We’re back into the Heidelberg Catechism and are now in Day 9. Just a quick review before we jump into it though.
Our church, since last August, has been working out way through a teaching tool called the Heidelberg Catechism. It’s called “Heidelberg” because it was written in the 16th century by a man named Zacharias Ursinus in the city of Heidelberg, Germany, about 20 years after the death of Martin Luther. It’s called “Catechism” because it is a question and answer summary, written for churches, to teach children and new believers the basic principles of Christianity over the course of a year.
We are currently in Week 9, or Lord’s Day 9, is it’s called, and we’ve already covered a lot of ground. It began on Day 1 with the most important question: “What is your only comfort in life and death?”. That’s critical, right? “When it all comes down to it, when everything else is stripped away, when trouble and trial come, when you are faced with the discomforts of life and the danger of death – where do you, as a Christian, turn for hope?”
The answer was
“That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
The rest of the catechism is really an exploration of that first answer, using all manner of scriptures and creeds to explain why that’s true.
So it asks things like, “What do I need to know in order to have this hope?”, “What happened to make things go so wrong with the world?” “What is sin and why is it a problem?” And when we find out that sin leads to judgement from God and eternity in Hell, it covers topics like “How can I escape this judgment?”, “Why can’t I save myself?”, “What makes Jesus Christ the best and only answer?”
Which is the end of the first section and leads to the second, which asks question 21 and 22 on Day 7, “What is faith, and what must I believe in order to be saved?”. All of this leads to a study of what is called “The Apostle’s Creed”, the oldest and most trusted theological summary Christians have, dating back almost 2000 years.
The Apostle’s Creed is divided into three sections, God the Father and our creation, God the Son and our redemption, and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. This brought us to Day 8. Historically, it is on Day 8 that whoever is teaching is supposed to talk about not only those divisions, and the doctrine of the Trinity, but also a bunch of the attributes of God. That’s a tall order for one week, so I got stuck there for a few weeks – ok, a couple months – until the Christmas break.
This brings us up to now where we are about to get into Day 9 which covers the first line of the Apostles Creed, and which I think is incredibly applicable for us today.
Where Does My Help Come From?
Please open up to Psalm 121 and let’s read it together. I want you to notice, before we read, that at the top of the Psalm this is called a “Song of Ascents”. The Songs of Ascents are travelling songs meant to be sung by those who were making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship God. Some of these Songs of Ascents are thanksgiving songs, others laments, while others are about the beauty of God’s city and the history of God’s people. They were written to prepare the hearts of God’s people to come before Him – to face their sins and admit their need, to declare their trust in God, to share their anticipation of standing before Him, and declare to each other God’s goodness and steadfast love, even in the face of difficult times.
I think it’s appropriate that we read this one today, especially in light of the events of the past while, especially this week. I think it’s good for us to read it today.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
Now, before we get into the question of the day, I want to show this video.
A lot of people say they “believe in God”, don’t they? We all have friends and family members that, when they are asked if they believe in God, they say they do. Question 26 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks that question as it covers the first line of the Apostle’s Creed, “What do you believe when you say: I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?” That’s usually the question we don’t really get to, isn’t it? We’re almost afraid to ask, because we don’t want to start an argument or get into a debate with someone we care about, so we just leave it at “Do you believe in God?” and rarely press forward to, “Ok, what do you mean when you say you believe in God?”
Psalm 121 ties right into all of this, because the first line of the psalm is like an Old Testament version of this question. As I said, this was a travelling psalm to be sung on the way to Jerusalem for one of the annual celebrations. Picture the pilgrim having walked for miles and miles through the wilderness – there were no nice roads or walking paths in those days. He’s been walking for days, his feet are sore, his muscles ache, and his destination seems very distant. Suddenly, he sees the hills of Judah in the distance.
This is where commentators are split. Either this guy looks at the hills of Judah, knowing that he is finally close to Jerusalem, and breaks into a song of praise to the Lord for protecting him on his journey and bringing him so near the end – ooooor… he sees those hills and thinks, “Oh, great! Hills. I get to walk up great big hills now. This is where it gets really dangerous. Now I not only have to worry about wild animals and exposure but robbers and terrain and having to climb and climb all day long. How am I going to get through this?” And then breaks into the same song, saying, “These hills won’t get the best of me, because my help comes from the Lord who made every one of them.”
I sort of wish the interviewer in that video would have asked the question the way the Psalm did, “When you lift your eyes to the hills, where does your help come from?” Or, “When good times and bad times come, where do you look for who will bring you through it?” because that would have given a better answer.
The Heidelberg answers like this:
“That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and who still upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is, for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father. In him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.”
One thing that always impresses me as we study is how beautiful this document is.
God the Father
When Christians say they believe in God, we are making a very specific statement. As we saw, a lot of people in western society, are not very specific. This is why we spent some time talking about Special and General Revelation, which tells us that we don’t get to create a god of our own design based on whatever makes us feel good or seems right to us, but that we must believe in God the way He has revealed Himself.
If you don’t, you end up with what we saw in the video. Like that guy who said, “Yes, I believe in God, because I’m Buddhist.” That’s contradictory because Buddhists do not believe there is a God. Or, “Yes, I believe in God, but not really one that can be written down.” Or “Yes, because you gotta believe in something but I have no idea what that is.” So, then, how do you know what you believe?
As Christians, we absolutely believe that our God not only makes sense, but has told us a lot about Himself, and so it makes sense that a Biblical catechism and creed would make some very specific claims about God. As it says, a Christian believes “in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?”
What does that mean? It means that we believe that God has revealed Himself as a Father. That means He is personal. We talked a little about this on Christmas Eve when I preached on how God makes us part of His family through our faith in Jesus Christ. If you recall, I quoted Ephesians 1:3-5 which said,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…”
God reveals Himself as a Father. First, He is the eternal Father of Jesus, which we already covered in the sermon on the Trinity. And second, He is the Father of all mankind, since He is the One who created us in His image and continues to protect and guide us. When we sinned, we tried to divorce ourselves from our Father, attempting to usurp His position and make ourselves above Him and were, therefore, cast out from His family, but through Jesus are invited to be adopted back as His sons and daughters again.
That’s why Romans 8:15 says to Christians who are tempted and afraid to call out to their Father,
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!”
We are taught in scripture, in Old Testament and New, that God is our Father because He has chosen to be. In Isaiah 63:15-16, the people of God cry out to Him in distress and say,
“Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion are held back from me. For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.”
The Jews were always tempted to rest their hopes and prayers on the mere privilege of being descended from Abraham. Regardless of how messed up they were, they would say, “Well, Abraham is our father, so God has to bless us.” Here we see the Jews renouncing this attitude and saying that their genealogy doesn’t really matter – what matters is that God has chosen to make them His children, and it is by that relationship that they make their appeal.
When Christians say that we “believe in God” we are saying we believe in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has adopted us into His family to be His children.
God Almighty, Creator
The second thing we are saying when we say we believe in God is that God is “Almighty”. We already talked about this when we covered God’s attributes of Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence, but it is worth mentioning again. The Apostles Creed begins “I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth…” Jeremiah 32:17 says,
“Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.”
That’s the God we are talking about. The God who designed and upholds and governs all things. The God who is higher and wiser and bigger than all. The One who knew what would happen when He created everything, already had a plan in place, and that can use everything, no matter how terrible, no matter how difficult, no matter how much grief it brings Him or us, for our good and His glory. That’s the God we believe in. Which is why, as the Heidelberg says,
“In him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.”
We covered this on Wednesday night when we talked about Jesus’ words about not being anxious because God knows what we need, right? This is why Romans 8 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (vs 28) and “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (vs 31) and “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (vs 35, 37)
I love the line out of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where Mr. Beaver says that Aslan is “not… a tame lion.” At the beginning of the story, when Lucy first hears about the Great Lion Aslan (who is a Christ-figure), she gets scared and asks, “Is he safe?” and Mr. Beaver gives the answer, “Safe?… Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
This is the God in whom we believe and trust. He is not only the Almighty Creator, but also our Father. We do not believe in a god of our own making, for that god would be weak and useless when we needed it. Gods of our own design always fail because we know in our heart they are pretend. But the One, True God, who has revealed Himself to humanity, is real, alive, active, and powerful. He isn’t a being of our own design and is therefore not someone we can control. But since He has shown us what He is like, what He is capable of, and what kind of character He has, we can trust Him. This is the God our church believes in, so let us have faith in Him.
In what areas of your life are you struggling to believe God is not only your caring Father, but the Almighty one who can make it happen? What part of your life do you believe you must control because you don’t think God will do a good enough job? What do you need that you do not believe God cannot or will not provide? Have you shown God that you trust Him? Have you given your Father the chance to provide? Are you obeying Him, in faith, demonstrating that trust? Because He is faithful.
This is the God our church believes in, which we pray to, who provides for us, cares for us, who sent Jesus to save us. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If you are a believer this morning, and part of His church, that includes you.
Thanks for taking the time to give this a listen and I want you to notice that I (finally) turned on the comments section for these posts! Check it out below. I’m looking for some feedback about this podcast and would love to hear what you think of them.
Pilgrim’s Progress: https://www.desiringgod.org/books/the-pilgrim-s-progress
Ninja News: Week in Review – Episode 2 (Atheism, Animal Rights, McDonalds, Zach Anner, Netflix, Adderall)
Cult of Convenience: https://albertmohler.com/2018/03/16/briefing-3-16-18/
Take Your Pills: https://www.netflix.com/ca/title/80117831
Atheist Church: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feJ8GZIjwCo
“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)
We’ve talked about a lot of contrasts over the past weeks as we’ve been covering the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: flesh and spirit, foolishness and wisdom, maturity and immaturity. These contrasts, which are found all over scripture, help us process our life today so that we can be more clear about our life today and our eternal destination.
- Romans 5 forces us to ask if we are “in Christ” or “in Adam”.
- As we saw last week, 1 John forces us to ask ourselves if we are walking in the light of God’s love as it overflows from us to others, or walking in the darkness of hatred.
- Ephesians 4 asks believers to evaluate themselves by asking if they are living as the “old man” we used to be before we knew Jesus or the “new man” we are now because we have been born again in His name.
- God asks us if we are acting as children of God (John 1:12) or
- children of the devil (Matthew 13:38, Eph 5:6),
- friends of the world or friends of God (James 4:4),
- as people who know they have a great inheritance waiting for them or as those who won’t inherit anything (1 Cor 6:9, Rom 8:17).
- We see the contrast between sinner and saint,
- righteous and unrighteous,
- lost and found,
- godly and ungodly,
- alienated and reconciled,
- cast out and chosen,
- cursed and accepted,
- guilty and forgiven,
- defiled and cleansed – and the list goes on. (Source: http://www.christinyou.net/pages/scrptcont.html)
I believe God gives us these contrasts for a purpose – to remind us that in the end there really will be a final, stark, uncompromising division of humanity. There will be the saved and the unsaved, the wheat and the chaff, the sheep and the goats, those who live in eternal life and those who live in eternal death, those who experience everlasting paradise and those who experience everlasting hell.
There won’t be a mushy-middle when it comes to eternity, and so, I believe God gives us these contrasts so that we can evaluate ourselves in light of them. Is my life characterized by wisdom of folly? Is this decision driven by my fleshly temptations or my spiritual maturity? Am I acting like an immature child right now or as a mature adult? Who do I see myself as? Where is my identity? What has God said about me? Where am I going?
These questions call us to introspection, which is exactly what I believe Paul is calling the Corinthians – and by extension us – to in our passage today.
My Dual Personalities
I was forced to do a little introspection over the past couple weeks. A little while ago someone told me that they were having a conversation about me and the person said something interesting. They said that they like me when I’m at their house or outside the church, but that I become a different person when I’m preaching. They like normal Al, but they don’t like preacher Al.
And it caused me pause for the last little while. I don’t ever want to be a hypocrite – saying one thing and doing another. Nor do I want to be some double-minded, dual-personality pretender who is a totally different person depending on where He is. If the true test of a man’s character is what they do when no one is watching, then surely there must be something to trying to be different people depending on where I am and who is around, right?
So, I’ve been chewing on that for a little while and have come up with my own little conclusion about why it might seem like I have dual personalities. I think it’s because I’ve made a commitment to myself to take serious things serious and not-serious things not-serious. My sense of humour is pretty situational and kind of goofy – sort of an acquired taste, if you will – and it’s gotten me in trouble a few times. Plus, I struggle with pride. So, since I’m trying to honour God and not draw attention to myself but Him, I tend to leave my personal side-comments out of my sermons. It’s not that they’re not rolling around up in my grey matter, it’s that I don’t let them out very often.
Is that being hypocritical or two-faced? I don’t think so, and I hope not. I’m just the kind of guy that will, in the same night, read a biography of a 16th century preacher, and then lie in bed watching the newest episodes of My Little Pony. I’m all of that, all at once, so I don’t think I’m a hypocrite when I choose to emphasize one or the other – but here’s the problem. I can’t be sure. That person may be more right than I want them to be. Why? Because no one can fool me like I can.
The first thing that God says through Paul here, as he closes this section of the letter to move on to the next is this: “Let no one deceive himself.” Another translation says, “Don’t fool yourselves”. There’s no deceit like self-deceit is there? I can do all the introspection I want, but if it is not informed by an outside eye like my wife, my kids, a Christian friend, or God’s Word and God’s Spirit, then I could easily be fooling myself.
So what was happening that caused God to tell Paul to write that? What were they deceiving themselves about? You likely already know by now if you’ve been following along. They thought they were wise, but they were actually fools. They had given up Godly wisdom for worldly wisdom and believed themselves to be something they weren’t.
Here’s what was happening: There was a man named Apollos who was a popular preacher who toured around the great cities of the ancient world. Before he met Jesus he was already an eloquent and powerful speaker who was greatly learned in the Jewish scriptures. He had heard about Jesus being the messiah and, even though he had never met Jesus personally, had been teaching that to people – but he had some holes in his knowledge. In his travels he met a couple named Priscilla and Aquila who were attending Pauls’ church in Corinth. They worked to fill in what Apollos didn’t know and Apollos rose quickly to becoming an even more powerful and popular teacher in the area.
He was the Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, John MacArthur, or Rick Warren of his day. Huge crowds followed him and that meant that there were a lot of people who were envious of him. They wanted what he had. They saw men like Paul and Apollos and wanted to copy them so they could have their influence. So they would attend all their talks, learned what they learned, even mimicked their way of speaking in hopes of gaining a following like theirs.
But what they didn’t copy was their godliness, humility, love and prayerfulness. They saw what they were on stage and copied that, but didn’t see all the blood, sweat, tears, study, pacing, and prayers that went into each sermon. They wanted their abilities and audiences. They wanted to be seen as wise, smart, clever, popular, and fashionable, but they didn’t want to do the time in their prayer closets. They wanted the fruit of godliness without suffering, the influence without the dependence on God, the benefits of discipleship without actually following Jesus.
Doing the Work
One time someone came over to my and saw my devotional bible – which is almost destroyed, has no cover, is covered in tape, stains, highlights and pencil marks – and asked me how they can get one that looks just like it. My answer was, “Go buy a new one and read it for 20 years.” He wanted the look of a person who had studied his bible for years and years, without actually having to read it.
We have a lot of things like that around us. You can go to the store right now and buy pre-worn, pre-wrecked, clothes. New, vintage clothes. They’re brand-new, but the t-shirt logo is mostly gone, the sweater has holes, and the jeans look like they’ve been through a warzone. Now, I grew up in the 90’s when grunge was just coming around, so I have a soft spot for that style, but back then we had to borrow our dad’s old, messed up work clothes and concert t-shirts to get that kind of look. Now, you can by vintage things brand new.
You can go to antique stores and buy new antiques too. People make perfectly good boxes, dressers, shelves, and floors, and then beat the heck out of them with chains. They call it “destressing” or “antiquing”. The look of an expensive, old, full of character, piece of furniture, without having to wait 100 years to get it.
That’s just clothes and woodwork, but people do that with their lives too. They want the look of having character, but don’t want to do the work it takes to develop it. They want the look of being wise and godly, but don’t actually want to go through repentance, mortification of sin, study, prayer, and spiritual disciplines required to actually become wise and godly.
This passage is a warning against that! Paul says, “Let no one deceive himself.” Who is he talking about? The person who thinks they possess profound insights about God and the universe, when in fact they have no relationship with Him whatsoever. The person who thinks they have the meaning of life all figured out, without factoring God into the equation. The person who lies to themselves about who they are, who God is, and why they exist.
The self-deceived ones who try to explain the deepest questions (Who am I? Why am I here? Where did we come from? Where are we all going? What is most important?) by themselves, coming up with answers that make sense to them. These people may have great knowledge and abilities, but they remain ignorant of reality. They may say things that make sense to them, and are agreed upon by other big-talkers, but end up being utterly devoid of either wisdom or truth.
We are enveloped by this stuff today. It’s extremely popular, especially among the intellectual elites today, to come up with insanely bizarre explanations for the origins of the universe. They actually have meetings and conventions to talk about them.
Recently, a bunch of high-profile scientists and philosophers got together to debate whether or not the universe is actually real or if we are all living in a vast computer simulation. Popular scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, went on record saying that he puts the odds at 50-50 that we are all basically living in the Matrix; a program running on some super-being’s hard drive. And he was serious! (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-we-living-in-a-computer-simulation/)
Weirdly, while he’s fine with the idea of our reality just being a huge computer program, and promotes a Super-String theory that states that at the sub-atomic level we are able to see self-correcting computer code, he also mocks any religion who believes that there is a God who created everything and sustains it by His will. And that contradiction makes perfect sense to anyone who follows him.
These worldly wisemen look at Christian teachers who don’t have their level of speaking abilities or scholastic degrees, and think them to be fools who preach ridiculous, unscientific garbage. And then have the audacity to grab a microphone and blather on about theories about simulated universes on alien computers – which might sound like science, but is actually total mysticism! You cannot test it, study it, or prove it, but that doesn’t stop physicists from talking about it. They generate a lot of heat, a lot of words, a lot of headlines – but absolutely no light.
This is the type of people, and those who think like them, that are being addressed in this scripture. The worldly-wise who are actually fools. They mock the truth and promote utter folly. And God says here that eventually, it will catch up with them. God “catches the wise in their craftiness” and “knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile”. The “wise” here aren’t the ones living with godly wisdom, but human, worldly wisdom that will invariably be proven to be total garbage. People who believe their theories to be clever, but are ultimately devoid of meaning.
What do they gain by doing this? Why concoct the lie and work so hard to believe it? Simple: freedom from the constraints of a moral God. Everyone – everyone – needs to answer the big questions about their existence and purpose and final destination, but not everyone wants an answer that includes a moral God who requires their worship and obedience. And so they grab on to anything else that gives their universe meaning.
They are the masters of self-deception and they do all they can to suck people into the lies they tell themselves. Atheist apologist, Lawrence Krauss, who actually won the Atheist of the Year Award this year, said this:
“I can’t say for certain there is no God, but I can certainly say I wouldn’t want to live in a universe with one.” (https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/new-atheists-dont-want-to-believe/)
Another atheist, and Professor at NYU, Thomas Nagel, once famously said:
“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” (https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/57677.Thomas_Nagel)
What a strange and ironic mingling of self-awareness and self-deception. But God promises, here and throughout scripture, that in the end their worldly wisdom will be shown for what it is and that the futility of their thinking will be exposed.
People are Masterful Self-Deceivers
Let me close with this: God gives us some stark categories that give us some tools to help us look inside and be honest with ourselves and Him – but doing that it requires a lot of humility and effort.
Which is why people are such masterful self-deceivers. It’s easier to lie to ourselves and concoct our own reality than submit ourselves to the truth. This week, my challenge to you is to look deep within to find the places where you have accepted the world’s wisdom and exchanged God’s truth for a more pleasurable lie.
Ask yourself how you have been lying to yourself, and others, about who you really are. In what ways are you like that pre-worn shirt and ripped pants, faking your character, but not doing the work of building real character.
In prayer this week, ask God to show you your true self. What does He see? It doesn’t matter how you present yourself? All that matters is who you really are. Your reputation with the people around you isn’t as important as you think it is – what’s important is your integrity and your reputation with God.
I watched a little Francis Chan clip this week where he used a great illustration, and I’ll use this to close: Imagine if I interviewed all the people closest to you – your friends, spouse, kids, parents, coworkers – and asked them to tell me about you. What would they say? Now imagine that I could do the same thing with God. What if I could come before the throne of God and ask Him what you are like. “What’s he/she like, Lord? What are your thoughts about them, their actions, their motives, their thought life, their love for you? What’s are they really like?” What would He say?
What would the two reports look like? Would what your friends and family and coworkers say about you be much higher than what God would say? Is it possible that you’ve been far more concerned about your reputation than you are about your character?
I would add this. What if I were to sit down and ask you who you are? Tell me about yourself. Would that report look like what God sees, or are you deceiving yourself about who you really are? Have you created a crafty, futile, foolish self-identity, formed to fool even yourself about who you are? Why?
Chan closes with this: “There is such a silliness to faking it when something so big is on the line. Why would you fake it? Take it to the very end. You’ve fooled everybody!… And so you die, and you go to hell… and you think, ‘Yeah, but everyone thinks I’m in heaven!’ That’s your goal?! How long is that joy going to last? It’s time to get honest.”
It is silly to try to fool yourself and everyone else about who you really are, because God already knows and you can’t fool him. So why bother trying to fool anyone else?
Facebook and other social media websites are a double edged sword. On one hand you can connect with friends, share funny pictures and personal events, and learn about and engage in discussions on a wide range of interesting topics. On the other hand, it’s also a place that can be filled with gossip, falsehood, pride, and unhelpful, hurtful comments and arguments. I think many of us have experienced the light and the dark side of social media.
I post a lot of different things on my Facebook feed, and they generally reflect my interests and personality. For example, this week I posted some things about being a pastor, a link to my podcast and sermon, asked for prayer for my tinnitus, invited people to the church yard sale and my home for a BBQ, shared about a documentary I watched, and a picture of Batman with a large beard, holding a comb. Most of the posts go by without incident and get a few likes, but sometimes they spark discussion.
Fallout from Failure
That happened this week after I posted a link talking about celebrity pastor, Mark Driscoll’s ministry collapse. The genesis of the conversation was that a lot of people were hurt by his ministry implosion, how the elders handled it, the disgrace he brought, and how abrupt it was. When his ministry blew up, a lot of people, especially new, young believers were in shock. They thought they had found a great church with a group of elders who loved them, Jesus, and each other. It was hard enough to get these people into a church, but when they came, they thought they had finally found a place that was different than the world. A place where Jesus was real, worship was authentic, technology was embraced, leaders were bold, and people loved one another.
And then it came out that Mark Driscoll wasn’t such a great guy. He was caught plagiarizing large sections of his books, using church money fraudulently, bullying and abusing his staff, embracing heretical teachers, and doing some other really dumb things. As a result, Driscoll was dropped from many associations and then fired from the church, his multi-site church crumbled, buildings were sold, and many, many people left the church in a lot of pain.
Their question was obvious: “We were told that everyone would let us down except Jesus. We were told that if we put our faith in Jesus then we will know peace, love and joy. We were told that this church loved and listened to Jesus – and here we go: everyone is fighting, the lead teacher turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it feels like we’ve been punched in the stomach. This was the one group that was supposed to get it right, but if they can’t keep it together, then who can we trust!?” So they left the church broken, confused, and angry – many will never return to another church.
John Piper, another celebrity teacher – one of the good ones! – was asked about Driscoll recently. The question to him was:
“[The people that are leaving are saying:] Pastor John, I’m not walking away from Jesus, but I’m done with the church. Can’t trust the leadership, held this guy in high esteem, so I’m not going to walk away from Jesus, but I’m done with the organized aspect of church.”
I posted that on Facebook and it started a conversation about the balance of personal faith and being part of a church.
I found Piper’s answer was very insightful. He said:
“If you do that [walk away from church], you’re walking away from Jesus. Here’s the reason; to say that I love Jesus, but I don’t submit to his Word is a lie. ‘He who loves me will keep my words.’ Jesus founded the church. I didn’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus founded the church. He established apostles to be, according to Ephesians 2:20, the foundation of the church. Then he built it with prophets, and teachers, and pastors and ordained that there be a structure of local churches in the body of Christ called the church. This is not man’s idea.”
I agree with that. We must acknowledge that sometimes people get hurt when they join a church. It’s a risky thing to become part of a group like this. Sometimes there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, sometimes there are arguments, sometimes God’s people let us down. But despite all that we must keep in our minds the biblical truth about church: it’s not our idea, it’s God’s (see Hebrews 10:25; Matthew 18:15-20; Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 3:16) and He tells us in no uncertain terms that His people are supposed to be part of it.
People are understandably nervous about being part of a church because they’ve seen all the evil, exploitative and fallen leaders that have come along, and they don’t want anything to do with them. They put their trust into their human father, and he let them down. They put their trust in their teacher, and were let down. They put their trust in their friends, and they let them down. They put their trust in their boyfriend or girlfriend, and were let down. They trusted their coach, their doctor, their government, the news programs – and they were let down over and over and over. And when they started to grow curious about religion, about God, about the scriptures – and they started looking at the church, they came across televangelists that wanted their money, hypocrites that pretended their faith, pastors that cheated on their spouses, preachers that talk about love but spew hate-speech, and so much arguing and fighting among people who were supposed to be united by their love for Jesus and living as brothers and sisters.
The Truth About Church
It’s only natural that they would be hesitant about going anywhere near that group. They feel the pull towards God, but don’t want anything to do with organized religion, so they take it all into their own hands – but in doing so, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They don’t realize that, despite the difficulties, we really are supposed to be “under the umbrella of the church” , engaging in corporate worship and discipline, serving, encouraging, and helping one another, and shining the light of the Gospel in our community, together.
We need mature believers to help us grow closer to God. We need to be listening to the teaching of scripture, declared by someone who has been chosen and gifted to teach it – not just seeking out whatever we feel like we want to believer. We need to be challenged, guided, disciple, held accountable, and part of a loving, faith community. Not just because it’s a good idea – but because’ it’s God’s idea! And when we don’t, we are not only disobeying God’s Word, but invite a lot of spiritual dangers into our life. When we leave the care of the church and try to go it alone – or pursue God on our own terms – it’s easier to fall into error and start to believe heresy, we become myopic and narrow-minded unable to reflect a proper image of ourselves, unable to see our sins. We leave ourselves open to being attacked by our enemy the devil, who loves to get us alone and crush our spirit. And when we find ourselves in that condition, it’s far easier to be preyed upon by spiritual wolves.
And please understand that there are a lot of wolves out there – and they are eating people alive right now. Christianity is full of wolves right now, who are building up huge influence, gathering followers, and then teaching them false doctrine and lying to them about God. They are giving people false hope and destroying people’s souls.
There are a lot of things that the Christian church must do to help these folks that are falling into their trap, but I think the main one that we need to get right today is that we must hold fast to the truth. Compromise is the death of the church and if we are going to be the authentic church of Jesus Christ, following through with all that means, and standing for the faith, then we must stand for truth.
Background of 2nd John
Open up with me to the second shortest book in the New Testament, at only 245 words, 2nd John. This letter from John to the church barely even qualifies as a letter – it’s almost a postcard. Let me give you a bit of background before we read.
At the time of the writing of this postcard, the Good News of Jesus Christ was being taken from place to place by traveling evangelists and specially trained – much like the missionaries we sent out from our churches and conferences today. One of the commands that we are given is to be hospitable to such evangelists. We find that in the teachings of Christ, the letter to the Hebrews, Peter, the letters of Paul, and all the way back to the Old Testament. Hospitality to everyone from strangers to the people of God was very important – especially if that person was a missionary. They needed somewhere to stay while teaching, provisions for their journey, and sometimes money to help them along their way.
When Jesus sent out the Twelve on their first missionary journeys He said that they should go from town to town and find hospitable people that were willing to listen to their message. In Matthew 10:11-15:
“And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”
So hospitality to travelling missionaries and bible teachers was a pretty big deal.
However, just like today, some of these travelling teachers and missionaries were spreading a false gospel. Some were professional Jewish who would follow the Christian missionaries and then, when they left, teach that the believers didn’t just need Jesus, but needed to follow the whole Jewish Law too – which made sense to some and confused a lot of people. A lot of Paul’s letters address these people.
Later, another heresy came about when the Gnostic teachers who interwove Greek philosophy with Christian teaching, emphasizing special, mystical knowledge over faith in Jesus. These guys would rewrite parts of the bible and the apostolic letters. They are the precursors to a lot of heretical and pagan religions of today.
Some Christians were showing hospitality to these teachers too. Some because they had generous hearts, others unknowing that they were false teachers, and some willfully knowing they taught something else, but wanting to hear them. So John, wanting to head these guys off, sends his postcard letter to the church about this very issue.
As we read, I want you to pay attention to the word “Truth”.
“The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. The children of your elect sister greet you.”
Don’t Help The Heretics!
Knowing what we know about the background, it’s easy to figure out what John is saying here, isn’t it? Watch out for false teachers! Don’t help them! That’s a big deal. Consider that Jesus taught us to show love and kindness to our enemies. He met with and enjoyed the company of sinners – prostitutes, Pharisees, tax collectors. He taught His followers to love their enemies, to pray for them, serve them, turn the other cheek, give them more than they ask, follow them farther than they force you to go!
We’re to show love to believers, unbelievers, pagans, heathens and enemies – but when it comes to false teachers John says, “no not receive him into your house or given him any greeting.”
- “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
- “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9)
- “Now we command you, brothers, sin the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
- “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)
The Apostles, as we should, took very seriously the warning of Jesus that says that “false christs and false prophets will arise” (Matthew 24:24) and that we should “beware of false prophets that come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 5:15). They birthed these new churches with good doctrine, focused on Jesus, and then watched their baby church overtaken by “ravenous wolves” who wanted nothing better than to tear the church apart through confusion, division and bad theology that told people to depend on themselves for their salvation rather than God.
The Truth about Truth
So what I want to do at the end here is to take apart the meat of what John is saying to see some important points about truth, and why we need to be ever vigilant to make sure that we are living in the truth and not associating ourselves with lies.
1. Truth Connects us to Jesus
The very first part of the letter gives us the most critical point about truth: Truth connects us to Jesus. It says, “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever….” (vs 1-2)
John’s love for these people, their love for each other, our love for one another, our love for Jesus, and His love for us is real because it’s based on truth. That truth is personified in Jesus.
We can “know” the truth, “abide in” the truth, and “be with” the truth. Truth is not subjective, it’s objective, and for Christians, the ultimate source of truth is Jesus Christ. He is the fullest expression and embodiment of truth, literally, “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6) – not because we believe it, or because we feel it, or because we want or need Him to be, but simply because HE IS.
Truth doesn’t change based on how we feel about it – no matter how much we may want it to. We believe God is the source of truth and that His Word, the Bible contains objective truth – meaning that it’s not based on personal feelings or opinions. It doesn’t matter what we feel about Jesus – that doesn’t change who He is anymore than our feelings about a mountain or the force of gravity changes anything about it. It just is, regardless of your feelings. It’s true, whether we believe it or not. Our lack of faith, or desire for Him to be different, doesn’t change the facts about the existence or character of God. He is immutable, unchangeable, God.
All of our doctrine and creeds and biblical writing aren’t a way for us to try to figure out (or worse, invent) who God is – but to discern what He has told us about Himself. He has given it to us and it’s our privileged to discover what He’s said. And when we mess with truth – the truth of who God is, who Jesus is, who the Holy Spirit is, what His word says – we mess with the very foundation of our relationship with God. When we step away from the truth about God, we step away from God.
2. Truth is Commanded by God
Which is what makes this is so serious. Truth is so important that it is commanded in God’s moral law. John says in verse 4, “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.”
I don’t need to get too much into this one because it is so fundamental to scripture that it’s almost imposible to misunderstand. The ninth commandment is “Don’t bear false witness” – or “don’t lie.” Scripture promises punishment in this life and the next to people who lie. The psalms say that liars will not dwell in the house of God. Jesus calls people who lie children of the devil “for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
We all know the destructive power of lies, misinformation, manipulation and deceptions. Which is why truth is commanded by God. And John is happy that at least “some” of them were still walking in the truth.
3. Truth is a Blessing
But it’s not just about not lying. It’s about the blessing of telling the truth because doing so is an act of love. John connects love and truth all the way through. In Verse 5 he says that the commandment to tell the truth comes from God “that we may love one another.” In verse 6 he says, “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments…”, that commandment, from the context is to walk in the truth.
Now look at verse 7:
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
The scriptures connect Truth with Love, and deception with “the antichrist”. He says that there are people who are going around spreading lies about Jesus, and those who lie about Jesus are literally anti-Jesus, anti-saviours, anti-gospel, anti-Christs.
- Jesus came to save, they lead people to hell.
- Jesus came to free people from sin, they make people slaves.
- Jesus came to fulfill the law, they bind people to religion.
- Jesus came to unite His people, they come to divide.
- Jesus came to help us understand the unity of our body, mind and soul, they cause us to divide our very selves.
- Jesus came to reveal God, they put a shroud over Him.
- Jesus came to serve and give of Himself, they come to use people to gain glory and profit for themselves.
One who teaches false things about Jesus isn’t just “someone with another opinion”, but an anti-Christ, literally anti-love. It is not loving to point people to false gospels, give false hope, and teach false ideas about God. No matter how difficult the truth is, a lie is never, ever better. It is never more loving to lie or promote falsehood. Truth and love are always connected.
4. Truth Requires Diligence
And so, John says that we must work hard at keeping hold of the truth.
“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (vs 8)
Truth requires work and diligence. It takes effort. He says, “Watch yourselves!” because truth can be “lost”. Truth must be “worked for” and “won”.
These false teachers and missionaries are going to be tricky to catch and very persuasive, cunning and charismatic in their presentation. They are going to look good and it will be very tempting to listen to them – because they will say what we want to hear! In the words of 2 Timothy 4:3-4,
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
You can hear that everywhere today. People inventing their false gods. People coming up with different versions of the scriptures. People compromising on clear teachings in the Word because it’s easier and more acceptable to do so. Church after church, denomination after denomination, walking away from the clear teachings of scripture because they are losing members and attenders. The gospel is too divisive, God is too strict, Jesus is too narrow, the Bible is too contentious, so they step away from the truth and announce that they have embraced a new idea – anyone can believe whatever they want and God will still be happy! That leads people to Hell.
How bad can it get? You might be surprised.
We’re studying a letter from a John — Here’s a different guy: John Shuck, who is a self-confessed atheist. He believes that religion is a human construct, Jesus is merely a legend, God is a symbol, the Bible is a human document, and there is no afterlife. He is currently the Pastor of Southminister Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, Oregon. Surprised?
Here’s Reverend Gretta Vosper – yep, she’s an ordained, reverend, who was ran through some kind of ordination counsel! – who is a self-confessed atheist and is currently trying to keep her job at Westhill United Church in Toronto. She says her congregation supports her desire to stay as their pastor, which I believe, since they must have read the book she wrote in 2008 entitled, “With our Without God: Why the Way we Live is More Important Than What we Believe.” This woman has a huge platform and is an absolute wolf – who is lovingly embraced by a “Christian church”.
How is this possible? Well, partly because people love lies, but also because Christians have given up a lot of ground when it comes to the truth. We’ve stopped being diligent about pursuing the truth. We’ve stopped steeping ourselves in the truth of God’s word and have left ourselves open to all kinds of falsehoods – that all sound great to our itching ears. Some believers can’t come up for a good argument for why these nice people shouldn’t be preachers – and that’s terribly sad.
5. Truth Has Enemies
We must, must remember that truth has enemies. The Father of Lies, Satan, hasn’t taken any time off. He’s working overtime to draw people away from the truth and into falsehood, so that more and more people live in fear, foolishness and fall away from the faith. He wants them in Hell and is more than willing to fill them full of whatever lies it takes – including letting them to go to atheist churches, sing feel-good songs, invent their own religion and gods, and tell them anything they want to hear – as long as it doesn’t point them to Jesus.
Truth has enemies and most Christians today have no idea who they are. It’s not just kooky televangelists and violent atheists that are the problem. There are many within our own walls that are chipping away, tearing away the foundations from beneath our feet. And we’re letting them because they’re telling us what we want to hear. We can walk into Christian Book Stores and buy books by heretics and liars. We can visit Christian websites and google “Christian blogs and podcast” and come across wonderful looking, popular, men and women who know lots of Christian jargon, but who are working against true, Christian teaching.
We need to work hard to make sure our teachers are the good ones. We shouldn’t listen to, receive, great or accept these people – like Creflo Dollar, Brian McLaren, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, and their ilk – and yet millions of people, even Christians, are eating their stuff up. And their lies are sneaking into our churches. Anti-Christian, Anti-Biblical, Anti-Gospel teaching are found all over the place – in Beckwith, Carleton Place, Ottawa, Ontario and Canada. They are right here, in our town and among people in our denomination – I’ve met them! And people are listening to them.
Conclusion – The Belt of Truth
In VBS, during the month of July, we taught the children about the Armour of God. They were knighted today because they learned about each piece and want to follow Jesus into the battle for the truth. The scripture they learned was from Ephesians 6:10-18 and it describes the pieces of a soldier’s armour, but the one piece we don’t usually see in the pictures of the solider is the belt: Paul calls it the belt of truth. And the reason we don’t see it is because it’s the thing that’s holding it all together. Today we might call it a sort of girdle. It was the piece that kept the under-clothing together. It’s what the sword sheath hung on. It’s what kept the breastplate secure. It protected the soldiers guts. Fastening the belt meant that the solder was ready to fight. They only loosened the belt when they were off duty.
The belt of truth is the foundation of the soldier’s armour, just as truth is the foundation of the Christian life.
We must realize that truth has enemies, and that they are subtle, influential and compelling, charming and charismatic. And so we must fight for the truth, be diligent, watch ourselves, so that we can be sure that we are holding to the standards of scripture. We must commit that we will bless other with the truth, the whole truth, even when it is hard. Not only because it’s commanded by God, but because it is the most loving thing that we can do for others. Sharing truth, in love, with love, as love. Because sharing the truth points people to Jesus.
And so I want to close with the scripture that we taught our kids, about the battle all believers are a part of, and for which we must be ready:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)