Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
John David Clark, Sr.
Instructions in the Faith for Spirit-filled Believers
"I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one."
Jesus earnestly prayed that the Father would make us all one, and yet God's people are divided by conflicting doctrines and traditions into a thousand different sects.
This book is the result of four visitations from the Lord Jesus to me over approximately four years, beginning in the summer of 1975. The first time that the word of God came to me, it was as if I had been sitting in darkness my whole life, without knowing it, and suddenly someone turned the light on. I think you will feel enlightened as well, as you read this book. Prepare for an adventure in faith.
In the summer of 1975, after I had completed my first year of Seminary, I happened to meet my father in a little hallway that ran between his living and dining rooms. He was 73 years old, a holiness preacher from the old school who, early in the 20th century, had been anointed with power to heal the sick. I don't remember how the subject of praying in Jesus' name came up, but he made a comment that left me puzzled. He said, "You'll see these modern Pentecostal preachers lay hands on people to be healed and say at the end of their prayer, 'In Jesus' name we pray', but nothing happens." Then he added,"Jesus said if we asked anything in his name, he would do it. That means somebody's got it wrong. Either Jesus told something wrong when he said he'd do whatever we ask in his name, or saying 'in Jesus' name' to the end of a prayer is not what Jesus was talking about."
As Paul once said, "My mind was unfruitful." I stood there with nothing to say.
My father didn't give me the answer. He calmly walked away as if the conversation was over and left me staring at the wall, wondering what it really means to pray "in Jesus' name".
My mind was so occupied with the issue my father brought up, I didn't even consider how very odd it was for him to bring up such an important issue and then walk away without helping me to resolve it. Only years later, replaying that sacred scene in my mind, did I realize how strange it might have appeared to a third party looking on. But by then, I understood what had really happened. The Spirit had my father to put that issue before me and then walk away because Jesus had determined, on that day, to take over my education in the things of God. I feel certain that my father himself did not realize what the Spirit was using him for; but then, whenever someone is "walking in the Spirit", he is constantly doing good things far beyond his own comprehension.
After my father left me standing there in the hallway without an answer, I determined to read every verse in the Bible that had the word "name" in it. Maybe by doing that, I could learn what asking "in Jesus' name" meant. Having gathered the necessary materials, a notebook, a Strong's Concordance, and my Bible, I entered into my task, beginning in Genesis.
Whenever I came to a verse with "name" in it, I would copy it, by hand and in full, into the notebook (computers were not yet available), sometimes including the verses before and after, so that I wouldn't lose the overall sense. Many hours passed, as I carefully went through the fifty chapters of Genesis. I did not know that Jesus was waiting for me to arrive at the twentieth chapter of Exodus.
So I continued working my way through the long list of verses that had the word "name" in them, until my concordance led me to the instance of "name" found in Exodus 20:7. Suspecting nothing of what I was about to experience, but hopeful at every verse, I turned the pages of my Bible and read,
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
When I read that Scripture, suddenly, and for the first time in my life, the word of God came to me, and it brought a flood of inner light that I cannot describe. It was the Lord Jesus, and he gently spoke to me and said, "John, what in that verse has anything to do with speech?"
In response, I started to raise my hand to point to the word in Exodus 20:7 that had to do with speech, but, astounded, I realized for the first time ever that there wasn't one. Throughout my life, I had understood that commandment of God in Exodus 20:7 to be a prohibition against using foul language. Now, because Jesus had spoken, that vain tradition no longer made void the word of God. God's true meaning, understood now for the first time in my life, filled me with wonder. It was very much as if I had lived in the dark my whole life and someone had suddenly turned on all the lights in my house. I felt as if I needed to read the entire Bible again, this time from the right perspective, for what I saw was truly breathtaking.
And now, what the Lord Jesus graciously showed to me that day, long ago, I humbly pass on to you, with my love in Christ.
"Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, and say, Thus says the Lord God unto Jerusalem: Your birth and your nativity is of the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. And as for your nativity, in the day you were born, your navel was not cut, neither were you washed in water to supple you. You were not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things unto you, to have compassion upon you; but you were cast out in the open field, to the loathing of your person, in the day that you were born. And when I passed by you, and saw you polluted in your own blood, I said unto you when you were in your blood, Live!
"I have caused you to multiply as the bud of the field, and you have increased and waxed great, and you are come to excellent ornaments. Your breasts are fashioned, and your hair is grown, whereas you were naked and bare. Now when I passed by you, and looked upon you, behold, your time was the time of love, and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness. Yea, I sware unto you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine."
God was speaking through the prophet Ezekiel to His wife, Israel. He was recalling the time, nearly eight centuries earlier,1 when He rescued His beloved out of Egyptian slavery and led her to a desolate mountainous region of the Sinai peninsula, where He entered into a covenant of marriage with His beloved Israel. It was an incredibly eloquent proposal of marriage which the Lord had made:
"You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you will be a peculiar treasure to me above all people, for all the earth is mine. And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation."
When Israel accepted God's marriage proposal (Ex. 19:8), the date was set for the marriage ceremony:
"And be ready against the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai."
What follows in the next chapters of Exodus is the account of that sacred ceremony, the making of the covenant of marriage at Sinai, when Israel was joined to her God and became His people.
When a man and a woman are united in a covenant of marriage, they become "one flesh" (Gen. 2:24), and this "one flesh" bears but one name. For example, when Barbara Myers married me, John Clark, she became Barbara Clark. She took my name.
Similarly, when we enter God's covenant, we become one with Him in spirit (1Cor. 6:17). And in entering into God's "family", we take the family name. Paul once wrote: "I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Eph. 3:14-15).
This is what happened at Mt. Sinai. Israel took God's name, promising to be His alone, while He promised that she would be "a peculiar treasure unto me above all people."
Now, there are fundamental conditions to every covenant, whether it is a business contract among men or a spiritual covenant, as here at Sinai. In a marriage ceremony, these fundamental conditions are called "wedding vows", and the wedding vows of God's covenant with Israel are preserved for us in Exodus 20:1-17. They are popularly known as "the Ten Commandments". But what they really are is the agreement between God and His people concerning the fundamental requirements of life as a part of His holy family. The third of these ten commandments is this (Ex. 20:7):
"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."
The primary purpose for marriage, especially in the ancient world, was procreation. Only by having children could the family name be carried on.
This was also the purpose of that holy marriage at Sinai. God was to be the head of the family. Israel was to bear Him children. If Israel would be faithful to her husband, His light and mercy and truth would spread throughout the world as membership in His family grew and grew. If she were unfaithful, there would be no light in the darkness, no instruction for the ignorant, and Israel would have entered into covenant with God to no good end. Being spiritually barren, she would have taken His name fruitlessly, for nothing - in vain!
To "take God's name" means to bear His name, to become a part of the family that is called by His name, to enter into covenant with Him and become His. To take His name in vain is to enter into covenant with Him and then fail to live up to the terms of the covenant, resulting in fruitlessness. The wise man in Proverbs 30:9 said that he could take God's name in vain being a thief. We could as well say that a believer who has become a glutton, or a liar, or an adulterer, or who lives in any way that is contrary to God's will, has taken God's name in vain. This is what the Third Commandment warns God's people not to do. It does not specifically forbid what is commonly called "cursing" and using the word "God" as part of that foul language. There are other Scriptures which forbid the misuse of the name of "God" (e.g. Lev. 19:12a; 24:10-23).
The Third Commandment charges God's people to bear His name faithfully in holiness, for the way to God's mercy is lighted by the lives of His people. And if God's own are living in darkness, how much greater is the darkness which is already in the world! Therefore, God plainly warned Israel that "the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."
The young bride Israel was to do just that. Rather than bear God's Law and light to the nations, she partook of the idolatry and immorality of those nations. She prostituted herself and God's gifts by disobeying His commandments and following the ungodly ways of the heathen. In yielding herself to foreign gods, Israel became a spiritual adulteress, bringing a reproach upon the holy name of Jehovah, the holy name she bore. Israel took the name of the Lord in vain.
Returning now to the chapter in Ezekiel with which we started, let's continue reading God's powerful message to Israel concerning His care for her in her impoverished youth:
"Then I washed you with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away your blood from you, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with broidered work, and shod you with badgers' skin, and I girded you about with fine linen, and I covered you with silk. I decked you also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon your hands, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel on your forehead and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. Thus were you decked with gold and silver, and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; you ate fine flour, and honey, and oil.
"And you were exceeding beautiful, and you prospered into a kingdom. And your renown went forth among the heathen for your beauty, for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon you, says the Lord God.
"But you trusted in your own beauty, and played the harlot because of your renown, and poured out your fornications on every one that passed by; his it was. And of your garments you took, and decked your high places with diverse colors, and played the harlot thereupon; the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so. You have also taken your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made to yourself images of men, and committed whoredom with them, and took your broidered garments, and covered them, and you have set my oil and my incense before them. My meat also which I gave you, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed you, have you even set it before them for a sweet savor; and thus it was, says the Lord God.
"Moreover you have taken your sons and your daughters, whom you have borne unto me, and these have you sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of your whoredoms a small matter, that you have slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them? And in all your abominations and your whoredoms you have not remembered the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, and were polluted in your blood.
"And it came to pass after all your wickedness, (woe, woe unto you! says the Lord God) that you have also built unto you an eminent place, and have made you an high place in every street. You have built your high place at every head of the way, and have made your beauty to be abhorred, and have opened your feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied your whoredoms. You have also committed fornication with the Egyptians your neighbors, great of flesh, and have increased whoredoms, to provoke me to anger. Behold, therefore I have stretched out my hand over you, and have diminished your ordinary food, and delivered you unto the will of them that hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, which are ashamed of your lewd way. You have played the harlot with them, and yet could not be satisfied. You have moreover multiplied your fornication in the land of Canaan unto Chaldea; and yet you were not satisfied with that.
"How weak is your heart, says the Lord God, seeing you do all these things, the work of an imperious whorish woman, in that you build your eminent place in the head of every way, and make your high place in every street, and have not been as an harlot, in that you scorn hire, but as a wife who commits adultery, which takes strangers instead of her husband!"
Prophet after prophet was sent to Israel, pleading, warning, delivering to her the great Husband's commandments for His household. And prophet after prophet was scorned, beaten, and even murdered for his effort. When the Lord Jesus neared the time for his own betrayal and death, he wept and grieved aloud:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together ... and you would not!"
So Israel was left alone, but only after mercy upon mercy had been shown to her for her unfaithfulness, and chastisement upon chastisement had befallen the nation, until both mercy and chastisement had lost their effectiveness.
God had kept her alive in the desolate wasteland of Sinai forty years because He had promised Abraham that his children would live, even though keeping her alive meant keeping her alive to dirty His name in heathen worship and disobedience. He won battles for her and established her in the land He had promised, only then to watch as she compromised the honor of His name for the savagery of godless living. And when, because of her own disobedience, foreign nations humbled her, He still cared for her and caused deliverers, called "judges", to rise up and break the yoke of foreign domination.
"And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge, for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them. They ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way."
And Israel could not answer God's haunting question, "Why have you done this?" (Jud. 2:2).
After several centuries of living among heathen who were led by kings of their own rather than by God,2 Israel approached Samuel, whom God had raised up to judge Israel, and told him, "Make us a king to judge us like all the nations" (1Sam. 8:5b).
"But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them."
The Lord then warned Israel, through Samuel, that the kings over them would be severe rulers, and He pleaded with them to be content with His own merciful kingship, but they replied:
"Nay! But we will have a king over us so that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us, and fight our battles."
And when God's word came to pass, and the harshness of kingly rule divided the nation in half (1Kings 12:1-20), He still cared for her and sent His messengers to the northern half of the kingdom (called Israel) and to the southern half (called Judah), preaching love and forgiveness, pleading with Israel to turn from following the nations and to be reconciled to God.
He sent Isaiah: (1:18):
"Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be like crimson, they shall be as wool."
He sent Jeremiah (3:12-14a):
"Return, backsliding Israel, says the Lord, and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you, for I am merciful, says the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God and have scattered your ways to the strangers under every green tree and have not obeyed my voice, says the Lord. Turn, O back-sliding children, says the Lord, for I am married unto you."
He sent Ezekiel (33:11):
"As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?"
He sent Hosea (11:8):
"How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver you, Israel? How shall I make you as Admah? How shall I set you as Zeboim?3My heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together."
He sent Joel (2:12-13):
"Therefore also now, says the Lord, turn you even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning. And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness."
He sent Micah (6:3):
"O my people, what have I done unto you? and wherein have I wearied you? Testify against me."
He sent Zechariah (1:3):
"Turn unto me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you."
He sent Amos, Elijah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and others less known to us, but not to God. And when He sent the last prophetic voice in the Old Testament crying, "I have loved you, says the Lord" (Mal. 1:2), Israel was no longer His bride, but was married to vain paganism (Mal. 2:11) and could only respond in utter blindness and bitterness, "Wherein have you loved us?" (Mal. 1:2).
And through the next four centuries,4 one of the blackest prophecies ever spoken to Israel became a living reality: no more prophets would be sent to guide her in the paths of God.5
"Behold, the days come, says the Lord God, that I will send famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst."
And it was so.
Those four dark, silent centuries saw the land of the Jews wracked with cruel wars, treachery, confusion and fear. The very sacredness of Israel's faith grew stale. The temple was defiled by heathen intruders. The High Priesthood became a political prize. The Law was surrounded, so as to protect it they said, by a tall, cold fence of uninspired tradition.
The religious harshness and emptiness of opinionated traditions resulted in the slow rise of sects within the Jewish religion during that time. There arose the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Zealots, Herodians, Essenes, and other faiths within Israel itself. Each had its own particular doctrine and standards, and each claimed to be the right way. Israel could no longer offer deliverance to a confused world; she was herself confused.
And as the end of this dark era neared, the situation in Israel grew desperate. The covenant of God was distorted, twisted by men of great mind and empty soul. God's original, loving intention for making that first covenant was now so foreign to what was taught by Israel's leaders that those who were persuaded to become Jews were no longer being converted to God's faith. Jesus described the situation in blunt terms:
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves."
This means that Israel's pastors converted people not to God's covenant, but to their interpretation of God's covenant. It means that the religion then taught and observed by the Jews was not the religion God originally gave the nation. It meant that throughout the synagogues of Israel, rabbis were telling the congregations that they were prepared to meet God when they were not prepared, that God was their God when He was not, and that they could expect rich blessings and great favor, when only disaster and ruin lay ahead. The people were being taught to long for the day of the Lord (for surely He would greatly reward them!), but did anyone consider the words of Amos?
"Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! To what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light."
During these long centuries, when the word of the Lord was not heard in God's vineyard, many traditions budded and grew and were added by Israel's pastors to her religious diet. They appeared authoritative, but all of them were wild, poisonous fruit, and everyone who ate of this fruit partook of its degenerate nature. Years before, Isaiah had sung this sad song of his well-beloved God and His vineyard:
"My wellbeloved has a vineyard in a very fruitful hill. And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein. And he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up, and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down, and I will lay it waste. It shall not be pruned, nor dug; but there will come up briars and thorns. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant, and He looked for judgment, but behold oppression, for righteousness, but behold a cry."
Amid all the frightening words of doom and ugly pictures of destruction found in the ancient scrolls of the prophets was one last, bright hope. In enigmatic terms, the prophets spoke of one who would come to restore and reconcile the people to God, and the hope which these promises sparked prevented the future for God's vineyard from seeming so utterly dark, for out of its dried and broken stumps and roots would rise God's great apostle. Isaiah again (11:1,2; 53:2):
"There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch will grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. He will grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground."
Said Zechariah (6:12):
"Behold the man whose name is the BRANCH! And he will grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord."
And Hosea (14:5b-6, 9a):
"He will grow as the lily and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches will spread, and his beauty will be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
Who is wise, and he will understand these things? prudent, and he will know them?"
The purpose of God's choosing of Israel was the blessing of others; it was to make people a vehicle of His great care and healing and peace. When God's people humbled themselves before Him in obedient holiness, godly fruit was produced. When pride, compromise, and greed worked in His people and, so, hindered His working through them, what good fruit could have been produced? In the end, the kingdom of God was taken from Israel and given to others who would be more faithful in "bringing forth the fruits thereof " (Mt. 21:33-46).
But have we done so? Have we, the called-out ones, been the light of the world, the salt of the earth? Have we kept ourselves from the errors of ancient Israel? Have we escaped the shame of division? Are there any congregations of strangers to the grace of God being told that they may look with joy to what lies ahead?
The next question is even more sobering than those above. For if God so fiercely punished a guilty Israel, will He fail to punish guilty believers now? Some of the last words spoken by Jesus on this earth warn us not to think so. Gathered with his disciples on the night before he was crucified, the man called "the Branch" carefully labored in words that they might understand:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away. And every branch that does bear fruit, He purges, that it may bring forth more fruit.
"Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: He who abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit, for without me, you can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered, and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."
No, God has changed neither His standard nor His purpose for His people. For the sake of all men, the redeemed are allowed to live, that in demonstrating before all men God's way of life, some of them might choose to honor Him.
The body of Christ needs to examine its faith, its traditions, its methods, and its goals. If division in Old Testament Israel was an indication of confusion and error, can the confusion of sects that God's children join now indicate anything else? Will we point the finger at Israel and wonder why she chose to die, not heeding the Scriptures, when our own Scriptures tell us that as long as there are divisions among us we are carnally minded (1Cor. 3:3) and to be carnally minded is death (Rom. 8:6).
And when we cross land and sea to make a convert, whose convert is he? Christianity's or Christ's?
Or if a poor, unschooled and unheard-of preacher boldly proclaimed that many of the most famous, most revered religious leaders among us were blind guides, would we be so offended that we would not even consider it?
Israel compromised holiness, increased her membership rolls, and God cut her off. Will He look at the congregations His children have joined and see less compromise? It is imperative that God's children be taught to know that Israel's fate is not unrepeatable, that any people who bear God's name must bear that name in holiness or be destroyed! Taking the name of the Lord in vain is still sin, and it will not go unpunished.
The body of Christ must hear her own prophets! If so, we will understand that the things which happened to Israel "happened unto them for examples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." And we will also see the good in Paul's warning, "Wherefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1Cor. 10:11-12).
On another occasion, referring again to God's judgment against His unfaithful Old Testament people, Paul warns New Testament saints (Rom. 11:20b-22),
"Be not high-minded, but fear, for if God spared not the natural branches [the Jews], take heed lest He also spare not you. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God; on them which fell, severity, but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you, too, will be cut off."
We must come to know, fully know and take to heart, that first of all, there is such a thing as taking the Lord's name in vain and that, secondly, the only people who can take God's name in vain are those who have taken His name at all: believers in Jesus. We must (we must!) come to know the fear of God and the fierceness of His wrath against His own people who bear His name in vain by living ungodly lives.
We are no better than the ancient Israelites. We are equally capable of being led astray and persuaded to call good, evil, and evil, good, to love darkness rather than light and cling to lies instead of truth. Therefore, we tremble for our need of God's mercy, and for His power to grant it.
From the beginning, God has been open and direct with those who come to Him concerning His simple requirements:
"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."
I know that there are many religious leaders who teach that because of the blood of Christ upon us, God does not see, or does not take into account, our sins. But it is not true that we are counted good in God's sight for Jesus' sake, even when we are disobedient to Him. That is an old heresy, and it wearies God to even hear such nonsense:
"You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, Wherein have we wearied you? When you say, Every one that does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?"
We need to reject doctrines that flatter us and eventually, when they have finished their rambling course, make what is wrong seem right. The truth is and always has been simple: Obey God and live, or disobey Him and die. It is when we are seduced by sophisticated theology and glittering religious manners that we become confused, divided, carnal. Those who do righteousness are righteous (1Jn. 3:7-10); those who do evil are evil. The righteous will be saved; the unrighteous will be cast into the Lake of Fire. That's the gospel.
Jesus gives us wisdom and power to overcome the flesh and live godly lives so that at the Final Judgment we may stand pure and innocent before his judgment seat. He came and suffered to take away our excuses for sinning; but we have often used his sacrificial act as our excuse to continue in it.
If we hope to enjoy the promises of eternal life that God offers us, we must learn the lesson which Israel's failure teaches (cp. 1Cor. 10:1-12); namely, that being the people of God, bearing His holy name, carries with it the responsibility of faithfulness to God by walking in His holiness. It teaches us that without holiness, no man will see God (Heb. 12:14), whether he is one of God's own or a sinner who has never tasted of the grace of God in Christ.
Refusal to consider seriously and humbly the possibility of spiritual error was a hallmark of Israel's elders. They could have continued to revere their traditions, yet be willing to consider the prophets' and Jesus' words, and, thereby, be helped. But their unwillingness to hear, their readiness to condemn any suggestions that they had misunderstood, ultimately ruined both them and the nation. A willingness to hear is a mark of righteous people; only the guilty are hardhearted.
Because the truths in this beginning chapter help quicken our minds to the real possibility and awful consequences of developing (even unintentionally) spiritual hardness to truth, I consider it to be merely the introduction to what this book really has to say. For much of what is being taught to the saints today, and much of their religious practice, is not of God. In fact, the sects that most of God's children have joined are contrary to Christ because they divide and confuse God's children. Merely belonging to different sects which teach conflicting doctrines hardens their hearts against God's truth. And it is only in remembering with what steadfast confidence in their own righteousness that Israel slaughtered the prophets that we can be warned to listen for the chastening word.
In His fear, we sheep of His pasture must earnestly and humbly examine ourselves and our faith, for much of the responsibility to be led rightly lies squarely upon the shoulders of each follower. If I stand before God "poor, blind, and naked", my shepherd may well answer for it, but neither will I be guiltless. Every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:12).
It is certainly nothing new to your ears to hear that the body of Christ is "off track". We all sense that something is amiss. The presence of so many divisions among us is an indication to every good conscience of some pervasive yet hard to define error which owns great influence over God's people. Differences in doctrine, ordinances, standards, and governments are so obviously ungodly that at times they have even been defended - on the basis that God would not allow such awful things to exist among us if indeed they were so ungodly. But at heart, we all know fully well that it is not as it should be.
The Spirit of God is calling to you right now, as it is calling to everyone who is looking for the right path, "Come out of her, my people!" But God is not merely calling us out of confusion; He is calling us into His light. Let us go to Him outside the gate!
The chapters that follow will, for many of you, initiate a difficult task of re-examination. They will require all of your faith, your attention, and your prayers. In reality, you will not be judging their contents; they will be judging you.
Saints everywhere are longing for a move of the holy Spirit throughout the world that will eventuate the uniting of all who trust in Jesus, bringing all believers together into the one faith, the one hope, and the one mind of Christ. However, much depends on what we, as believers, do. There are many beliefs to be abandoned, many traditions to be discarded, many confessions to be made, and much chastening and pruning to be received. And if God's recording of Israel's failure to do these things, and His recording of the results, do not make us willing (yea, eager!) to examine in earnest our own beliefs and to be willing to hear words not easy on our souls, then will be fulfilled the words of Solomon (Prov. 1:24-26):
"Because I have called, and you refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded, but you have set at nought all my counsel, and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear comes."
The messages that now follow may be a tiny part of our God's call to the divided and confused household of faith. Still, they are a part. They will not all be easy to accept, but they are all true, and we all need them. They will stand the tests of scriptural examination and endorsement of the Spirit.
There is nothing to be gained by strife and faultfinding. We have all been wrong, and we will stay that way if we refuse God's help. These truths require humility from me as well as you, and you will find no spirit of strife or self-aggrandizement in this work. There is, however, everything to be gained by instruction in righteousness, and the Spirit of truth has given me these messages for this time for the body of Christ.
"My son, if you will receive my words, and hide my commandments with you so that you incline your ear unto wisdom and apply your heart to understanding; yea, if you cry after knowledge and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; out of His mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He lays up sound wisdom for the righteous; He is a buckler to those who walk uprightly. He keeps the paths of judgment and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path."