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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Angels and the Angel of the Lord

The word "angel" means messenger. Angels are God's heavenly messengers or servants (Heb. 1:13-14) created by God before the earth began (Job. 38:47). The Bible speaks of both good and evil angels. But it states that all angels originally were created good and holy - devoted to God's purposes (Gen. 1:31). Because they did have freedom of choice, many angels joined satan's rebellion against God. By rejecting the privilege of being God's servants, they lost their purpose and place in heaven. The demons described in the New Testament are in the same category as these fallen angels.

The Bible speaks of a host, or very large number, of good angels, though the names of only two are mentioned in Scripture: Michael and Gabriel. The Bible also mentions that there are divisions and ranks among the host of angels that serve God and His purposes. For example, Michael is called an archangel (literally "leading angel"). There are serophs and cherubim. There are angels with authority and control over certain areas or things. There are countless numbers of angelic spirits serving God as He wills.

As spiritual beings, good angels praise God, do His will, come freely into His presence, are in submission to Christ, are in a certain way superior to humans and dwell in heaven. They do not marry, will never die and must not be worshiped. Yet they appear in human form, usually as young men.

In obedience to God's command, angels carry out many activities on earth. They had a unique role in revealing God's law to Moses (Acts 7:38). But above all, they serve in Christ's mission to restore people's relationships with God. They serve in the best interests of God's people and observe the life of Christians in the church. They deliver messages from God, bring answers to prayer and sometimes interpret or help individuals understand prophetic dreams and visions. Angels also strengthen and assist God's people in difficult times, protect those who honor God and hate evil and punish God's enemies. The Bible describes angels fighting against demonic powers, rejoicing when even one sinner surrenders his or her life to God and carrying those who know God to heaven after death.

During the events of the end times, the war will become more fierce between Michael with the good angels and satan with his demons. The Bible says that angels will come with Christ when He returns, and they will be present at the judgment of the entire human race.

The Angel of the Lord is sometimes referred to as "the angel of God". This is a unique angel who appears in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The first mention comes as he appears to Hagar in the desert (Gen. 16:7). Other appearances involved such people as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, all the Israelites during their exodus from slavery in Egypt, and later at Bokim (Judges 2:1-4), Baalm, Joshua, Gideon, David, Elijah, Daniel, and Joseph.

The angel of the Lord carried out several tasks similar to those of angels in general. Sometimes he brought messages from the Lord to his people. At other times, God sent His angel to provide for the needs of His people, to protect them from danger and on occasion to destroy their enemies. When God's people were very rebellious, His angel could be sent to destroy them (2 Sam. 24:16-17).

The identity of the angel of the Lord has been debated because of the way he often addressed people. Note the following: In Judges 2:1, the angel of the Lord says, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said I will never break my covenant with you." When compared with other Bible passages describing the same event, these actions were the things done by God Himself. God was the One who promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their descendants would inherit the land of Canaan and that His covenant with them would be everlasting. It was God who brought the Israelities out of Egypt and into the promised land.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Joshua, Joshua fell down and worshiped him (Jos. 5:14). Such a response has led many to believe that this angel was a physical appearance of the Lord God Himself. Otherwise, the angel would have told Joshua not to worship him as he did when he appeared in other times. Perhaps a clearer hint of the angels' identity was when the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex. 3:6).

Because the angel of the Lord is so closely identified with God Himself, and because he appeared in human form, some consider him to be an appearance of the eternal Christ - the second person of the Trinity - prior to Jesus Christ coming to earth in human form through the virgin birth.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jesus and the Holy Spirit

Jesus had a special relationship with the Holy Spirit, a relationship that is most important for our own personal lives.

Many Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah specifically predicted that He would be guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Both Matthew and Luke state clearly that Jesus came into this world as a result of a miraculous act of God. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Because of His miraculous conception, Jesus was completely "holy." This meant that Jesus came into the world unstained by sin and free from spiritual corruption. This made Him completely worthy to become the perfect sacrifice required for sins of humanity. He was able to take our total guilt on Himself and pay in full our penalty for sin.

When John the Baptist baptized Him, Jesus was personally anointed by the Holy Spirit. At that time, the Spirit came upon Him in the form and appearance of a dove equipping Him with great power to fulfill His ministry, including His work of redemption. When Jesus went into the desert He was "full of the Spirit" (Luke 4:1).

Immediately after His baptism, the Spirit led Jesus into the desert, where He was tempted by the devil for forty days. It was only because He was full of the Holy Spirit that Jesus - as a human - was able to face satan and resist his temptations. In the same way, it is God's intention that3we never face the spiritual forces of evil and sin without the power of the Holy Spirit. We must be equipped with His full authority and follow His leading in order to be victorious against satan. In fact, in God's sight we are not God's children - and do not belong to Christ - unless His Spirit lives in us (Romans 5:9, 16; 2 Co. 1:21-22) continually empowering us to overcome sin and do what is right.

When Jesus referred to Isaiah's prophecy about the Spirit coming on Him, He used the same passage to outline the primary purposes of His ministry: preaching, healing and liberating. The Spirit anointed Jesus for His mission. Though Jesus was God, He was also human (1 Ti. 2:5). As a human being, He had to rely on the Spirit's help and power - just as we do - to fulfill His responsibilities. It was only as a Spirit-anointed, Spirit-led man that Jesus could live, serve and proclaim the gospel as God intended. Jesus is the perfect example for all Christians, who should receive all the Spirit has to offer and rely completely on the Holy Spirit for guidance and power.

As one of His present tasks, the Holy Spirit honors Jesus by revealing Jesus' truth and purposes to His followers (John 16:14-15). The benefits of spiritual salvation and a renewed relationship with Christ are made available to us through the Holy Spirit. The most important benefit is Jesus' nearness to us (John 14:18). Through the Spirit, Jesus remains with us constantly. The Spirit makes us aware of Jesus' personal presence, His love, blessings, help, forgiveness, healing and all that is ours through faith. The Spirit inspires us to pursue a deeper relationship with God through His Word, prayer, and worship.

Jesus has promised to return and take His faithful people to be with Him forever. This is referred to as "the blessed hope" of all believers (Tit. 2:13); it is the event that we should pray and long for (2 Ti. 4:8). The Bible reveals that the Holy Spirit inspires our hearts to cry out to God for our Lord's return. In fact, God's Word describes the Holy Spirit as "a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (2 Co. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14). It is the Spirit who testifies within our hearts that our restoration and relationship to God remain incomplete until Christ returns. At the very close of the Bible, the Holy Spirit inspired the words, "Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Kingdom of God

Matthew 12:28

The kingdom of God (or heaven) carries the idea of God coming into the world to reveal and display His power, glory and authority over all powers, including the power and control of satan in this sinful world. The kingdom speaks of God's present activity and involvement in the course of human events in order to accomplish His purposes and reveal Himself in Hi plans for His people. God's kingdom includes more than spiritual salvation or the work of the church. It is God expressing Himself powerfully in all He does in the world and in individual lives. Therefore, His kingdom involves revealing His ideal purposes and way of life both in the present and into eternity.

In the simplest explanation, the kingdom is a statement and display of God's power in action. God, as King, is beginning His spiritual reign on earth in the hearts and activities of His people (John 14:23; 20:22). He chooses to work out His purposes through those who have devoted themselves to Him. He is involved in the world He created and comes into it with all power. Yet we must not view this power in material or political terms, for God is not looking to prove His might, power and authority to rule through a show of earthly things, such as wealth or military might. Instead, we must realize that God uses His power to bring about spiritual change. His kingdom is not a political theocracy, in which God exercises His control and forces His standards upon the world through an earthly system of government. God's kingdom is not a matter of social or political control over the kingdoms of this world. It is no God's goal at this time to save and reform the world through social or political campaigns or through violence. Until Christ returns to earth to overthrow the forces of evil, the world will remain an enemy of God - opposed to His people and His purposes.

Because God clearly reveals Himself as the One with supreme power, the sinful world is presented with a crisis. Since the world is going its own way and allowing satan to exercise a great deal of control, God's expression of greater power fills the devil's empire with alarm. When the Bible says that God's kingdom has "come near" (Mark 1:15), it means that everyone is faced with the decision either to submit to God's rule or to continue rebelling against Him. The necessary and most basic condition for becoming part of God's kingdom is this: "Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15).  True repentance involves changing our attitude toward God, admitting our sins, turning from our own way, submitting to God and following His purposes rather than our own.

God's intervention is seen in the display of His power. In fact, the coming of God's kingdom marks the beginning of the destruction of satan's rule as it frees people from demonic power and influence and from sin; God uses His power to work miracles and to heal the sick; God's followers  spread the good news of Christ, "because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes and because it convinces people of the reality of sin, righteousness and judgment; Christ baptizes His followers in the Holy Spirit, giving them power to spread His message and accomplish His purposes. The evidence that a person is truly experiencing God's kingdom is the fact that his or her life is characterized by righteousness, peace and jy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Signs of Believers

The Bible clearly teaches that Christ wants the lives and ministries of His followers to be characterized by supernatural works. Just like Jesus, those who spread the message of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ should perform miracles in His name as evidence that God's kingdom is active and available here on earth. Christians do not do these works on their own. As Jesus' representatives on earth, they minister under His authority, and everything they do is done through the power of His Holy Spirit so that everything brings honor to Jesus. He told His followers that after He left and the Holy Spirit came to empower them, they would do even greater miracles than He did. This refers to the fact that His followers would spread His message to a greater degree and reach many more people over time. But it also refers to the greater level and wider range of supernatural ministry that would take place. The key to doing "greater things", however, is having faith in Christ; the miracles that Christ's followers perform are not to anyone else's credit because it is still Jesus doing the ministry and miracles through them.

These signs, done by true followers of Christ, confirm that the gospel message is genuine and that God's kingdom has come to earth in a powerful and supernatural way. Miracles and supernatural signs done in Jesus' name also reveal that Jesus is alive, active, present and working through His people.

God wants these supernatural spiritual activities to continue within Christ's churches until Jesus returns. God's Word never suggests that these signs were restricted to the time period immediately following Jesus' departure from earth and return to heaven. Some suggest that these signs were only necessary to get the first churches started and to help spread Christ's message rapidly in the beginning. However, the Bible does not teach nor does it gave any evidence that these supernatural activities would decrease or become unnecessary as the message spread and churches grew. In fact, it says quite the opposite, for much of the New Testament provides instructions about how to carry on the ministry of the church with the same power and with the same spiritual gifts in operation. In addition to Jesus' own words, consider Paul's instructions about spiritual gifts or James' instruction about prayer for the sick. After all, the church continue to serve the same purpose and needs the same power that is described throughout the book of acts and the rest of the New Testament.

Christ's followers are not only to bring the message of God's kingdom but also the power of the kingdom. That is to say, they are not only supposed to talk about Christ, but also show His power - just as He did while He was on earth. This type of ministry reveals the completeness of Christ's salvation, which is able to free and heal the entire being - body, soul and spirit. Jesus teaches in Mark 16:15-20 that these signs are not just special gifts available to only a few, but they are to be given to all followers of Christ who obey Him, spreading His message and trust His promises.

If these signs are not happening in churches today, it is not that Christ is failing to keep His promises. Instead, it is usually evidence of a lack of faith and devotion on the part of His followers in those local congregations.

Christ has promised that if we remain loyal to Him, then His authority, power and presence will be with us as we battle satan's kingdom. We must help rescue people from the devil's control by spreading the truth about Jesus, by living according to God's standards, and by performing supernatural signs and miracles through the power of the Spirit.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Word of God

The phrase "the word of God" can be understood in a variety of ways in the Bible. It refers first of all to anything that God has spoken directly. When God spoke to Adam and Eve, what He said was the Word of God. God spoke His Word to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. God also was speaking to the entire nation of Israel at Mount Sinai when He delivered the Ten Commandments. Even as Moses communicated the commandments to the people, the words they heard were God's Words.

In addition to direct speech, God also spoke through the prophets. So when the Israelites were listening to the words of a true prophet of the Lord, they were listening to the word of God.

God spoke through the New Testament apostles. What they proclaimed was the anointed word of God delivered through them. Paul said that "when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of man, but as it actually is, the word of God" (t Th. 2:13).

Everything that Jesus spoke was the word of God because He is fully God. Luke  states clearly that when people heard Jesus, they heard the word of God (Luke 5:1). It is so important to listen to Jesus' words that He Himself says, "Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned" (John 5:24). Jesus is so closely identified with the word of God that He actually is called "the Word" (John 1:1, 14).

The Word of God, the scriptures, is the written record of what the prophets, apostles and Jesus have spoken. What is written in the Bible is the Word of God. The Word of God stands firm in the heavens (Ps. 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:24-25). Yet it is not a stagnant or inactive word; it is dynamic and powerful and it accomplishes great things (Isa. 55:11). The Word of God is the creative word. According to John, the Word that God used to create all things was Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3).

The Word of God has the power to give, reveal and communicate new life. Peter testifies that we are born again "through the living and enduring Word of God" (1 Peter 1:23).

The Word of God also releases grace, power and revelation that cause Christ's followers to grow in their faith and commitment to Him. Peter writes that by drinking the "pure spiritual milk" of the Word of God, we grow up in our relationship with God" (1 Peter 2:2).

The Word of God is "the sword of the Spirit" that God has given us to fight satan and his evil plans. Notice the account of Jesus' victory over satan's temptations in the wilderness that each time He defeated satan by declaring, "It is written."

Finally, the Word of God has the power to judge us. The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles often spoke words of correction, discipline and judgment that they received from the Lord.  Jesus Himself  said His word will condemn those who reject Him (John 12:48). In Hebrews we learn that the powerful word of God judges "the thoughts and attitudes of the heart". All of this means that those who choose to ignore God's Word will one day experience it as the final word of judgment and conviction.

The Bible describes in clear and unmistakable language how we should respond to the Word of God in all its different forms. We must hear and receive God's Word eagerly and depend on God to help us understand it. We must praise and honor God's Word, love it, and let it be our joy and delight. We must accept what the Word of God says, letting it get deep into our hearts. We are to trust it, and put our hope in its promises. Above all, we must apply it directly to our daily lives. We must obey its commands and live by its principles, instructions and guidelines. All followers of Jesus are called to proclaim God's Word, spread its message of hope, forgiveness and new life - wherever they go.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Christian Relationship to the World

The term "world", as it is used throughout the New Testament, often refers to the vast world system that exists independent of God (going its own way without regard for God) and basically opposed to Him. It is how things in the world have operated ever since the first humans gave in to satan's temptation, disobeyed God and brought the curse of sin upon all creation. As a result of defying God, humankind gave up the authority over creation that God had originally delegated to them. satan then seized control (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and began to dominate human endeavors (ideas and efforts) with his evil purposes (1 John 5:19). This means that the "world" in its present condition is characterized not only by wicked, immoral and selfish lifestyles, but also by a spirit of rebellion and indifference toward God and His revelation. This attitude is characteristic of all humans and human endeavors that are not submitted to Christ's leadership and authority.

Consequently, satan often uses the world's ideas of morality, its philosophies and its social customs to oppose God, His people, His Word and His standards (Matt. 16:26; 1 Co. 2:12; 3:19). Most of these issues and areas of life are not evil in and of themselves, yet satan will work through any or all of them to promote his purposes and cause spiritual deception. For example, educational systems may be used to nurture students in ungodly and humanistic philosophy, or more subtly, the clothing industry can be greatly used to promote general habits of dress that would definitely bring shame and offence to those who live according to the standards given by God for his people. Christians must be aware that behind all human endeavors, apart from God, there is a spirit or power that moves against God and His Word in varying degrees. Finally, the "world" also includes unbiblical religious systems and organizations that use the name of Christ or His family of believers, yet teach and encourage lifestyles contrary to God's true church and standard of holiness that are given in His Word.

The world and the true church are two distinct groups of people. The world is under satan's authority; the church belongs exclusively to God. For this reason, true believers must separate themselves from the ungodliness and corruption of the world.

In the world, God's people are aliens and strangers, simply passing through on the way to their true home with God. They do not belong to the world, but are called out from it (John 15:19). As a result, they no longer conform to the world's patters or love the things of the world. Through a relationship with Christ, God's people overcome the world and its evil.

Loving the world is a form of spiritual idolatry and unfaithfulness that defiles our relationship with God and leads to spiritual destruction. It is impossible to love the world and God the Father at the same time. To love the world means to be closely related to and associated with its beliefs, behaviors and customs. It means being devoted to or accepting of its values, interests, practices and pleasures. It involves taking pleasure in or enjoying what is common in the world, but is offensive to God. Notice that the term "world" and "earth" are not synonymous; God does not forbid us to appreciate and admire the beauty of the created earth. While we are to hate the corrupt ways of the world, we also are to demonstrate God's compassion for people who are spiritually lost.

According to 1 John 2:16, three aspects of the sinful world created open hostility to God and promote defiance against His Word:  "The cravings of the sinful man" (1 Co 6:18) ; "the lust of the eyes" (Exodus 20:17)); "the boasting of what he has and does" (or pride).

Christ's followers must not be in close companionship with those who participate in the world's evil system and corruption. Instead, believers must live in a way that is distinct from the world and that exposes the world's evil. Christians must be salt and light to the world. This means reflecting God's character and love so that those who are lost can see the hope that is found only through a relationship with Christ.

From the world, a true Christian will experience trouble, hatred, persecution and suffering. By various forms of temptations, enticements and attractions of the world, satan makes a determined effort to destroy the life of God in the Christian and to ruin his or her relationship with Christ.

The world system is temporary and will eventually be destroyed by God. Even now, it is in the process of passing away (1 John 2:17).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Resurrection of the Body

1 Co. 15:35

The resurrection of the body - of anyone who has died physically but who will spend eternity either in heaven or hell - is one of the basic teachings in God's Word. It refers to God raising their physical body from the dead and reuniting it with the person's soul and spirit. The physical body was separated from the soul and spirit during the intermediate state between physical death and the resurrection. The Bible teaches that though there is a period of time between a person's physical death and his or her bodily resurrection, there is no lapse of time between death and the life to come. A Christian's death brings him or her immediately into Christ's presence. While awaiting resurrection, believers do not exist as vague shadows or naked souls without a bodily form. For example, on the Mount of Transfiguration both Moses and Elijah appeared clothed with a heavenly body even though they were awaiting their resurrection bodies (Matt. 17:2-3). In addition, in Rev. 6:9-11 souls in heaven are described as visible and wearing white robes.

The Bible reveals at least three reasons why the resurrection of the body is necessary: the body is a basic part of the total human personality; humans are incomplete without a body. For this reason, the redemption that Christ offers applies to the whole person, including the body. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit for those who follow Christ. At the time of resurrection, it will again become a temple of the Spirit. In order to undo the tragic result of sin at all levels, humanity's final enemy - death of the body - must be conquered through the resurrection. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach about the future bodily resurrection. Our bodily resurrection is guaranteed by the fact that Christ was resurrected from the dead.

In general terms, a Christian's resurrected body will be like Christ's own resurrected body. More specifically, the resurrected body will be: a body with structural similarities to the body of this life, so it will be recognizable (Luke 16:19-31); a body changed from an earthly into a heavenly body, adapted for life in the new heaven and new earth (1 Co. 15:42-44); an immortal body - permanent and indestructible - free from decay and death (1 Co. 15:42); a glorified body, like Christ's (1 Co. 15:43); a powerful body not subject to disease or weakness; a spiritual body, not bound by the laws of nature (Luke 24:31); a body capable of eating and drinking (Luke 14:15).

When God's people receive their new bodies, they "put on" immorality, which will fulfill the Christian's final and complete victory over death (1 Co. 15:53-54). The Bible gives at least three purposes for this: so that God's people may become all that God desired for humans at creation; so that believers may come to know and relate to God in the full way He wants them to know Him; so that God may express His love to His children as He desires.

Christ's faithful followers who are still alive when Christ returns for His church will experience the same bodily transformation as those believers who have died prior to the day of resurrection. They will receive new bodies just like the bodies given to those who will be raised from the dead at that time. They will never experience physical death.

Jesus speaks of a resurrection of life for those who follow Christ and a resurrection of judgment for those who do not (John 5:28-29).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Rapture

1 Th. 4:16-17

The word "rapture" comes from the Latin word "raptu", which means "caught away" or "caught up." This Latin word is equivalent to the Greek term "harpazo" that is found in 1 Th. 4:17, and translated as "caught up." This event, described here and in 1 Co. 15, refers to the time when Christ will take His followers from the earth to meet Him in the air and be with Him in heaven. It involves only those who are part of Christ's true church - His faithful followers worldwide who are in a right relationship with Him.

Just prior to the rapture, as Christ is descending from heaven for His church, the resurrection of the "dead in Christ" will occur (1 Th. 4:16). This is not the same resurrection described in Rev. 20:4, which is an event occurring after Christ returns to earth, destroys the forces of the antichrist and confines satan to the bottomless pit (Rev. 19:11, 20:3). The resurrection in Rev. 20:4 relates to those who turned to Christ and died for their faith in Him during the tribulation. The Rev. 20:4 reference may possibly involve Old Testament followers of God as well.

At the same time as the dead in Christ rise, followers of Christ who are alive on earth will be transformed, their bodies becoming imperishable and immortal. This will happen in an instant - "in the twinkling of an eye."

Both the resurrected Christians and those who are instantly transformed will be caught up together to meet Christ in the air. They will be visibly united with Christ (1 Th. 4:16-17), taken to heaven and reunited with loved ones who have died knowing Christ (Th. 4:13-18). They will be removed from all suffering and distress (2 Co. 5:2, 4; Php. 3:21), from all persecution and oppression and from the entire realm of sin an death (1 Co. 15:51-56). The rapture also rescues Jesus' followers from "the coming wrath" - the great tribulation.

The hope that our Savior will soon return to take us out of the world to "be with the Lord forever" is the blessed hope of all who have yielded their lies to Christ. It is a major source of comfort for suffering Christians.

Paul uses "we" in 1 Th. 4:17 because he believed the Lord's return could have happened in his own lifetime. He communicates this same sense of urgency and anticipation to the Thessalonians. The Bible insists that Christians in all time periods must remain alert and ready for the Lord's return (Romans 13;11; 1 Co. 7:29).

Those who claim to be Christians and part of the church, yet are unfaithful to Christ and do not truly have a personal saving relationship with the Lord, will be left behind. They  will be left with only a false system of religion.

Following the rapture is "the day of the Lord", referring to a time that brings distress and judgment on the ungodly. That will be followed by the second stage of Christ's coming, when He literally returns to earth at the end of the tribulation to defeat the forces of the antichrist, destroy the ungodly and reign on earth for a thousand years at the end of time as we know it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Faith and Grace

Spiritual salvation comes as a gift of God's grace, but it can only be received and become personally effective in individuals' lives by the response of faith. To understand the process of salvation, we must understand these two words - "saving faith" and "God's grace".

Saving faith: Faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for receiving God's free gift of salvation. Real faith is an active response from the heart of a person who truly desires to accept Christ as Savior and to follow Him as Lord. This means that faith is more than intellectual acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is God's Son who died to pay the price for our sins. True Biblical faith involves an active trust by which a person surrenders complete control of his or her life to Christ and commits to following His purposes. The New Testament description and pattern of faith includes four main elements:

1. Firmly believing Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead to bring us life, then trusting in Him as our personal Lord and Savior. It involves believing with all our hearts, surrendering our wills (our desires, choices, plans and motives) and devoting ourselves completely to Jesus Christ and His purposes as revealed in the Bible.

2. Faith involves repentance and a complete turning toward God in order to follow Christ. True Biblical faith always involves sincere humility and repentance (Acts 2:37-38).

3. Faith includes obedience to Jesus Christ and His Word. Such obedience must become a way of life, inspired by our trust in Christ, by our gratitude to God and by the life-transforming work of the Holy Spirit. It is an "obedience that comes from faith (Romans 1:5). For this reason, faith and obedience go together. They cannot be separated when it comes to serving God and following Christ. True saving faith is not possible without the commitment to sanctification (the ongoing process of spiritual purity, separation from evil and growth to a maturing faith.)

4. Faith includes a passionate, personal devotion to Jesus Christ that expresses itself in complete and selfless trust, love, gratitude, and loyalty. In a personal relationship with Christ, true faith cannot be separated from love. The two completely work together. Both faith and love represent a personal act of surrender and self-sacrifice directed toward Christ.

5. Faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior is both the act of a single moment and an ongoing attitude of action that must continue to grow and gain strength. Because we have faith in a definite person who loves us and gave His life for us, our faith should become greater. Trust and obedience - two of God's primary requirements in our lives - develop into loyalty and devotion. Loyalty and devotion then develop into a strong sense of personal attachment to and love for the Lord Jesus Christ. This king of faith in Christ brings us into a new relationship with God and spares us from His final judgment against sin. Through that new relationship, we become "dead to sin" and live in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us.

In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself as a God of grace and mercy who showed love to His people, not because they deserved it, but because of His own desire to have a personal relationship with them and to be faithful to the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Justice could be described as getting exactly what e deserve. Mercy could be described as God sparing us from the consequences and judgment we deserve. Grace could be described as God granting us favor and benefits we do not deserve. The New Testament focuses on the theme of God's grace in the giving of His Son, Jesus, who willingly gave His life for undeserving sinners. Christians today continue to experience that grace through the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit conveys God's mercy, forgiveness and acceptance, and He gives them the desire and power to do God's will. The whole process and progress of the Christian life is dependent on this grace.

God's grace must be desired, pursued and accepted. Some of the ways by which God's grace is received are: studying and obeying God's Word; hearing and responding to the preaching of the gospel; praying; fasting; worshiping Christ; being continually filled with the Holy Spirit; and participating in the Lord's Supper.

God's grace can be resisted and rejected, received in vain and without lasting effect, set aside and disregarded and abandoned by people who, at one time, truly believed and accepted Christ (Gal. 5:4)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Peace of God

The Hebrew word for peace is "shalom." This term refers to far more than the absence of war, conflict or stress. Shalom's basic meaning is the positive presence of harmony, wholeness, good purpose, well-being and contentment in all areas of life. Experiencing peace can include unity, cooperation and contentment in human relations, both inside the home and outside the home. It can refer to one's personal sense of wholeness and well-being, including freedom from anxiety and fear. This might be called peace within one's own soul and with God. Even though the word "shalom" is not used in Genesis 1-2, shalom describes the original created world that existed in perfect harmony and wholeness. When God created the heavens and the earth, He created a world at peace. The total well-being of creation is reflected in the statement: "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).

When Adam and Eve listened to the serpent, were deceived by satan and ate from the forbidden tree, their disobedience introduced sin. In turn, sin broke the flow and order of creation's original harmony. When that happened, Adam and Eve experienced guilt and shame for the first time in relation to God, and they lost their inner peace.

Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden destroyed their perfect relationship with God. Before their disobedience, they enjoyed a deep personal relationship and close interaction with God. But after their sin, they "hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden". Instead of looking forward to talking with God, they now were afraid of His presence.

They traded their peace with God for the false and temporary pleasure of their own way. In addition, the peaceful and pleasant relationship between Adam and Eve as husband and wife was disrupted also. When God began discussing their sin with them, Adam blamed Eve. God said that this sort of tension and conflict would continue between man and woman. In fact, this sort of tension in relationships accounts for much of the social conflict that is now part of the human existence. This social conflict ranges from arguments and violence in our homes.

Finally, sin took away the harmony and unity between humankind and nature. Before Adam sinned, his work in the Garden of Eden was a pleasure; he freely walked among the animals, giving each one a name. However, following the fall, part of God's curse included anger and hatred between people and the serpent. In addition, people's work would involve sweat, exhaustion and hard, physical labor. Where there once had been harmony between the human race and the environment, there was now struggle and conflict, so that "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time".

Though sin affected human existence by destroying peace and well-being in the entire created world, God had planned to restore "shalom." The story of restoring peace is what the life and message of  Jesus Christ is all about. God sent Jesus into the world to make a way for peace between people and God. Christ came to provide forgiveness and freedom from sin and the hope of a personal and eternal relationship with God. Since satan started the destruction of peace in our world, his power needed to be destroyed in order to regain and restore peace on earth. In fact, many of the Old Testament promises about the coming of the Messiah were promises of a coming victory and peace.

When Jesus was born, the angels proclaimed that God's peace had now come to the earth. Jesus himself came to destroy the devil's work and to break down all barriers of conflict that prevent peace in our lives. Jesus left His disciples a lasting legacy of peace. By His death and resurrection, Jesus literally disarmed, or removed the impact of satan's powers and authorities in the spiritual realm, making true spiritual peace possible.

Knowing that Christ came as the Prince of Peace does not automatically bring peace to our lives. Experiencing peace with God requires that we be united with Christ by faith. This belief is more than an intellectual agreement. It is an active trust by which a person accepts Christ's sacrifice and surrenders control of his or her life to Christ's leadership. A person who responds to Christ in this way is forgiven and justified through faith. Along with faith, we must follow God's guidelines and obey His commands in order to live in peace. The Old Testament prophets declared over and over that there is no real peace for the wicked. In order to experience continually God's peace, He has given us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit develops the holy character and purposes of God in us, which include God's peace. With the Spirit's help, we must pray for peace, let peace guide our hearts, desire and pursue peace and do our best to live in peace with others.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Glory of God

The phrase "the glory of God" is used several ways in the Bible. Sometimes it describes God's splendor, magnificence and majesty. But no human language can fully describe God's highest glory, which is so supernaturally supreme that no human can experience it firsthand. We can only bear to see an "appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (Ezekiel 1:26-28). The glory of God reveals to us the fullness of His uniqueness  and His holiness and His transcendence. Peter uses the term "the majestic Glory" as a name for God.

The glory of God can also refer to God's visible presence among His people. This is sometimes called the "shekinah" glory. Shekinah is a Hebrew word meaning "dwelling of God", and it is used to describe a visible appearance of God's presence and glory. Moses and the Israelites saw a form of God's shekinah glory in the pillars of cloud and fire that guided them day and night. She shekinah covered Mount Sinai when God gave His law to Moses; it filled the tabernacle when it was completed; it guided Israel in the desert; and it later filled Solomon's temple  during the dedication ceremony. Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord rise and leave the temple because of widespread idolatry. The New Testament equal to the shekinah glory is the presence of Jesus Christ - the glory of God in human flesh. The shepherds of Bethlehem saw the glory of the Lord at Jesus' birth; the disciples saw it at Christ's transfiguration and Stephen saw it as he was being killed for his faith in Christ.

The glory of God is also expressed in the Bible as His holy presence and power, as well as th effects of that presence and power in individual lives. The fullness of God's greatness and majesty is yet to be revealed. For this reason, people often fail to recognize God's greatness; and, as a result, they often take His presence for granted. However, Christ's followers experience God's glory and presence in many ways, including His nearness, guidance, love, strength, wisdom, answers to prayer and the spiritual gifts.

Finally, the Old Testament warns that any kind of idolatry pushes God's glory back or to the side as though He were not present. Idolatry dishonors His name. Christ's entire ministry on earth brought glory and honor to God.

How does God's glory affect His followers and apply to their lives personally? God reveals His glory for humankind to see in two ways: "in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever" (Eph. 3:21). That is to say, God shows Himself and reveals His works through His Son, Jesus, and through the lives of His faithful followers who serve His purposes. That is because His Holy Spirit lives in them and is active in their lives.

In our present time, followers of Jesus experience God's presence through the power and work of the Holy Spirit, which brings the presence of God and the Lord Jesus near to them. When the Spirit becomes powerfully active in the church, God's glory is seen and experienced by people in such a way that it cannot be denied.

Peter says to the individual who boldly identifies with Christ and suffers insults for his or her faith in Him: "the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (1 Peter 4:14). As One reason Jesus came into the world was to reveal His glory to people (Luke 29:32). As followers of Jesus, we must live our entire lives for the glory of God so that He is honored and glorified in and through us.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Attributes of God

The Bible does not try to prove that God exists. Rather, it assumes His existence and describes numerous attributes and character traits that He possesses. Many of these are unique to Him as God - no other being has these traits - while other traits we see in human beings as a result of their being created in God's image.

Unique Attributes of God:

God is omnipresent. He is present everywhere at the same time. No matter where we go, God is there (Psalm 139:7-12; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Acts 17:27-28). This means that God sees and is aware of everything we do.

God is omniscient - that means He knows everything; He possesses complete and perfect knowledge of all things. He knows not only our actions but also our thoughts. When the Bible speaks of God's foreknowledge, it means that He knows all possibilities in any situation - what could have happened and what will happen. God is aware of everything that has taken place in the past and everything that will happen in the future. All the things God has destined and prophesied have either been fulfilled or will yet be fulfilled with absolute certainty. God has given us a free will to make our own decisions, which means that people are still responsible for their choices and the results of those choices. The fact that God knows everything does not mean that He is limited by His own foreknowledge. He remains free to alter His purposes in time and history, depending on what He wants to accomplish and what He knows is best.

God is omnipotent - that means He is all-powerful and has the highest authority over all things and all creatures. God has the ability to do anything - nothing is impossible for God.

God is transcendent - that means He is different and independent from His creation. The essence and nature of His being and existence are greater and higher than anything and everything He has created. He himself is uncreated and exists apart from creation. Transcendence does not mean that God is incapable of living among His people and interacting with them on a personal level.

God is unchangeable - there is never any change in God's attributes, in His perfection or in His purpose for humankind. This does not mean, however, that God never alters His temporary purposes in response to people's actions. He lets us make choices and then works His perfect plans through and around those choices. He may, for example, change His plan of judgment on people who have defied Him if those people truly repent. Also, He is free to respond to people's needs and prayers in a way and time He chooses. The Bible often speaks of God changing His mind or redirecting His plans as a result of godly, continued prayers. At other times, God desires to do certain things at one point but waits for faithful people to pray and make themselves available before He takes His desired course of action.

God is perfect and holy. He is pure and complete in character, totally without sin and absolutely right in everything He thinks and does. It also means that He is separated from all evil. God cannot sin.

God is triune. He is one God, a single being, who has revealed Himself in three distinct but interrelated and completely unified persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully divine and equal with the other two; yet they are not three Gods, but One. Another way this concept of God has been described is "three in Person, One in essence." The correct teaching is that all three persons of the Godhead exist uniquely at the same time.

Moral Attributes of God:

God is good. All that God originally created was good because it was an extension of His own nature.

God is love. His love is completely selfless that embraces the entire world.
God is merciful and gracious. Grace is God giving us the benefits of salvation that we do not deserve. The definition of mercy is expressed as God saving us from the punishment our sins deserve.

God is compassionate. Compassion means to feel sorrow for someone else's suffering, with a desire and effort to help. True compassion requires action. God provides His Son - His "good news" to a sinful humanity.

God is patient and slow to anger. God first demonstrated this trait in the Garden of Eden, and then again in Noah's time. God is still patient because He is now holding back His judgment on the world in order to give everyone time to repent.

God is truth. His Word, the Bible, is also described as "truth". God does not tolerate lies, dishonesty or deception of any kind. There is no other truth outside of God.

God is faithful. We can trust God completely. He will never fail His people or the nature of His character.

Finally, God is "just". God keeps in balance the moral order of the universe and is totally right in the way He treats and deals with humankind. But in the end, God will also show His wrath at sin because of His love for righteousness. God's justice does not contradict His love. His acts of justice and love, working together, provided the only way to restore us to a right relationship with Him.

If we want to fully understand the personality, character and nature of God, we must look at what the Word of God reveals about Jesus because "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives" (Col. 2:9).

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Election an Predestination

The issue of predestination often raises the question of whether God has determined ahead of time who will be saved and spend eternity with Him and who will be condemned and forever banished from His presence. That is to say, has God already decided who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? The Bible is clear about the fact that God is omniscient (He knows everything), and He is actively involved in people's lives and in the world He created. The Bible is equally clear, however, that people have a choice whether or not they will spend eternity with Him. The fact that God knows all possibilities and the eventual outcome of any given situation does not mean that He causes the outcome. God is aware of everything that has taken place in the past and everything that will happen in the future, yet this does not mean that God causes everything to happen that He knows will happen - including our choices and actions. God created us with a free will to make our own decisions, which means that people are still responsible for their choices and the consequences that result.

Election: God's choice of those who accept Christ by faith is a foundational teaching of the apostle Paul. Election refers to God's choice to claim for Himself a people based on their choice to accept His forgiveness and yield their lives to Jesus Christ. In accepting the sacrificial work of Christ and the cleansing power that it brings, each person is choosing to remain spiritually pure and reserved for His special purposes. Paul sees this choice as an expression of God's love in that God willingly receives as His own all who willingly receive His Son, Jesus. Simply put, God chooses to accept those who willingly choose to accept Christ's leadership and authority in their lives.

"Election" is Christ-centered. Jesus is, first of all, God's "elect" - His chosen One. For this reason, Christ is the foundation of our election as part of God's chosen people. Only as we are united with Christ - in a personal relationship with Him - do we become members of God's elect. No one is part of God's elect unless and until they have willingly accepted Christ and committed their lives to Him.

Election in Christ is a broad term, referring mainly to His choosing of an entire people. In this way, election involves the entire community of those who become God's people. This community includes individual people only as they identify and associate themselves with the body of Christ - through a personal faith in Christ.

God will always have a people who are spiritually saved. But the certainty of election for individuals as part of that body remains conditional. It depends on their personal faith in Christ and their ongoing devotion to Him as Lord and highest authority in their lives. God's elect are being led by the Holy Spirit toward sanctification and holiness - holy and blameless (Eph. 5:27). Paul states this clearly: "Christ will present you holy and blameless in His sight" only if we continue in the faith.

Predestination:

Predestination means "decide before hand" and applies to God's purpose that will be realized as a result of election. Predestination is what God has determined will happen to His people; it is the outcome, or result, of their choice to follow and serve Him. Predestination, like election, refers to the body of Christ as a whole and becomes a reality for individuals only as they become part of that body through a living and active faith in Jesus Christ.

Summary:

Concerning election and predestination, we might use the example of a great ship on its way to heaven. The ship (the church) is chosen y God to be His very own vessel. Christ is the Captain and Pilot of this ship. All who desire to be part of the journey to heaven must know the ship's Captain personally. They must entrust their lives to Him if they want to board the ship. As long as they are on the ship, in the company of the ship's Captain, they are among the elect and on their way to heaven. If they choose to abandon the ship and its Captain, they cease to be part of the elect. Election is dependent on one's personal relationship with the Captain and one's place on His ship. Predestination tells us about the ship's final destination and what God has prepared for those who remain on the ship. God invites everyone to come aboard the elect ship through faith in Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Heresies - 1 John 4:1-3

Most of the eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry had died by the time John composed this letter. Some of the second or third generation Christians began to have doubts about what they had been taught about Jesus. Some Christians with a Greek background had a hard time believing that Jesus was human as well as divine, because in Platonic thought the spirit was all-important. The body was only a prison from which one desired to escape. Heresies developed from a uniting of this kind of Platonic thought about Christianity.

A particularly widespread false teaching, later called "Docetism" (from a Greek word meaning "to seem"), held that Jesus was actually a spirit who only appeared to have a body. In reality He cast no shadow and left no footprints, He was God, but not man. Another heretical teaching, related to Gnosticism (from a Greek word meaning "knowledge"), held that all physical matter was evil, the spirit was good, and only the intellectually enlightened could enjoy the benefits of religion. Both groups found it hard to believe in a Savior who was fully human.

John answers these false teachers as an eyewitness to Jesus' life on earth. He saw Jesus, talked with Him, touched Him - he knew that Jesus was more than a mere spirit. In the very first sentence of his letter, John establishes that Jesus had been alive before the world began and also that He lived as a man among men and women. In other words, He was both divine and human.

Through the centuries, many heretics have denied that Jesus was both God and man. In John's day people had trouble believing He was human; today more people have problems seeing Him as God. But Jesus' divine - human nature is the pivotal issue of Christianity. Before you accept what religious teachers say about any topic, listen carefully to what they believe about Jesus. To deny either His divinity or His humanity is to consider Him less than Christ, the Savior.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spiritual Separation for Believers

The concept of separation from evil - from all that contradicts, opposes and defies God's character, standards and purposes - is fundamental to God's relationship with His people. According to the Bible, separation involves two dimensions: one negative (relating to what we avoid or must not do) and the other positive (relating to what we should seek after or must do). We must deliberately separate ourselves morally and spiritually from sin. This is everything that is contrary to the work of character of Jesus Christ and God's Word. We must purposefully pursue a deeper and closer relationship with God through time spent in prayer, God's Word, worship and service. By putting our primary efforts into pursuing a deeper relationship with God and fulfilling His purposes for our lives, we will naturally take on Christ's character traits and become further removed from evil. This two-way separation results in a deep sense of our relationship with God as our heavenly Father who lives with us by His Spirit and takes care of us because we are His sons and daughters (2 Col. 6:16-18).

In the New Testament, God commanded Christ's followers to remain separate from the corrupt world system and from behaviors that compromise God's standards of purity and integrity; from those in the church - particularly those who say they are followers of Jesus - who disobey and defy God and refuse to turn from their own ways and follow Christ with passion; and from false teachers, churches or religious systems that promote ungodly beliefs and deny the truth of God's Word as revealed in the Bible.

Our attitude as we are separated must be one of hatred toward sin and the corrupt world system; opposition to false religious teaching, true compassion for those from whom we must be separated in perspective and behavior, which includes a willingness to pray for and reach out to them with the love and message of Christ, and a respectful fear of God.

The purpose of separation is that we as God's people might hold fast to the way of righteousness through Christ and grow in our spiritual salvation, our service and devotion to God as our Lord and Father; and our ability to influence and convince others of the truth of Chris'ts message and the blessings of following Him.

If we separate ourselves in true faith and willing obedience, God Himself rewards us by bringing us into a deeper relationship with Himself. As a result, we will have a greater sense of His protection, blessing and fatherly care. He promises to be everything that a good Father should be. He will be our counselor and guide, and He will love and cherish us as His own children.

The refusal of God's people to separate themselves from evil will surely result in the loss of companionship with God, of acceptance by the Father and of our rights as children of God.

Separation does not mean that we refuse to communicate with or reach out to sinners. Certainly we must avoid relationships, activities and behaviors that would cause us to compromise or defy God's commands, principles and standards. Yet, with God's guidance we also must find ways to reach out to people in love and communicate the message of forgiveness and new life through faith in Christ. However, in doing so we must not foolishly expose ourselves to ungodly temptations and evil influences that could lesson our influence for and and relationship with God.

Many once-committed Christians have made regrettable choices in building close relationships with those who choose to live without God and His standards. As a result, they have discovered the truth and reason behind God's repeated warnings about avoiding spiritually questionable activities and close association with people of "ungodly" character.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Regeneration: Spiritual Birth and Renewal

In John 3:1-8 Jesus discusses one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith: regeneration, or spiritual birth. Without being "born again" in a spiritual sense, a person cannot become a part of God's kingdom. This means that a person's life must be spiritually renewed in order to be spiritually saved and to receive God's gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. The following are important facts about spiritual birth and renewal.

Regeneration, or spiritual birth, is an inward re-creating of a person spiritually - a life transformation (total change or remaking of the person's attitude, thinking and actions) that occurs from the inside out (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23-24). It is a work of the Holy Spirit; and through this work of transformation, God passes on His gift of eternal life. It marks the beginning of a new and personal relationship with God for those who yield their lives to Christ. Spiritual birth is the way a person becomes a child of God and a "new creation". A person who is born again spiritually will no longer conform or live according to the character and influence of the ungodly beliefs, behaviors and lifestyles of the world (Rom. 12:2). Instead, he or she is "created to be like God n true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).

Spiritual birth is necessary because all people, apart from Christ are sinful by nature from birth. On our own, we are not capable of having a close personal relationship with God. Without the life-transforming power of His Holy Spirit, we could not continue to obey and please God.

Spiritual birth happens to those wh repent of sin, turn to God and yield control of their lives to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord - the Forgiver of their sins and Leader of their lives. Though spiritual rebirth is an immediate experience that takes place as soon as a person truly repents and accepts God's forgiveness, God continually renews and transforms a Christian's mind (Rom. 12:2) and inner being (Eph. 4:23). This spiritual renewal is an on-going, "day-to-day" process (2 Co. 4:16).

Spiritual birth involves a transition, or complete change, from an old life of sin to a new life of obedience to Jesus Christ. This means that there should be noticeable changes in a Christian's attitude and lifestyle. They receive a renewed attitude and desire to obey God and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. By depending on Him, they do what is right by God's standards, they avoid things that defy and displease God and they do not set their affections on temporary, worldly things (1 John 2:15-16).

Those who are born again spiritually cannot continue to sin. They cannot remain in a right personal relationship with God unless they earnestly pursue God's purposes and carefully avoid evil (1 John 1:5-7). This is possible only by relying on God's grace, by maintaining a strong and growing relationship with Christ and by depending on the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:2-14).

It does not matter how spiritual a person may talk, seem or claim to be, if he or she lives by principles that are immoral and follow the ways of the world, the person's conduct shows that there is no spiritual life within and that he or she is instead living like a child of the devil (1 John 3:6-10).

A person can also forfeit, or lose, their born again status by making foolish, selfish and ungodly choices and by refusing to trust God. As a result, he or she will miss out on the life God offers and will die spiritually. God's Word warns, "if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die" (Romans 8:13).

Even as believers, if we continue on the path of sin and refuse to follow the Holy Spirit's guidance, we can put out the light of God's life in our soul and lose our place in God's kingdom.

The Father/child relationship that God desires with us is voluntary; and we can choose to walk away or deny it during our time on earth. Our relationship with God is conditional and depend on our ongoing faith in Christ that is shown by lives of obedience and genuine love for Him (Rom. 8:12-14; 2 Ti. 2:12).

Spiritual birth, or regeneration brings: spiritual cleansing; the indwelling of God's Spirit, transformation into a new creation in Christ, adoption as God's spiritual child, the Holy Spirit's guidance and understanding of spiritual things, the ability to live right by God's standards and to develop His character traits, victory over sin, and an eternal inheritance with Christ.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

False Teachers

Jesus'followers today must be aware that within some churches there may be ministers who preach and teach God's Word, but inside they are just like the corrupt teachers of God's law in Jesus' time. Jesus warns that not everyone who claims to know and follow Him is a true believer. There are a number of Christian missionaries, pastors, evangelists, teachers, musicians and other church leaders and workers who are not what they claim or appear to be.

On the outside, these individuals will "appear to people as righteous" (Matt. 23:28). They come "in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves" (Matt. 7:15). One of the reasons that this type of minister could fool even godly people is because they seem to base their messages on the standards and principles found in God's Word and talk of high moral and spiritual standards. They seem truly concerned for God's work and may show great interest in the spiritual salvation of the lost. These leaders may appear for a time to be great ministers and servants that are empowered by the Holy Spirit. They may even perform miracles and experience great success, causing many to follow their leadership.

No matter how spiritually successful these people may seem to be, they are speaking and acting out of empty hearts. The Bible says they are related spiritually to the false prophets of the Old Testament and to the Pharisees of the New Testament (Matt. 23). Jesus
strongly challenged the Pharisees and teachers of the law who made it difficult for people to understand and accept the truth. He exposed their double standards and false leadership (Matt. 23:27-28). These imposters gain influence in the church in two ways: Some false teachers/preachers began their ministry with right motives, devoted to spiritual truth, moral purity and genuine faith in Christ. Then through pride and immoral desires, they gradually lose their love for and commitment to Christ. As they continue on this path, their devotion dies, and they lose their place in God's kingdom. As a result, they become instruments of satan, while still disguising themselves as ministers of truth. Other false teachers/preachers have never been genuine followers of Christ. satan has planted them within the church from the start of their ministry. He uses their abilities and charismatic or appealing personalities to affect others and to move them further along toward "success". The devil's strategy is to place them in positions of influence so they can weaken and hinder the genuine work of Christ. satan knows that when these dishonest and deceitful leaders are exposed even more damage will be done to the message and reputation of the church. But even worse, the name of Christ will be put to shame.

Testing: Jesus warned His disciples fourteen times in the gospels to watch out for leaders who would twist the truth and mislead people. In other places, God's Word instructs His people to "test" teachers, preachers and leaders in the church to prove that their hearts are in a right relationship with Him and that their lives and messages are consistent with the principles and standards of God's Word. The following steps can be taken to discern, test, and expose false teachers or false prophets:
1. Discern their character. Do they have active and consistent prayer lives? Do they show a heartfelt and pure devotion to God? Are they people of honesty, integrity and moral discipline? Do they show growth in godly character and evidence that God's Spirit is living in and through them? Do they truly love and reach out to those who do not yet have a personal relationship with Christ? Do they hate wickedness and love righteousness? Do they preach against sin - and avoid all forms of it in their own lives?

2. Discern their motives. True and genuine Christian leaders will seek to do four things: honor Christ above all else, lead the church into spiritual growth nd holiness, lead those who are spiritually lost into the light of forgiveness and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and proclaim and defend the true message of Christ as revealed throughout the New Testament.

Evaluate the fruit of their lives and message. The false teacher/preacher will hide the truth, confuse people and cause division. Often, the fruit of false teachers/preachers will be followers and converts who do not have any depth of character and who are not totally committed to all of God's Word.

Discern their level of reliance on God's Word. Do they believe, preach or teach consistently with the original writings of both the Old and New Testaments?

Finally, test their integrity. Do they handle all church finances properly? Do they further the growth of God's work according to New Testament standards?

We must realize that in spite of all that God's faithful people do to evaluate leaders' lives and messages, there will still be false teachers who, with satan's help, remain undetected until God decides to expose them for what they are.