentance and faith) takes these truths and extends them even further.
But apparently, the Israel of Ezekiel’s day didn’t think this sounded so great.
We read, “Yet you [Israel] say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’” (Ezek. 18:25, 29). When in reality their ways were unjust, (see Ezek. 18:25, 29).
Pause for a moment.
This is one of the saddest things we could read. Consider it. Israel was guilty of pride, self-centeredness, gross idolatry (even including killing their children for their “gods”), and more.
Of all people, they should have been overjoyed to know God offers them forgiveness if they repent. But instead, intoxicated by their sin, deluded that they are good people (not like their “bad forefathers”), they have the audacity to charge God with being unjust. They seemed to think they didn’t need to repent.
And a similar phenomena occurs with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day (see Luke 18:9-14). Surely they weren’t the “sinner” (or “sick”) that needed Jesus’ help (cf. Matt. 9:12-13). The very thought that their hearts were wicked was offensive to them (Matt. 15:12). Rather, they were the champions of justice of their day. The first to desire God’s just judgment for others, assuming, of course, that they were already just themselves (e.g. John 8:1-11). Thus, they rejected the offer of the gospel to forgive their sins in Christ—the only way to be truly justified in God’s sight.
Grace Still Prevails
And yet…and yet…
Even after Israel had been rightfully charged as arrogant, self-centered, idolatrous murderers by Ezekiel…
Even after they told God they knew more about justice than Him…
God still says: “Repent…cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!…For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live,” (Ezek. 18:30-32).
God didn’t want these self-righteous, hypocritical, idolatrous people bearing his name to die.
What’s more, earlier (in Ezek. 16 when God declared them pretty much as wicked as one could be), God said he would be faithful to His covenant toward Israel, even where they were unfaithful (Ezek. 16:59-63, see also 2 Tim. 2:13). Again, God’s mercy literally bleeds out, even when pronouncing righteous judgment against sin.
And later God will say to Israel, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spiritI will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezek. 36:26-27).
So not only does God offer his wicked people a chance to repent and change their heart to obey Him (thereby being forgiven of previous sin), but He Himself grants them repentance; He produces the change of heart; He gives them the ability to walk in His ways through His indwelt Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!
We Are Not So Just
After saying all this, maybe we should back up for a moment and see how God defines justice/righteousness (“justice” and “righteousness” are used interchangeably in Ezek. 18).
Though He doesn’t give an exhaustive definition, He does highlight some salient traits of a just/righteous person. Namely, the just person:
Rejects idolatry (Ezek. 18:5-6)
Is sexually pure (Ezek. 18:6)
Pays back what they owe (Ezek. 18:7)
Doesn’t steal (Ezek. 18:7)
Sacrificially helps the poor and needy among them (Ezek. 18:7-8)
Perhaps, at first glance, some reading this list may think they have met this criteria and are just in God’s eyes.
But is it possible that, like Israel in Ezekiel’s day, and like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, you, too, may be self-deluded in how just you really are?
Consider, for instance, only the first 2 elements:
#1 – Rejects idolatry (Ezek. 18:5-6)
When God told them to reject idolatry, this encompassed rejecting their ritual of worshipping idols on hills and mountains, where they would sometimes kill their sons and daughters as part of their sacrifice (see Ezek. 16:15-22).
Today in the U.S. we may not have physical idols like Israel, but, among other things, I’d argue that we worship the idol of self. We choose self-comfort, self-preferences, self-preservation, etc. over honoring Jesus as Lord. We even preach a false gospel where Jesus is here to make your life better, as opposed to the true gospel that we exist to glorify God. And, sadly, I believe the wickedness of this idolatry has its fullest expression in our abhorrent practice of killing our unborn sons and daughters because they make life too difficult for us. In this very sobering reality, there is little difference between Israel’s child sacrifice for handmade idols and our child sacrifice for the idol of self.
And whether you have killed sons and daughters to worship self, or have chosen other unholy paths to worship self, it is all considered idolatry in God’s eyes. You/we are guilty.
Further, Jesus followers are called, “the salt of the earth,” (Matt. 5:13). Salt in biblical times was an agent that kept its surrounding elements from corrupting. Thus, when we see our culture grow more corrupt alongside the church, we must conclude that the church, in some measure, has lost its saltiness. That is, we the church must take a good measure of responsibility for wickedness in our surrounding culture. Even Sodom, amidst all of its wickedness, would have been preserved if only 10 truly righteous people remained there (Gen. 18:32).
And further still, there are many other ways that the U.S. has left worship of the true God. From what I’ve read, there are historically low rates of people claiming Chrisitanity while new age and occult philosophies are on the rise.
Even more, Jesus tells us that, “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth,” (John 4:24). Thus, it is idolatrous worship if it is not truthful. Yet, again, historically low rates of viewing the Bible as truthful and authoritative, as well as understanding the biblical gospel, also exist among even the declining percentages of those who still claim they are “Christian.” Again, even if you have preserved a true understanding and respect for the gospel and Scripture in yourself, we have to share blame for erosion of this among the church in our midst. Surely this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You/we are guilty of false worship where we believe and promote untruth and do nothing to change the cultural erosion of true worship around us.
#2 – Is sexually pure (Ezek. 18:6)
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day claimed they were faultless in committing adultery, because they didn’t physically have sexual encounters with others out of wedlock. But Jesus rebuked their self-righteousness, saying, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” (Matt. 5:27-28).
Here is God’s standard for sexual purity: your heart and body are exclusively reserved for a man and woman to sexually fulfill within the covenant of marriage. If you’ve thought or acted sexually outside of your exclusive man-woman marriage covenant, you are guilty in God’s sight and will be judged as an adulterer.
Even more, as stated in reference to worship, while you may not be guilty as an individual, you share guilt in watching your nation erode in these areas without doing anything. Currently, the U.S. has had a proliferation of homosexual sexuality, sexuality outside of marriage, unbiblical divorce and remarriage, and pornography, to name a few. This is happening in record numbers, as I understand, by those claiming “Christianity”, just as it is happening in record numbers by those who don’t claim “Christianity”. Again, even if you may be pure on your own in these areas, could God look at your life and say you have truly been “salt” that has kept this trend from corrupting and getting worse?
We’re all guilty
I’ve only touched on some considerations of the first 2 of 5 elements listed in Ezekiel 18 (which is not in any way an exhaustive list in itself). I will leave you to reflect on how you/we/the church/the U.S. measure up with all 5 elements. But be warned: “A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart,” (Prov. 21:2). When you answer to God on judgment day, it will not suffice to say you didn’t think you were guilty. Even human judges do not ask if someone thinks they are guilty, but they judge on whether the person is actually guilty.
And according to God’s word, you and I are unjust and deserving of death.
The point of the gospel is that no one lives up to God’s justice: “None is righteous, no, not one;” “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Rom. 3:10; Isaiah 53:6).
The Gospel (“Good News”)
And yet, after realizing we’re not so great. After all those unjust things we’ve done and self-righteously been blind to. After all that… God still remains standing there as the ONLY Just One; the Only One who has every right to obliterate all of us for our wickedness. And yet He says He doesn’t want to. He wants us to live. He tells us to repent. And even provides the means for us to repent and follow Him through His gospel. He died the death we deserve, “so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith [with repentance, see Rom. 2:4] in Jesus,” (Rom. 3:26). We are 100% justified only because our faith in Jesus completely covers us with his righteousness.
Though we all like sheep have gone astray, “the Lord has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all,” (Isaiah 53:6).
Even more, He gives his church (those who receive His gospel) his Holy Spirit inside of us to begin, by his grace, stepping toward his just decrees. This is not unlike God (1) commanding Ezekiel to “Stand on your feet,” (Eze. 2:1) only to (2) immediately send His Holy Spirit to “set” Ezekiel on his feet (Eze. 2:2). So God alone can help you walk toward God’s justice through God’s life living inside you.
He alone is just. His righteousness is 100% imputed to us sinners the moment we repent and believe the gospel. And He living in us is the only hope we have of walking toward His just standards in our own experience (called “sanctification”), as imperfect as that walk will be so long as we are still in this fallen, sinful flesh (see Rom. 7–the struggle is real!).
We Are Israel
As you see, this story isn’t confined to Israel in Ezekiel’s day. No, it’s too easy to see the irony of those self-righteous Israelites claiming God is the unjust one.
This is about us self-righteous people today in danger of ignoring, minimizing, or perverting the gospel of grace amidst zeal for justice.
May we never forget that God’s gospel teaches that God’s righteous standard can only be satisfied through our repentance and faith in Jesus and His sacrifice (Rom. 3:22):
“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freelyby his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus…He did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:22-26).
Truly, this is good news when we all have been unjust, deserving worse than the death penalty before a just God.
In fact, there’s never been a better time to be forgiven and made righteous in Christ than now:
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.
Before exposing problems with “full preterism” (that is, seeing most/all of Revelation as fulfilled in the AD 70 Jerusalem temple destruction), I should say that I am a partial preterist.
Meaning, I do think parts of the Bible (such as Matthew 24; Mark 13; and Luke 21) point very specifically to Jerusalem’s AD 70 destruction.
I disagree, however, that Revelation focuses on that AD 70 event. Here’s why…
Reasons To Reject Full Preterism
The preterist viewpoint on Revelation originated in 1614 from Luis de Alcasar, a Jesuit (Catholic) priest. This was during the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation (see “Preterism,” Wikipedia). It was a Catholic attempt to squelch the Protestants’ overwhelming belief that the Pope was the Antichrist. Such an anti-protestant origin does not prove preterism wrong (God can even speak truth through donkeys!–Num. 22), but it should make Bible-believing protestants at least cautious.
The book of Revelation has traditionally been dated around AD 90-95, during Domitian’s reign as Roman emperor. Though it is possible, as some preterists point out, for Revelation to have been written earlier, the AD 90-95 dating has been the most consistent conclusion throughout church history, for multiple, independent reasons (see Donald Guthrie’s, New Testament Introduction, 1970, 3rd Ed.). And if Revelation was written any time after AD 70, the Preterist viewpoint falls apart.
In many ways, the books of Daniel and Revelation parallel each other. Both are apocalyptic writings that point to future events. Where Daniel highlights Jesus’ 1st coming, Revelation highlights His 2nd coming. Both share similar symbolism to describe similar things (compare Rev. 13 with Dan. 2 and 7). And where Daniel ends with a sealed book to be opened later (Dan. 12:4ff), Revelation begins with seals of a scroll being removed (Rev. 5:1ff). Considering all these parallels, it would be remarkably inconsistent if Revelation took 22 chapters to foretell only 4 years of future events (as the Preterist position demands), while Daniel sweeps through ~500 years in only 12 chapters.
This dissimilarity between Daniel’s 500 years / 12 chapters and Revelation’s 4 years / 22 chapters seems even odder when considering that the AD 70 temple destruction is foretold elsewhere in Scripture with far greater clarity (cf. Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Thus, if the Preterist position is correct, God takes 22 chapters to very cryptically (and, compared to Daniel, very slowly) describe an event He explains elsewhere with great precision and detail (and at a pace much more akin to Daniel’s).
Further, as the book of Daniel (and many other Bible books) demonstrate, God consistently foretells–in writing–seemingly all future significant events that would happen to his people (at least into the early apostolic age, cf. Acts 1:16, all the way to AD 70, cf. Matt. 24). In fact, we are told: “the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets,” (Amos 3:7). In light of this, are we to say that He stops prophesying (at least in writing) concerning His people from AD 70 on? Would He leave his bride (the church) completely blind in terms of written communication of all the major events she would go through from AD 70 to the present day? On the other hand, if He has foretold such things, it seems Revelation is the best place to find this (and thus it must foretell events far beyond AD 70, in contrast to the preterist viewpoint).
Finally, the book of Revelation begins with a vision of Jesus. And though this vision has many components (His eyes of fire, sword in his mouth, etc.), only 2 are specifically revealed for the reader: (1) lampstands = churches, (2) stars = angels of churches (Rev 1:20). In other words, the 1 subject He chooses to reveal and focus on from the very beginning of Revelation is His church. There are 2 implications: (1) of everything that could be revealed of Jesus, this prophecy begins with a focus specifically on the church; (2) this prophecy uses overtly Jewish symbolism (in this case, the temple lampstands) to now apply to the church (it also uses creation [i.e. stars] to speak of church phenomena, but that is a separate, though related, subject). We see this pattern continue where the temple incense = prayers of the church (Rev. 5:8), and Jerusalem = the Bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2). Thus, using distinctly Jewish emblems to point to facets of the church continues to be the focal point through the end of the book (see Rev 21-22). Such a pattern suggests that Revelation will focus chiefly on the church, and use Jewish symbolism to do so. This would agree with the historicist interpretation, but casts doubt on a preterist approach that makes the literal Jerusalem temple (and it’s destruction) the focus of Revelation.
Now consider all of these evidences from the opposite perspective. Consider what it would mean for preterism to be true:
it was “discovered” by an anti-Protestant to defy the reformation
though the majority of dating evidences have led the majority of scholars to date Revelation later than AD 70, they are all mistaken
though Revelation parallels Daniel in virtually every other way, it radically departs in spending so much ink on such a short period of time
Revelation takes 22 chapters to explain cryptically what other Bible passages detail with much more clarity
God must have effectively stopped predicting in writing major events concerning his people after AD 70
Revelation must actually focus on a literal Israel with a literal temple, though the book begins and ends with Jewish symbolism that represent the church
Perhaps there are rebuttals to each of these points, but considered in total, I find a historicist approach to Revelation far more compelling than preterism.