Reaching those in religion

INTRODUCTION. Encouragement for ambassadors for Christ who encounter people devoted to a religion. Thoughts on how to evangelize unbelievers in religions. Also, the power of the gospel.

Martin was a Vietnamese man who also worked at SGI. I had recently made his acquaintance and had invited him to lunch. As we were returning to work, I had asked Martin, “What would you say is the most important experience is your life?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. What’s yours?” Eager for the opportunity, I told Martin how I had met Jesus Christ and had become a follower of Jesus when I was thirty-one years old.

“So, Martin, what do you think about that?”

He paused for a second and then pointed to the jade green statue of the Buddha that hung from his rearview mirror. “Roy, I’m a Buddhist. My grandfather was a Buddhist, my father is a Buddhist. I’m a Buddhist.” Thus I encountered the immovable object of “religion.”

RELIGION ENCOUNTERED AND DEFINED

It can be frustrating to the witness, the ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) who has stepped out in obedience and begun to tell the gospel to someone only to encounter the stone wall of religion. Religion comes in many guises, but these various religious guises have a common trait.

A religion is a formal spiritual system which is given to the adherent at birth, and which becomes part of a person’s self-identity.

Let’s consider this definition for a second.

That a religion is “formal” means that it has a structure and is recognized as a system of thought or behavior by the adherents. So, poker players do not make up a religion because poker playing does not constitute a formal system, but Islam is structured as a formal religion.

Another distinguishing aspect of a religion is a “spiritual” component. Broadly speaking, the “spiritual” component of a religion is that part that provides a counterfeit or substitute for the one true and living God. Buddhism is “spiritual,” but atheistic. Hinduism offers millions of false gods. Islam presents the false god of Allah.

A religion is given to the follower at physical birth. Strictly speaking, of course, the newborn infant is not a Catholic or a Hindu, but the newborn infant raised in a Catholic or Hindu family will certainly take on that family’s religion. If asked, a Catholic or a Hindu will tell you they have been in their religion since birth. That a person has been in this “formal spiritual system” since birth is a distinguishing mark of someone in a religion.

Finally, this “formal spiritual system” is an integral part of the person’s self-identity. Now, by itself, the characteristic of “self-identity” could be religious or not religious. Those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ certainly self-identify as believers, as Christians. But the self-identity of those in a religion is of a different flavor.

RELIGIOUS SELF-IDENTITY

The adherent of a religion certainly identifies strongly as a member of that religion, but that identification is not by choice, but is by obligation. The person identifies with that religion because they must. Their religion is believed to be unchangeable, and so it is unchallengeable. The person entrenched in a religion has probably never thought deeply about their religion and has never considered any alternative to their religion. In fact, many of those who follow a religion are not aware that an alternative even exists. It has never occurred to them to question their religion. Their religion is “right” because it is the only thing they have ever known.

When one follows a religion, the religion is simply a fact of their existence, like the color of their eyes and like the color of their skin. And, like the color of eyes and skin, it cannot change. What the religion believes or does in its practice is irrelevant to the adherent. By that I mean that the beliefs or practices do not need to “make sense” with experience or with logic or even with any religious book. As the falcon flies because that is part of its essential “falcon-ness,” so the religionist does what he does without question simply because he is of that religion, and that’s what those in that religion do.

So, my friend Martin was born a Buddhist, and he will live as a Buddhist as long as he lives, and then he will die as a Buddhist. That’s just how it is with religion.

Unless . . .

That’s just how it is, unless there is a message that is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The situation is hopeless for those trapped in the grip of religion unless there is some means available to set these people free (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1).

ONE GOSPEL CONVERSATION AWAY

And the good news is that the person who is trapped in his religion, even the one who is zealous for his religion may be one gospel conversation away from true freedom and salvation. The Bible declares that if someone will preach the gospel, then anyone may hear and believe and then call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:14-15) and be saved.

Before he was converted to Christ, the apostle Paul was as zealous a Jew as ever lived (Galatians 1:13-14), who persecuted the church and threw believers in prison (1 Tim. 1:13-15; Acts 8:1-3). He was born a Hebrew of Hebrew parents and had every pedigree of a religious Jew (Philippians 3:5-6). I suspect no one was praying for unsaved Paul, except perhaps that he would drop dead or go away. Then this zealous Jew was converted by the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 9:4-6) and was sent out as an apostle to proclaim the gospel of salvation.

Thus, the Bible makes clear that the gospel is more powerful than the stone wall of any religion. Religion is one of Satan’s tools for creating confusion and for generating zeal in the wrong direction, but the gospel is “mighty before God for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4) and we can be confident that the gospel will do its work.

A POSSIBLE STRATEGY FOR REACHING THOSE IN RELIGION

Like you, I do not have a “silver bullet” for winning anyone to Christ, let alone a perfect strategy for reaching those in religions, but I have thought about it some and suggest this as a possible approach. Since evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel to the unsaved, any strategy should lead to a gospel presentation as quickly as possible. The challenge is that the one who is trapped in a religion is predisposed against Christ and the gospel. But the evangelist and the religionist do have something vital in common. They both face death. So, once the witness has discovered that the other person is in a religion, he might say, “That is very interesting. I am a follower of Jesus, so obviously I do not share your religion. But there is something we both have in common, and that is that, as human beings, we both face death. What is your religion’s answer for death? How does your religion help you deal with death?” From here you would bring up Jesus Christ and how He has conquered death, which would hopefully lead to a discussion about the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 5/5/2022                     #526

Let me introduce you to my Big Brother

It does not happen often, but there are times when I feel so discouraged, when I am just feeling low and down on myself. There are times when I feel so inadequate and so incompetent and so very imperfect. I ask myself, “How can the Lord use me at all?” But it turns out that, because of the fall, we are all imperfect and weak and prone to error and failure. It is at times like these that I need to stop thinking like one who is all alone in the world and like one who does not have the Lord on his side. I need to stop thinking like a sheep without a shepherd. The LORD is my shepherd! (Psalm 23:1) The Lord is with me like a dread Champion. (Jeremiah 20:11)

When Satan tells me that I am a failure and will be a failure and he reminds me of all the mistakes that I have made and tells me of all the times that I have failed and then tells me that I am therefore a failure, I will refer him to my Big Brother, Jesus. “You, Satan, are the father of lies. You are the accuser of the brethren. You are the one who hates me and who seeks to kill and to steal and to destroy. You intend nothing but my destruction and plan for nothing but my failure. But let me introduce you to my Big Brother, Jesus. I think you may have met Him before. Do you remember? He was the One who kicked you out of heaven and determined that you would crawl on the earth like a serpent. He was the One who defeated you in the wilderness and resisted every one of your temptations. You will remember that He is the One who drove the cross through your skull on Calvary’s hill and He is the One who said, ‘It is finished,’ from the cross. He is the One who has delivered me from the domain of darkness. He is the One who has destroyed your works. He is the One who has conquered death and who promises that I will never be condemned. He is the One who is at my side and has promised to never leave me or forsake me. Nothing shall be able to take me out of His hand and nothing can separate me from His love for me. He is the One who is in heaven interceding for me. He is the One who is with me like a dread champion. He is my refuge and my Rock and my Redeemer. He is the One who will come from heaven with a shout and with the voice of the archangel to receive me into heaven and to give me a glorified body. And He is the One who will throw you into the lake of fire to be tormented forever. Don’t you remember Him? I think you do. He is my Big Brother. He is my Savior. He is the One who will defend me from those too strong for me.

“So if you have something to say to me, Satan, and you have some accusation to bring against me; if there is some discouragement that you want to bring against me or if you want to remind me of some failure and if you want to tell me that I am a failure, you will need to speak to my Big Brother first and see what He has to say about it. The reality is that apart from Jesus, I am nothing, but because Jesus Christ is my King and because He died for me and because He is for me and because nothing can separate me from His love, I am destined for glory and my life is useful to the Master. I have been given a white robe and a ring. I have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ so that I am whiter than snow. My frail efforts, when offered in the name of Jesus, are powerful for the destruction of all your fortresses. You, Satan, say that I am a failure, but Jesus Christ says I belong to Him, that he has bought me with the price of His own blood and that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. You, Satan, say that I will fail and that the future is bleak, but because you are the father of lies, I know that is a lie and that my future is, in fact, bright and that God will use me and that nothing can stand against God’s purposes to bring about His glory through my feeble efforts. So, tell your lies to my Advocate and to my Intercessor and to my Redeemer and see what He has to say about them.”

When I remember to refer Satan to my Big Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, then his vain threats vanish like so many puffs of smoke and He is revealed to be a toothless lion and a fangless viper. I am reminded that Satan is a mere fallen angel, but the One I worship, my rock, my shield, and my defender, Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, King of kings and Lord of lords.

So, next time Satan attempts to harass you with his taunts and temptations, introduce him again to your Big Brother, and press on toward the goal for the prize.

[Some of the Scripture references: Isaiah 64:4; Hebrews 11:6 (“God rewards (‘is a rewarder of’) those who diligently seek Him” – Believe this promise, that God rewards not on the basis of height or looks or wealth or strength or even ability (remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25) or age, but God rewards on the basis of faith and according to His faithfulness – Hallelujah!); Romans 8:31-39; John 19:30; 2 Cor. 5:21]

SDG                 rmb                 5/3/2022                     #525

Satan’s ever-changing agenda (Revelation 12)

INTRODUCTION. In my last post on Satan’s activities during the end times (#508 on March 29), we had determined that, when the Scripture says that Satan is bound for the “thousand years” (Revelation 20:2, 3), it means only that, during the “thousand years,” his specific ability to deceive the nations is “bound” so that the gospel is free to spread among the nations without Satan’s hindrance. This explains how Satan can be “bound” (Rev. 20:2, 3) and can also “prowl about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

During this post we will be considering a related topic, namely, how Satan has been forced to change his mission several times throughout history in response to what God has done through Jesus Christ. The devil is always trying to react to what God is doing, changing his gameplan to try to thwart God’s irresistible plan of redemption. In this post, I will look at how these dynamics work.

REVELATION 12 IS KEY

Understanding Revelation 12 is key to understanding the entire book of Revelation. There are several themes at work in this chapter, which span redemptive history from the Old Testament people of God through the Incarnation and even into the 42 months. One of the things that we see here is that, as redemptive history unfolds, the devil, who is presented figuratively as a red dragon, must change his strategy and even his mission to try to oppose the Lord.

Observe, for example, how radically the dragon’s (Satan’s) activity changes in the chapter. Before the Messiah was born, “the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth” (Rev. 12:4). The woman represents the faithful saints of the Old Testament who have followed the Lord until this moment when the Messiah is about to come into the world. The prophecies of a coming King who would deliver His people are now to be fulfilled, and the dragon’s mission is very simple: kill the Child and prevent His arrival. The dragon is poised to “devour her child” (12:4). But the dragon fails in that mission and Messiah is born. “She (the woman) gave birth to a son, a male child” (12:5a). The Messiah accomplishes His mission of atonement, is raised from the dead, and then is “caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5c). Now the dragon has failed twice. He failed to prevent Messiah from being born into the world and he failed to prevent Messiah from accomplishing His mission, “the work (the Father) had given Him to do” (John 17:4). What will the dragon do now?

Once Christ has accomplished His mission and has charged His church to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19-20), the dragon’s mission becomes a desperate attempt to prevent the church from accomplishing her Christ-given mission.

THE DRAGON’S MISSION HAS TWO STRATEGIES

So, the dragon’s mission, for the time between Christ’s ascension to heaven and His return from heaven, is to thwart the gospel and to make sure that the church fails to reach all the nations (see Matt. 24:14). The dragon has two main strategies for succeeding in his mission. The first strategy is to deceive the nations so that they will not heed (believe) the gospel and the second is to attack the church so that they will not preach the gospel. The combination of these two strategies would create a formidable threat to the building of the church and could endanger the church’s accomplishment of their mission. But notice that, in Revelation 20:1-3, “the angel (the risen Lord Jesus) bound him (the dragon, Satan) for a thousand years” (20:2), “SO THAT he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed” (20:3). By binding Satan at the beginning of the “thousand years,” the Lord Jesus has neutralized one of Satan’s two main strategies and has made the spread of the gospel among the nations dependent only upon the church’s faithful preaching of the gospel. During the “thousand years,” the nations will be receptive to the gospel, and many will believe the gospel, because Satan is bound and is not able to deceive them. If the church is bold and faithful to proclaim the gospel, then, during the “thousand years,” the nations will receive the gospel.

PERSECUTING THE CHURCH IS ALLOWED

It is significant that Jesus does not prevent the devil from attacking His church during the “thousand years.” Instead, Jesus allows His chosen and commissioned church in the world to be opposed, maligned, and persecuted as they proclaim the gospel. Doesn’t this seem a little strange? Why would Jesus allow His bride, the church, to be subject to suffering and persecution in the world when the church is faithfully proclaiming the gospel and is being a bold witness to the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8)? That is a great question, and that is what we will explore in the next post in this series, “The Lord’s purposes in persecution.”

REVIEW AND MAIN POINT

To review what we have covered, then, we have seen that the dragon (Satan, the devil) has two potential strategies for stopping the spread of the gospel to the nations: “deceiving the nations” so they will not believe the gospel and the attacking of the church so the church will not preach the gospel. The main idea of this post is that the binding of Satan in Rev. 20:1-3 eliminates his use of the “deceiving the nations” strategy during the “thousand years.” Thus, during the “thousand years,” the dragon’s main strategy (only strategy?) is to attack the church so that she will not preach the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 03/31/2022                 # 510

How is Satan “bound”? (Revelation 20:1-3)

INTRODUCTION. According to Revelation 20:1-3, Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years.” But if that is the case, how is he, at the same time, prowling about like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8)?

Last Friday evening, during a discussion of the end times, a friend mentioned the consideration that, if Satan is “bound” immediately after Christ’s ascension, then how do we explain verse like 1 Peter 5:8, which speaks about the devil’s ongoing activity during the “thousand years?”

A REVIEW OF THE LAST DAYS

Before we plunge deeply into this controversial text (Revelation 20:1-6) and the equally controversial subject of the “thousand years,” it would be good to review some basics of the end times so that we have a common vocabulary and a common framework. I have expressed my views on these topics in detail in my book, The Last Act of the Drama, which I self-published with Amazon in October 2021, and this review will be based on the explanations in that book.

The last days began with the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus, the Son of God, performed His earthly ministry, accomplished His work of redemption by His death on the cross, was buried, and rose again from the dead in glorious resurrection. He commissioned His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and then ascended to heaven to await the Father’s command for His return to end history and judge the earth. Of course, there is no controversy among evangelicals concerning these truths, but there is a great deal of debate about what happens between Jesus’ ascension and His return, especially regarding the end times, the time just before His return.

Since I have written about my view in detail in my book, I will not supply explanations here, but will just present my view, especially as it relates to the “thousand years.” From Revelation 20:1-3, we know the beginning event and the ending event of the “thousand years.” That time period begins when the “angel” “bound him (Satan) for a thousand years” (20:2). Then, when “the thousand years were completed,” “he must be released for a short time” (20:3). This is confirmed in Revelation 20:7, where the Scripture says, “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison.” So, the beginning and the end of the ”thousand years” are given, but questions remain. When, exactly, does this period occur? What precedes it and what follows it? What occurs during this period? What is the purpose of Satan being bound and what is the purpose of the “thousand years”? Who is this “angel”?

In my book, I explain that the “thousand years” is not intended as a literal 1,000 years but simply suggests a long period of time. I use the term “relatively literal,” meaning that “thousand years” gives us the right mindset. It gets us in the ballpark. The “thousand years” is a long time. The “angel” (Rev. 20:1) is the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ as He is ascending to heaven to assume the throne (See Rev. 5, when He arrives in heaven.) The “angel” must be Jesus, because no ordinary “angel” has the authority to lay hold of Satan and throw him into the abyss. Only Jesus, as God the Son, can do this. Thus, Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years.” The “thousand years” begins with Satan being bound during Jesus’ ascension and ends with Satan’s release “for a short time” (20:3). The “thousand years” is followed by the 42 Months (Rev. 11:2, 3; others), which is followed by the Last Day.

THE OBJECTION STATED

But if Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years” and the “thousand years” begins with Christ’s ascension, how do we explain the New Testament’s references to an active devil during the entire time from the beginning of the church forward? For example, in his first epistle,  the apostle Peter warns that, “your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Why would Peter issue this warning if the devil is bound in the abyss? Jesus tells the church at Smyrna that “the devil is about to cast some of you in prison” (Rev. 2:10). Paul declares that we are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11) and devotes a whole passage to spiritual warfare so “you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-18, esp. 6:11). How can “bound in the abyss” be reconciled with these passages?

THE OBJECTION ADDRESSED

While Satan is bound during the “thousand years,” he is not bound absolutely. He is not bound such that he is unable to do anything, but the Scripture states that he is bound specifically in his ability to deceive the nations. In Revelation 20:3, we read “he (the angel, who is the glorified Christ) threw him (Satan) into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, SO THAT he would not deceive the nations any longer” (emphasis mine). The purpose for Satan being bound in the abyss is SO THAT (the Greek is ἵνα, which indicates purpose) he would not “deceive the nations.” That is, the devil’s ability to hinder the spread of the gospel among the nations is “bound,” but the Scripture is silent about Satan’s other abilities.

This specific binding of Satan in this way is very strategic for the spread of the gospel among the nations and for the building of Christ’s church (Matt. 16:18). Remember, before His ascension Jesus has commissioned His church (Matt. 28:19-20) and has given the church the mission to “make disciples of all the nations.” When the first of the seven seals is broken (Rev. 6:1-2), the church is pictured as a rider on a white horse whose only weapon is “the bow” of the gospel and who “went out conquering and to conquer.” To enable the church to accomplish her mission of making disciples by proclaiming the gospel, the Lord Jesus removes Satan from the playing field before the church rides out. Jesus commissions His church, then binds Satan in the abyss for the “thousand years,” then sends out His church conquering and to conquer. With Satan bound SO THAT he will not deceive the nations (prevent the gospel from advancing among the nations), the “thousand years” is a period of tremendous gospel advance as the Lord Jesus builds His church through the proclaiming church.

SUMMARY

To summarize, then, when the Scripture says that Satan is bound for the “thousand years,” it means only that his specific ability to deceive the nations is neutralized so that the gospel is free to spread among the nations without Satan’s interference. The fact that Satan is bound does not, however, affect his ability to oppose and persecute the church or to create havoc and chaos in the world or to raise up evil leaders and governments or to create false religions that draw many to destruction.

My next post on this subject will be about Satan’s shifting agenda (or mission) as the Lord brings about His plan for the salvation of His elect.

SDG                 rmb                 3/29/2022                   #508

Considering Religions – Part 2 “Christian” religions

INTRODUCTION. This is the second post in a series of articles about “religions.” Last time I gave a functional definition of “religion” so that we would have a common understanding of the topic. We then looked at pagan or non-Christian religions. This post will focus on what I am calling “Christian” religions.  

REVIEW – DEFINITION OF RELIGION: (From my last post on religions #495, 3/3/2022)

A good functional definition of a “religion” is “any worldview or philosophy or system of thought which exists for the purpose of intentionally obscuring the gospel of Jesus Christ so that people remain trapped away from salvation in a godless, Christless, hopeless religious system.” Additionally, religions are Satanically conceived and are designed to convince the adherents that they can ignore or despise or even hate Jesus Christ with no consequence. Thus, the definition of a “religion” is based on its function rather than its form, which allows religions as diverse as Buddhism and Roman Catholicism to fall within the definition and to both be seen as systems that are opposed to the true church of Jesus Christ and opposed to His gospel.

REVIEW – TWO CATEGORIES OF RELIGION: Also from my last post, there are two broad categories of religions. Covered last time was the first category, which are those religions that have no association with the Bible or with the God of the Bible. We refer to these as pagan religions. In this post I will cover the second category, the so-called “Christian” religions. As stated last time, these have an obvious connection to Christianity but have none of the saving power of the gospel (refer to 2 Timothy 3:5).

CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS

Religions in this second category have been developed by Satan through the agency of evil men for the purpose of obscuring, distorting, counterfeiting, and denying the saving gospel and replacing the glory of Jesus Christ with useless, faithless rituals and false doctrines. Their religious systems have some external similarities to what is publicly considered to be Christian, but they trivialize sin, and they twist and confuse the Person and the work of Jesus Christ such that sinful man is at the center of the system trying to save himself by his own pathetic sin-stained works and best efforts.

The most prominent “Christian” religious systems are Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Both of these evidently sprang from the early Christian church but have drifted far from the gospel in the ensuing centuries to the point where they are now apostate. An examination of the doctrinal beliefs of these two religions will reveal that there is no agreement between the biblical position and the position of the church. In fact, in some cases the religion directly contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible. One of the reasons for their current failure to reflect biblical doctrine in their church doctrine is that both these religions long ago abandoned the Bible as the sole authority for their doctrine and practice and, instead, opted to use “tradition” as their guide. This choice guarantees ongoing drift away from biblical truth and into man-made error and eventual apostasy, which is where both religions find themselves today.

This point about “abandoning the Bible guaranteeing eventual apostasy” should have a chilling ring to it. Satan is always eager to invent more religions and he desires to pollute any true worship with useless, man-made counterfeits. This means that there is a constant pressure from Satan to turn the gospel of the glorious Lord Jesus Christ into meaningless, impotent rituals which exalt man and his cleverness and his works and which condone sin. Satan is always seeking to transform the church into a useless social club of decent, unregenerate sinners who have lost the message of the cross and the resurrection.

So, while Catholicism and Orthodoxy are the most prominent of the “Christian” religions, they are by no means the only ones. The true church of the Lord Jesus Christ must constantly strive for obedience to the imperatives in His Word and for boldness in proclaiming the pure gospel lest we drift into apostasy. The sad truth is that the worshiping and witnessing church of today can become the shipwreck of tomorrow if there is not a vigorous adherence to the word of God as the active and only source of faith and practice.

The reason this is so critical is that the drift toward becoming a “Christian” religion can begin with a small disobedience to the Word. It can seem like such a little thing, but whole denominations are now nothing more than “Christian” religions because they ignored the Word in what seemed to be a small thing. When Jesus Christ was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He declared, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on EVERY WORD that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). My emphasis on “every word” is to point out that there is no optional obedience in the Bible. “Every word” is important and every instruction and command is to be obeyed. (What would have happened if Jesus had decided that a small disobedience was probably okay?) Jesus came to fulfill and accomplish ALL of the Law, not just most of it, and “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass” away (Matthew 5:17-18). Paul told Timothy, “ALL Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), which means it is ALL to be obeyed. If the Bible has a position on something, all options are void. If the Bible speaks on something, man does not get an opinion.

We have thus covered pagan religions and “Christian” religions. In the next post, I will continue to explore religions, looking at the threats that these religions pose to the church and the nature of their opposition to the gospel. The next post will also include examining the biblical warnings to the church about these religions so that the church can stand firm against them. I will see you then.

SDG                 rmb                 3/4/2022                     #497

Considering Religions – Part 1 Pagan religions

INTRODUCTION. This post begins a series of articles about “religions.” After defining a “religion,” I will examine two categories of religion and how these groups of religions confront and interact with churches and individuals that follow the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope that this thinking will lead to a sharper mind for evangelism and will enable believers to scatter the seed of the gospel more effectively.

STARTING WITH A DEFINITION

What is a religion, as I am defining it? I am going to take a few different runs at the definition.

  1. A religion is any system of thought or philosophy intentionally structured to deny the deity, the incarnation, the sinless life, the atoning death, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This definition also includes Satan’s purpose for creating religions.
  2. A religion is any system of thought, philosophy, or worldview that would continue to exist if Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible had never existed. That is, a religion is any worldview that would continue to function if the Man Jesus had never been born of a virgin, had not lived a sinless life, had not died on the cross, had not been buried in a tomb and been raised from the dead.
  3. A religion would continue to function without interruption if Jesus of Nazareth was simply a myth, a fictional character made up by those who want to control us through the means of religion and religious heroes. In a religion, the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth is irrelevant.
  4. A religion is a worldview for which the existence of the Jesus of the Bible is unnecessary.

What I am trying to do with these functional definitions is to make clear that religions are not created in a vacuum and do not come into existence to no purpose. Rather, religions are Satanically conceived for the purpose of intentionally obscuring the gospel of Jesus Christ so that people remain trapped away from salvation in a godless, Christless, hopeless religious system. Religions are based on godless ideologies and are designed to convince the adherents that they can ignore or despise or even hate Jesus Christ with no consequence. My definitions for “religion,” then, center on the purpose of a religion (philosophy, worldview, ideology, system of thought and ritual) rather than on the form. The forms of religions vary widely, but the purpose of religions is the same. The purpose, of keeping people away from Jesus Christ and away from His salvation, is thus the defining characteristic of all religions.

TWO CATEGORIES OF RELIGIONS

Having given the definition of religion, I suggest that religions fall into two categories. The first category is those religions which exist completely apart from any biblical reference. In the past, these religions were referred to as pagan. They do not recognize or worship the God of the Bible, even falsely or as a pretense. Their worldview and practices are foreign to the teaching of the Scriptures and are therefore completely devoid of any element of the gospel of salvation. Those who identify with these religions will surely perish (Romans 2:12a); they “have no hope and are without God in this world” (Eph. 2:12).

These are what typically comes to mind when a person thinks about false religions in the world, religions like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. This category would also include philosophies and worldviews like atheism and agnosticism, as well as those loosely described as spiritism. Again, the main feature of this category is that the religion makes no reference to the Bible, to the God of the Bible, or to Jesus Christ.

The second category of religions consists of those which have an obvious connection to Christianity but have none of the saving power of the gospel (refer to 2 Timothy 3:5). I will take a closer look at these systems in the next post on religions.

SDG                 rmb                 3/3/2022                     #495

Defense against the devil – Part 3

INTRODUCTION: We first meet the devil in Genesis 3. There, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the father of lies (John 8:44) appears to our first parents as a talking serpent, creating doubt about the goodness of God and about the truth of His word, and eventually tempting Adam and Eve to disobey the LORD and to eat the forbidden fruit.

But even though he was cursed because of his wickedness in Eden (Gen. 3:14-15), the devil has continued to tempt people to sin throughout human history, even down to our day. The devil hates God and hates His Christ and so hates the followers of Christ. The devil hates believers and he hates the church, and his ambition is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

As God’s word to His people, the Bible clearly reveals the devil and tells us about his schemes. In fact, the believer would be wise to become familiar with how the devil operates so that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).

In this third post in this series, we will continue our study about the devil and about how the disciple of Jesus can avoid becoming a victim of his devices.

A brief review of the last post is in order. We determined that, for the disciple of Jesus, there are definite limits on the devil’s threats. First, the Lord is the defender of every follower of Christ, so any activity of Satan must first be allowed by the Lord. The devil can do nothing unless it is allowed by our sovereign Lord. But beyond that, we also saw that the devil can bring material loss, physical distress, and even death on the disciple of Jesus, but that these events of suffering and testing are not to be received as a threat to the believer. That is, material and physical loss are of no spiritual consequence. The believer’s standing with the Lord and his eternal destiny are unaffected by these changes in circumstances.

Further, we saw that there is nothing that the devil can do to take away our salvation. Once the disciple passes from death to life (John 5:24) and is secure in Jesus’ hands (John 10:28) as a result of their faith in Jesus, the devil is powerless to threaten them with condemnation.

THE REAL THREAT

We did discover, however, that the devil is a very real threat in causing spiritual shipwreck. “Shipwreck” is the term we use to describe a disciple of Jesus who has ruined their testimony and who has squandered their usefulness to Christ because of their sin. This is the realm where the devil thrives. Satan spends most of his time scheming how to damage the testimonies and ruin the usefulness of the followers of Jesus by tempting them to sin. For this reason, the disciple of Jesus must be alert for the devil and his “schemes.” The Lord allows the devil to “prowl about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), and careless disciples may be devoured.

DEFENSE STRATEGIES – PART 1

So, how does the disciple of Jesus defend themselves from the devil’s threat of shipwreck? I am going to suggest two main strategies.

In sports, the saying goes that, “the best defense is a good offense.” A modification of this idea will serve the disciple well in his battle against the devil. The strategy is this: Build the walls of your defenses so high and so thick that the enemy has great difficulty in breaking in. How do we build high, thick spiritual walls? The continual use of Christian disciplines will make you an unlikely target for the devil’s attacks. He will seek out easier prey.

HIGH, THICK WALLS

What are these disciplines? There is nothing novel about them. First, read and meditate on the Bible. There is no better defense against the devil than a well-worn Bible. A disciple who has a solid foundation in the Scriptures will prosper (Psalm 1:2-3). Also, times of prayer. Genuine, deep fellowship with other believers. Regular corporate worship. Times of thanksgiving. Praising the Lord. Proclaiming the gospel to others. Recording and reviewing times of His great faithfulness. Being careful to obey the commands of the Scriptures and avoid sin. The one who does these things will have thick walls indeed.

VULNERABILITY

But the devil also seeks those times when you are especially vulnerable to attack. Our adversary will wait a long time to spring his temptation trap, and he usually strikes when we are vulnerable. Paul says that we should not be ignorant of the devil’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11), and part of that is being aware when we are vulnerable to attack.

When are we more vulnerable? When we are tired. When you are physically or mentally more tired than normal, you are not as alert to attack. In seasons of extended effort where you feel depleted or exhausted, you will be more vulnerable.

In a season or period of stress, you can become vulnerable. Maybe your situation at work is difficult. Perhaps there are financial pressures. There could be relational stresses at home or in your extended family. If these go on for a while, they can wear you down and distract you from normal alertness. Then you are vulnerable.

Other situations are when you are discouraged or depressed for whatever reason, when you feel isolated or alone, or when you experience the letdown that comes right after a significant victory or accomplishment (remember Elijah in 1 Kings 18-19). The disciple of Jesus needs to be aware of these vulnerable situations so that they can avoid shipwreck.

DEFENSE STRATEGIES – PART 2

How, then, is the disciple to defend themselves?

  1. Make it a habit to always be on the alert for enemy attack (1 Peter 5:8; Eph. 6:10-13). Remember, we are in enemy territory and the devil’s goal is to render us useless for Christ.
  2. Develop the discipline to regularly evaluate your spiritual vulnerability. Are you tired, stressed, feeling alone and isolated, depressed or discouraged? Be aware of these things!
  3. In times of greater vulnerability, increase your alertness to spiritual attack and sharpen your readiness. Seek reinforcements from others in the body of Christ. Refuse to be shipwrecked or sidelined by the devil’s schemes.

            SDG                 rmb                 11/26/2021                 #460

Defense against the devil – Part 2

INTRODUCTION: We first meet the devil in Genesis 3. There, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the father of lies (John 8:44) appears to our first parents as a talking serpent, creating doubt about the goodness of God and about the truth of His word, and eventually tempting Adam and Eve to disobey the LORD and to eat the forbidden fruit.

But even though he was cursed because of his wickedness in Eden (Gen. 3:14-15), the devil has continued to tempt people to sin throughout human history, even down to our day. The devil hates God and hates His Christ and so hates the followers of Christ. The devil hates believers and he hates the church, and his ambition is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

As God’s word to His people, the Bible clearly reveals the devil and tells us about his schemes. In fact, the believer would be wise to become familiar with how the devil operates so that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).

In this post, we will continue our brief study about the devil and about how the disciple of Jesus can avoid becoming a victim of his devices.

THE LIMITS OF THE DEVIL’S THREATS

One of the reasons that some believers fear Satan is because they assume that he has vast powers which can be unleashed on the follower of Jesus at any moment. This view of the devil as an ever-present threat naturally creates anxiety and fear. “If the devil is that powerful, how can I defend myself against his attacks?”

This type of fear of the devil is sin because it displays an ignorance of what the Bible teaches about the head of the fallen angels, it manifests a lack of faith in the Lord and His promises, and it suggests that God is not powerful enough to defend His children.

AN EXERCISE TO DETERMINE THE DEVIL’S REAL THREAT

Let’s take a minute to see how the devil can and cannot threaten the disciple of Jesus. In this exercise, we will ask two questions for each potential threat. QUESTION #1 is, “Is this perceived threat even a possibility for the devil?” In other words, according to the Bible, is this something that the devil has the power to do? This is a question about ability. QUESTION #2 is, “Is this possible threat something that should bring fear to the disciple of Jesus?” This is a question that addresses the disciple’s response to a possible threat from the devil. QUESTION #1 deals with facts, and QUESTION #2 touches on faith.

Now, what potential threats are we going to consider? I will consider four. Threat #1 is material loss. Threat #2 is physical death. Threat #3 is eternal death. And Threat #4 is spiritual shipwreck. So, let’s begin.

Threat #1: The threat of Material Loss. QUESTION #1: Can the devil, either directly or indirectly, bring about material loss in the life of a disciple of Jesus? The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ The clear proof of this is in the book of Job (chapter 1), where we see Satan bringing about the financial ruin of righteous Job. QUESTION #2: Should this possibility of material loss bring fear to the disciple of Jesus? No, it should not. When Satan has brought great material loss to Job, Job testifies that “the LORD gives, and the LORD takes away” (Job 1:21). Paul had lost all things for the sake of Christ (Phil. 3:8). According to Jesus, the cost of following Him is to lose your life (Matthew 16:25). The disciple must learn how to live in humble means and how to live in prosperity (Phil. 4:10-12). Therefore, if the devil is allowed to bring material loss into your life, the disciple of Jesus makes adjustments and continues to trust the Lord and obey His word. Score: Y/N

Threat #2: The threat of Physical Death. QUESTION #1: Can the devil, either directly or indirectly, bring about the physical death a disciple of Jesus? Again, the answer is ‘yes.’ We can again consider the book of Job, Chapter 2, when the LORD tells Satan that he must not take Job’s life. If the LORD restricts Satan in this instance, it must mean that Satan had the power to take Job’s life. But we also know from Revelation 11:7 that, at the end of the age, the beast will kill some of the saints, and the beast receives his authority from the dragon (Satan) (Rev. 13:2). We also know that, throughout the years since Christ commissioned His church, the devil has used persecution to kill many faithful saints. QUESTION #2: Should this threat of physical death cause the disciple to fear? The answer is an emphatic ‘no.’ For the disciple, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Hebrews 2:14-15 makes clear that, since Christ has died and risen again, the devil can no longer threaten the believer, even with the threat of death. “O death, where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26), physical death is no longer a threat for the disciple of Jesus. Therefore, if the devil is allowed to threaten me with physical death, I will continue to trust Christ and praise His name. Score: Y/N

Threat #3: The threat of Eternal Death. QUESTION #1: Can the devil threaten me with eternal death? That is, do I, as a born-again, water-baptized, Spirit-filled, Bible believing follower of the Lord Jesus Christ need to worry that Satan may still be able to cause me to sin and thus join him in the lake of fire? No. Resoundingly, no. I have crossed from death to life (John 5:24) and the devil is powerless to do anything to change my eternal destiny. I WILL receive my resurrection body and WILL spend eternity in heaven. Since the answer to QUESTION #1 is ‘no,’ QUESTION #2 does not need to be asked. Satan has no power, so there is no reason to fear. Score: N/N

Threat #4: The threat of Spiritual Shipwreck. QUESTION #1: Does the devil have the ability to tempt me to sin and thus to make a “shipwreck” out of my life and out of my testimony, and ruin my usefulness for Jesus? Yes, he does have that power. In fact, knowing what he himself can and cannot do in regard to the saints, the devil spends most his time considering how to damage the testimonies and the usefulness of the followers of Jesus. So, this threat of spiritual shipwreck is very real. QUESTION #2: Should the threat of “spiritual shipwreck” cause the disciple of Jesus to fear? Yes, the disciple of Jesus should realize that the devil has the power to ruin their life and render them useless to the Master. This is the reason that the New Testament speaks so much about the devil and his “schemes.” The Lord allows the devil to “prowl about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), and disciples who are careless may be devoured. Score: Y/Y

The devil, then, can ruin your testimony for the Lord Jesus and render you useless for His service. This is his great threat. Next time we will talk about how to defend ourselves.            

SDG                 rmb                 11/24/2021                 #459

Defense against the devil – Part 1

INTRODUCTION: We first meet the devil in Genesis 3. There, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the father of lies (John 8:44) appears to our first parents as a talking serpent, creating doubt about the goodness of God and about the truth of His word, and eventually tempting Adam and Eve to disobey the LORD and to eat the forbidden fruit.

But even though he was cursed because of his wickedness in Eden (Gen. 3:14-15), the devil has continued to tempt people to sin throughout human history, even down to our day. The devil hates God and hates His Christ and so hates the followers of Christ. The devil hates believers and he hates the church, and his ambition is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

As God’s word to His people, the Bible is clear to reveal the devil and to talk about his schemes. In fact, the believer would be wise to become familiar with how the devil operates so that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).

In the next couple of posts, I will be talking about practical ways that the believer can defend themselves from the ploys and schemes of the devil.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

Here in Peter’s first epistle is one of the classic biblical texts describing the devil’s activity. First, the apostle makes a clarion call for the disciple to be alert. There is no excuse for slackness in your walk with Christ. The disciple is to be alert for the enemy’s attacks at all times. We are in enemy territory, and we must expect the enemy to attack. So, “be sober, be on the alert.”

Now, what is the enemy’s goal in his prowling? What is the devil hoping to achieve? The devil is seeking to render you useless for the Kingdom. Make no mistake about it. The devil seeks to ruin your life and to make a shipwreck of your testimony for Jesus. Therefore, make it a matter of spiritual discipline to always be on the alert for enemy attack.

Also, know this, that the devil will continue with his ambition of ruining your life until you are called home or are quickly changed. So, your alertness must be lifelong.

And the more useful you are to Christ and His kingdom, the more eager the devil will be for your shipwreck. So, if you sense that the spiritual attacks on you are frequent and intense, know that this may be because you are perceived as a threat to the devil’s plans. The devil does not waste his artillery on harmless targets.

THE DEVIL USES MEANS TO ACHIEVE HIS ENDS

Even though the devil can attack directly, he almost always works through means. Most commonly he issues his temptations though the “world” and the “flesh.” Our purpose here is not to give a complete theological description of these two areas, but to describe them briefly so that the disciple can be alert to their working in your life.

The “world” (“kosmos” in the Greek) is a label for the godless world systems that have been constructed by fallen man at the supervision of the devil that are anti-God and that appeal to sinful behaviors. These include economic and political systems, and cultures that operate without any reference to the living God and breed godlessness. The “world” creates the visible playground for pride and lust and greed and hatred and jealousy and envy and revenge and so on. The devil has planned and constructed these “world” systems to ensure the ongoing sin of the unrighteous and to tempt the righteous to give in to sin. Thus, the devil uses the means of the world to cause the shipwreck of believers.

The devil also works through the means of the “flesh.” The flesh is not the same thing as the human body. The LORD created the human body as the ideal vehicle for carrying a man or a woman from birth to death. Rather, the flesh is the indwelling desire lurking deep within every human that craves and delights in sin. The flesh loves sin. The flesh dwells in the human heart and constantly suggests sin to the subconscious so that the person will indulge in sinful thoughts and words and behaviors. Think of the flesh as the enemy inside the gates, tempting the disciple who loves righteousness to continue in wickedness and ungodliness. Paul talks about the war with the flesh in Romans 7:14-25 and in Galatians 5:13-24. The message here is that the devil uses the flesh in his efforts to shipwreck believers.

SUMMARY

Let’s review what we have covered today.

  • The disciple of Jesus needs to be on the alert for the attacks of the devil.
  • The devil’s attacks against the disciple are lifelong.
  • The more useful the disciple is, the more the devil seeks to derail them.
  • The devil’s goal is to shipwreck the disciple’s life by ruining their usefulness to the Kingdom and their testimony for Jesus.
  • The devil most typically works through the means of the “world” and the “flesh.”

In the next post we will talk about when we are most vulnerable to the devil’s schemes and what the devil can and cannot do to the disciple of Christ.            

SDG                 rmb                 11/23/2021                 #458

The end of the age according to Jesus – Part 1

There are several themes that run through the gospel of Matthew, but one of the most prominent of those is the end of the age. With unrivaled authority, Jesus declares the truth about the end of the age and what will occur on that day.

This post will examine Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares from Matthew 13:37-43, a parable about the and make some observations. Below is the passage from the New American Standard Bible.

37 And Jesus said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Observation 1: There is certainly coming an end to this age.

In His first advent, Jesus came as Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet, He made sweeping prophecies about the future, which included unambiguous teaching that history was heading to an inevitable conclusion and that He, Jesus Christ, was the one who was in charge of that concluding event. While the Father alone knew the timing of His coming (Matthew 24:36), the King of kings and Lord of lords would execute the conclusion of history.

In this parable, Jesus relates the end of the age as a matter of fact in 13:39, 40. Then in 13:41-43, our Lord gives the details of the how the age concludes, so history will certainly end.  

Observation 2: Jesus is certainly coming at the end of the age.

All of Jesus’ teaching about the end of the age included His coming. The two are so inseparable as to be virtually synonymous. That Jesus is certainly returning to judge the earth is mentioned throughout the New Testament epistles and is one of the central themes of the book of Acts.

In the parable of the wheat and tares, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels.” We know from other end-times passages that He sends His angels while He Himself is descending from heaven to earth at His coming. It is certain that the Lord Jesus will come again.

Observation 3: There are two groups of people, the righteous and the unrighteous, and every human being who has ever lived is in one of these two groups.

As we read this parable, we see that there are “the sons of the kingdom” and there are “the sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). This doctrine is consistent throughout the Bible, from at least Genesis 4 on, that there are those who are part of the kingdom of heaven, and there are those who are evil. In Genesis 4 immediately after the fall, Cain was evil, Abel was righteous. So it has been throughout history, and so it is today. All humanity divides between the righteous and the unrighteous, between the wheat and the tares, and there is no third category.

And so it is for you personally. You are either seen by God as righteous, as “a son of the kingdom,” or as unrighteous, as “a son of the evil one.” The significance of this becomes apparent in the next observation.

Observation 4: At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will admit all the righteous into eternal life in heaven.

The final verse of the parable describes the destiny of those who are seen as righteous. At the end of the age, when Jesus (the Son of Man) comes in His glory (Matthew 25:31), “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” From other New Testament passages, we know that the righteous will be resurrected with glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15, etc.), and so here Jesus describes them as shining like the sun. Notice where they are shining. They are shining “in the kingdom of their Father.” Of course, this is heaven.

Observation 5: At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will throw all the unrighteous into the furnace of fire (the lake of fire), where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Now we come to the main message of the parable: “Be warned! Hear My words and heed My words! There is a terrifying judgment coming upon all the unrighteous. Therefore, REPENT! If you do not repent, I will throw you in the furnace of fire.”

This parable gives a sober warning about the final judgment of the unrighteous at the end of the age. In fact, a careful reading of the gospel of Matthew will reveal that “the judgment” or “the day of judgment” appears often in our Lord’s discourses. One of Jesus’ main purposes in His prophecies about the end of the age was to warn the unrighteous that a terrifying judgment awaited them. No one who heard Jesus could plead ignorance about the destiny that awaited the unrighteous. The message was clear and was repeated: “You do not want to be at the judgment. ‘That day’ will be an awesome day of fire and judgment. Flee from the wrath to come! Come to Me (Matthew 11:28) and repent (Matthew 4:15).”

In this parable, the majority of Jesus’ explanation (13:39-42) is devoted to telling of the destiny of the unrighteous. The end of the age has come (13:39, 40). The Son of Man (Jesus Himself) is sending out His angels to clear all the unrighteous out of His kingdom (41) and then to throw them into the furnace of fire. The horror of the event is intended to warn the unrighteous to flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:8).

CONCLUSION

The Lord Jesus, who will be the Judge at the end of the age, has given us this parable to picture for us the events of the end of the age. The parable gives the righteous motivation for persevering to the end and warns the unrighteous of the terrifying judgment that awaits them if they do not repent.             SDG                 rmb                 10/11/2021                 #440