Issue #666 -------
July 2, 2015
Always behind what we imagine are our best
deeds stands the devil, patting us paternally
on the shoulder and whispering, "Well done!"
Carl G. Jung (1875-1961)
A Psychological View of Conscience
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era and the Romantic Movement, couldn't have stated it better or more succinctly when she wrote, "The devil's most devilish when respectable." In fact, it may be safe to say that Satan is most effective when clothed in religious garb, and perhaps most eloquent when pontificating from our pulpits through his puppet pastors (many of whom, to be fair, may not even be aware of the schismatic sectarian strings by which they are being manipulated and of the great harm they are perpetuating by their preaching; many are aware, however, and too often deliver their messages with malicious motivation: Philp. 1:15-17). The apostle Paul was quick to warn the people of God about this devilish deception (by/upon both heralds and hearers): "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Every Sunday morning, in countless congregations of believers throughout the world, that subtle serpent Satan stands before the disciples of Christ Jesus and preaches his graceless "gospel." It is a message in which there is absolutely no "good news," although there is just enough truth mixed in with his preaching to make it easy to swallow for those easily deceived.
"And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. ... And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. ... and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth" (Rev. 12:9, 15-16). Yes, the devil daily pours forth a river of falsehood designed to sweep away the bride of Christ, and too many, sadly, drink deeply from this river of deception. Paul speaks of this powerful, malicious ministry of Satan in the second chapter of his second epistle to the Thessalonian brethren, warning them to be lovers of Truth, rather than allowing themselves to come under the power of this "deluding influence" (vs. 9-11). Among the very first words written in the NT canon (Reflections #202) are the following from the pen of Paul to the Galatian brethren: "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:6-9, see Reflections #215 for an in-depth analysis of this passage and its application for us today).
Yes, that old serpent, the devil, and his hordes of helpers, step into the pulpits of churches throughout the world every Sunday, and their sermons are masterpieces of misdirection and misinformation. Satan is subtle; slowly, but surely, he subverts Scripture, encouraging people to be "religious," to seek out and submit to all the countless, burdensome "rules and regulations" devised by man to further their own dogma. If Satan can get us to read the Scriptures looking for law, rather than reading them so as to perceive the Lord and His love, he has gained a powerful advantage. Jesus engaged such religionists on this very point: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; yet it is they that bear witness about Me, and you refuse to come to Me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). The legalists perceive LAW in the Scriptures; the liberated perceive LOVE. Satan loves having Christians study the Scriptures, as long as they are seeking proof-texts in support of their party preferences. As long as you read the written Word without paying any attention to the "Word become flesh" revealed therein, Satan has no objection to your schedule of daily Bible reading. Indeed, he encourages it, for it only serves to further the elevation of human tradition over divine Truth.
Satan is even good at offering "the invitation" at the close of every sermon, for he directs the attention of the audience away from God's grace and toward man's effort. He plays down grace and faith, and proclaims salvation in a sacrament, rather than in a Savior. If he can preach you into the river, rather than preaching you into the open arms of the Redeemer, he has achieved his goal. He would also have you believe, and he stresses this in his every sermon, that your acceptance by the Father is based upon getting into "the one true church" (which, of course, is the particular denominated group for whom he is preaching that Sunday). For too long, I have seen preachers in my own faith-heritage trying to lead people to the "church of Christ," rather than to the Christ of the church! Such sermons serve the cause of the Serpent far more than the cause of the Savior! When Satan preaches each Sunday, he pleads with the audience to come and "get baptized," for it is in that specific act, and at that precise moment in time and space, he swears with his hand on the Bible, that you are saved ... and not a second before. By stressing this, he convinces many that their salvation is not a grace/faith matter, but a compliance with law matter! The apostle Paul sought to deal with this fallacy time and again in his teaching, yet almost 2000 years later, Satan still preaches "salvation by sacrament."
In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul contrasts the physical circumcision of the Jews (a circumcision performed on the flesh of the body) with the spiritual circumcision performed by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the hearts of true believers. The former is "done by the hands of men," while the latter is "done by Christ" (Col. 2:11). Prior to coming to faith in God's Son, we were "dead in our sins and in the uncircumcision of our sinful nature" (vs. 13). However, God has made us alive in Christ Jesus and forgiven us of all our sins by this spiritual circumcision of our inner man. Clearly, this spiritual circumcision performed by deity upon our hearts is something far different from one's baptism in water. And yet, the latter is without any doubt a visible testimony to the reality of the former. When a true believer submits to this symbolic participatory act, he both evidences and validates his faith in God's grace. It is by grace we are saved, through faith, Paul tells us in Eph. 2:8-9, and NOT in any particular act we ourselves may perform or to which we may submit, no matter how important the act itself may be as a testimony. Yet, every Sunday the subtle Serpent takes his place behind the pulpit and pleads his case for a sacramental view of water baptism. Sadly, he has won many converts by this devilish deception.
In his discussion of the Colossians 2:11-13 passage, Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, an avowed sacramentalist, referred to baptism in water time and time again as "the sacrament" that effects our salvation. We "have regeneration and a new life through Baptism" (and yes, he puts the first letter of this word in the upper case every time he mentions it. Why? Because baptism is perceived as a sacrament: the very act by which God saves the sinner). Thus, baptism is "the sacrament by which we are received into the Church," and "the sacrament in which the old, sinful nature of man is laid aside." "The circumcision of Christ, the stripping off of the sinful nature in man, is Baptism," the very "means by which the Lord works regeneration in our hearts." "He wrought faith in our hearts through the Sacrament of Baptism" [Popular Commentary of the Bible, The NT: vol. 2, p. 327]. Yes, sacramentalism "preaches" well for that ancient reptilian Sermonator, for it shifts our focus away from our Savior. Dr. A.T. Robertson, one of the leading Greek scholars in the church, as he pondered this passage by Paul, wrote, "In the symbol of baptism the resurrection to new life in Christ is pictured with an allusion to Christ's own resurrection and to our final resurrection. Paul does not mean to say that the new life in Christ is caused or created by the act of baptism. That is grossly to misunderstand him. The Gnostics and the Judaizers were sacramentalists, but not so Paul the champion of spiritual Christianity" [Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. Dr. Robertson further notes: "Baptism gives a picture of the change already wrought in the heart 'through faith'" [ibid].
It is extremely important to notice in this context what Paul had to say to the Roman brethren about Abraham: "We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised" (Rom. 4:9-11). Abraham was justified by faith, a justification bestowed by a gracious God. And this justification occurred before Abraham submitted to circumcision. Was circumcision important? Absolutely! It was a powerful evidentiary act of faith, one our Lord insisted His people perform. But, it was not this act that justified (that would make the act a sacrament), rather it was faith that secured one's justification, an already present blessing to which Abraham's circumcision testified. The same is true of those saved by grace through faith: our baptism in water is a symbolic reenactment of the death, burial and resurrection of our Savior (Romans 6), and is a visible testimony to our faith in that loving, sacrificial act of God's Son. It is our faith that secures the blessing (just as it did with Abraham), yet it is our submission to baptism in water that gives testimony to the genuineness of that saving faith (the blessed results of which are already ours prior to the act of baptism itself). I can assure you: Satan does not preach this truth, for it shifts one's focus away from the river to the Redeemer! And that "don't preach" when Satan steps up to deliver his weekly sermon!
Paul made it pretty clear in this remark to the Roman brethren, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved" (Rom. 10:9). Peter, as he recounted at the Jerusalem Council God's acceptance of Cornelius and his household, observed, "God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith. ... We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are" (Acts 15:8-9, 11). God accepted them, poured out His Spirit upon them, and purified their hearts by faith before they were baptized in water, an act of faith that showed the reality of their acceptance, not one that secured it. The circumcision of the heart would have been the purifying of the heart: the cutting away, spiritually speaking, of that which was unclean. As Paul points out to the Colossian brethren, this was done by deity; baptism in water came afterward as a willing manifestation of faith by those thus circumcised in their hearts! Again, however, these are not points one will hear in Satan's Sunday sermons; they just "don't preach" well.
In Paul's letter to the Colossians, "the apostle censures the ritualistic ideas of the false teachers by showing what is the nature and effect of the true circumcision. It is not external, but internal, wrought by the Spirit and not by the hands of men. It is the circumcision of the heart" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 113]. It is by faith that we receive the benefits of this grace, and "in the New Testament times faith preceded baptism -- a proof that baptism is not regeneration" [ibid]. In the translation notes on the Colossian passage, the 1599 Geneva Bible translators noted, "our baptism is a most effectual pledge and witness of that inward restoring and renewing." It was an act that secured nothing, but signified much! Needless to say, those who have embraced sacramentalism will take exception to this truth, and will seek to shift the power to justify and save back to baptism in water. One of the leaders in our own so-called "Restoration Movement," a man named David Lipscomb (1831-1917), declared, with respect to Paul's statement in Col. 2:12, "The true spiritual circumcision was effected by being buried with Him in baptism. ... In this act the sins were removed" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 4, p. 279]. Like many Christians today, "the Jews had a false view concerning their circumcision: the mere operation of cutting off the foreskin made them the chosen of God. Such a view of baptism is also excluded" [Dr. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians, p. 108].
We are called to share spiritually in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-7), and we are called to manifest this gift of grace symbolically in a reenactment of His death, burial and resurrection known as baptism. The reenactment is not the reality, and thus is not what saves (although it points to the experience of the One who does). "That Paul did not think of baptism as actually effecting participation in that experience is made clear when he adds that the Colossians were raised through their 'faith in the power of God.' Baptism, then, is not a magic rite, but an act of obedience in which we confess our faith and symbolize the essence of our spiritual experience. Faith is the instrumental cause of that experience and, apart from real faith, baptism is an empty, meaningless ceremony" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 200]. I hereby challenge Satan, and his servants who disguise themselves as "angels of light," to begin preaching this in their future Sunday sermons! I won't be holding my breath!
From a Physician in Arkansas:
Bro. Maxey, Please send me the following items: the two CD set of your 2014 Audio Sermons, plus the CD of the accompanying PowerPoint presentations for each sermon, your two CD study: Encounters with Jesus, your two CD set on Revelation: A Reflective Study, and a signed copy of your new book: From Ruin to Resurrection. My check is enclosed. Thank you. I appreciate all you do!
From a Reader in New Zealand:
Al, your study on The New Covenant Church looks exciting. It has always bothered me when people talk about the "Restoration Movement," or even the "Reformation." Jesus promised to build His church, and that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. If only people would accept the simplicity of the gospel and stop allowing opinions to fractionate what has already been united on the basis of love! Uniformity is not unity, although "unity in diversity" has some merit, I believe. I recently studied with a man who had been to about 20 different churches in Tauranga. He asked me, "How do you know which is the right one?" I said to him, "Are they preaching Jesus?!" He didn't know what to say in response to that. I guess it all depends on what you are looking for, and why you are looking for it. I just preached a sermon on Moses, by the way, and five characteristics that are apparent in his life: 1) Initiative, 2) Insightfulness, 3) Meekness, 4) Strong work ethic, and 5) Willingness to receive counsel. It seemed to go across well.
From a Reader in Indiana:
Al, concerning your article "That Cat Who Won't Scat" (Reflections #664), this insight came to mind: Dogs have masters; cats have staff.
From a Reader in Canada:
In your article "Pondering Prosperity Theology" (Reflections #665) you wrote, "Our Lord hasn't promised us that we wouldn't be cast into the fiery furnace of afflictions, but that He would be the fourth figure in the midst of the flames with us (cf. Daniel 3), and that He would bring us to ultimate victory with/in Him over all the fiery furies of the dark forces of our evil foe (Eph. 6:10ff)." I love this statement of yours! Very encouraging indeed! To be God-centered is what we all need to be focused on realizing, just as Job did: The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but we continue to praise Him regardless of our circumstances. As slaves of righteousness, we accept whatever our Lord provides (whether positive or negative), knowing that He always has the best end result in mind for us!
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