Category Archives: Bible Study

3 Tests for Genuine Christianity

 

In 2011 I had the great joy and pleasure of preaching through the book of 1 John.  It was a series birthed out of the necessity to ensure that those who heard had 1. definitely been exposed to the gospel and 2. Had known without question what genuine Christianity was to look like.

In this epistle, the Apostle of love, writing under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides for us three tests for genuine Christianity which of course should be applied first personally (2 Corinthians 13:5) and then to professing believers (Matthew 7:20).  These three tests, by way of gleaning through and interpreting the epistle, may be summarized as follows:

  1. Knowledge of God
  2. Growth in Holiness
  3. Love for Believers

First, knowledge of God.  This knowledge of God is more than just accumulating facts about who God is, or what He has done.  Instead, this knowing is more intimate, it is far more relational.  In fact, in 1 John it is called fellowship, If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:6-7  This mention of fellowship, namely the “with him” is further defined in verse three as “fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.”  

Concerning this fellowship, Martyn Lloyd- Jones says, “Here we are given, without any hesitation, a description, the summum bonum [highest good], of the Christian life; here, indeed, is the whole object, the ultimate, the goal of all Christian experience and all Christian endeavour.  This, beyond any question, is the central message of the Christian gospel and of the Christian faith.” As the Apostle instructs us, walking in darkness is incompatible with having fellowship with God.”

Which brings us to the second test, growth in holiness.  An extended quote from chapter 3 is necessary to establish the significance of this in the apostle’s message

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Clearly, a practice of sinning is incompatible with practice of righteous, or growth in holiness.

Finally, love for believers.

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

A genuine Christian profession, by necessity, manifests love for the brethren.  It is not optional.  Commenting on this test and its relationship with fellowship with God, Lloyd-Jones writes, “To fail to love the brethren will interrupt our fellowship with the Father and therefore rob us of many of the blessings of the Christian life.” 

This trinity of genuineness, in the form of these three tests, cannot be broken.  If one has perceived knowledge of God, but lacks any noticeable evidence of growth in holiness, then their profession is simply disingenuous.  How many scholars have waxed eloquently on philosophical musings of the attributes of God, yet their words have lacked any notion of charity or love.  How many preachers of doctrine of God have garnered a spot in the public eye only to fall hard and fast from scandalous sins.

Similarly, if one would appear outwardly to be holy, perhaps by living a moral life, but internally lacking any knowledge of God through His Son Jesus Christ, then again, the result is a disingenuous profession of faith.  It is by grace we are saved through faith in Christ, thus drawing us to an intimate knowledge of the Father through the Son.  Works have their place after salvation, but despite the efforts of men simply cannot contribute towards a coming to faith.  We throw around the label of a “good man” far too liberally, yet why do we call anyone good?  No one is good but God. (Mark 10:18)

Finally, love for believers is sometimes the most misconstrued quality because it seems most naturally connected to the condition of the heart, i.e. good heart, and this may sometimes prove to be true.  Downstream of genuine knowledge of God and growth in holiness is a necessity to show love for the brethren.  It is an indispensable consequence.  However, charities, hospitals, and mercy organizations by the legion have been started by men and women who could care less about who Christ is, yet alone the demand of holiness placed on their lives.  Additionally, there have been those whose great goal in life was the establishment of social justice, yet lack genuine knowledge of God and any semblance of holiness.  Would anyone dare doubt the love for humanity that someone who rings the bell for social justice, be it race, class, economic or otherwise? (unless of course there were ulterior motives, but that could never happen…right?)

The motivation for this post has primarily been driven by recent conferences in which men have ascribed genuine Christianity and then celebrated a man who has certainly rung the bell for social justice louder than any other in the United States, yet without question there is documented evidence of failing the first two of these tests.  Is he then among the faithful?  No.  Should he then be celebrated and held up as a Christian model for showing love to the brothers? No.

Brothers and Sisters I implore you, do not let personal agendas or feelings, even if they are for friends or family members who you genuinely desire to see saved, compromise the written and holy word of almighty God.  As we know, our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, yet God’s Word is true and provides a plumb-line, a compass for navigating this life through the revelation of Himself.

If you are struggling to know whether you are genuinely saved, look to the epistle of 1 John and humbly ask the Lord to apply these tests to your heart.  For those who do not struggle with assurance, these tests are a good reminder and litmus test for where you are currently in the process of sanctification.  Are you growing in the knowledge of God, a desire for holiness, and expressing love for the brothers?   Finally, if there are those within your circle, even those whom you admire from a distance, apply these tests to their lives and take the results into consideration before ascribing to them the label of a genuine believer in Christ.

Every Day

 

The book of Hebrews weaves a tapestry of exhortations for believers between passages on the fulfillment of Old Covenant types and shadows by our Lord in the New Covenant.  While there are certainly individual warnings and exhortations, there are a number specifically applying to the community of God’s people.

One example of this occurs in Hebrews 3:13, 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Not to be quickly dismissed, the conjunction “but” links this verse with the one immediately preceeding it, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” 

As seen in the opening of verse 13, what follows is an exhortation.  This word, parakaleo, may also be translated beseech, or more clearly to strongly encourage, literally “you-be-beside-calling” or more personally, we might even say “me-beside-you-calling.”  It carries with it, rather obviously, an implied communication between two parties, which becomes clearly stated with the phrase that follows, one another.  While not the more familiar Greek word, allelon, translated one another, it nevertheless carries with it the same significance.  When combined with our previous word, we arrive at a command for mutual admonishment.  In case there would be any question as to the frequency of this exhortation, our Lord provides the parameters, every day.

Summarizing this verse so far, we have

What: Exhort

Who: One Another

When: Everyday

Now, we move on to the “why” or the purpose of the exhortation, an application for the doctrine of one-anothering, “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  As the author directs his command to his audience, we find there are three key words in this phrase: hardened, deceitfulness, and sin.

The first, hardened, refers to the condition of the heart and may well be translated as stubborn or obstinate.  This is the second of three times that this word occurs in this chapter of Hebrews.  The first and third uses are in reference to the Israelites in the wilderness who, “hardened their hearts”.  It is safe to say that these two additional uses provide the bookends for the meaning of the warning in our verse, which clearly warns the reader to guard against the hardening of the heart by holding up the example of the Wilderness Generation.  Recall from above that verse 12, linked to this one, references an evil, unbelieving heart, which is the completion of the hardening process.

Second, deceitfulness.  While this particular word is not used often in the New Testament, interestingly it occurs in the parable of the four soils, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22  Used more generally here, and not merely as an effect of riches, it carries the idea of seduction.  In other words, tempting by way of deception or lies; promising a desire that cannot be delivered unto satisfaction.

Which brings us to the final word, sin.  The principal actor in the aforementioned deception and the root cause of the hardness of the heart.  Sin.  We’ve become so accustomed to hearing the word that it’s likely lost its effectiveness.  Generally summarized by missing the mark or falling short, these too fail to convey the weight of what this word means.

Sin is nothing less than rebellion against the Almighty God.

Recall again that the bookends for this passage is the Wilderness Generation, which is specifically said to be in rebellion against God.  Turning to a general definition of rebellion we find it meaning, “an act of violent or open resistance to an established ruler.”  When we sin, we are literally defying the authority of God.  If we are to grasp the weight of what sin means, we must begin here.

Like a lump of clay in the hot sun, sin hardens the heart through seductive deception that appeals to our flesh but simply cannot deliver on what it promises.  Graciously, in this passage our Lord provides a remedy against the hardness of heart brought about by the deceitfulness of sin and it is found in the one-anothering of mutual encouragement…daily.

Perhaps one of the reasons why professing Christians appear so weak and holiness, even a desire for holiness, is so lacking is that we have failed to obey the commands of one-anothering on a daily basis.  We have become so accustomed to superficial, once-a-week encounters that we are missing out on one of the principal remedies against sin and one of the primary tools for growing in our walk with God.

Daily encouragement from fellow believers.

 

The Unwelcome Fellow Traveler

 

In the 12th chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, there is a fascinating portrayal of Christ’s words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5; cf. Deuteronomy 31:6) even in the midst of our own self-pity and despair.  In the scene, the boy, Shasta, is making his way towards the city of Anvard in order to warn them of a pending, unwarranted attack from Rabadash.  After coming to a fork in the road, and ducking along the right-fork away from Rabadash and his men, his exhaustion and self-pity is interrupted by the presence of fear.

“Shasta discovered that someone or something was walking beside him.  It was pitch dark and he could see nothing.  And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls.  What he could hear was breathing.  His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature.  And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there.  It was a horrible shock.

It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries.  He bit his lip in terror.  But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.  

The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it.  But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly  came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him.  That couldn’t be imagination!  Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.

If the horse had been any good – or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse – he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop.  But he knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop.  So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him.  At last he could bear it no longer.

‘Who are you?’  he said, scarcely above a whisper.

‘One who has waited long for you to speak,’ said the Thing.  Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

‘Are you – are you a giant?’ asked Shasta.

‘You might call me a giant,’ said the Large Voice. ‘But I am not like the creatures you call giants.’

‘I can’t see you at all,’ said Shasta, after staring very hard.  Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, ‘You’re not–not something dead, are you? Oh please–please do go away.  What harm have I ever done you?  Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!’

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face.  ‘There,’ it said, ‘that is not the breath of a ghost.  Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath:

so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman.  And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert.  And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis.  And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

‘I do not call you unfortunate,’ said the Large Voice.

‘Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?’ said Shasta.

‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice.

‘What on earth do you mean?  I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –‘

‘There was only one: but he was swift of foot.’

‘How do you know?’

“I was the lion.”  And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued.  ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis.  I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead.  I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept.  I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time.  And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.'”

The weight of this scene probably cannot be rightly felt unless you’ve read the book, but nevertheless, the scene should be poignant.  At the heart of what young Shasta was experiencing was self-pity, considering himself the unluckiest person in the world.  That perhaps no one had ever had it so bad as he had.  As he laments, unsuspectingly to Aslan the Lion, he lays out all the troubles that he has experienced, including known, fear-laden encounters with multiple lions.  To his surprise, there was only 1 lion, Aslan himself.

This portrait of the Christ-like figure is emblematic of how Christ walks at the side of His own.  Often times, we lament that no one has had it as bad as we have.  We often see evil in every trial, but much like the character from the story above, or we may even say the biblical figure Job, we need to recognize that the hand behind these afflictions is none other than the hand of God.  All the while He leads, directs, pushes, steers, and guides according to His own sovereign pleasure for the accomplishment of His divine will.  Christ our Lord has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us.  It is to our detriment that our perception of being unlucky, cursed, or even picked on by Satan, does not match reality that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”