Whatever Happened to the Church

Reed DePace

Question I’d ask any to comment upon: is God in the process of judging the Church in America? Scripture to contemplate: Jh 6:28; Mt 5:13; 1Ti 3:4-5; Eph 5:13; 2Ti3:1-5; Jh 15:6

The background to my question comes from this FB status I posted:

Whatever Happened … To the Church?

That is what your grandchildren may ask one day. If things keep going the way they are, God is going to remove the Church from this land. America may become a post-post-Christian nation with barely a remembrance of Christ.

What ever happened to a man not being qualified to shepherd God’s family if he cannot shepherd his own family (1Ti 3:4-5)? Preachers’ Daughters (check out the family bios.)

We are awash in pastors who promote godliness but deny the only One who is its power (2Ti 3:5). Christianity IS NOT about us keeping the rules, and pastors who teach that are doing the same thing the ones Jesus condemned did.

(Don’t read between the lines. Holiness is essential. We don’t get it in any manner that is based on our effort. Our problem with sin is worse than we imagine. We neither believe nor live in what Jesus said is necessary for true holiness. Jh 6:28)

The shame of the Church continues to be paraded and laughed at by the unbelieving culture. What in the world are we thinking supporting that by parading our own sinfulness – and celebrating it – before those who mock Jesus Christ? (Eph 5:12; 1Pe 4:3)

When salt is worthless, what do you do with it? According to Jesus, you throw it into the mud where at least it can add some traction for the feet of those who walk on it. (Mt 5:13) The Church is washing away her saltiness in shallow love for God and heated love for the world. Our children are leaving us in the mud and jumping into the manure-pile of the debauchery of this world.

God have mercy, Christ have mercy, Holy Spirit have mercy. If He doesn’t our grandchildren will be wondering whatever happened to the Church in America.

Reed DePace

God on Ghosts

(Posted by Paige)

‘Tis the season for those perennial conversations about ghosties. Reed and I wrote this article, A God’s Eye View of Ghosts, a couple of years ago to be a resource that he could share with people in his church and community. Perhaps it will come in handy for you in your ministry setting as well.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Relativism and the Church

Relativism is the third tooth in the mouth of the wolf that attacks the church. This one is particularly nasty, in my opinion, because it is so prevalent, and so hard to fight. You can’t always even use logic to fight this one, because they usually reject logic outright (at least, they say they do). The consequences are severe for the church. Everything becomes “relational,” while commitment to truth simultaneously erodes (see Sittema, With a Shepherd’s Heart, p. 61). The only thing that is absolutely wrong is to hold absolute values (pp. 62-63). Church discipline becomes extremely difficult, since how dare those elders tell me that I am sinning! People lose conviction that the Bible is really God’s Word.

Sittema gives us five suggestions on how to fight this horrific error. 1. Proclaim loudly and often the infallible and absolute authority of the Bible; 2. Call sin by its rightful name: sin! 3. Teach the Bible (I would include with this Bible memorization); 4. Rebuke sinners with the Bible; and 5. Lead by example. I might add a few other suggestions here that will help, especially geared towards young people, who are the most affected by relativism. 6. Teach young people the catechisms, so that it’s in their blood. 7. Preach against the television (who can fight the indoctrination of relativism if the television has such a complete grasp of the time of our young people? Plus, there is usually little of value on the TV) 8. Teach apologetics to the youth groups and to college age folks, so that they are not only aware of relativism, but also how to understand it and avoid it, and even maybe help others avoid it.

The Sufficiency of the Word Compared to “Christendom”

I was reading in J.C. Ryle today on the Gospel of Matthew for evening sermon preparation, and I came across this simple statement: “But the sword is not to be used in the propagation and maintenance of the Gospel” (p. 368). As I got to thinking about it, the natural comparison between the governmental sword, and the Sword of the Spirit (which is Scripture) came to mind. Then I saw it: the reason why the sword cannot be used in the defense and propagation of the Gospel is that such a use proclaims the Scriptures to be insufficient. The Sword that God has provided for the Gospel propagation is entirely sufficient. It does not need modern gimmicks, and it does not need old swords. The Holy Spirit keeps the Word ever sharp to break down defenses and penetrate to the very heart of man. What other sword does the Gospel need than the Sword of the Spirit? This might also have an indirect bearing on the Two Kingdoms discussion. God has two swords.

Tired of “Church Programs?”

We live in an age where the church is increasingly convinced that it has to create gimmicks in order to convert people. Oftentimes, the church is only really concerned about getting people in the door. The Gospel thus drops out of sight entirely. Has God actually prescribed for us the way to make disciples? Yes, and the Great Commission tells us how. This book should help us to return to the Gospel as the Gospel, and not what we try to make (or twist!) out of it. This book is 50% off right now at WTS bookstore.

Is Your Best Good Enough?

I have asked the EE (Evangelism Explosion) question to a number of people. For those who don’t know what this question is, it goes like this: “If you were to die tonight and appear before God in heaven, and He were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?” I dare say that if anyone were to poll most Americans on this question, the number one answer would be, “I’ve done my best.” This answer has a certain appeal about it. It implies that the person is really thinking about his eternal destiny. It also implies that the God who hears this answer is a loving and gracious God, willing to accept “partial credit” as if it were full credit. It implies that God is not someone who will be quick to consign anyone to Hell. In short, it appeals very much to our postmodern culture. However, it is woefully inadequate as an answer to God.

The first challenge to issue to this answer is this: how do you know whether your best is good enough? What standard will you use in order to make this judgment? How do you know that the standard you are using is the same standard that God is using? Will you use other people as your standard? God does not judge according to that standard. God uses His own character as the standard against which all must be measured. Will you use the idea of a “curve” in your understanding of God’s judgment? Nowhere in Scripture does it say that God grades on a curve.

The law requires perfection, not our best. The Scripture says “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all the things of the law, to do them” (Galatians 3:10). If this is true, then the law is our enemy if we seek to gain heaven by doing our best.

The fact is that God is a loving and gracious God, but this does not cancel out His justice. His grace and mercy are shown in providing us with a perfect righteousness in Jesus Christ. His righteousness is reckoned to be ours when we come to faith in Him. It is not about us doing our best. It is about Jesus Christ doing everything, which He has already accomplished. God does not accept partial credit. He only accepts full credit. But He provides that full credit in Jesus Christ.

The other, more serious problem, is this: good deeds do not cancel out sin. Therefore, what are you going to do with your sin and guilt? Not even a lifetime of good works will ever cancel out one sin, since all our good works are owed to God anyway. In the death of Jesus Christ, God has provided an answer for this as well. For at the cross, Jesus Christ takes the burden of our guilt on Himself, if we believe in Him. He takes away the guilt of sin before God, so that all our sins, past, present, and future, are eliminated.

It is only as we surrender our own righteousness, which is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), that we can receive by pure grace the righteousness of another. Only then can we know that we have an answer to give to God when we appear before Him, an answer we know is acceptable. Our answer is then, “Lord God, I know that I have never done enough in my lifetime to deserve entrance into heaven. I can never plead my own righteousness before God. But I can plead the righteousness of Christ, which is perfect. It is because I trust in Him that His righteousness is reckoned to me as if I had done it. It covers over all my sin, and all my imperfect righteousness. He is all my plea.”

An Interview on Evangelism

Here is a link to an interview I did with Moody Radio on evangelism. It aired on their radio show Prime Time America on Wednesday.

On Ministering to the Dying and Bereaved

Most of what I have learned about this topic I learned from other people, but I have tested it against Scripture, and have also put it to the test in ministry (16 funerals in almost 4 years), and I find it extremely helpful.

To the Bereaved:

1. While it is true to say that the dead Christian is in a better place, that is not the most helpful thing to say. I mean, it’s great for the dead person that he’s in another better place, but what about the people left behind mourning? In a very real sense, it is a physical bereavement. The bereaved miss the physical presence of the one who has died. They miss the touch, the personality, the talking, the eye contact. This is where it hurts most. Therefore, talking about the resurrection should have a focus not only on the new body that the dead believer will have, but also on the reunion with the bereaved that will occur. This reunion can also be a great gateway into the Gospel message: “How do you know you will see this person again? Only if you trust in Jesus and then have the hope of the same resurrection to eternal life.”

2. Going along with the first point: do not underestimate the power of touch in ministry at this point. Great care must be taken such that touching will always be appropriate. However, I have yet to have anyone misinterpret a hug at such a time. It is a great ease of the sharpness of physical bereavement to have physical contact.

3. Resurrection texts I find are the most appopriate for funerals, even at the funeral of an unbeliever. No other texts in the Bible show us so clearly that death is not the end. No other texts show us so clearly that death is a homegoing and that it is temporary. No other texts offer such hope in the midst of grief. Going right along with this is preaching that death is UNnatural, not natural. Death is an intruder into the created order. We lose sight of this sometimes, especially when we say that death are taxes are inevitable. Make a strong connection between death and sin, as the former is the full flower of the latter. Funerals are the best opportunities to share the Gospel. Nowhere else will people have the results of sin staring them right in the face. Nowhere else can we so legitimately face people with their own mortality and uttermost need of Jesus.

4. Do not advise people to seek to avoid grief. The only way to deal with grief is to go through it, pain and all, recognizing (and 1 Thessalonians 4 is essential here) that the grief of a believer mourning the death of a believer is of a fundamentally different sort than the grief of a non-believer. It is a grief laced with hope. That tempers grief, though it does not eliminate it. Encourage people to take their grief in all honesty to God. The Psalms are important here. We cannot escape grief. The problem with trying to avoid it is that we will bury it, and it will fester, quite possibly into bitterness. It is much better to deal with it immediately and thoroughly, for healing and a measure of peace will come much more quickly that way.

To the Dying:

5. People who are dying want to know about the afterlife. Tell them about where the soul goes, and where the body stays until the Resurrection. It is surprising how many people think that souls sleep after death.

6. People who are dying and know that they are going to heaven will want to know if they can still know things and recognize people. Point to Hebrews 12 in this regard and the passage in Revelation of the souls crying out to God “How long?”

7. People who are dying and do not know where they are going obviously need the Gospel, especially a Gospel of grace. Such people are usually worried about whether their lives have been good enough for God. This is an especially dangerous time for them. They need the full grace of justification by faith alone at this time more than anything else. Machen’s deathbed quotation about the active righteousness of Christ imputed is appropriate also.

8. Ask the dying person about their regrets. Tell them that their past misdeeds and lack of positive deeds can be forgiven in Christ.

Great Conference

Anyone interested should definitely consider attending this conference at Westminster California.

What’s Your Problem?

Ephesians 2:1-3

Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to train your children to do something wrong? That first time they disobey you, you didn’t tell them to do that. They just did it. We didn’t have to tell our daughter that she should be jealous of the attention that James was getting. We didn’t have to tell her to start hitting James, either. Why is this? Why didn’t we have to tell her about these things? For that matter, let’s broaden the question: “Why don’t people want Jesus Christ? Why don’t they come to faith in Christ?” What’s their problem? What’s our problem? For that matter, what is the world’s problem? In a word, sin. That is the problem. But we must be careful to define our terms. Sin means breaking God’s law, yes. However, sin also means our sin nature, inherited from Adam. Just as a child inherits blue eyes from his parents, so also he inherits sin from his parents, who inherited sin from their parents, and so on all the way back to Adam. This is Adam’s legacy, and this is what Paul is telling us here in the first part of chapter 2.

In chapter 1, Paul told us about the salvation that has been accomplished by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul then gave thanks for the faith of the Ephesian believers, and prayed that they might know God better, especially Jesus Christ, who has gone before us into heaven, and to whom all things are now subject.

Now, in chapter 2, Paul wants to remind us what we were before we became Christians. And before we get into the details of what Paul says, we must note that there are three views about the state of human beings. The first view is that there is nothing wrong with mankind. Maybe he needs a little education, but by and large, man is okay. There is a name for this belief: it is called Pelagianism, and was condemned by the entire church during the time of Augustine, who fought Pelagius tooth and nail. Pelagianism is utter heresy. I remember my pastor went to another church and the minister said that all was right with the world. My pastor wanted to go up to the minister, shake him by his black robe, and yell at him, “What are you wearing that robe for?” Everything is most certainly not all right with the world.

The second main view (and probably the most common) is that mankind is sick. With all due respect, (since I disagree with this view) Billy Graham holds to this view. You are sick, and the doctor comes along, and holds out to you the medicine. All you have to do is raise your hand and take it. Now, I do believe that God can convert someone to the true faith, despite this unfortunate way of putting things. Another way of putting this view is that your are drowning, and God throws to you a life-raft, and all you have to do is grab hold of the life-raft.

Then, there is the third view, which is the biblical view. It is the most pessimistic view of mankind, and therefore, the most realistic, and this view states that we are not sick, and certainly not well, but rather dead. We are not sick and merely need to reach out and grasp the medicine. Rather, we are already dead. We are not drowning, but rather lying at the bottom of the ocean as fish food. This is what Paul says here, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” He doesn’t say, “You were sick,” and he certainly doesn’t say, “You were fine.” No, he says that we were all dead. Of course, he does not mean physical death. We were walking around, breathing, and committing sin. One has to be physically alive to do that. But in terms of our spiritual relationship to God, we were dead. We were the living dead, more like zombies and corpses than like living humans. Does the picture of a zombie make you uncomfortable? Then so must the picture of our spiritual state before God worked in our lives.

Like many good, fine preachers, Paul speaks of our spiritual state in three points. We were dead because of the world, because of the devil, and because of the flesh. Firstly, we were dead in sin because of the world. It says that “we followed the ways of this world.” Again, as we have seen before, the word is “age.” We saw how the two ages are overlapping in Paul’s thought. We saw that the former age, or “this age” is the evil age. The world belongs to it. They want their heaven now. Of course, the result is that they have momentary pleasures, but nothing lasting, except eternal condemnation.

Secondly, Paul says that we were dead in sin because of the devil. Now, here we must be careful. The old excuse, “the devil made me do it” will not work with God. And we recognize this ourselves, if we come to think about it. To illustrate, a little girl was disciplined for kicking her brother in the shins and then pulling his hair. When her mother asked her why she let the devil make her kick her brother and pull his hair, she replied, “The devil made me kick him, but pulling his hair was my idea!” We know that the devil cannot force anyone to commit sin. No, his method is temptation. He presents the possibility. This is certainly evil. It is what he did in the Garden of Eden. He tempted Adam and Eve. That is what he does today as well. He puts ideas before your mind. Notice here that Satan is described as the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Scholars are not united on what this means, but I think that Calvin is closest to the mark when he says, “He speaks purposely of the air to make us understand that they are above our heads.” That is, the spirits are above us in power. We should not underestimate them. C.S. Lewis once said that the two great dangers regarding demons are that we either deny their existence or ascribe to them power belonging only to God. Either way, demons are happy. But if they inhabit the air (and not heaven or the earth: nor are they non-existent), then we will place them properly. This is important. Satan is not the equal of God, much as he would like us to think. But we must also say that he exists, along with all the demons. Many people today do not believe in anything that they cannot see. That is a very dangerous error which will find them out eventually.

The third reason that we are dead in sin is our flesh, our own sin nature. Paul says that we used to walk in sin. That is, sin used to be our way of life. Then, in verse 3, Paul says that we used to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. We have a sinful nature that is ours because we are descended from Adam. This doctrine of a sin nature is known as original sin. Original sin is not canceled out at baptism. We were born with it. As David says in Psalm 51, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” That does not refer to the act of conception, but to the fact that David has always been sinful, sinful from the time his mother conceived him. So, if one asks the question of how many sins it takes to make one liable to the punishment of hell, the answer is zero. We deserve it already in the womb, because of our sin nature, which is itself sinful. If a person were to say that their child was born free from that sin nature, and that children are born with a blank slate, that person would not be speaking the truth. The Bible says that in this fallen world, we are born with a sin nature, and that we had that sin nature even from conception.

As if this picture of mankind was not bad enough, Paul describes it as being even worse. Not only are we dead in our transgressions, not only were we sinful by nature, but furthermore, we are objects of God’s wrath. Literally, we are children of wrath. The idea of children is that there is a close relationship between parent and child. So, rather than saying that we are by nature the children of God, having a good close relationship with God, Paul says that we have a good, close relationship with God’s wrath. God’s wrath is not a popular subject these days. However, it is essential that we talk and preach about the wrath of God. Without knowing the wrath of God, which is bad news for us, we would never know God’s love, the good news. Otherwise, why do we evangelize? If everything is fine with the world, then the world doesn’t need Jesus. If people are even sick, there is less need for a miracle than if the person is dead, and about to suffer God’s just wrath. How do we know about God’s love? How do we know how wide, deep, broad, and high is the love of God? Only by knowing just how angry God is with sinners. Even though our sermon text is the first three verses, Paul does not stop here. Verse 4 gives us the glorious good news. We have had plenty of bad news about ourselves. But Paul does not leave us there, wallowing in our sins, but he tells us of the love of God. God’s wrath is the reason He sent Jesus to earth. It was so that Jesus would bear that wrath for us. It was so that we could get a new nature implanted in us by the Holy Spirit. It was so that Satan would no longer be able to deceive us. It was so that we would have an alternative to the world’s way of doing things. So the three great problems with our sin, namely, the world, the flesh, and the devil, would have an answer in Jesus Christ. Jesus deals with the world by creating His church. He deals with the flesh by implanting in us the Holy Spirit. He deals with Satan and the demons by conquering them in His resurrection from the dead. Is Jesus your answer? Has He done these things for you? If Christ has not resurrected your soul from spiritual death, then you must realize your utter peril here this morning. Realize that your life totters on the brink of utter ruin, and that only Jesus can save you from the coming wrath of God. Of course, the wrath of God is not some fly-off-the-handle, kind of rage. Rather it is the flip side of His love. How else would God respond to someone who spurns the love of God? We must not attribute human rage and anger to the wrath of God. The wrath of God is holy, just and good. It is a measure of God’s holiness and justice, when God’s law has been broken. Therefore, you cannot put the blame on God for your predicament. God’s wrath has not over-reacted at all. And you do not know if you will be alive tomorrow. Flee to Jesus, and discover the love of God!

The best application of this passage besides the Gospel call comes in the relationship of God’s wrath to evangelism. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Why is it that people are not Christians and not members of the Christian Church? Why does the Lord Jesus Christ not come into their calculations at all? In the last analysis there is only one answer to that question: they do not believe in Him because they have never seen any need of Him. And they have never seen any need of Him because they have never realized that they are sinners. And they have never realized that they are sinners because they have never realized the truth about the holiness of God and the justice and the righteousness of God; they have never known anything about God as the Judge eternal and about the wrath of God against the sin of man. So you see this doctrine is essential in evangelism.” Are we telling people to flee from the wrath to come? People might say, “Oh, what an unloving thing to say.” Actually, it is the most loving thing to say, since it is the truth. You wouldn’t think that doctor was doing his job, if you had an aggressive, dangerous cancer that needed treatment, but he said, “Oh, nothing’s wrong with you, you’re just fine.” You would think that that was a very unloving thing to say. In the same way, millions are perishing because they do not have the truth. We must reclaim the doctrine of God’s wrath against sinful humanity, if we are to be able also to give people the good news of Jesus Christ.

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