25. Beware if a clear and powerful Gospel is not preached!
'The gospel ... is the power of God unto salvation' (Romans 1:16).
The real power of the gospel of Christ is that it brings full and complete salvation to sinful man. Man's sin not only mars his life and troubles his conscience, but it separates him from a life-giving relationship with God. Only the power of God can adequately undo the power of sin over a man and restore the fellowship between him and God. The gospel is that power of God. When a person repents and believes the gospel message, that Jesus died and shed His blood as an atoning sacrifice for him upon the cross, his sins are forgiven and he is declared righteous, or to be in right standing with God. He is no longer under the condemnation of the Law because he has accepted and experienced the grace of God. He has received mercy instead of judgment. When the Holy Spirit brings this truth into your heart you are born again (John 3:3) and you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
However, even the most wonderful conversion experience does not usually lead to instant holiness! This is because few of us recognise a lot of the sins that we commit daily and it takes some years of serious Bible reading, prayer, and fellowshipping with others, for most of us to realise how filthy and depraved we were before a holy God and what He saved us from! But we also have the influence of the flesh life of others and the work of the Devil, Satan, to contend with - and we may become a Christian who allows sin to continue in our life after conversion. All of these factors explain the state of much of the church today. We are persuaded that it does not matter, no-one is perfect, and all you have to do is ask Jesus to go on forgiving you and make little effort to change your life. Some preaching teaches this, despite claiming at the same time that they are not teaching 'easy believism,' or 'cheap grace,' but this gospel is 'another gospel' and definitely does not qualify as the powerful Bibilcal gospel and does not bring satisfaction to the true believer either! The powerful difference between knowing you are now 'in Christ' and sad attempts to change your life under your own power, marks the difference between living 'under grace' or 'under law.'
We must beware the pitfall of feeling so desperately guilty and condemned that we strive in our own power by making endless resolutions and slipping into 'legalism'. These are both powerless 'gospels'. How can a believer walk in victory and unbroken fellowship with God following his conversion? Humbling ourselves in repentance over every unworthy thought or deed will prevail if we have first experienced the power of the blood to cleanse our hearts and bring us into God's courts with 'thanksgiving and praise'. The power of God's grace alone makes us fit to lift up holy hands in praise, for clean hands and a pure heart remain the pre-requisites for ascending His holy hill (Psalm 24:4).
We must beware the 'positive thinking' of the Word-Faith heretics which leaves people struggling to cope with illness and sin until that magic day when, just like the New Age search for 'nirvana,' they will become actual realities in their lives. Scriptural truths should renew our thinking and there are times when we must 'stand on the promises of God', but in many ways this modern 'gospel' differs little from the humanistic 'power of positive thinking' of the Word-Faith/Christian Science doctrine of 'mind over matter' - teachings which actually lead people into unreality! Those who expect sicknesses to disappear by confessing 'By His stripes I am healed', or business difficulties to vanish on repeating 'Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper', are also found confessing, 'The Lord is my righteousness' while they are living in adultery!
Faith depends upon a right relationship with God and if we ignore this we will soon fall into error. There are many damaged adherents to the Word-Faith teachings who have suffered great pain or lost loved ones as a result of their teaching, which insisted: 'You are healed, stop taking your medication or visiting your doctor.'
If we try to confess Romans 8:1, 'There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus', when we should be dealing with sin or serious illness it will be no more effective than the Pharisees methods and Jesus called them 'whitewashed tombs!' Not only the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, but our God-given conscience pricks us when we have done wrong! Romans 8:1 speaks of those walking in the Spirit (v1-4) and, if we walk in the flesh and sin and become angry, proud, or critical, we need to allow the Holy Spirit's work of conviction to bring us to repentance before we claim this precious truth. In reality many Christians either bottle up their guilt or deny it altogether until everything spills out in a moment of crisis or following a nervous breakdown. Sometimes this accumulated guilt, when faced, appears so great that a believer may fear that he can never be forgiven.
No amount of 'confessing Scripture' and no amount of praise will deal with roots of sin and guilt for these require the genuine and powerful gospel. The one who is humble enough to continue to come to the sinner's place at the foot of the cross and confess his need will continue to experience God's grace and forgiveness. A true confession with repentance will be accompanied by a continuing experience of justification, a growth in true holiness and a constantly deepening walk in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise, confession of Scripture and other 'victorious life' teachings will then find their place.
Paul declares that in the last days 'men will be . . . holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power' (2 Timothy 3:5). This is not the power of signs and miracles, despite the claims of John Wimber, John Arnott and the Toronto/Pensacola/Brownsville band-wagon but, rather, the power of true godliness. It is the power to control your temper, to live in purity, to respect and honour your parents, to submit, to overcome laziness or self-indulgence, to humble yourself and make a needed apology, to be unselfish and to show real Christian love in the way James described it (James 2:14-26):
14 What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
This explains the difference between orthodox Christianity and cults like the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, who are doing good works to try and gain eternal life, whereas the Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by grace and that the works play no part in gaining our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10) :
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
But, as John Calvin wrote: 'We are justified by faith alone - but the faith that justifies is never alone!' He meant, of course, that true saving faith is always accompanied by a holy life and by good works. Justification of necessity entails sanctification. In the words of Robert Murray McCheyne, 'If Christ justifies you, He will sanctify you! He will not save you and leave you in your sins.' Bishop Ryle put it yet more succinctly:'No holiness, no heaven!' The very real power of salvation, effective in every area of our lives, is the power that actually does transform a sinner into the very image of Christ.
26. Beware if an Enduring Gospel is not taught
The Apostle Peter quoted this verse:
'The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever' (Isaiah 40:8) in his first letter and then added, 'And this is the word that was preached as good news to you' (1 Peter 1:25),
thus clearly identifying the gospel as the enduring word of the Lord.
When we listen to some preaching today, particularly the hype-artists from America who we can now suffer through the 'God Channel,' we may get the impression that God has a new gospel for our time, and that the old one was somehow inferior or obsolete! We observe Christians lapping up this 'gospel' because they fail to read the Scriptures for themselves, and are found at countless meetings seeking another spiritual high from 'another gospel.' Many have become like the Athenians, who 'used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new' (Acts 17:21)?
When the Bereans heard the gospel from the apostle Paul, we read that they 'examined the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so' (Acts 17:11). They found that the revelation Paul brought was not 'a new revelation' at all but, rather, it was the eternal truth of God revealed more perfectly, and it had always been there in the Old Testament Scriptures! Had it not been so, they would have dismissed Paul along with his new-fangled ideas! Some teaching today rehashes the old Gnostic beliefs and these new doctrines are effectively claiming a new 'gnosis' (mystic knowledge) and if you don't have these Word-Faith teachings, or Latter-rain/Joel's Army doctrine, or whatever the latest twist of Scripture endorses, then you are an inferior believer and immature. Paul speaks about going on to maturity and of not laying the same foundations over and over again (Hebrews 5:12-6:3):
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. 1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we shall do, if God permits.
But we are not to forsake the very foundations that our faith is built upon for the sake of so-called 'higher things' and 'signs and wonders' that are mere counterfeits - and not very good ones at that. Many people today who claim to be on a higher plane have never even sorted out the most basic issues of their lives, or truly understood these very foundational truths of the gospel. How many Christians today have thoroughly studied the biblical teaching and established their beliefs in all these areas?
The apostle John, in the book of Revelation, describes an angel having 'an eternal gospel' to preach to those who live on earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people (Revelation 14:6). If God has not changed, and if man has not changed, then it is reasonable to assume that we do not need a different gospel for our day. Paul used strong language to conclude this subject:
'I am astonished that you are ... turning to a different Gospel … there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed' (Galatians 1:6-8).
27. Beware if the goal of our instruction - love from a pure heart a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5) - is not brought
What are the real goals and what kind of results should we expect from a genuine ministry, whether he is ministering correctly in his role of pastor, teacher, evangelist or prophet (or any other role in the 'body ministry')? The Scriptures show us that we will see the ministry of a true man of God not only fulfil the requirements that God has set, but that it will also bear the kind of fruit that will reveal its true nature. We can examine the life of Paul as an imitator of the Lord Jesus Christ and who told us clearly that we were to follow his example as he followed Christ:
1 Corinthians 4:16 I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me;
1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ;
Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children;
1 Thessalonians 1:6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit;
1 Thessalonians 2:14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews;
Hebrews 6:12 that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Paul was a true apostle, the first great missionary and evangelist, the great teacher and expositor of Scripture, but he also bore the burden of the churches and prayed unceasingly to the Father 'that none might be lost' and to 'present every man complete in Christ' (Colossians 1:28) by preaching 'the truth which accords with godliness' (Titus 1:1). These are the tests to apply to the deceiver, the 'prophet' or leader who is pre-occupied with his own ego-trip and self-glorification! If any brought 'another gospel' Paul did not mince words and declared, 'If anyone … does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing (1 Timothy 6:3-4).
Case History II reveals this kind of 'gospel' perfectly!
28. Be aware of the goals of a sound Christian ministry
Paul gave clear instructions to the young ministers Timothy and Titus as he set goals for them consistent with the very goals of his own ministry (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus):
1. 'Present yourself approved to God' (2 Timothy 2:15)
Paul instructed young Timothy to pay close attention to his own life, to keep a good conscience, to keep the commandments of God and to present himself as a man of God, for the all-important thing in a minister's life is his relationship with God - to find the approval of God in all things. If his relationship with God is out of order, everything else will follow suit. Paul himself recognized that if he indulged the desires of his flesh it would disqualify him as a preacher (1 Corinthians 9:27). The quality of a man's personal walk with God will permeate his entire ministry and we know how lovingly Jesus restored Peter with the words, 'Do you love Me?' before commissioning him with the words, 'Feed My sheep' (John 21:17). Peter had denied his Lord three times, but now his Master and Lord restored him by asking three times about his love for his Lord and his Lord's sheep! The 'false prophet,' ego-tripper, and pseudo-Messiah will not be able to answer in this way for the deceiver will put money, prestige and position before God's people (ref. Case History I & II) Jesus made sure that Peter had his relationship with God secure first - and then he could minister to God's people!
2. 'Teach what befits sound doctrine' (Titus 2: 1)
Paul left Timothy at Ephesus with instructions to 'charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine' (1 Timothy 1:3) and taught Titus that an elder must hold firmly to the true message of the gospel in order to be able to 'refute those who contradict it' (Titus 1:9). Sadly, many who take the position of elder in churches today cannot fulfil these instructions.
We know that Paul warned both Timothy and Titus against disputes and arguments but they were expected to recognise and deal with false teachers rather than argue over their doctrines. Many today suggest that we should be 'tolerant' and 'forgiving' toward those who are teaching and/or living in error (ref. Tony Campolo, Dr R.T. Kendall, Word-Faith heretics - and about two-thirds of the 'bishops' of the Church of England!). There is a place for mercy and kindness when sinners recognise their sin and show repentance, but would a shepherd speak lovingly to a wolf and encourage him to carry on having freedom to mingle with the sheep? You will find without exception that the man caught fulfilling these marks of a 'false prophet' is arrogant and unrepentant until the possible loss of his position of power becomes a real threat - then he is likely to say anything to keep his hold on the church which, in his self-aggrandizing opinion, so desperately needs him (ref. Case Histories). Jesus rebuked the Church of Thyatira with these words, 'I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads my bond-servants astray' (Revelation 2:20). God had already given this false prophetess time to repent and she had rejected it, but the church continued to make the mistake of 'being tolerant.' What right do we have today to ignore error? None!
3. 'Set the believers an example.' (1 Timothy 4:12)
A man may be a great preacher, but it is his example to his flock which speaks volumes - and indeed, whether he loves his flock as 'Christ loved the church' (Ephesians 5:2,25). Paul says (1 Timothy 4:12) they should set 'an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity'. It is our lives that the church sees and anyone coming into the church from the world will know from the leader's behaviour whether God is real in that place. We cannot overestimate what a powerful sermon our lives preach. Like sheep we copy the 'shepherd' and, if the pastor takes alcoholic drinks or smokes, others will follow his example. If an elder loses his temper regularly then it can't be too bad a sin for the sheep to indulge in at home or at the office. If the prophet uses questionable language, particularly in the church, the same kind of language or 'jokes' will be repeated by many of his followers!
It is not enough to suggest that a leader who is living an immoral life, has an alcohol problem, or who is in any other satanic bond, can still be used by God in conversions, baptisms, healings, and to preach a sound message. Of course, God can use anyone and He will not allow Satan to thwart Him. Balaam was a prophet with his foot in both camps, but he eventually paid the price for leading Israel astray and was killed (Numbers 31:8). Eli's vile sons, Hophni and Phineas, dishonoured God's priesthood for a season, but then the whole family were removed (1 Samuel 4:11-18) in disgrace in one day! Saul remained in office for years while David was being prepared, but in the meantime Jonathan and David were the ones wreaking havoc on the Philistines and keeping them at bay while Saul was afflicted by an evil spirit sent by God! God is sovereign, and He may well appear to be using a particular prophet despite his failings - even Saul was counted 'among the prophets' while he was despising God's laws and commands (1 Samuel 10:11-12; 19:24). But people seem to forget that the apparent good the deceiving leader accomplishes may be greatly outweighed by the effect of his example, for Satan will surely use his man to entice others into sin. Christians today are so ignorant of the Bible that they fail to recognise that God can still allow deceivers who are accurate with 'signs and wonders' to remain to prove whether you love Him, or Satan and the world! (Deuteronomy 13:1-3) James wrote clearly: 'we who teach will he judged more strictly' (James 3:1). A leader is required to practise what he preaches for God hates hypocrisy! Every leader should be able to join Paul in saying: 'Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ' (1 Corinthians 11:1).
I well remember when my wife asked the deceiver Kevin Tugwell why he had to joke around so much and put on a joyful outlook when he was clearly not feeling this on the inside (she had seen right through him early on in his ministry). 'The church remembers and takes on the spirit of its first pastor,' he claimed. This could be taken to mean that he was imitating Paul as the apostle imitated Jesus, but this isn't actually what was real in this deception. Someone who is leading hypocritically is not going to be honoured by God, although God honours His Word even when deceivers are involved in the church, and this is what brings apparent fruit. We can also be deceived by results that look impressive at first sight but, after the initial burst of enthusiasm and 'after the Lord Mayor's show has passed by,' apparently fruitful works leave very little to show for all the labour put into them. Pensacola, Brownsville and Sunderland are clear examples of this. This is because deceivers and the deceived have been building on sand and not on the Rock that is our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). It is equally true that great spiritual accomplishments often have small and insignificant beginnings, and some of God's most effective servants have been despised and opposed by their contemporaries, but we must look beyond immediate results to know the value of any ministry. If we are really in God's will we will see the result in the fruit, as Jesus said, 'I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear much fruit the kind of fruit that endures' (John 15:16).