Wednesday, May 31, 2017


I love the Gospel of Grace. He has freed me from so much that had kept me in bondage. However, this Gospel also makes demands, as Paul had written to Titus:

·       For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14; NIV)

This Gospel of Grace not only frees us from the penalty of sin, but it also frees us from the life of sin. “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness.” Why? Because Jesus redeemed us “from all wickedness and to purify” us so that we would be “eager to do what is good!” Salvation is a package-deal. It starts with God’s free gift, but it also requires our participation (Philippians 2:12-13).

This means that we must preach both God’s grace and also our necessary response to this grace. Therefore, Paul instructed Titus to remind the brethren from where they had come and to where they are going:

·       At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

We had been sin’s captives, blinded by its power, but we have been made alive and freed from the absolute captivity of sin (2 Timothy 2:26). However, the temptations of sin are still very present and alluring (Romans 7; Galatians 5:17). Therefore, we have to struggle against them.

In the next verse, Paul reminded Titus why it is so important to rehearse these truths:

·       This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:8)

The truths of the Gospel should motivate us to do the good and bear the fruits of the
Spirit. Those who don’t practice obedience are self-condemned:

·       Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11)

However, this raises a confusing but important question:

·       If salvation is a free gift, we shouldn’t have to strive or work to keep it. Gifts are not loans. While loans are conditional, gifts are not. However, it seems that those who do not do what Scripture requires are self-condemned (lost, damned). How then can salvation be a gift?

Salvation is explicitly called a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 4:10; Hebrews 6:4) and many other verses express this same idea but in different ways (Romans 3:25-28). But yet, those who walk in disobedience are “self-condemned.”

How can we reconcile this apparent contradiction? God’s grace insures that we will bear the fruit of the Spirit, His fruit! If we have His free gift, our obedience and continuation in the faith is guaranteed by our Lord. Because of this, Paul gave God the credit even for his strenuous labors:

·       But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Elsewhere, Paul described the generosity of the Macedonian churches as “the grace that God has given”:

·       And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. (2 Corinthians 8:1-2)

How can God’s grace, His free gift, and the need for our obedience co-exist? Doesn’t the one exclude the other? Not according to Scripture! They should and must work together. If we have God’s gift of faith/trust, we will do what He tells us to do. Our obedience is inseparable from the gift. If I trust my doctor, I will take the pills he has directed me to take. If I don’t attempt to take them, it means that I don’t really trust him. Likewise, if we truly trust God, we will do what He tells us to do, and when we fail, we will confess our sins, and He will forgive us.

I know that this is perplexing. However, this is the Christian life. It is also the character of Scripture. Scripture is the product of human work. It bears our vocabulary, experiences, and even our emotions, sometimes even accusations against God, which we often find in the Psalms. And yet, even more so, it is fully the Word and product of God (1 Peter 1:1-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 2:13). Consequently, even the human endeavor of writing Scripture is an expression of the grace of God. You go figure; I can’t!

In conclusion, grace does not let us off the hook. We still must strive forward, but, as we do, we trust that God will direct our steps and make them fruitful.


Aren’t we supposed to adjust our preaching to the culture, to be a Jew to a Jew and a Greek to a Greek so that we might win some to Christ? This is the rationale of the seeker-sensitive church (SSC):

·       Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; NIV)

However, these verses argue that we are to accommodate ourselves to the unbeliever, not the preaching or teaching of the Gospel. Paul explained that he made himself like a slave, a Jew, and a Greek. He said nothing about twisting the Scriptures and their teachings to reach the unsaved.

Instead, we do not find a single verse which teaches us to adjust the Gospel to meet the tastes of the surrounding culture. I have absolutely no problem with adjusting our clothes, culture, cuisine, and even language to identify with the unbelieving culture. On Mars Hill, Paul even quoted the Greek poets to gain the ear of his listeners. However, he didn’t distort the Gospel.

Besides, in the very same epistle where Paul wrote favorably about being a Jew to a Jew, he also taught:

·       For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:17-18)

There is not a hint here about accommodating the preaching of the Gospel to the culture. Instead, he rejected the use of impressive “human wisdom” in favor of the undistorted simplicity of the Gospel. Paul, therefore, vowed:

·       When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

Why would Paul resort to such a simplistic strategy when preaching the Gospel? He understood that this kind of preaching is validated in the heart of the unsaved by the power of the Holy Spirit:

·       I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

However, it doesn’t seem that the SSCs believe that the Gospel is the power of God. Instead, they are very willing to set aside much of the Gospel presentation that might be considered offensive or simply distasteful to the seeker.

However, in order to preach the Good News, the listener must also be made aware of the bad news – that we are dead in our sins and deserve condemnation and eternal punishment. However, these teachings have to be toned down. Why? Because the seekers believe that they are basically good and worthy of salvation! Consequently, they also do not believe that they deserve condemnation and eternal punishment.
Any mention of “hell” is left out, because, in modern minds and tastes, it contradicts the notion of a God of love.

Along with the neglect of these doctrines is the radical distinction between the child of God and those who aren’t:

·       Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)

However, Millennials will not tolerate such stark distinctions. Instead, they believe that “us vs. them” distinctions promotes chauvinism and disharmony. Therefore, SSCs soft-pedal this distinction, even though it is an essential component of the Gospel. Jesus also consistently maintained this distinction:

·       "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:45-46)

Jesus even criticized other religions (John 10:17) and warned against false teachers (Matthew 7:15; Mark 8:15). However, SSCs will not do so for fear of offending the seekers. Meanwhile, their congregations are left vulnerable to deception and unprepared for the persecution that true believers will encounter (2 Timothy 3:12).

Meanwhile, the SSCs readily preach that God is love and that Jesus died for our sins. They will highlight the many costs we incur for not believing this and the blessings we receive when we do believe it. However, many of the supporting doctrines are either minimized or simply ignored. Preaching on sin is downplayed; sexual sin is not even mentioned.

Paul had defended his ministry by pointing out his honesty in presenting the Gospel:

·       Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. (2 Corinthians 2:17)

Paul didn’t try to hide those aspects of the Gospel that others might find distasteful. Meanwhile, most of the SSCs have come from Evangelical churches and seminaries. They know the Scriptures. However, they do not preach the entire counsel of God. Therefore, they are not honestly and faithfully presenting the fullness of the Gospel. Instead, they are obscuring large segments of it in order to present a marketable gospel, one that will attract upwardly mobile Millennials.

In contrast, Paul declared his innocence by not withholding any of the Gospel:

·       Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

Had Paul not proclaimed “the whole will of God,” he would have stood guilty before the God he served. This doesn’t mean that Paul had to preach the most distasteful aspects of the Gospel at each sermon. However, he did have to equip his people with the full armor of God, something that SSC pastors are not doing. Therefore, they are accountable before the God they claim to serve.

They must not distort the Word of God, even if it means drawing greater numbers into their churches:

·       Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

When we systematically leave out certain key elements in the presentation of the Gospel, we deceive about the true meaning of the Gospel. We also “distort the word of God.”

But isn’t it prudent to leave out those distasteful aspects of the Gospel in order to draw into church those who would not ordinarily come? However, we also have to ask whether or not this is still the Gospel or have we transformed it into a marketable commodity.

Even more importantly, are we being faithful to God if we distort His Gospel? Does this honor Him? I don’t think so. Throughout Scripture, we consistently read that to honor God is to honor His Word.

Every SSC pastor will be confronted with this haunting question. For some, it is a “slippery slope.” Some, therefore, have opted to deny parts of the Scriptures reasoning:

·       God is love. Therefore, when the Scriptures disagree with love, I must disagree with the Scriptures.

By doing this, they have made their own tastes and inclinations more authoritative than Scripture. Instead of allowing Scripture to judge them, they have become its judge. This will eventually lead to their rejection of the entire Word of God. This had been the case of former Evangelical pastor Rob Bell:

·       “The church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”

For Bell, the culture has become his primary authority rather than the Scriptures. This is the trajectory of many SSCs – to distort the Word is just a few steps away from rejecting it entirely. Let us pray that these churches will be convicted of their unfaithfulness and repent.

Monday, May 29, 2017


I was surprised to learn that an animal will not outgrow its cage or fish-tank. This is because its growth is limited by its space.

I was also surprised to learn that we not grow beyond our ideas. As space imposes its limitation on physical growth, our beliefs impose their limits on our personal and spiritual growth.

The Psalms are in harmony with this idea:

·       Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (Psalm 115:4-8)

We become what we believe and are either exalted or degraded by them. The way we think about ourselves (and our deity) will be the way we feel about ourselves. Psychologist James Hillman observed that we can deaden our lives through the way we interpret them:

·       We dull our lives by the way we conceive then… By accepting the idea that I am the effect of…hereditary and social forces, I reduce myself to a result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents. (The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, Random House, 6)

To think of oneself as a result or a victim will affect the way we feel about ourselves. It will also affect the way we regard and treat others. If we believe that they are no more than a wet machine, we will treat them as such and throw them on the dump heap when we feel that they have outlived their usefulness.

In “Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations,” Vishal Mangalwadi applies this same principle to nations. He observed that the beliefs of his Hindu India and the Christian West were radically different:

·       Acharya-turned-Bhagwan-turned-Osho Rajneesh, who gave widespread publicity to the tantric idea of salvation through sex, summarized the Indian as well as the postmodern Western worldview in similar terms: “We have divided the world into the good and the evil. The world is not so divided. The good and the evil are our valuations [not God’s commandments]. There is no good, there is no bad. These are two aspects of one reality… The data collected by Transparency International shows that the least corrupt countries are overwhelmingly those whose soul was nurtured by the Bible.

It should be no surprise that if we do not believe in an objective right and wrong, we will begin to act in concert with this belief. Immediate gratification will inevitably triumph over moral truth and hard honest work. Mangalwadi reasoned that Hindu philosophy is directly related to the impoverishment of India:

·       India’s religious philosophy taught that since the human soul was divine, it could not sin. In fact, our most rigorous religious philosophy teaches that everything is God. God is the only reality that exists, and therefore there is no ultimate distinction between good and evil, right and wrong.

Who would want to enter into a business deal with someone who doesn’t believe in right or wrong! Wouldn’t we rather affiliate with someone who has such a high commitment to moral truth that honesty would govern his life? Therefore, Mangalwadi reasoned that economy is inseparable from our beliefs, the fish-tank within which we dwell:

·       Their chronic poverty proves what Adam Smith, a father of capitalism, knew: real- world economics are the result of the kind of morality you have, which in turn is a fruit of the kind of philosophy you have. For example, why have health care costs become so obscene in America that they are destroying the very culture of compassion? Insurance and pharmaceutical companies that sustain health care are blamed only because the intellectual elite can no longer calculate the economic costs of academic godlessness that separates economics from moral truth.

If we do not truly believe in an objective right and wrong, business will inevitably focus on short-term gains – profit – and not on quality and promoting the go

The growth of nations will only be as big as the fish-bowl of its beliefs. If its beliefs extend towards heaven, so too will its growth.

Mangalwadi asked some American tourists how to get tickets for the Amsterdam tram. They responded”

·       “Why do you want to get tickets? We’ve been riding around for a week. No one has ever come to check any tickets.”

Mangalwadi was startled more by their hardness of conscience than by their theft of service:

·       Their shamelessness shocked me more than their immorality. They represented the new generation, liberated from “arbitrary” and “oppressive” religious ideas of right and wrong. University education had freed them from commandments such as “You shall not steal.”

Someone has to pay the price for sin. Eventually, the Dutch will have to hire additional personnel to collect the fares. Who pays for them? Everyone! I too have met many such travelers. They are intelligent, likeable, knowledgeable, highly educated, and even sensitive to victimization in its various forms, but they were unable to connect the dots to their own behaviors. Not a twinge of shame!

The West has built for itself a narrow cage. Although it hasn’t embraced physical idols of wood and stone, it has embraced other idols in place of God – immediate gratification and the denial of freewill and objective morality. There, it hopes to find refuge from their demanding conscience.

Mangalwadi marvels West’s intellectual myopia:

·       This good news [of the Christian faith] became the intellectual foundation of the modern West, the force that produced moral integrity, economic prosperity, and political freedom. If moral integrity is foundational to prosperity, why don’t secular experts talk about it? The reason is that the universities no longer know whether moral laws are true universal principles or mere social conventions made up to restrict our freedoms. And why don’t they know? Economists have lost the secret of the West’s success because philosophers have lost the very idea of truth. Why? The truth was lost because of an intellectual arrogance that rejected divine revelation.

Their quest for absolute freedom and autonomy has made them slaves to ideas that have deprived them of their dignity as human beings. They live in cages but believe that they are hiking on the mountain tops.


My friend has been going to seeker-sensitive churches (SSC) for a good 20 years. I therefore listened carefully as he explained what he has observed. In the more biblically-faithful SSCs, Scripture is not distorted or denigrated. However, many doctrines are left out – those which might cause offense – resulting in a distorted and unbalanced Gospel presentation.

Just about all of these churches place a great deal of emphasis on home fellowship groups. The need for community is regularly emphasized, but not doctrine. Consequently, group leaders are not chosen because of their accurate and faithful understanding of Scripture, but as facilitators – those who are able to make the participants feel comfortable and valued. Therefore, all comments are valued and accepted, except those that might disrupt the community spirit.

Consequently, doctrine has little to do with the building of community and the unity in Christ. SSCs ignore the fact that when Christ sent out His Apostles, He instructed them to:

·       “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20; ESV)

Are SSCs faithful to Christ’s commission? Are they faithful to the many teachings of Scripture that measure our love of God according to following His commands?

·       Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

Instead, the SSCs seem to ignore many Scriptural teachings, as if they think that they have a better formula. Instead, Paul had taught about what preaching should look like in the last days when people would no longer hear the Gospel (2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:3-4):

·       I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: PREACH THE WORD; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, WITH COMPLETE PATIENCE AND TEACHING. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

SSCs have left out the admonition for “complete…teaching,” lest it might cause offense, without thinking that such omissions might be an offense to God. Paul understood that they these omissions would constitute an offense. Therefore, he stated:

·       Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

In contrast SSCs shrink back from much. Not only is this an offense to God, but it is also depriving the congregation of spiritual growth:

·       Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

I could not have survived without the Word. I had suffered from decades of severe depression followed by panic attacks, which left me devastated. I didn’t know if I could endure much longer. I loathed myself, and projected this onto everyone else, thinking that they too loathed me.

However, the Spirit began to apply the Scriptures to my heart and mind. Through them, He taught me that it wasn’t about me but about Him (Galatians 2:20), that God didn’t hate me, as my emotions were informing me. Instead, He loved me with a love that went far beyond anything that I could conceive (Ephesians 2:16-19).

Once the Spirit and convinced me that He loved me, I could begin to accept myself and then to feel accepted by others. Jesus’ teachings became very real to me:

·       So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

As Jesus had indicated, it was a process. However, now I feel freed and empowered. My greatest joy is now serving Him according to His Word.

The SSCs are depriving their sheep of this. Some of these churches even scorn Scripture. I grieve deeply, but this should lead us to prayer.