Weekly Bulletin Articles
Many people’s concept of Christianity includes some mysterious work of the Holy Spirit to change one’s life. The Bible teaches the Spirit operates upon man to create faith, convict of sin and convert the soul. But the question is, does the Holy Spirit operate directly on man or does He work through the word of God?
The Bible states that the “sword of the Spirit” is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). This word is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). These two verses show that the Spirit does not operate directly upon man, but through a means — the agency of the word of God. It is much like a man who went to cut down a tree. Did the man himself cut down the tree or did the saw he used cut down the tree? Obviously, the man did cut down the tree, but he used a tool to do so, a saw.
Suppose the Holy Spirit did operate directly upon mankind apart from the word of God. What would be the results? God does not want anyone to be lost (2 Peter 3:9). He is also no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). Therefore, the Spirit would act uniformly on everyone. Since the Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead, He is all powerful. So it should be the case that everyone would be saved. There can be no other outcome when an irresistible force operates directly upon a very moveable object such as man! But Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). This accounts for the fact that not everyone will be saved though God is no respecter of persons. Not everyone chooses to do the will of God.
If the Spirit operated directly on mankind apart from the word of God, the New Testament would not be needed to convert people from their sinful lives. Conversion would depend entirely on the work of the Holy Spirit. If someone was not converted, the blame would lie at the feet of God. Who would dare charge God with a failure to accomplish His will? The truth was stated long ago: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Preaching God’s word will harden some and soften others. The sun will melt wax but harden clay. Different effects are the result of the differing natures of the materials. So it is with mankind. Some will choose to believe and obey while others choose not to believe and thus disobey leading to their damnation.
If the Spirit operated directly, why even bother preaching? Here is a curious thing. Those who advocate a direct operation of the Holy Spirit preach it! Shouldn’t the Spirit have revealed his message directly to each person? Jesus told his apostles, “ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Without a knowledge of God’s word, one cannot have faith in Jesus Christ since faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). The Bible nowhere states that faith comes by some mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit.
Be Wise —As Moses spoke about God’s statutes, he went on to tell the Israelites, “Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations...” (4:6). God’s word has the potential to make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). And, how do people show true wisdom? By doing what the Lord says! The fear/reverence of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Did not Jesus say that a person who hears His words and then goes and does them is like a wise man that built his house on the rock? He sure did (Matt. 7:24,25). When it comes to wisdom, never forget this truth: 1) Wise people get their main education from God’s word, and 2) Wise people carry out in their lives what they learned from that word. It is now fair to ask this personal question: Are you (and I) acting wisely or foolishly?
Diligently Keep Yourself —“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life...” (4:9). At least twice more in this chapter we read that God exhorted His people to take heed unto themselves. “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves. ... Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God...” (4:15,23). When God tells His people to “take heed,” you know what that means, don’t you? It means to take heed!
The Israelites had seen and heard great things from Jehovah. God did not want them to forgot them or their significance. In fact, He said that He wanted the memory of those deeds and laws to be in their heart “all the days of thy life” (4:9). Brethren, with so much going on in our lives, it can be a real challenge to keep the great teachings and blessings of God stored up in our hearts. There is only one way for us to keep our focus on God and His Cause, and that is to be diligent as we take heed to ourselves.
Teach —This, too, is “a big one,” and it is just as important as the previous five principles we have observed. When it came to the ways of God, what else did He want the Israelites to do with them? Not just remember them, but teach them: “...teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons” (4:9). Parents instructing their children from God’s word and grandparents teaching their grandchildren God’s truth. What a precious thought! Supreme love for one’s offspring is not shown by material gifts, but by showing them the way of the Lord. That “showing” or “teaching” takes two forms: 1) Informing them what the Bible says and 2) Being a godly example for them. Parents and grandparents, are we really putting in a serious effort to get these matters right, or are we letting our offspring down by neglecting our duty to them?
You may not share my sentiments, but I love the message of Deuteronomy 4:1-9. I really am convinced that it gives us the formula for success in God’s sight in any generation. Again, what were those words of the Bible text on which we concentrated in this study? Hearken, leave, cleave, be wise, diligently keep yourself, and teach. These half-dozen principles provide a wonderful potential for a whole lot of learning for those who meditate upon and apply this truth. How about it?
Deuteronomy 4:1-9 —It was the 40th year and 11th month of the journeys of the Israelites since their departure from Egypt (Deut. 1:3). On the eastern side of the Jordan River, not long before the Israelites crossed over into the land of promise, Moses spoke to them. He reminded them of: 1) what God had done for His people in the past, 2) how the Israelites had treated God in the wilderness, and 3) what their duties to Him would be once they were living in Canaan.
We recognize that Christians are not the fleshly nation of Israel. We did not live in the days of Moses, and furthermore, we do not live under the Law of Moses. Yet, from Moses’ message to the Israelites of His era, there are a number of helpful lessons that we can glean.
For our purposes, we are focusing our attention on a few concepts that are recorded in Deuteronomy 4:1-9. These principles are a formula for success in any generation. Do you want to enjoy success in the spiritual realm? Do you want your family to experience the same? If so, then the instructions that are recorded in the early verses of Deuteronomy 4 have the potential to help you and your loved ones have such success. Let’s take a look.
Hearken — In this section, Moses’ message for Israel began with these words, “Now therefore hearken [listen, NKJV], O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live...” (4:1). It does not matter who it is or what a person’s circumstances are in life, here is the fundamental key to genuine success: hearken/listen to what the God of heaven has to say! A failure to do so is a 100% guarantee of spiritual disaster.
Leave — Leave God’s Word Alone. Moses further charged God’s people, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you” (4:2). That is clear enough, is it not? Leave God’s word alone —do not tamper with it or alter it in any fashion. The God of all wisdom knows just what man needs and He gives us perfect instructions. For humans to take it upon themselves to “improve” on what God has said by reducing or increasing His message is the height of foolish arrogance!
Cleave —After reminding Israel of the disobedience of some that had led to their destruction from God, Moses told them, “But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day” (4:4). What is the key to life? Cleaving unto the Lord! When Barnabas arrived in Antioch of Syria to work with the brethren there, he “exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23). I know that many of us are striving to learn God’s word better, and I know that we are trying to remain active in His work, but have we developed our heart to the point that we are really cleaving to Him? All the study and activity in the world goes for naught unless we are really cleaving to the One who makes it all possible! Note also that the one who truly cleaves to God is the one that cleaves to and follows the Bible. There is no such thing as cleaving to the Creator while not obeying what He says to do. (Part two coming next week)
Webster defines “superficial” as “(1) being on the surface; not penetrating the substance of a thing; as a superficial color; a superficial covering; (2) hallow; contrived to cover something; and (3) not deep or profound; reaching or comprehending only what is obvious or apparent; as a superficial scholar; superficial knowledge.”
Superficial Christianity looks good on the surface, but it is of no “value against the indulgences of the flesh” (Col. 2:23). Our Lord calls for sacrificial, not superficial faith. There is a marked difference between the two.
First, a superficial faith produces a comfortable Christianity; one that does not interfere with one’s predisposed life-style. It is a Christianity that places no restrictions upon an individual, requires no repentance, exacts no restrictions, and asks for no sacrifice. Unaccustomed to feeding upon the word, superficial Christians are incapable of taking more than short doses of the spiritual medicine that is needed to cure their sin-sick soul. The meat of the word makes them gag. Moral principles are rejected for mere platitudes that make them feel at ease, and any sermon that runs more than fifteen minutes is viewed as a waste of time and an imposition upon their busy schedule. Once a week, or in some cases only once or twice a year, these nominal believers make their appearance, pay their dues, and punch their spiritual clock, and that, at the “church of their choice” that meets their personal taste in style of worship and brand of theology. Easter Sunday and Christmas are the apex of their spiritual activity. Daily cross-bearing means nothing to them.
Second, superficial Christianity will produce a church that is foreign to the blood-bought institution we read about in the pages of the New Testament. The leaders are quick to provide those things that will help increase the numbers, but fall short of improving spiritual maturity. The denominations have long sought to entertain rather than enlighten. The church is viewed as some sort of organization designed to administer spiritual anesthesia; something akin to a haven of rest where the indolent and idle may congregate to escape their moral and spiritual responsibilities in a world of darkness and doubt. Those who have only superficial faith view the church as some sort of safety zone in the midst of the highways of life into which people can go to avoid the dangers they encounter every day. But once the danger is past, the weak in faith abandon the church like the proverbial rat that abandons a sinking ship. The church is nothing more than an old folk’s home where the spiritually defective might find shelter. Someone noted more than a century ago, the church “is not a sort of spiritual Florida to which people can migrate in order to escape the chilling blasts of a cold, unfriendly world.” I wish that such misconceptions were limited to those in the denominational world, but so much of this “give me” mentality has infiltrated the Lord’s church today. Oh, how I wish it were not so! Having had the opportunity to travel about our country seeking funds for my mission work, I have come to learn that we have spent so much on creature comforts and neglected the Creator’s commission to go into all the world. I have visited congregations willing to borrow millions to build an elaborate building, and make long term commitments to mortgage payments, but are willing to commit themselves to more than a year at a time to mission endeavors. One wonders if we have not been the victims of superficial Christianity.
Third, superficial Christianity will not save. I am writing to an audience who knows (or at least should know) the demands from our Father and His Son. “...If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul” (Matt. 16:24-26)? “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).
Superficial Christianity is the antonym of genuine saving faith. It is confined to the realm of convenience and comfort. Seldom is there a call for real sacrifice. Suppers, sales and entertainment are the means by which people are brought into the church, and through more exciting and more numerous entertainment and programs they are tricked into believing that they are making sacrifices and living the kind of life God wants them to live. No wonder the church has lost its influence in a world that seems to be overrun with evil and ungodliness. The Gospel is no longer considered the power unto salvation, but the power unto sensationalism. There are churches out there that are indeed sensational with their Broadway style productions and glitter and glamour that thrill men, but they do not offer what it takes to save the souls of men. In this, they have long ago compromised.
God help us to return to His great wisdom, and build churches that seek and save the lost rather than seeking to serve and satisfy the masses. Anything else is only superficial Christianity.