The BlogShipwrecked Faith from a Shipwrecked Church
We have previously talked about the importance of understanding our responsibility regarding the if / then passages in Scripture. In these, the promise of God (then) is contingent upon some completed action on our part (if). One always precedes the other. One is always contingent upon the other. When the if is satisfied, the promised then is realized. But the opposite is also true. If there is no if, there will be no then. If no condition is met, there will be no fulfillment of the promise. It’s Contract Law, 101.
For example, when Peter preached his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost that ushered in the birth of the church, he closed his message with an if / then promise. Let’s look at this in context. First, Peter concludes his message with a statement about Jesus and their guilt in rejecting and crucifying Him.
Acts 2:36 – “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified (now it’s personal), both Lord and Christ.”
Then, under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the people cry out for an answer. They long and seek for salvation, some deliverance from the guilt of their sin.
Acts 2:37 – Now when they heard this (the words Peter just spoke), they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Peter answers their question with an if / then promise regarding repentance and salvation. They must do something (if) to receive salvation and the forgiveness of their sins (then). If they fail to do what is required of them (if – repentance), then salvation does not follow (then). Watch how this plays out.
If your resolution this year is to “understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:5), then you must begin this vision quest by understanding how the if / then passages in Scripture work. Simply put, you do the ifs, and God provides the thens. One is contingent upon another. One comes first, and the other follows after. One is a condition that must be met, the other is the result of meeting that condition. One is your responsibility, and the other is His.
Consider this passage from Proverbs 2:
Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (condition) you receive my words, and (if you) treasure my commands within you, (to what extent) so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if (condition) you cry out for discernment, and (if you) lift up your voice for understanding, if (condition) you seek her as silver, and (if you) search for her as for hidden treasures; then (result of meeting the condition) you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
As you can see, the promise of understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God only comes after the if conditions are met. One is contingent upon another. Meeting the if condition is the key that unlocks the then promise, If I want to understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God, then I must meet the condition set forth to receive that promise. It is foolishness, according to this passage, to assume we will receive the promise without meeting the condition.
Before we look at the book of Acts, let’s step back a bit and examine those chosen by the Lord to be His disciples. Let’s look closely at the cast of unlikely characters Jesus assembled to make up His church. Let’s see if we can determine what it was about them that He used to build His church (Matt. 16:18) and what it is about us that needs to change to be more like them.
First, unlike us today, Jesus did not spend His time building an army of half-hearted, mega-church followers whose spiritual lives were a mile wide and an inch deep. Jesus wasn’t interested in creating multi-campus institutions, church brands, best-selling books, popular podcasts, blogs, or prime-time television shows. He could care less about how many Twitter followers He had or His likes on Facebook.
Jesus focused His ministry on a handful of common men that He poured His life into, 24/7. And He entrusted these men to faithfully share His message after He was gone.
Least Likely to Succeed
None of those Jesus chose were rich nor educated. None of them were well-trained. Some were fishermen, some probably merchants. Others were common, day laborers. One was a tax collector. Another a closet revolutionary, a zealot. They were just ordinary, blue-collar people from rural Galilee and the surrounding areas. The only thing they had in common was that they had very little in themselves that would point to future success.
But Jesus called each of them unto Himself. And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
What if God was bigger than the box in which we try to place Him? Wouldn’t that be incredible? You and I both know that He is bigger than anything we can imagine. But nevertheless, we have a tendency to always try to place Him in a box that allows us to understand Him on our terms.
Think of the boxes in which we try to place Him. We have our experience box that rejects God moving in any way other than what we have experienced in the past. This box makes our experience with Him as the defining element of His character and the full expression of His will. God can never be bigger than He has been in our past. He becomes one-dimensional, myopic, and is not allowed to do anything that makes us feel uncomfortable or stretches and expands our faith.
We have our denominational box that limits God to the tenets of our theology, our sacred creeds, or our agreed upon statements of faith. But this box assumes we know all there is to know about the Unknowable One, the One who defies human description. This box cannot be true. For how can the created know all there is to know about the Creator, no matter how infested the created is with pride and arrogance and self-exaltation?
Then we have our spiritual maturity box. This box states that the way God is dealing with us right now, at this present moment, at our current level of maturity, is how He deals with everyone. Why? Because we can’t accept the fact there may be others who are more mature than we are in the things of the Lord. That would make us feel uncomfortable. Or, worse yet, convicted. And there are other boxes we conjure with different labels. We have our faith box, our feelings box, and the like. But God cannot be contained by the constraints of our fear or insecurity.
God is beyond all that. He’s incredible. He’s beyond comprehension. He cannot be understood or described by mere human words. It is foolishness to assume we can know the Almighty and all His ways. Why? Because He says about Himself in Isaiah,
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Often we find ourselves hamstrung and impotent in our spiritual lives, when compared with Scripture, because of the limitations we place on our God by the box we try to force Him into.
The Nike slogan, Just Do It, was reportedly coined in 1988 in an advertising agency meeting and was inspired, according to Dan Wieden, by convicted killer Gary Gilmore’s last words before he was executed by a firing squad at the Utah State Prison on January 17, 1977. And this classic slogan, Just Do It, has been the most recognized and successful trademarks in the history of athletic footwear.
The loving father in Proverbs 1:10 is also coining a phrase for his naive and inexperienced young son in regards to sin. And just like the Nike slogan, the father’s words are crisp, pointed, and direct. “My son, if sinners entice you, Do Not Consent.” Or, to put it in Nike terminology: Just Don’t Do It.
Don’t Give In. Don’t Give Up. Do Not Consent. Just Say No. Just Don’t Do It.
Do Not Consent
This is one of the classic statements in Scripture regarding man’s free will. For decades, for nearly a century in fact, there has been much debate regarding the Sovereignty of God versus the Free Will of Man. This debate has basically centered on the question of “Where does the Sovereignty of God end and the Free Will of Man begin? Or, “How can God be sovereign in all things yet give free will to men?” For to us, seeing only what fallen men can see, sovereignty and free will appear contradictory. Like polar opposites. Different sides to different coins.
And this is never more true than in trying to understand the doctrine of salvation.
Does God, as the Scriptures teach, “choose us in Him and before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4) and then give us faith to place in Him based on His choice of us and not our choice in Him? In other words, was Jesus truthful when He said “you did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain”? (John 15:16). Or do we, by carefully examining the claims of Christ, freely choose Him as our Savior and, in doing so, secure our salvation by our own free will? Does the gift of salvation come by our choice in Him or by His choice of us? And if the latter, what is that choice based on? Our merits? Our future potential? Maybe our standing in the community? Or maybe it’s our ability to comprehend and understand all the facets of the atonement and therefore choose, based on our own inherent intellect, to believe His claims about Himself and place our faith in Him?
That all sounds good. But none of it is really true, no matter how true it may seem to us.
In the church today, especially in the West, we peddle the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the “good news” as it is known, yet conspicuously fail to tell our young, trusting converts the “bad news” that comes along with the total package of salvation. And that “bad news” is that right now, as a believer, as a Christian, as one redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, you have an enemy. And your enemy is powerful, numerous, well-equipped and an experienced, battle-hardened veteran ready to fulfill his evil mission for your life— to “steal, and to kill, and to destroy” you and all Christ has done for you (John 10:10).
And our enemy, Satan, works tirelessly, 24/7 to accomplish his task.
In fact, the neglected truth of the Gospel is that once someone passes from death to life, once they’ve been “delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13), a huge bulls eye is placed on their chest inviting and directing all the evil in the world to come and test this new Man of God.
But this reality should be of no surprise for someone who knows the Scriptures. For they promise us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim . 3:12) and that we shouldn’t be surprised by or “think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Why? Because Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18) and because “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Jesus then continues by assuring us we will face persecution and suffering because “if they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20) and when these times of testing come, we should “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12).
We live in a time where people fight for equal rights. The right to vote, the right to work, the right to say what we want, marry who we want, do what we want, the right to live, and the right to die. It seems like we all want to be equal in our own eyes with everybody else with no one standing out among the crowd and no one having more than another.
This drive for equality has now invaded almost every facet of our lives. We don’t give trophies to the winners in Little League Baseball anymore. Why? Because everyone must be equal, which means no winners and no losers. So everyone gets a trophy for just participating, for simply showing up, for buying a glove and a pair of cleats. And by not honoring the winners, the ones who deserve the honor, who earned the recognition, it’s somehow supposed to make us all feel special.
We have to dumb down the tests in school because some students work harder than others and are more concerned about their grades and future. And others… well, not so much. So we make the tests easier and more generic for the less motivated students so they won’t feel bad or marginalized when others are rewarded for their diligence and study. After all, everyone should get an A. Everyone should feel good about themselves and no one should do any better than anyone else. Why? Because we’re all striving for equality. And equality always tends to settle at the lowest common denominator.
But that’s not how life functions in the real world. It’s the best and brightest, the ones who work the hardest, the ones who put in the long hours, and the ones who continually strive to learn more who are rewarded with the raise, the promotion, and the corner office. It’s not the sluggard, the lazy, the half-hearted that’s honored in our society for their accomplishments. The rewards and accolades go to the few who work diligently for them, and not to the many who don’t.
And as sobering as it may sound, the Kingdom of Heaven functions in much the same way.
We live in a world that was birthed in the bed of rebellion. From Eve’s rebellion in the Garden to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, we see the sin of rebellion, the open, hostile, rejection of authority, as one of the bedrocks of human existence.
But it’s beginning is far older than the book of Genesis. For it was rebellion that caused the Lord to banish Satan and his followers from heaven and cast them down to the earth (Isaiah 14:13-15). That’s why Satan is known as the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). In fact, Satan even boasted of this when he tried to tempt Jesus by offering to give Him “all the kingdoms of the world” if He would just “worship before me” (Luke 4:5-6).
And what is at the root of all rebellion? Pride.
It was pride that brought low mighty King Nebuchadnezzar and drove him out into the fields, living on all fours and eating grass, humbled like an animal (Dan. 4:33). It was pride that led Pharaoh to vainly fight against the Lord and not only see the destruction of all Egypt, but of his own house and family as well. It was pride that almost kept Naaman from being healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5;11) and pride that saw Haman hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai (Esther 7:10). And it was the sin of pride that led Peter to foolishly exalt his commitment to Jesus as greater than the other disciples when he said, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29).
But the Lord says He hates “pride and arrogance and the evil way” (Prov. 8:13) and that the prideful are so enamored with themselves they do not “seek God” nor is God “in any of their thoughts” (Psalm 10:4). They are clueless, self-deceived, and so inward-focused they can see nothing but themselves. They have themselves become the center of their self-created universe, the most valued and important thing in their lives, and their personal happiness and pleasure is the all-consuming passion of their short, sad lives. But the Lord promises to humble the man who exalts himself (Matt. 23:12) and to bring to nothing the one who arrogantly smirks at both God and others (Isaiah 2:11).
The future of the proud and rebellious is indeed bleak.
In the Proverbs we are presented with the contrast between two types of individuals: the wise man and the fool. We’ve already seen how the “wise man will hear and increase learning” and how a “man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Prov. 1:5). And now we’re introduced to the man who lives at the other end of the spectrum— the fool.
But what is a fool? And what is it about a fool that compels him to “despise wisdom and instruction?” (Prov. 1:7).
The Fool Defined
When we use the term fool today we think of someone who acts unwisely or imprudently, maybe a silly person who tries to dupe, trick or prank us. We often equate the term with being stupid, simple or naive. But the word, as used in the Proverbs, has a much sinister meaning.
In Proverbs 1:7 the Hebrew word for fool is eviyl and means “foolish in the sense of one who hates wisdom and walks in folly by despising wisdom and morality.” It describes one who “mocks when found guilty, one who is continually quarrelsome and one who is licentious in his behavior.”
After all, the Proverbs say that “fools hate knowledge” (Prov. 1:22) and “fools die for lack of wisdom” (Prov. 10:21). The heart of a fool, the very center of their being “proclaims foolishness” (Prov. 12:23) and it’s against their very nature, in fact, “it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil” and do what is right (Prov. 13:19). Fools “mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9), and their mouth not only “feeds on foolishness” but “pours forth foolishness” like a flood (Prov. 15:2, 14).
Therefore, one who lives and thinks this way would naturally despise any “wisdom and instruction” that points out the errors in their actions or lifestyle. Why? Because “the foolishness of a man twists (or, perverts) his way, and his heart frets (or, is enraged) against the Lord” (Prov. 19:3) and the “way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 12:15). Plus, you can “grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him” (Prov. 27:22). Their foolishness is embedded in their nature, it’s part of their DNA, it’s in the marrow of their bones.
Everything has a beginning, a first start, a genesis. Everything begins somewhere. And according to the Proverbs, there’s a beginning to knowledge, wisdom and instruction— and that glorious beginning is called “the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7).
But what does it mean to “fear the Lord”? What does that look like in real life? If “God is love” as the Scriptures say (1 John 4:8), how are we to fear His love? Or His mercy? Or His grace? Or any other aspect of His character? How can the fear of the Lord be the beginning of anything but a dysfunctional relationship with Someone whom we’re frightened of and cower in His presence? Fear is not a pleasant emotion that draws us closer to the one we fear. So why would the Lord tell us that the fear of Him is the very starting point of knowledge and wisdom? It would seem to me that love would be the beginning of our relationship with the Lord— not fear.
What Does Fear Really Mean?
And that’s the main question, isn’t it? What do we mean by “fear”?
Our English definition of fear reads like this: “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or is a threat.” Fear is also described as the “anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur.” You know, the fear of financial ruin, the fear of heights, the fear for one’s safety, or the fear of speaking in public. There are countless ways to describe fear as an unpleasant emotion caused by the possibility of something bad happening to us.
But in the Scriptures, fear has an additional connotation. To “fear the Lord” means to “honor, respect, and be in awe” of Him in addition to the idea of God Himself being “an awesome, terrifying and fearful thing.” In other words, the “fear of the Lord” means to show profound respect while recognizing that the object of our fear is “awesome and terrifying and fearful” and can bless or crush us at any time, for any reason, at His own whim, without recourse. He is, after all, the Creator, the Highest Authority, the Sovereign One, and we are mere mortals, just dust and ashes.
Having a healthy “fear of the Lord” should motivate us to please Him in all we do. Why? Because we will someday have to give an account to Him for what we’ve done, good or bad or indifferent, while living our lives on this earth (2 Cor. 5:10). He will be our Judge, the final Arbiter of our fate, and He will judge us according to His infallible standard of righteousness and holiness and not by our lukewarm platitudes designed to excuse our apathy.
And this, my friend, should give us great pause.