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Category: Theological Dangers

Article originally by D.A. Horton of 9Marks Ministry

How do you assess a prosperity gospel church?

The first nine years of my walk with Christ were spent in such an environment, followed by two years in theological rehab, which prepared me for the next six years of pastoring in the urban context. What’s become clear to me is that the nine marks of a healthy church provide a useful grid for assessing any church, including those that teach the prosperity gospel.

And what we find is that a prosperity gospel church is a purely anti-nine marks church.

Some of the examples in what follows are specific and may not identify with you the reader. Many however are universal and are propagated by preachers on the internet, radio, and television. Since the prosperity gospel movement is inter-denominational, the teachings expressed in this article are not to be associated with any one denomination within evangelical Christianity.

1. EXPOSITIONAL PREACHING

Preaching in prosperity gospel churches is far from expositional. Instead, the purpose of preaching is to motivate hearers to give financially, and you give to get. Preachers exploit the passages that deal with the sacrificial giving of tithes and offerings week in and week out. They instruct hearers to activate their faith by sowing a “faith seed,” thereby tapping into God’s law of reciprocity and leading to their own financial breakthrough.

Isolated Old Testament passages are often used as examples of God’s abundant reward for faith giving. One passage often used to manipulate hearers into giving more is Malachi 3:10. Prosperity preachers highlight two points from this passage. First, they tell hearers they are robbing God by not tithing. Second, they assure hearers that God wants them to test him by giving more, so that he can give them more.

But consider Malachi 3:10 in its proper context. The Israelites were robbing God by not giving enough food to the national storehouse that was used to feed the priests of Israel. So the priests were having to leave their priestly duties and take up farming to survive (see Neh. 13:10-13). God therefore exhorts Israel to test him by giving obediently. If they did, he would reward them as he did in the past (2 Chr. 31:7-10). The point of this entire passage concerns a historically specific episode in the life of Israel. Preaching it as a Christian sermon, however, requires more than transferring its commands and promises to Christians on a one-to-one basis. Yes, there are larger applications for the Christian concerning giving, but first one needs to account for the differences between old covenant and new, especially the nature of God’s promises to Israel and the manner in which they are fulfilled for the Christian in Christ.

A healthy church uses preaching to communicate God’s words to his people. It confronts the hearer with God’s truth and leads to conviction, encouragement, clarity, and a call to action. It also centers every text around the gospel in order to show the hearer how central and necessary Jesus Christ is to the believer living in obedience to God’s word. A healthy church will inform believers that the results of holy living will not necessarily be financial gain but rather godliness that honors our Lord.

2. BIBLICAL THEOLOGY

Prosperity gospel theology rests upon the foundational error that man shares a form of deity with God, such that our words carry the same creative power as God’s words. Psalm 82:6, Proverbs 18:20-21, and Romans 4:17 are popular proof texts used to support this falsehood. It is often said that man is a “lower-case god” and possesses the power to demonstrate deity by speaking things into existence, creating and controlling our destiny with words, and even mandating a frustrated and limited God to act on our behalf for our benefit.

But none of these proof texts support these prosperity teachings. In Psalm 82:6, the Psalmist is crying out to God regarding the immoral judges who were governing the nation of Israel. God speaks directly to the erring judges by addressing them as “gods” to highlight the fact they were judging the nation in his place. They were to use his word as their standard of judgment. In the very next verse God reminds them they are not eternal beings. Instead they are mere men who have failed to live and judge righteously. This passage is not elevating man to a demigod status. Neither is it providing man with the ability to act with sovereign authority. Instead, the only true and living God is judging the immoral actions of these judges.

Proverbs 18:20-21 is a principle, not a promise, and it outlines two truths. The first is that our words do not dictate our destiny; rather, they display the conditions of our heart. Secondly, there are times when our words will cause us to endure consequences. This passage does not promise us the power to declare the length of our life. Neither does it pronounce God powerlessness to save us if we curse ourselves to death, as some prosperity teachers have taught.

In Romans 4:17 Paul teaches that God justified Abraham and declared him the father of nations while Abraham was still childless. This passage has nothing to do with saints speaking into existence more money, job promotions, or even the salvation of lost loved ones. This passage is in fact championing the truth that God is the only one who can call things into existence.

A healthy church teaches its members sound doctrine that is rooted in Scriptures that are kept in context. Sound doctrine is healthy teaching that provides the hearer with the biblical nutrients needed to grow to maturity in Christ (2 Tim. 3:16-17). In order for a church to be healthy, they must teach the whole Bible, in the context of the whole Bible, and root all of their doctrinal convictions in the whole Bible, instead of pulling passages out of context (1 Tim. 1:5; Titus 2:1-10; 2 John 1-6).

3. THE GOSPEL

In many prosperity gospel churches the message of the gospel is identified with the material blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. Although Christ’s perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection are proclaimed, and salvation through Christ alone is championed, many prosperity gospel preachers say the evidence of a person’s belief in the gospel is whether they receive the blessings promised to Abraham by God (Gen. 12-15).

I’ve found this teaching leading people to one of two conclusions. If someone has prosperity and health, they conclude that they are saved because they’re enjoying the promises of Abraham. But if these blessings are not seen in the life of the believer, they don’t have enough faith. They’re in sin. They need to give more tithes. Or perhaps they have not fully trusted in Jesus Christ and need to become born again in order to receive the blessings of Abraham.

In contrast, healthy churches unashamedly proclaim the whole counsel of the biblical gospel. This includes the truth that we were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), we once had open fellowship with God (Gen. 2:7-25), and yet because our first father Adam sinned all of humanity was separated both physically (Gen. 3:1-19) and spiritually (Rom. 5:12) from the holy and righteous God who created us. Since humanity has been separated from God because of sin, the penalty to atone for sin is the shedding of blood and death (Lev. 1:3-17). The beauty of the gospel is fact that Jesus Christ, who has eternally existed as God (John 1:1), became a man (John 1:14), lived a perfect life according to God’s law (Heb. 7:26), and shed his blood while dying in the place of sinners (Mark 10:45 and 2 Peter 2:24). Jesus was buried in a tomb for three days (Matt. 27:57-66) and on the third day rose from the grave (Matt. 28:1-8). Now he calls all people to repent of their sins and trust in him in order to be reconciled to God and receive eternal life (Jn. 3:16).

The biblical gospel does not promise that Christians will be wealthy and prosperous in this life in fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. Instead, Christians are “blessed” in Abraham in that we receive the Spirit (Gal. 3:14), and we will receive not just land, but the entire new creation, in the age to come (Rom. 4:13, Rev. 21-22).

4. CONVERSION

Conversion in a prosperity gospel church involves an uneasy mix of opposites: easy-believism and salvation by works. Prosperity preachers are known to teach a sinner is “saved” when they finish reciting the “sinners prayer.” After this simple salvation takes place, the new believer is to submit him or herself to the leadership and teachings of the church, tithe regularly, give offerings often, and strive to serve on a continual basis in ministry at the church. As long as a person does these things, he or she maintains salvation. But if one stops them for an elongated period of time, one can lose it. In order to advance this teaching, pastors have been known to use psychological and scriptural manipulation to get the members of the church to do various acts of service in the name of ministry to the Lord. Their service, he promises, will prevent them from “falling from grace” and losing their salvation.

Some prosperity gospel adherents burn out and become angry with their leaders. They begin to question the ministry’s methods and refuse to comply with its demands. I’ve watched pastors who sensed they were losing control of this type of person respond by claiming that the member is in rebellion, causing division, and on a trajectory to lose their salvation unless they repent and begin serving again. In these cases 1 Samuel 15:23 was used as the proof text to point out the consequences of the person’s actions and to dissuade others from following. But this verse speaks of King Saul’s direct disobedience to a command of God, not a genuine believer who questions unbiblical teaching or church practices.

A healthy church lovingly teaches the biblical view of conversion. In the Bible we read that conversion takes place when the biblical gospel is preached (Rom. 1:16-17, 10:9-17) and the sinner repents of their sins and puts their trust in Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19; Rom. 3:21-26). Conversion happens when God the Holy Spirit causes the sinner who is dead in sin to become alive in Christ (John 3:3-8; Eph. 2:1-10). Biblical conversion puts the focus on repentance and belief in the work of Christ, not simply saying a prayer and serving to the point of exhaustion for fear of losing one’s salvation.

5. EVANGELISM

Prosperity gospel churches often teach evangelism must be coupled with a demonstration of signs and wonders. When these two elements are combined it is said that sinners will repent and believe in Jesus. I’ve heard people say in pre-evangelistic times of prayer that sinners will not repent unless they see physical evidence of the supernatural work of God the Holy Spirit as listed in Mark 16:15-16.

Since the inclusion of this passage in the original and oldest most trusted manuscripts is disputed, it is unwise to build one’s doctrinal stance on this passage alone. Further, mandating that people demonstrate the signs in this passage in order to be effective in evangelism is dangerous and manipulative.

Biblical evangelism is proclaiming the gospel and calling sinners to repentance. The gospel needs no upgrades, bells, or whistles in order to be effective (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The Bible is clear that the preached gospel is powerful to save sinners (Rom. 1:16, 10:17).

6. CHURCH MEMBERSHIP

Prosperity gospel churches often equate church membership with regular attendance, tithing, and service—with or without a formal commitment. People are often “grandfathered” into church membership if they do these things long enough. In one case I recall a person who attended the church for over two decades, received the benefits of membership, yet never formally joined the church. They felt no need to since they gave financially and served weekly. I’ve watched people in such circumstances live in open sin and avoid church discipline.

A healthy church presents church membership as a blessing and mandate for the believer. The blessing is that the church affirms the believer’s faith and builds the believer up in love (Eph. 4:11-16). The mandate is that Jesus requires Christians to submit to his authority by submitting to the church’s authority. You’re not truly a member of the body if you can simply detach at will.

7. CHURCH DISCIPLINE

I’ve witnessed church discipline in prosperity gospel churches land on one of two extremes. The first was an informal excommunication where the biblical protocol for church discipline was not followed (i.e., Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:6; 2 Thess. 3:6-15). The individuals said to be living in sin were “disfellowshipped” from the church in private only to be spoken of in public as those we were not have contact with because of their rebellion.

The second extreme was for leadership to completely ignore the sin of either another leader, popular member, or both. When this approach was used, the leaders who knew the person’s unrepentant habitual sin willfully refused to acknowledge and deal with it. Sadly, I witnessed leaders members who brought up the sin of other members with statements like, “God forgives and his love covers the multitudes of your sins,” and “only God can judge them.” In the case of sinning leaders remaining in ministry, it was said “the gifts of God come without repentance” a distortion of Romans 11:29. Prosperity preachers often use 1 Chronicles 16:22 (“Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!”) as a repellant for questions from members of their congregation. Sometimes prosperity gospel churches have been known to cover the sin of a leader by sending them on a sabbatical in place of practicing 1 Timothy 5:17-20.

Healthy churches embrace God’s desire for a pure, holy church. As they help their people grow in Christlikeness, they will shine like stars in the world (Eph. 4:11-32; Phil. 2:1-18). Healthy churches understand that leaders are not exempt from temptation, lapses of judgment, and sin. Healthy churches then teach and follow the biblical prescription for church discipline, including discipline of leaders (1 Tim. 5:17-20).

8. DISCIPLESHIP

Discipleship in prosperity gospel churches often tends toward co-dependency with the pastor or another prominent church leader. The entry level of discipleship is known as the “armor-bearer” stage. An armor-bearer in Scripture was a person who carried the weapons of their leader and protected them (1 Sam. 14:6-7 and 2 Sam. 18:15). But in prosperity gospel churches, armor-bearer has become an unofficial office. New converts who want to grow in their walk with God are placed in a cohort. This cohort is trained to serve the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of the pastor or church leader. The pastor will often commission armor-bearers to engage in activities ranging from carrying his Bible to paying his bills, all in the name of “ministry.” In some extreme cases I’ve counseled ex-armor-bearers who were instructed to give the pastor massages after he preached, and even sexual favors.

If an armor-bearer sticks around long enough, they can earn a promotion that comes with a title, licensure to preach, and even ordination. Most often, the pastor does this to pad the stats of his ministry as many of these ordained men (and sometimes women) sit on the sidelines cheering the pastor on while he preaches. I’ve known some pastors to boast in having dozens of ordained men sit under them for decades. Rarely are these ordained ministers sent out to plant churches, revitalize dying churches, or engage in vocational ministry overseas. Sadly, in one instance I counseled someone who sat under a pastor for over fifteen years as an ordained minister and was never once instructed about the biblical qualifications of an elder.

A healthy church disciples its people to depend more on Jesus, not a pastor or church leader. Believers grow by deepening their knowledge of Jesus (2 Pet. 3:18), and, by the power of the Spirit, imitating Jesus (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1; Eph. 5:1). Biblical disciples produce more biblical disciples, not dependents (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:1-8).

9. CHURCH LEADERSHIP

Prosperity gospel preachers often receive undying support from their members because the people live vicariously through their pastor. If the pastor’s platform and bank account grow, the members of the flock celebrate as if the prosperity were their own. Some congregations want their pastor to have the newest top-of-the-line car, wear expensive name-brand clothing, and live in a large home in order that God’s blessings would trickle down to them. I was once told, “If my pastor is living large, he’s paving the way for me and my family to live large.”

In many cases, the pastor is said to be God’s voice to the congregation, and therefore has unquestioned authority. The leadership structure varies between a C.E.O. model and a monarchy. I’ve often seen others appointed as pastors or elders not based on biblical qualifications but because of their occupation and closeness to the pastor.

A healthy churches champions biblically qualified leaders. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are passages that clearly lay out qualifications for the men who would lead God’s church. The qualifications emphasize the man’s character, not his occupation or friendship with the pastor. Elders are to shepherd the flock, feed them with healthy doctrine, lead in humility, and defend them from false teachers.

SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD

There is unceasing grief in my heart for people who are under all or some of the teachings highlighted here. They are like the weary, scattered sheep without a shepherd on whom Jesus had compassion (Matt. 9:36). These precious souls of Jesus’ day were being abused, distressed, and harassed by their leaders. They knew no other way of life since it was their own religious leaders who treated them this way. Jesus responded by telling his disciples to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

The grief I share for the weary and scattered sheep of today drives me to do two things: pray for the Lord to send out laborers who will seek and serve these scattered sheep, and labor to lead a healthy church in order to reach the sheep in my city. I pray this article has helped kindle a fire in your heart for seeing healthy churches serving cities across the globe.

By:

D. A. Horton

D.A. Horton currently serves as Pastor of Reach Fellowship in Long Beach, CA & the Chief Evangelist at U.Y.W.I. He and his wife Elicia have been married for 13 years and have three precious children.

Courtesy of The Gospel Coalition

Occasionally, someone will ask me what I think about the King James Only controversy raging in some of the fundamentalist circles of independent Baptist life. Having grown up around many KJV-Onlyers, I can only express sadness that the conservative independent Baptists continue to separate from each other over unimportant matters.

The fundamentalist movement is cocooning itself into a safe web of tradition that will eventually squeeze the very life out of it. It used to be that independent Baptists separated themselves from other Christians over important doctrines, such as the virgin birth of Christ or the inspiration of the Scriptures. Today, the independents are separating, even among themselves, over issues such as Bible translations, music style, and dress.

Rising to the forefront of the fundamentalist squabbles is the King James Only controversy. Some groups are claiming that this is the hill on which to die, the main issue by which to tell a fundamentalist from a liberal.

So what is it anyway? The King James Only controversy is essentially a conspiracy theory that claims that all modern translations of Scripture are based on tainted manuscripts and that their translators are driven by a liberal Protestant or Roman Catholic (or even one-world government) agenda. This theory manifests itself in various forms, some of which are more extreme than others.

KJV Only Arguments

1. The King James Version is based on the “Majority Text” over against the modern versions that are based on the corrupt “Alexandrian Texts.”
Response: Most of the Byzantine texts used by the King James translators come from the 11th and 12th centuries. We have since discovered many older and more reliable manuscripts, which are closer to the original writings of the Bible authors. By comparing the earlier manuscripts to the later ones, we can see how the flourishes and additions of scribes can corrupt a text over time, leading us to believe that many of the “Alexandrian manuscripts” are closer to the originals and the majority of Byzantine texts altered. If the controversy were truly a textual issue, one wonders why the Greek scholars in the KJV camp have not come up with a modern English translation based on the texts they deem “inspired.” The textual issue is actually a smokescreen which hides the true reason for rejecting modern versions: any update of the KJV is considered tampering with God’s Word.

2. The modern translations attack the deity of Christ by removing references to his lordship.

Response: The Byzantine texts have the additional “Lord” and “Christ” added to the name of Jesus in many places where the older, more reliable texts do not. These are most surely the results of ambitious scribes, seeking to show reverence to the Savior or simply making mistakes in copying manuscripts. There are many examples where the deity of Christ is made clearer in modern translations than in the KJV. (Jude 4Phil. 2:6-7Acts 16:71 Peter 3:14-15John 14:14)

3. Heretics, occultists and homosexuals were on the translation committees of modern versions.
Response: This is an all-out attack on the character of faithful believers who have sought to use their linguistic skills in offering an accurate translation of the Scriptures. The biblical linguist B.F. Westcott is consistently attacked, due to negligence in confusing him with the spiritualist W.W. Westcott. If there is anyone whose salvation should be questioned due to their “fruit,” it would be some of the extremist KJV Only advocates, whose polemic, vicious rhetoric is not becoming of a believer in Christ.

4. The modern translations delete verses from the Bible.
Response: Based on the older and more reliable manuscripts, the modern translations have simply sought to reflect what was contained in the original manuscripts. It is just as serious to add to Scripture, as it is to take away from Scripture. The starting-point for KJV Only advocates is that the KJV is the standard to which all other translations must bow, which is also the position they seek to prove. Thus, they employ circular reasoning that will not allow them to see any other position as possibly correct.

5. The 1611 Authorized Version is the preserved Word of God in English.
Response: No one today reads from the 1611 version, which also included the Apocrypha. The 1769 revision is the most common version of the King James translation, and this one includes thousands of differences compared to the original.

6. The modern translations promote a “works-salvation.”
Response: Virtually all of today’s cults (excepting the Jehovah’s Witnesses) prefer the King James version over the rest, including the Mormons, who also preach a “works-salvation.” Of course, this does not negate the worth of the King James version, but we could use this argument if we were to employ the same tactics of the KJV Only crowd. Compare Revelation 22:14: Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. (KJV) Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (ESV) If we were to use the KJV Only logic, we could assume on the basis of this verse that the King James translators were conspiring to take us back to the chains of Catholicism, while the ESV translators are translating faithfully God’s Word. Of course, this would be a ridiculous assumption, but it is the kind of reasoning that KJV Only advocates employ. Even John R. Rice, the founder of the (now KJV-Only) Sword of the Lord admitted in Our God-Breathed Book – The Bible that the KJV renders Revelation 22:14incorrectly and that the ASV is more accurate here.

7. The newer versions include footnotes which offer different renderings of certain words or verses. These footnotes confuse the reader and undermine the doctrine of inspiration.
Response: The 1611 King James Version also included thousands of footnotes which offered different readings for different verses. We should be grateful for today’s translators, who in the spirit of the King James tradition, have been intellectually honest when rendering exceptionally difficult verses about the limits to their knowledge.

Conclusion
Like with anyone who expounds a conspiracy theory, it is usually fruitless to try to reason with the KJV Only crowd. One should seek to prod these brothers and sisters to a correct understanding with love and patience, realizing that most efforts will be spurned and may turn out in vain.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a bible study which went over 1 Peter 3:18-20. Now what I found interesting is the speaker who was leading the Bible study raised the issue regarding this chapter. Apparently, there is some dispute among scholars and fellow believers as far as what happened in this event.

  • Did Jesus descend to save the Saint?
  • Did He descend to talk to demons?

This is what I hope to explain in this article. Let's start with the first argument.

Some people would argue that Jesus descended to save the souls that never head about Him. This sounds like a plausible idea at the surface, but what does the Bible say about salvation?

Ephesians 2:8 tells us that we are saved by the grace of God, through our faith in Him.

It then goes in to explain that faith in the Lord, is a gift from Him. Our faith is not produced by our own mental choice but the sovereign grace of God He gives us faith.

Hebrews 11:4-40 then explains what faith in the Lord looks like. Faith at its core is a special trust in the Lord and all He is.

Genesis 15:6 tells us that it was Abraham's faith that was counted as righteousness.

Since God is a god that never changes, he is always the same yesterday, today and forever. Then so too are his principals. They are perfect. Then even among the time of Jesus, it was faith that saved.

We also know through the story (possibly not a parable, this is the only story Jesus tells that has named characters) of Lazarus, found in Luke 16. That a man who repented of his own sins, after being condemned was informed by Moses that there is no hope for him to receive forgiveness and enter the kingdom of God.

Man is destined to die once, then face judgement.

This comes from Hebrews 9:27. after our physical body dies, we then face the throne of God in judgment. This is our final judgment. If Jesus did indeed go down to preach His gospel to save souls, then Hebrews 9:27 would not be true.

Is it demons?

Another argument people would assume justifies the idea that Jesus descended to testify could be found in Matthew 27:52 "May bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (ESV). But it is important to note, this account refers to saints, which are the people of the Lord, while our passage in question speaks of spirits, being that this is a general term we can conclude 1 Peter 3:19 is talking about demonic spirits.

Bakers Commentary writes:

The "imprisoned spirits" (3:19) are not the souls of dead human beings but fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). According to Jewish tradition (1 Enoch 6-20), they deceived and corrupted the generation who lived before the flood, teaching them the arts of sin (Genesis 6:4). As a result, they were locked up in prison at the time of the flood, "to be held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4). They were the counterparts of the angels, authorities, and powers (3:22) still active today.

Jesus' preaching to these spirits was not an offer of salvation but a proclamation of his victory - in fact, the announcement of the judgment hanging over them. The spiritual forces behind the greatest corruption the world has ever seen have received their final condemnation at Jesus' hands! Having dealt with them, He finished his journey to heaven and took His place at God's right hand, in full authority over the powers behind the suffering experienced by Peter's readers. However much they may feel themselves to be victims, Christ is the victor!

I hope this has helped you to grasp a better understanding of the biblical interpretation, as well as the spiritual government, I know as I was pondering this verse, before compiling this blog I began to think of other passages that give insight to how the spiritual realm works. It truly is a fascinating thing to think about!

Posted in Theological Dangers |

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 is likely the Bible’s most well-known verse. Most Sunday school children can quote it verbatim before they learn to read or write. It shows up on t-shirts, hats, and other gear like a sports logo or political slogan. Even staunch anti-church members of the secular public can communicate the gist of this familiar verse.

Sadly, while most people have heard John 3:16, they don’t know John 3. The verse itself may have permeated the culture, but it has been stripped of its vital context.

The third chapter of John’s gospel records the clandestine conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus the Pharisee. Jesus told him that he could never see the kingdom of God unless he was born again (John 3:3), that there was nothing he could do to make that happen (John 3:5), and that he needed to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) if he was to ever inherit eternal life.

Nicodemus’s response was utter astonishment: “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). It was not that he didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. It seems he got the message plainly enough. But it overthrew his deepest convictions and left him virtually speechless. That question is the last thing we hear from Nicodemus in the narrative of John 3. He had nothing further to say.

The focus of the chapter then turns exclusively to Jesus, who delivers one of His most important discourses ever—an extended lesson on gospel truth. As Nicodemus listened in total silence, Jesus proceeded to draw a clear contrast between believers and unbelievers, the humble and the hypocrites, the truly reborn and the merely religious. And it was all too clear in His judgment that the Pharisees—Nicodemus included—were on the wrong side of that divide.

John 3:11–21 is rich enough that we could devote weeks to unpacking it—and that still wouldn’t begin to plumb its depths. But for the sake of this study we’ll just consider some obvious ways that Jesus’ words upend the hopes of those expecting their piety and works to merit salvation.

Self-Deceived Shepherds

First, notice that Jesus directly implicated Nicodemus as an unbeliever: “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:11–12, emphasis added).

To postmodern ears, that sounds extraordinarily harsh. Contemporary evangelicals typically bristle at the thought of challenging anyone’s profession of faith. For some, the thought of being perceived as harsh or negative is more odious than actually being undiscerning. That’s why the church is overrun with shallow celebrities and false teachers whose doctrine and lifestyle show no real fruit of salvation. People like that have flourished and even begun to dominate the non-Christian public’s perception of what Christianity is, mainly because more sound and solid evangelical leaders are reluctant to plainly denounce them as charlatans.

Nicodemus’s ignorance about his need for regeneration was proof of his unbelief. He had studied the Old Testament in an academic way, and from the standpoint of his fellow Pharisees, he was one of the top experts on the subject. But he had never bothered to apply its teaching to his own heart, and therefore Jesus was perfectly blunt with him: “You do not believe.”

No Spiritual Privileges

Second, don’t miss the point of the Old Testament allusion Jesus makes in verses 14–15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” The reference is to an incident that occurred during Israel’s wandering in the wilderness during the Exodus. Numbers 21 records that the people grew discouraged; they began to despise the manna God provided daily for their sustenance, and in frustration they rebelled against both God and Moses. “The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food’” (Numbers 21:5).

God unleashed a plague of poisonous snakes into the camp, “and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6). In response, the people repented and begged Moses to intercede with the Lord on their behalf. The Lord commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent, set it on a pole in the midst of the camp, and tell the people “that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live” (Numbers 21:8). The whole story was an illustration of justification by faith, and that was the point Jesus was making here.

But consider the difficulty of that analogy from Nicodemus’s perspective. As a ruler of Israel, he had always thought of himself as in the role of Moses. Jesus Himself said, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses” (Matthew 23:2). But the analogy suggested that Nicodemus needed to see himself in the place of the sinning Israelites. Even the Old Testament imagery Jesus used was a contradiction of the Pharisees’ spiritual self-image. To a casual observer—especially to anyone trained in the rules of postmodern discourse and the canons of political correctness—it might seem as if Jesus was deliberately trying to provoke Nicodemus, smacking him hard again and again, demeaning his pharisaical pride in every conceivable way. In reality, Jesus was not being mean-spirited, but precisely the opposite. Nicodemus needed to recognize his spiritual poverty and see his need for a Savior. And Jesus cared more for the truth than about how Nicodemus felt about it.

Before Nicodemus could receive any help from Jesus, he needed to see how desperate his situation was. “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12). And when a patient has a life-threatening illness that urgently needs treatment, the physician needs to give him the bad news candidly. That was the case with Nicodemus.

Compassionate Confrontation

So notice, third, the way Jesus ended His discourse on the gospel by bringing the emphasis right back to the problem of human depravity and God’s condemnation of unbelievers:

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:18–21)

This, too, is contrary to most contemporary ideas about how to do personal evangelism. Today’s evangelicals generally think if we offend someone by pressing the claims of the gospel too firmly or too plainly, we’ve done something terribly wrong. The reality is quite the opposite: if you think the gospel can be proclaimed in a way that is always appealing and never upsetting to unbelievers, you have the wrong idea about what the gospel message says.

That is why Jesus left the issue with Nicodemus on a note of condemnation. John 3:16, of course, is famous for its stress on the love of God and the giving of Christ so that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” That’s the central truth of the gospel message and the promise that makes it good news. But it is not good news for those who remain in unbelief. Therefore Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus ended on a harsh and sobering note about the severe condemnation that rests on all unbelievers and hypocrites. Since Jesus had already implicated Nicodemus in verse 12 with the words “you do not believe,” this was a very direct and personal challenge aimed squarely at him and the pharisaical belief system he represented.

An Encouraging Epilogue

As a matter of fact, Jesus’ discourse on the gospel in John 3 ends on such a negative note that if this were the only place we encounter Nicodemus in all of Scripture, we might conclude that he left without saying any more and remained in unbelief all his life.

However, there is every reason to conclude that Nicodemus, who originally came to Jesus under cover of darkness, was eventually drawn to the true Light and became a genuine believer. The last time we meet Nicodemus in Scripture is in John 19:39, where he and Joseph of Arimathea hastily prepared the Savior’s body for burial. It was an act that could well have cost him everything, at the very moment when the rest of the Sanhedrin had whipped public fury against Jesus into a murderous rage. He clearly had become a different man than he was when he first approached Jesus as an unbelieving, inquiring Pharisee.

Nicodemus reminds us that evangelistic encounters should never be evaluated by how the conversation ends. If we are biblically faithful in sowing the gospel, we can confidently leave the not-yet-converted sinner in the sovereign hands of God. Only He can regenerate them, and we know that nothing can stop Him from gathering His sheep into His fold (John 10:27–30).

Christmas invariably presents us with inquirers like Nicodemus. The normal hostility of unbelief often gives way to open curiosity as we gather around the scene of Christ’s birth. May we follow Christ’s example and firmly, yet graciously, call unbelieving family and friends to repentance and saving faith in Him.

Copyright 2007, Grace to You. All rights reserved.  Used by permission

The term “Pharisee” gets thrown around a lot today. As you can imagine, I get accused of being a Pharisee constantly. I can’t tell you how much this word hurts me when others carelessly throw it my way. I also can’t help but wonder if those who are so fond of using this slur really understand the historical and spiritual implications of such an accusation.

I hope this will cause you to think twice before calling someone a Pharisee.

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Christian faith, more importantly, God. Is often hated because of some misunderstandings Satan has done so well has branded the faith with. But what is really behind them? What does the Bible really say?

1. God is a genocidal maniac.

The God revealed in the Bible is not reducible to the attributes of love or mercy. God is a righteous, holy, and just God. He must punish evil. If God didn't have reasons for doing so beyond our comprehension, he would not be worthy of worship, let alone believe. We would never praise a judge who chooses to let convicted thieves, murders, and rapists return home without justice. Even if a judge did this in the name of love, we would never be satisfied with the practical realities of having these people living unpunished in our neighborhoods or teaching our children at school. A God who never gives justice is a God who should be rejected. A God who is both loving and just is a God that is not only worthy of but also demands our worship and obedience.

(See Is God a Genocidal Maniac?)

2. Jesus never existed as a real person.

While the news media often reports the proposition that belief in Jesus’ historical existence is untenable, most scholars today disagree. Jesus’ existence is one of the best-attested facts available to us. Hostile witnesses attest to his life in Palestine. His life recorded in the Gospels is the best explanation available to us about who he was and what he did. This fact is even held by hostile sources outside the Christian sources.

(See 7 Unbiased Facts about Jesus’ Death)

3. Science has disproven Christianity.

Historically, Christianity has often led the way in scientific advancement. Many leading scientists today believe in a cosmology that is much more open to intelligent design and creation than most pundits assume. Science has not found evidence precluding the belief in God, miracles, or the resurrection of Jesus. Such fields are outside the competence of science and its methodology.

(See 3 Ways Science Supports the Miracle of the Resurrection)

4. The Bible is based on myths.

History is integral to the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul, who wrote more than half of the New Testament, grounds faith in eyewitness testimony and verifiable events (1 Cor. 15). If these things are myths and fables, Christianity is not useful or good. The tone and tenor of the Scriptures are categorically different from that of Greek myths or Aesop’s Fables.

What we believe is based on reality and grounded in history. The Bible is open to investigation and scrutiny.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1–3)

(See Our Faith is Historically Verifiable - Or It's Nothing)

5. All Religions teach the same thing.

Many people today attempt to dismantle the claims of religion before they even hear them by asserting (not arguing) that all religions teach the same thing. In truth, each religion makes very different claims and assumptions about reality. There may be superficial agreement about the Golden Rule, but the gospel of the triune God categorically separates the faith of Christianity from all religions.

(See Do All Religions Just Teach Love?)

6. Jesus never died on a cross.

According to multiple sources, Jesus was condemned to die for specific reasons. He attempted to lead Israel away from God through miraculous deeds. His enemies attributed his works to the devil as acts of sorcery. Jesus’ death was a well-known fact throughout the ancient world. Historians and politicians of the century spoke of the events that happened in Jerusalem.

(See 7 Unbiased Facts about Jesus’ Death)

7. There are no such things as miracles.

To assume miracles cannot happen because they do not do so normally is not itself an argument. Rather, most people take their personal experience as the normative basis for judging past events. This subjective view of what is possible does not allow for normal historical events to transpire, let alone miraculous ones. If we look at historical evidence, the question remains an open possibility.

(See Our Faith is Historically Verifiable - Or It's Nothing)

8. Evil precludes a good God.

Only the God of Scripture allows evil to be a problem in the first place. If evil exists, it presumes an original goodness and liberty that makes such a choice evil. The problem of evil is actually an argument for Christianity. Evil, as a choice that has real consequences, cannot be accounted for without God.

Many people wrongly assume that if God is good there should no be evil in the world. And yet, this assumes that as finite creatures we could know God’s purposes. If such a God exists, there are likely reasons he allows evil that we cannot fully comprehend.

(See 4 Ways the Bible Deals with Evil)

9. Christianity is irrational and unreasonable.

Faith is often wrongly perceived as a leap in the dark, irrational, and imaginary. Yet, historically, Christianity has seen three aspects of faith: knowledge, assent, and trust.

Faith is based on actual historical events that are rational explanations of reality. Faith assents to the reliability of the speaking God. These explanations may not be seen by the naked eye, but that does not mean they are irrational. Rather, the revelation of Scripture reveals a rational, and more importantly, a good God who is saving sinners.

(See Why Does Anyone Become a Christian?)

10. There is no evidence for the resurrection.

Many people wrongly assume there is no real evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, this is incorrect. The women who found an empty tomb attested to the resurrection of Christ. Hundreds of witnesses around Jerusalem saw the resurrected Lord and could be questioned. Hostile authorities among the Jews and Romans attested to his empty tomb and miracles. According to many scholars, the Gospel accounts remain the best explanation of the empty tomb, the transformation of the apostles, and the existence of the early church.

(See Why Should I Believe that Jesus Rose From the Dead?)

11. Science and faith are incompatible.

Science cannot exist without the assumptions of a stable creation, with meaning, purpose, or the laws of nature to govern it. Without the assumptions brought about by Christianity, modern science would have no footing whatsoever. If nature were inherently self-serving and motivated merely by survival rather than to the giving of life, the stability of natural laws would be unknowable. Nature itself would be a moving deception. We would not have the ability to even perceive such a reality if it existed.

“Science is based on the assumption that the universe is thoroughly rational and logical at all levels,” writes Paul Davies. “Atheists claim that the laws [of nature] exist reasonlessly and that the universe is ultimately absurd. As a scientist, I find this hard to accept. There must be an unchanging rational ground in which the logical, orderly nature of the universe is rooted” (Russell Stannard, God for the 21st Century [Templeton Foundation Press, 2000], 12). Many scientists today see this rationality—which many people want to discount as superstition. The evidence points to something of an infinite creator and to a belief in him.

Faith in what must be (i.e., God) for the world to exist as it does is actually rational. Science has not found evidence precluding the belief in God, miracles, or the resurrection of Jesus. Such fields are outside the competency of science and its methodology. Faith is not incompatible with the evidence. Everyone has to believe in a hypothesis concerning where the compelling evidence leads them. Such basic beliefs are the building blocks of understanding the laws of nature. The laws of nature, therefore, pose a problem for both atheists and materialists but not for theists.

(See 5 Reasons Why Science and Faith Are Compatible)

 

To learn more about the Christian faith, check out Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story by Michael Horton.

[Sources from The Gospel Coalition, written by Jason Derouchie]

If Christians are part of the new covenant, why should we seek to understand and apply the Old Testament (OT)?

I’ll give 10 reasons why the first word in the phrase Old Testament must not mean unimportant or insignificant to Christians.

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The “name it and claim it” or “prosperity gospel” is not biblical and is in many ways antithetical to the true gospel message and the clear teaching of Scripture. While there are many different versions of the name it and claim it philosophy preached today, they all have similar characteristics. At its best, this teaching comes from the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of some Scriptures, and, at its worst, it is a completely heretical teaching that has the characteristics of cultic doctrine.

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