In observing some of what is being believed and said these days, we have become increasingly concerned about much of what is being accepted as gospel truth. The message being promoted sounds like: “God loves you, so just go ahead and do whatever you think is right, He’ll love you regardless so do what you want to; you have the freedom to do what you want because Christ has freed you from all accountability and responsibility and anyone who says otherwise is trying to put you back under the law”.
Obviously there is truth in that: God loves us and we have been freed from the law of sin and death. However, the other side of that is truth which brings much needed balance: our Father is Holy, and while we know Him intimately (as He desires us to), yet we are also in awe and reverence of Him. We are His children AND His servants (both) and as such we are responsible and accountable to Him for what we say and do (Matt. 16:27; Rom. 14:12; 1 Pet. 4:4,5).
When one truth is focused on to the exclusion of other balancing truths, the result is a mixture of truth and error.
One consequence of having our eyes opened to see the errors which churches teach is to then question everything. We unlearn many things, learning the Truth, Life and Way of Christ instead. While that is all good, we need to be careful that in having our mindsets challenged we don’t go to the extreme of rejecting what is from God. Discerning Christ and His Body are vital. We certainly need to challenge our thinking and beliefs but not according to what man says or even by what we think makes sense, but by testing our beliefs with the Scriptures and their Author. You will see that I have included a number of verses and references in this article in the hopes that you will test for yourself what I have written, like the Jews in Berea who were praised for searching and examining the Scriptures daily to see if what was being said was true (Acts 17:11).
Knowing the Word of God
The Bible does not seem to be as popular as other books to read or quote from these days and while I understand and appreciate that Christ is the Word of God, the Bible itself is the only objective ‘authority’ we have. Jesus Himself referred to the Scriptures and quoted them often; if He who was the Word Himself saw the need to do that, how much more ought we to do the same?!
If we base everything on our personal, subjective spiritual experiences or on what others say without balancing that with what is written in the Bible, we can easily get things twisted… to our own selfish advantage. The opposite is also true; if we base everything solely on the Bible and don’t balance that with what Christ is saying now to us personally, we can interpret the Scriptures to further our own agenda. This is what the church historically has done, so let’s learn from that and not do the very same thing by going to the other extreme! We need to know what the Bible says and just one quick reading of the book written to the Hebrews would reveal how far from the original message many have gone… both in and outside of the church.
Obviously there is debate about the Bible and what is of man, what is of God etc; there are paradoxes and seeming contradictions. If we try to understand it all, the Bible may become a stumbling block. Yet just because we can’t understand something doesn’t mean it is not true! It is only as we surrender our Self and accept the fact that even when we are at our wisest we still know nothing, that Revelation may come. We cannot see or know anything of eternal, spiritual significance unless the Spirit of God reveals it to us. If we could understand the entire Bible with our intellect, then we would not need Him and we would be proud of what we knew. Instead, we know that we truly know nothing… we cannot comprehend anything of God except by His Holy Spirit; it is entirely His doing and we are dependent upon Him.
Jesus Himself used the Scriptures to support what He was saying over and over; He also used them to refute what the enemy was saying and He knew when Scriptures were being used to further the enemy’s agenda (Luke 4:3-12). For “every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action), so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16,17).
Of course if you no longer accept that the Bible is important or necessary, then everything is judged by what YOU believe to be right and you set yourself up as judge and king in place of God (Judges 21:25). The ultimate end of questioning and removing all authority, of both the Bible and of God, is that you have no king. Instead Self is on the throne and governs and of course this feels good and oh so “right” to us! Many so-called spiritual things are nothing more than earthly, fleshly substitutes which feel good to us. It is easy to think that our own voice is the voice of God… our hearts are naturally selfish and incredibly deceitful and our religious, self-righteous flesh is especially devious. While we are a new creation in our spirit (born again) we still have the old creation to deal with in our body, mind and soul and therein lies the battle for Life!
We need to have our minds renewed (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23), otherwise we are likely to not only say things with an agenda, but to also read things with an agenda: seeing and hearing only what we already think something says. Only One can unveil to us what is in our mind and heart for “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely, mortally sick! Who can know it [perceive, understand, be acquainted with his own heart and mind]? I the Lord search the mind, I try the heart, even to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jer. 17:9-10). The Holy Spirit reveals what is unholy and what we need to see about ourselves.
To be Called Out is to be Separated
This is a big part of what being Called-out ones is about. When you are called out of something, you are separated from it: out, set apart, different. Leaving church for me was, and still is, about being purified; purified from Self, religion and idolatry: “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty”. I do not want you to fellowship and be partners with diabolical spirits… Shall we thus provoke the Lord to jealousy and anger and indignation? Are we stronger than He [that we should defy Him]?” (2 Cor. 6:16,17; 1 Cor. 10:20,21).
Paul told the Romans to offer themselves as a living sacrifice, HOLY… and acceptable to God, yet today many seem to be either forgetting or ignorant of the fact that God said “be holy as I am holy”. His main characteristic is holiness. Love is but one expression of that holiness. But other, not so “nice” or “positive” but equally valid elements of God’s holiness include jealousy (Ex. 20:5; Deut. 4:24; 2 Cor. 11:2), hate (Is. 61:8; Amos 5:21; Rev. 2:6) and anger (Ex. 4:14; Deut. 6:15; Mark 3:5); all come from His holiness.
“As the One Who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all your conduct and manner of living. For it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy. And if you call upon Him as [your] Father Who judges each one impartially according to what he does, [then] conduct yourselves with true reverence throughout the time of your temporary residence [on the earth]”. 1 Peter 1:15-17.
In Hebrew the word ‘holiness’ means being set apart and separated from all that is unholy. God and His Love are holy, sacred and pure. Love separates by bringing a separation in the heart from all substitutes and from all that seeks to distract from the Loved One. This Love is exclusive; not physically, but in the heart for Love is a heart issue. Sometimes people mistakenly think holiness means separating themselves physically from those considered “unholy” for fear of contamination. That stinks of death and religion and I am not meaning that at all!
Some of the harshest things Jesus said were to those who considered themselves separated and holy but who were hypocrites, eg Matthew 23. Jesus had no qualms about being friends with those considered some of the worst of sinners, He welcomed them and His holiness was not in any way threatened by their unholiness because holiness is not about where we are physically, but where we are spiritually! Holiness occurs in our lives as a result of living in the Holy One. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit and outward things cannot change who we are. Doing supposedly right or holy things will never make you a holy person. There is only One Who is truly Holy and His Life being lived in you and through you, purifies and makes you holy.
Love frees us to become a slave, for there is nothing more enslaving than Love. Whereas Love delightfully binds you eternally to this One to the exclusion of all others, these days it seems as though people believe God’s Love is all-inclusive – including anything and everything. But there is an element to Love which is very exclusive; there is a singleness, an obsession, a simplicity and purity about a heart in Love. The Loved One is the Person seen, appreciated, listened to and desired above all.
One thing I hear frequently is that God is a God of Love and not of judgment. The phrase “God is Love” occurs only twice in the Bible, and while it is beyond dispute that God is loving, my question is: Why does He have to be either Love or Judgment; can He not be BOTH? It seems very clear to me that He is both, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him… For the time [has arrived] for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will [be] the end of those who do not respect or believe or obey the good news of God? …You make God tired with all your talk. ‘How do we tire him out?’ you ask. By saying, ‘God loves sinners and sin alike. God loves all.’ And also by saying, ‘Judgment? God’s too nice to judge.'” (1 Jn. 4:16,17; 1 Pet. 4:17; Mal. 2:17).
Love IS Judgment and Judgment IS Love. One does not exclude the other. Love judges against whatever will endanger the Beloved and also corrects: “Those whom I love, I tell their faults and convict and convince and reprove and chasten.” (Rev. 3:19a). Yes God is Love and Grace, but He is also Holy and a Consuming Fire: “Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28,29) and that is not the Old Testament, but the New. Let’s not treat the Old Testament with disdain as though it were second-rate and we don’t need it, for those Scriptures were what Jesus and His first followers read and quoted from and they did not need to be taught about the holiness of God because they already knew He was holy!
The word “holy” is used in the Bible over 500 times. God is referred to over and over as “the Holy One” and Jesus is called “the Holy One of God” and the Spirit is “the Holy Spirit of God”. We are in danger of making God in our own image if we accept only those aspects we like and can identify with. He is GOD!!! We cannot understand everything about Him!
Rather than attempting to bring God down to our level and trying to explain Him so that we can all understand Him better and identify with Him more intimately, we instead need to be raised up to His level in the Man whom He has already sent and be seated with Him in the heavenlies (Eph 2:6).
We all have a desire to be accepted and loved for who we are (and in spite of who we are!) and while our Father loves us for who we are, we seem to find it hard to accept and love Him for Who He reveals Himself to be in the Bible. If we reject aspects of Who our Father is because we don’t like or understand them, and if we don’t know Him as the Holy One, then I wonder do we really know Him? We may know some things about Him, but not really know Him because He IS Holy—that is Who He is.
Sometimes I think we forget that this is GOD we are dealing with! The answer to Who are You? Is: “I AM Holy”; not I am Love, or Joy or Peace. In the Revelation of Jesus Christ the living creatures are not around the throne crying “Love, Love, Love!” or “Joy, Joy, Joy!” They are crying: “Holy, Holy, HOLY, is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and Who is, and Who is to come!” and those around the throne fall down and worship and say, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive the glory and the honor and dominion, for You created all things; by Your will they were created.” (Rev. 4:8-11). True worship is a result of truly seeing and knowing our holy God.
Paul said: “Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God—ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don’t presume on this gentleness. The moment you become deadwood, you’re out of there.” (Romans 11:22). This “dead wood” is in reference to the Olive Tree and some branches being grafted onto the natural branches. The dead wood is that which no longer has the sap of Life running through it. It is cut off, pruned and separated from the Tree; it needs to be cut off for the health of the rest of the Tree. Life characterizes everything which is of God. Jesus said: “Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit He cuts away (trims off, takes away)” (John 15:2).
There are plenty of these so-called negative statements in the New Testament, Paul said to Timothy: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self… unholy… conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power… always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth… Herald and preach the Word! Keep your sense of urgency, whether the opportunity seems to be favorable or unfavorable… For the time is coming when [people] will not tolerate sound and wholesome instruction [doctrine], but, having ears itching [for something pleasing and gratifying], they will gather to themselves one teacher after another to a considerable number, chosen to satisfy their own liking and to foster the errors they hold, and will turn aside from hearing the truth and wander off into myths and man-made fictions.” (from 2 Tim. 3:1-7; 4:2,3).
We are in danger of wandering off into man-made fictions when we either don’t know or don’t accept what God has already provided: the Word of God (both the living: Christ, and the written: Bible). The two go together yet historically many have accepted only the written.
We must be transformed rather than simply “informed” (Rom 12:2). Information and even reformation can never rival transformation. Information about Christ does not equal knowing Him.
His Grace, Mercy and Love must bring balance, for many have been in churches where they learned to be literally afraid of God and what He could do to them, but going to the opposite extreme and ignoring the Otherness of God does not balance things, instead it tips the scales too far the other way resulting in becoming so familiar with God that we lose the sense of His holiness and sanctity. It is only when we have seen something of the holiness of God and how beyond comprehension He is, that we begin to truly, deeply appreciate the immensity of His Mercy and Grace. Otherwise His Grace, Mercy and Love can be quite cheap to us; we may even be arrogant enough to think we deserve them! His Holiness accentuates the wonder and preciousness of His Love, Grace and Mercy.
Seeing something of His holiness establishes awe, reverence and humility in us. It brings a much-needed adjustment to our Self-centred existence. Too often, instead of allowing Truth to bring Light and reveal what is Self in us, the temptation is to hide behind selected verses like “there is no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus” and “nothing can separate us from the love of God”. Instead of going to the Scriptures and trusting the Sun/Son to be our Light and reveal all, many use a man-made flashlight to highlight just small portions they like while Self remains hidden in the darkness (John 3:19,20). The incredible freedom that Christ paid such an enormous price for, was not to free us to use love and grace as a license or a reason to do whatever we want to do! That is notfreedom but bondage: bondage to Self. Christ came to set us free from the tyranny of His enemies, including Sin AND from Self!
The only way to be free of Self is through the Cross of Christ, through death. While we are dead to Sin through Christ’s death, we need to daily die to Self and to the old way of us being in control and being king. God’s ways so often make no sense to us, when Jesus told His friends that He was going to be killed, “Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. He said, “God would never let this happen to You, Lord!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Satan (enemy), get away from Me! You’re in My way because you think like everyone else and not like God.” Then Jesus said to His disciples: If any of you want to be My followers, you must forget about yourself, deny yourself. You must take up your cross and follow Me. If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Matt 16:22-24; Luke 9:23).
The Cross was typified in the Old Testament by sacrifices burned on the altar—the key word being sacrifice. We don’t naturally like sacrifice, or being denied, or forgetting about Self. But truly, this Way of God is the Way of Truth and Life as we yield, surrender and sacrifice what is most precious to us: our very Self. This Way is costly but in losing yourself, you find Life and Treasure in Christ for it is only as we lose all that we find All in He who is our Holiness!
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unfathomable are His judgments! And how untraceable (mysterious, undiscoverable) are His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord and who has understood His thoughts, or who has been His counselor? Or who has first given God anything that he might be paid back or that he could claim a recompense? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever! Amen (so be it). I appeal to you therefore and beg of you in view of the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service and spiritual worship. Romans 11:33-12:1