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No Fear of God!

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1 Peter 4:3-6 “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.”

     The pagan lifestyle consists of wild living; living for self with no regard for others.  The pagan attitude is ‘if it feels good – do it’! Pagan religion is ‘any god but God’.  The end result of this spiritual pathology is the idolatry of self and the worship of your own image. Peering into the mirror of delusion, blindness follows;  “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

     Don’t be fooled.  Paganism isn’t only practiced by those who never go to church or those who are in trouble with the law.  There are many who live wild yet outwardly respectable lives.  Any victim of sexual abuse by clergy, any traumatized refugee from a cult-like organization or any person who has been left swindled of hard earned savings by a white collar sociopath will tell you that wildness can dress in religious or business ‘garb’ and have a gentle yet fake smile.

     The Bible warns us about such ‘wild ones’; “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

     What is the common factor between a wild one who dresses well, dons religious vestments and speaks of God and a wild one who is blatantly red in tooth and claw with open antisocial tendencies?   Both have no fear of God yet the former is far more dangerous than the latter because he or she is hard to recognize.  Damage done by those who can mimic pro-social attitudes is hard to detect right away.  A lifetime of pain and victims can be cleverly covered over by pious words and self-serving gestures of good will and works.

    What is the mark of a person who has a healthy fear of God?  Scripture tells us: “The fear of the LORD [is] to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” (Proverb 8:13)  The Forerunner Commentary states; “Proverbs 8:13 defines the fear of the Lord as “to hate evil.” This definition suggests the kind of conduct the proper fear of God produces in practical application. If we hate something, do we not take steps to avoid it?”  The essence of being pagan isn’t the outward appearance – it is a matter of the hidden things of the heart!

     Jesus tells us; “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man . . . ‘” (Matthew 15:18-20)  The vicious curses and vain teachings of a pagan preacher are just as much a mark of the wild lack of a fear of God as the murderous uncontrolled threats of a criminal bent on immediate hurt and harm. Both kinds of behaviour are heaps of abuse that beset innocent and vulnerable people.

     People may be fooled by outward appearance but God is not; “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?  I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9,10)  Scripture tells us that even on this earth there is a balance to all things; “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Galations 6:7,8)

     Jesus is coming again and we will all stand before Him whether we fear God today or not; “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  (2 Corinthians 5:10) Anyone who truly believes this will act with appropriate fear of God; “For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” (2 Corinthians 5:7-9)

     A wise man once summed up life in this way; “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14)  Anything else is pagan and faithless!

     Praise the Lord!

Confession

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James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

     Healing does come with honesty, fellowship and prayer.  Within the body of Christ, His true church, miracles happen.  When we pray for one another we draw closer to God and to each other in a bond of love and unity.  That in itself is a miracle in a world of increasingly shallow relationships and growing social indifference.

     We must be wise in how we follow this scripture.  The Forerunner Commentary points out; “James instructs us to confess our faults. The apostle does not mean that we should reveal every sin and foible to everyone in the congregation. He implies that we should confide our problems to a close, trusted friend so that he or she can help us by praying to God for help in overcoming it.”

     A little humble pie is good for us; “. . . social confession tends much to humble the soul, and to make it watchful. We naturally wish that our friends in general, and our religious friends in particular, should think well of us; and when we confess to them offenses which, without this confession, they could never have known, we feel humbled, . . .” (Adam Clarke Commentary)

     Paradoxically, the humility confession brings makes our prayers effective.  Why?  Scripture explains how this works; “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites.” (James 4:7,8)  When we admit our faults we have to drop our hypocritical front and so we resist the Devil as he works in our pride.

     We draw close to God and He draws close to us.  Jesus is our righteousness and our true power in prayer!  His strength is perfected in our weakness;  “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

     Sadly there are those false shepherds that would use confession as a way to keep us in the bondage of guilt and shame;  “. . . one of the most attractive lures of an unhealthy religious group is the appearance that group members enjoy a high level of intimacy as a result of their public confessions.” (Eight Ways to Identify Religious Brainwashing: The Cult of Confession)

     Stephen Smith points out; “Unhealthy religious leaders can keep their followers brainwashed by subjecting them to a continual state of accusation. Instead of promoting growth and maturity in Jesus Christ, group leaders foster spiritual infantilism by keeping members in a perpetual state of gloom and penitence.”  Smith rightly describes the way out of this trap; “The solution to all of these problems is to hold in tension a clear-eyed view of sin with a healthy sense of biblical self-worth in Christ. By disavowing simplistic extremes, religious leaders and followers can walk in grace and truth and avoid the cult of confession.”

      Those who would keep you in bondage will face a terrible judgement because they give God’s Word a bad reputation; “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

     When you confess your sins don’t allow anyone to push your humility into toxic shame.  Indeed, the Bible tells us the Gospel Good News; “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:1,2)

     Praise the Lord!
   

The Word saves, if you follow it.

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James 1:21,22 “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

     Often when I walk along the side of a busy highway I can see  cars approaching quickly and hear the high pitched roar of their engines.  As the car passes by the roar of the engine drops its pitch and sounds lower as it recedes in the distance.  This is called the Doppler Effect.

     There is a kind of spiritual Doppler effect as well.  When we read the Word of God, often we will come under its conviction if we are going against it.  We feel a sense of urgency – a desire to change or put something right in our relationships with others.  This feeling of urgency is like the high pitched roar of the approaching car as we walk along the road of life.  Should we respond to the call of  God’s Word to change we would repent and turn aside from our path to follow His direction in our lives.

     The Bible tells us to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead in our lives; “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:24,25)  Do we do this perfectly?  No, life is a struggle.  We still experience the spiritual Doppler Effect and sense the urgency to change.

     Scripture describes life as a race that we run and if we respond to the urging of our coach we will finish well; “. . . let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1,2)

     Sadly, some let the Word of God pass them by with no urgency, no conviction and no change.  They hear the Word but do not respond to it.  In so doing the Word loses is sense of urgency just as the pitch of the receding car lowers as it disappears down the road.  Jesus describes the plight of such people; “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)

     For those who ignore the spiritual Doppler Effect –  they hear it but it means nothing to them, there is no urgency. They turn back to rush blindly along their own way; “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

     The greatest deception in life is self-satisfaction and the self-righteousness that it brings.  The greatest freedom in life is to follow His Word and keep in step with His Sprit;  “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. “(John 6:63)

     Praise the Lord!

First and Final Authority

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Hebrews 1:1,2 “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”

     The Gospel is fully revealed through the Word of God; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)  The Word is Jesus; “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) There is nothing more to add to it.  Nor should we take anything away from it;  “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

     We just need to listen to His Word.  This is the will of God; “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)  For a stable life filled with His blessings, we need to follow His Word in our lives on a daily basis; “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

     Unfortunately, we live in a world where there are many influences that draw us away from a good life blessed by God.  Personal temptations, people who exploit others and a world ruled by indifferent selfishness all work to make life a dark cold place with little or no hope. “This is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

    If you are tempted by desire, fear or anger be encouraged because God won’t leave you in its grip; “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)  Even though the world will torment you by prompting you to anger, fear and lust, stand firm in His Word and He will lead you out of temptation.

     There are those who would mislead and exploit the vulnerable; “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.  In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” (2 Peter 2:1,2,3)  That is why we need to cling to what the Bible tells us.  Hold on to Jesus’ words not the words of false prophets.

     We live in a world run by evil.  Those who follow Jesus and live by His Word see the hold the world had on us;  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 2:1,2) The Bible tells us not to despair; “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

     Jesus warns us; “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)  And Jesus assures us that no matter how much trouble the world causes us – He is in control; “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

     Praise the Lord!

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