We now arrive at what I consider to be the most relevant stage of the Angelic Conflict to the believers of our day, as this is what defines and explains much about what takes place on a daily basis in the spiritual realm all around those who choose to respond to the post salvation call of discipleship in the dispensation of the Church Age in which we live.
Let us begin this segment of our study with a definition.
The Church Age
The “Church Age” is a dispensation (a period of time) that had a specific starting point, and has an appointed ending point (Matt. 24: 14) time.
The Church Age began at the birth of the Church (Acts 2)at the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem, Israel around 34 AD, shortly after the Ascension (Acts 1: 9) of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Before ascending, He gave His marching orders (The Great Commission) to the Church that was about to be established here on Earth. These marching orders (The Great Commission) are what identifies and defines the primary purpose and function of the Church that He, as its Head, established.
The Church Age consists of the centuries that pass between the birth of Church and the Rapture of the Church (1Thess. 4: 16, 17) that will take place at its appointed time in the future. That "future" date could be today! The members of the Church that the Lord Jesus Christ consists of all the born again believers of the entire Church Age, regardless of such things as his/her nationality, race, gender, or "religious" affiliation. The Church that God designed includes born again believers who do not "go to " what many perceive "Church" to be.
One becomes a sealed (Eph. 4: 30) member of the Church that God designed IF and when he/she is born again (John 3: 5, 7, 16, 18) as a result of choosing to believe in a presentation of the Gospel Message during his/her appointed time here on Earth. Most of the "members" of the Church that God designed are already in Heaven (2Cor. 5: 1) in interim bodies, having lived out their time and purpose here on Earth.
An interim body is one that the soul/spirit of a born again believer receives and in which he/she indwells in Heaven upon departing this world at the moment of physical death (2Cor. 5: 1-4.
Scripture speaks of three different bodies that the souls of born again believers can reside. There is the physical body that becomes the earthly temple of God (1Cor. 3: 16) while here on Earth. This earthly body is referred to as a "tent" (2Cor. 5: 1). The next body that most born again believers will receives is an interim body (2Cor. 5: 1) that born again believers indwell in Heaven if they depart this world, as *most have done, BEFORE the Rapture takes place. This interim body is referred to as a "building" (2 Cor. 5: 1). The last and final body that all born again believers receive is their "mansion," which is his/her resurrected body that takes place at the Rapture. (1Thess. 4: 16, 17).
Note that I said *most earlier, as the born again believers who are alive on the Earth when the Rapture takes place will have their "tents" transformed into their "mansions" at the Rapture. This one generation of Church Age believers do not ever receive (or need) an interim body. Note that each body is greater in both capability and endurance than the former. Buildings are greater than tents. Mansions are greater than buildings. Each one accommodates the needs of the soul during each phase of the plan that God has in mind for human soul. We go form having a tent, to a building, to a mansion.
Among other things, these members in Heaven are conscious and awaiting the Rapture to take place. It is then that they will exchange their interim bodies for their resurrected bodies.
When the Rapture takes place, the Lord Jesus Christ returns in the air above the Earth, bringing the members of the Church that were in interim bodies in Heaven back with with Him.
First, He raises the bodily remains (or dust-Gen. 3) that had been left behind by those who died and went to Heaven, and have now returned with Him in their interim bodies. When He raises up what was left of the bodily remains (or dust-Gen. 3: 19). He raises the decaying remains or the dust into a body in perfect resurrection bodily form. The believers who had been in Heaven exchange what had been their interim bodies for their resurrected bodies. This is what Scripture () means when it speaks of believers on Earth not preceding the believers in Heaven when He and they return.
After the believers who returned with the Lord have received their resurrected bodies, then the believers who are alive in their natural bodies are transformed and receive their resurrected bodies, and are raised up to be with Christ. Then the born again believers who who had been in Heaven in interim bodies and the born again believers who had been on the Earth when the Rapture took place are then one united group. They, as a united group, go to Heaven with Him, and return 7 years (some teach 3 1/2 years) later to Earth when the Second Advent takes place. Among other things, what had been the Church nor rules with Him during the 1,000 kingdom here on Earth, headquartered in Jerusalem.
As of the Rapture, The Church Age (but NOT the Church) has now ended. For the next 7 (some teach 3 1/2) years, the Church that God designed is NOT on planet Earth. There will be some who will be born again after the Rapture takes place. This group of believers will be known as Tribulation Saints, who will face the loss of life and limb if their relationship with God is detected by the forces of evil on the Earth during the Great Tribulation that precedes the Second Advent.
Seven years (some teach 3 1/2 years), the Great Tribulation is brought to its end the Lord and His Church return to the Earth at the Second Advent.
The different schools of thought within the Christian Community concerning the timing of the Rapture and the Second Advent will be addressed in the Part Twelve presentation.
The Rapture takes place unannounced and very quickly (1Cor. 15: 52), after which time the rest of the human race that are left behind goes through the Great Tribulation. This Great Tribulation is a period of time preceding the Second Advent that Scripture defines as being the worse period of all human history. It will be so bad, that if it had not been cut short by the return of Christ at the Second Advent, no life on Earth would survive (Matt. 24: 22). As it is, much devastation to the planet is on its way, and there will be a great reduction of the world's population as these horrific end time (before the Second Advent) takes place.
The Rapture is NOT to be confused to Second Advent when Christ returns to the Earth and stands on the Earth in Israel. One of the major differences between the Rapture and the Second Advent is that the Rapture takes place IN THE AIR above the Earth, and the Church (that God designed) is taken away to Heaven. When the Second Advent takes place seven years (some teach 3 1/2 years) later, the Church return to Earth with Christ. The Second Advent takes place ON the Earth, not above the Earth as did the Rapture.
We have now examined what the Church Age consists of, when it began, and when it will end. Keeping this in mind, we will now examine the spiritual combat of the Angelic Conflict that has taken, is now taking place, and will take place until the Church Age comes to its appointed end time.
To understand what the spiritual combat of the Angelic Conflict during the he Church Age (in which we are presently living), one must have knowledge of what are the primary objectives of both the forces of good, and what are the primary objectives of the forces of evil are.
The primary mission (that identifies the primary objective) of the forces of good is made crystal clear in the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 19, 20).
The primary mission and objective that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to the Church that He designed has an external (outside) part, and an internal (inside) part to fulfill. It's outside part calls for the proclamation of unadulterated Gospel Message to unbelievers, affording them the opportunity to be born again. The inside part calls for the making of disciples out of those who have already been born again.
The English word disciple is a translation of the Greek word m-a-t-h-e-t-es, which in this scenario, means to be a technical s-t-u-d-e-n-t of the Word of God. Discipleship calls for the individual edification of each and every born again believer with the long term objective of taking part in the Great Commission.
The Church that God designed is the primary target of the devil and his forces of evil during the dispensation of the Church Age. The "alternative" churches that Man has designed are promoted by the devil, as they (in most cases) unwittingly play right into his hand. An "alternate" Church is one that promotes a false or an adulterated Gospel Message and/or one that fails to prioritize the marching orders (the Great Commission) that God gave to the Church that He designed.
The devil and his Eph. 6: 12 forces of evil attack the proclamation of the Gospel Message while promoting atheism and the many false (Psalms 96: 5) religions of world.
The devil's strategy as it pertains to unbelievers is understood by most Christians. But what is not understood by many Christians is that the devil also attacks the Church that God designed from within. The last place that many Christians would expect to find the devil is within the Church. This ignorance is what makes the devil's work all that much easier for the forces of evil to achieve. The devil and his forces of evil attack within by promoting adulterated Gospel Messages and false doctrines WITHIN the Christian Community.
Participating in the Great Commission requires a degree of spiritual maturity on the part of the congregation and on the part of individual believers that get involved. Spiritual maturity is obtained, retained, and increased through the ongoing study (2Pet. 3: 18), reiteration (Phil. 3: 1) , and application (James 1: 22) of the Word of God. Its the job of the Church to teach (make disciples) and to reiterate the principles of the Word of God. It is the job of the m-a-t-h-e-t-e-s to learn and to apply the teaching he/she should be receiving.
As in the case of previous dispensations, the objective of the devil and the forces of evil continue to promote atheism and/or the (Psalms 96: 5) "religions" of the world. Atheism promotes the concept that there is NO god of ANY type. The Psalms 96:5 religions of the world misidentify who the one true God is. The devil also promotes the idea that we all serve the same God/god, but refer to Him/him by different names, and connect with Him/him by different means and ways. In the case of Christian religions (as opposed to Christianity), the devil uses them to promote adulterated Gospel Messages as the means through which one is to connect with the one true God. The unadulterated Gospel Message makes it clear Who the ONE true God is, and the ONE and ONLY way (John 14: 6) to connect with Him. Until one is connected with the ONE true God by being born again, he/she can accomplish NOTHING in the spiritual realm (John 15: 5), regardless of how much religious activity he/she is exposed to or engages.
NO amount of religious activity or good deeds can result in the regeneration (Titus 3: 5) a dead spirit. NO amount of religious activity or good deeds can "earn" anyone as much as a split second of eternal life. One MUST first be born again (John 3: 5, 7, 16, 28) before he can do anything in the spiritual realm.
There is much that one can do (or have done) in the religious realm, as many Christian Religions offer and/or require one's participation in its rituals as early as infancy, but everything of significance in the spiritual realm requires a conscious choice on the part of the ones involved. Responsibility on the part of Christian parents begins with presenting their children (or having them presented) with the unadulterated Gospel Message once the child reaches the age or stage of moral accountability. This is followed up by exposing them to accurate Bible Doctrine for the development of discipleship.
Christian parents are called to lead by example. Christian parents are called to discipline their children, as long as they live under their roof.
Never-the-less, what each child chooses to do with the Gospel Message and/or the Bible Doctrine are ultimately choices that he/she must make for him/herself, receiving either the blessings or the consequences for the choice they make.
Religion, including Christian religions, often plays the fear card in an attempt to force compliance. God honors the free will that He has given to each soul, while assuring that one will receive either the blessings or the consequences as the result of the choices we make.
Everyone should respect God, but no one has to fear God. The only ones that need to fear God are the one's who hear and then choose to disbelieve the Gospel Message. It is they who will spend all of eternity in what the Bible calls the lake of fire (Rev. 20: 15) without any hope of release. Back-sliding born again believers would be wise to fear the consequences of divine discipline (Heb. 12: 6). The consequences of divine discipline that takes place here on Earth can involve anything from having to live with a guilty conscience until the sin is confessed (1John 1: 9)/ forsaken (John 8: 11), up to and including suffering physical death (Acts 5/1Cor. 11: 30).
I believe that in more cases than not,God disciplines us by simply allowing the inevitable end results of the choices we make play themselves out. There is nothing more humbling than to stew in the juice of our own making. Humility, that is coming to the point that we see ourselves for what we really are, is often the first step towards repentance and reformation. In our arrogance, we can easily see the sin and failures of others, while being totally blind to our own (Matt. 7: 3-5).
Never lose sight of the fact that by violating just one of God's laws, we stand as guilty in the eyes of God as the one who has broken them all (James 2: 10).
Regarding the death of anyone who dies prior to reaching the age or stage of moral accountability, they go to Heaven. Among other things, David suffered the death of his child in an act of divine discipline for his (David's) sin (2Sam. 12: 14). David fasted and pleaded with God to spare the child's life, but the answer to these prayers as no. This child was the result of an adulterous affair that David has with Bathsheba, and the murder of the her husband in an attempt to cover it up.
Never-the-less, David was confident that he (David) would be re-united with his departed baby when the appointed time for his (David's) own earthly departure came. It was this belief that allowed David to pick of the pieces and move on with his life. I believe that David was correct in his belief concerning the whereabouts (Paradise) of the soul of his departed child. Paradise was a place of comfort (Luke 16: 25) in Hades where all the people of God descended to prior to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the same Paradise that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of when conversing with the man on the cross next to His (Luke 23: 43).
I can see no purpose for God including this information in this passage of Scripture (2Sam. 12: 23), other than to address the issue of what becomes of a soul that departs this world prior to reaching the age or stage of moral accountability. To me, it would be an act of cruelty to imply such a reunion if this were not to be the case.
"But now he (the child) has die; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him (in Paradise) , but he will not return to me (here on Earth." 2 Sam. 12: 23 NASB italics mine)."
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Once any soul has chosen to believe that there is either NO god, or has chosen to misidentify one of the many false gods being promoted by the Psalms 96: 5 religions of the world as being the one true God, he/she becomes an unwitting ally and useful weapon in the hands of the forces of evil in the realm of spiritual combat. Being "contagious", the often sincere, but misguided soul can spread his false beliefs to others he/she interacts with on a daily basis.
When someone claiming to be a Christian promotes an adulterated Gospel Message, or engages in the any of the religious add-ons (teachings/practices) that Christian religion has engineered to either obtain or retain salvation), he/she too, becomes an unwitting ally and useful weapon in the hands of the forces of evil in the realm of spiritual combat.
Of all the spiritual warfare equipment (helmet, shield, breastplate, boots, sword) that make up the Eph. 6: 13-17 armor of God, there is only ONE offensive piece, and that is the Word of God. But like ANY other weapon, its user must be properly trained if it is going to do any good. A loose cannon can inflict as much harm to those around it as it can do to the enemy.
False doctrine and practices that are promoted by "Christians" can result in just as many casualties in the realm of spiritual combat as do the fiery, flaming arrows (Eph. 6: 17) launched by\ the devil and the forces of evil.
Just as a physically dead man can do n-o-t-h-i-n-g in the natural realm, a spiritually dead man can do nothing in the supernatural (spiritual) realm. Until one is born again, he/she is spiritually dead.
It is only when one is born again that he/she receives a regenerated spirit (Titus 3: 5). Receiving a regenerated spirit and access to the enabling power (John 15: 5) to engage in spiritual activity are among several things that takes place the moment one is born again. Such regeneration and enabling power are the result of the exclusive work of God. God does not need the assistance or input by clergy to complete the job.
Spiritually dead, but physically alive, human beings can choose to do many things in the "religious" realm, but they are just as spiritually dead as the day they came into this world until they are born again.
Nothing means just that (nothing) !
Accordingly, one cannot worship the God of the Bible (or do anything else-John 15: 5) in the spiritual realm as long as he/she remains spiritually dead. Leading people to believe that it is through the participation in religious activity is the greatest deception of all.
Followers of religion are left with the impression that all is well between them and the God of the Bible, or with the (Psalms 96: 5) "god" of their own choosing, Hell, or what the Bible calls the lake of fire (Rev. 20: 15) is going to be populated with spiritually dead, religious people who engaged in relatively good behavior and did many good human deeds.
Salvation (going to Heaven) is NOT the end result of the post salvation spiritual life. The post salvation spiritual life does NOT even begin until one has already been born again and Heaven bound.
Being born again, and not any other religious ritual, is the all important first step. Without taking that first step, one will NOT enter the kingdom of God (John 3: 3), no matter how much "religious" activity, good behavior, or good deeds he/she does or has done. Note that all of the water baptisms of the Church Age that were documented in Scripture involved those who had already been born again first!
As of the Church Age, The one and only way to be born again is to believe (John 3: 18) in a presentation of the unadulterated Gospel Message. To believe, in this scenario, means to place one's full trust and confidence is something/Someone, to the exclusion of all other means and ways.
Once one has been born again, the location of his/her eternal destiny has already and forever been resolved. What remains to be determined, however, is how (with or without rewards (1Cor. 3: 14, 15) and (Rev. 2/Rev. 3) privileges the born again believer is going to experience Heaven and eternity.
As of the day one is born again one enters into his/her post salvation spiritual life here on Earth. Relatively (Romans 3: 23/James 2: 10) good behavior and good human deeds will be among the bi-products of identifying and executing the post salvation spiritual life, but such things were not means to have been saved; are not the means to retain salvation; and do not entitle one to receive the 1Cor. 3: 14 rewards or Rev. 2/Rev. 3 privileges in Heaven.
Satan promotes atheism, non-Christian religions, and "Christian" religions to the extent that they have added on to true Gospel Message. The end result of those who add on to the Word of God and/or follow those who do is made clear in Scripture (Proverbs 30: 6/Matt. 15: 14). It is an edified advancing disciple that can tell the difference between Christianity and Christian Religion.
Christian religion is the devil's primary weapon that he uses when attacking the Church that God designed from within. The devil is a master in the art of deception. He makes his counterfeits and his alternatives to appear to have come from God, cashing in on the spiritual ignorance and/or deviation from the Word of God. Most of the perception of what Christianity is all about in the minds of many who call themselves Christians is limited to what they have been taught, and what has become a tradition or an expectation from family and/or the culture in which they were raised.
The first step in determining what is from God and what are the products of Man made religion is to ask WHEN was the teaching and/or practice started, by whom, and where is the Biblical foundation for it. If what is promoted within any Church can NOT be substantiated by the Word of God, the advancing disciple will have every reason to believe that it did NOT come from God.
While some "denominations" are more culpable than others, there is not one that I have ever found that does not promote at least some of the products and practices of Christian Religion. If it were not for becoming aware of what the spiritual combat of the Church Age is all about, it would make one wonder just how such apostasy (false teachings/practices) ever made its way into the Christian Community. The ominous words of 1Tim. 4: 1 tell us that it is only going to get worse as the dispensation of the Church Age comes to its prophesied end.
In addition to apostasy, the devil and his forces of evil attack the Church that God designed by distracting its focus of attention and resources away from the Great Commission by elevating human good to equality with divine good.
There certainly is a place for such things as engaging in relatively good behavior, feeding, clothing, and sheltering the poor and needy, pursuing racial, social,and political justice, and the protection of our natural resources in the private and collective lives of those who claim to Christians. However, there is a problem when the Church that God designed is so focused on such activity that it neglects the primary mission that its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, commissioned it to do.
As the Lord Jesus Christ put it, " For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul (Mark 8: 36 NASB)?
As the same principle applies to the Church, what does it profit the Church if it feeds all the hungry, shelters and clothes all the needy, secures global social and political justice, cleans up the natural environment, but fails to proclaim the true Gospel Message for salvation and/or fails to edify its members?
With human power and ability, atheists, non-Christians, and Christian alike can choose to engage in relatively good behavior and do good human deeds. Such activity can indeed improve the earthly lives of those who benefit by it. Jesus, in its proper place of priority, promotes such activity (Matt.25: 35-40).
Jesus performed miracles that addressed the health, desires, and logistical needs of many persons, but His ultimate concern was always for the eternal destiny of the souls of the one's who benefited, and the eternal destiny of the souls of those who witnessed or who would hear of the miraculous activity. This same priority should be maintained by the Church when engaged in the humanitarian, social,political, and environmental activity that it embraces.
The devil himself appreciates ANYTHING done by ANYONE that contributes to his attempt to make his world (Luke 4: 6) a "better place to live," as long as it leaves God and/or the things of God out of the picture.
Human good has its place and value here on Earth. It can benefit both the producer and the recipient. But, in of itself, does not impact the eternal destiny of those who benefit by it.
When most folks would see as "great accomplishments" the human good that doctors, lawyers, educators, social workers, public safety, and military personell engage in every day. For most of us, whatever it is that we (or those who support us) do to make a living is what defines most of the human good that he/she will accomplish in the course of his/her lifetime. The human good that the traditional homemaker does for the family is what defines most of the human good that he/she will accomplish in the course of his/her lifetime. Some, in addition to the human good that he/she produces at work or home, will engage in other forms of human good, such as humanitarian or charitable organizations.
All such human good, regardless of who produces its, has its own compensation and rewards to be received here on Earth, but may/or may not have anything to do with the production of divine good. Atheists, non-believers (in Christ) can produce all kinds of human good, establish stable marriages, raise educated and relatively well behaved children, but still fail to produce any divine good.
Every doctors' patient will eventually die (Heb. 9: 27). The best lawyer on Earth can not help you out in the Court of Heaven (2Cor. 5: 10). Every teacher's student will die with much of what he/she had been taught having had no eternal impact (Romans 1: 22/Col. 2: 8/Eccl. 1: 12-18). Every body that has ever been fed, clothed, and/or sheltered will, at its appointed time, die and turn to dust (Gen. 3). Every one whose natural life is saved through the heroic actions or sacrifice of others (John 15: 13) will still die at his/her appointed time.
Regardless of the type of government or the strength of its military, the rise and fall of all nations is the hands of God (Acts 17:26/Job 12:23). The lives and property that were saved by public safety (fire/police/rescue) personal will still some day die or be destroyed. Every penny earned by engaging in any business will all be left behind (Luke 12: 20).
With God, every activity here on Earth can have eternal value. Without God, no activity here on Earth has eternal value. This was the great lesson that Solomon learned and recorded for us in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. Solomon"had it all," and "did it all, " but after having gotten it all and doing it all, he found that, without God, every activity in which Man can pursue and accomplish here on Earth is eternally meaningless.
It is the divine good that God accomplished through us (John 15: 5) while engaged in all of these areas of human good that is going to matter once we have departed this world! This the divine purpose behind placing His ambassadors in virtually every walk of life and experience here on planet Earth.
While engaged in the same type of human good as his unbelieving counterparts, the advancing disciple plants (announces) and waters (reiterates) the Gospel Message to unbelievers, and edifies fellow believers. This is what give eternal significance to virtually everything we do here on Earth. In the realm of spiritual combat, the devil desires to have God's people take God and/or the things of God out of everything we do here on Earth,
Being one of Christ's ambassadors is the objective and long term objective and purpose of discipleship. The making of disciples out of born again believers was/is the primary internal (inside) work that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to the Church that He designed to accomplish (Matt. 28: 19, 20).
An ambassador is one who is well read and has a working knowledge of the policies of the kingdom that he/she represents while living in another. Christ's ambassadors represent and speak for the kingdom of God while living here in the devil's (Luke 4: 6) world. It is a twenty four hour, seven day a week assignment, wherever one find himself, regardless of what other activity he/she finds him/herself doing.
Like virtually everything else that God has established, the devil produces and promotes either a counterfeit or an alternative. In this scenario, the devil does all he can to keep a born again believer from becoming well read and aware of exactly what the policies of the kingdom of God are on any given topic.
The devil has no problem, and will promote the ambassadors of Christian Religion. Being "blind" themselves, they become leaders of the blind, heading for the pit. The end result is that they unwittingly become ambassadors of the kingdom of darkness (Luke 4: 6), promoting adulterated Gospel Messages, false doctrines, and a "religious" life in the place of the type of post salvation spiritual life that God has in mind.
Born again believers who become ambassadors of Christ promote the true The Gospel Message and share principles of Bible Doctrine with fellow believers wherever he/she is when God gives him/her the opportunity (1Pet. 3: 15) to do so. Such ambassadors do NOT have to go around looking for people to evangelize or fellow believers to edify. When one is executing the post salvation spiritual life him/herself, the "difference" that others will see is him/her is what God will use to motivate inquirers to approach and ask the ambassador what God has to say about this or that.
This places such believers on the front lines of spiritual combat here in the Church Age. Such spiritual warriors will find themselves in conflicts with those who adhere to the Psalms 96 5 religions of the world that identify with false gods, and with those who adhere to one of the many Christian Religions that promote adulterated Gospel Messages as the means for salvation and/or who promote false false doctrines and practices that are the products of Christian Religion that has evolved over the course of the Church Age.
Ambassadors communicate, reiterate, accurate information (the true Gospel Message/Bible Doctrine) to the saved and unsaved individuals around them, but it is God that causes the growth (1Cor. 3: 7) in the lives of those who choose to accept/believe the information with which hey are presented .
It will be for this communication that believers will receive the type of rewards spoken of in 1 Cor. 3: 12-15. This is a major part of the production of divine good, as opposed to the production of human good, is all about. The other form of divine good is the end result of a born again believer learning (1Pet. 3: 18) and applying (James 1: 22) Word of God to all that he/she thinks, says, and does on a daily basis. As we just noted, it is this difference that others will see in us that God can use to present us with the opportunity to minister (evangelize/edify) to others. In both scenarios, it is the production of divine good that brings glory to God.
Equating human good with divine good has been a long time objective of the devil. Human good without the inclusion of divine good creates a win-win scenario for the devil. Establishing a productive kingdom that is independent of God has always been on the mind of the devil since the beginning of the Angelic Conflict (Isa. 14: 13, 14). The devil's (Luke 4: 6) world benefits from all the human good that is produced, and God is denied the glory that He would have received if divine good had been produced at the same time.
As for the type of privileges spoken of in Rev. 2 and Rev. 3, they will only be received by born again believers who "overcame" the challenges that every born again believer and every local assembly that is of the type that God designed will face.
If producing divine good is not what takes when the individual believer or a local assembly is engaged in his/her/its various areas and projects of human good, then he/she/it has failed to accomplish the divine purpose and mission that it was given to accomplish. Such human good that the believer produces is no greater or no less valuable when the human good that his/her unbelieving counterpart produces.
Human good proponents are interested in hearing about how many persons were fed, clothed, or sheltered. Advancing disciples want to hear about about how many unbelievers were introduced to the Gospel Message, and how many believers were edified through the principles of Bible Doctrine that they received while being fed, clothed, and sheltered.
As good stewards of all that we have been given, taking care of the natural environment is wise. Never-the-less, regardless of what we do to preserve the environment, at its appointed time, this planet is never the less going to melt away in intense heat (2 Pet. 3: 10), before the new world spoken of in Rev. 20 is established.
There is a coming dispensation (after the Church Age comes to its end) when the human population will be greatly reduced, and there will be much devastation to the natural environment. In fact, if this dispensation were not cut short (by the the Second Advent), there would be no life left on this planet (Matt. 24: 22). This hardly describes a global environment is which good (by human effort) has overcome evil in preparation for the return of the Messiah, even though this is one of the many alternative missions that religious authority has given to the Church.
As bad as things are going to get, it is good to know this world and the human race is going to be around for as long as it takes to complete the plan of God. Edified believers know that they have nothing to fear, and much to look forward to when they look at the "big picture" of the plan of God. Yes, even if the Rapture (1Thess. 4: 16, 17) were to take place today, there would still be more than 1,000 years of history to take place on this present Earth (Rev. 20: 6, 7).
In the meantime, all the social status, prosperity, and possessions one garners during his/her time here on Earth will all be left behind when he/she departs. All the benefits that the departed soul received through production of human good are all left behind.
All the deeds (wood, hay, straw) that we produced through human ability are burnt up-1Cor. 3: 14 (rejected) as having any consideration for eternal reward. The good news, however, is that the deeds of divine good that God produced (John 15: 5) through us (as an individual believer) are rewarded.
If engaging in human good entitled the producers to eternal life, then God would owe even at least a little time in Heaven to ALL who produce it. Entry and residence in Heaven is based on one being born again, and not on the production of human good. 1Cor. 3: 14 rewards and Rev.2/Rev. 3 privileges are based on the quality of the divine good (if any) that was produced.
Scripture (John 3: 3) is perfectly clear that as of the Church Age, if one is not born gain, he/she cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, let alone receive any rewards or privileges. Furthermore, Scripture is perfectly clear that not only will there be no reward in Heaven for the production of human good here on Earth, all unbelievers (in the Gospel Message) will be spending all of eternity in what the Bible calls the lake of fire (Rev. 20: 15).
The unadulterated Gospel Message and the commission to preach it are the "keys to the kingdom" spoken of in Matthew 16: 19 NASB. The "binding" and "loosening" spoken of in the same verse speaks of the eternal blessing or the eternal condemnation that is the result of the choice that individuals of the Church Age make to either believe or to disbelieve, upon being presented with the Gospel Message (John 3: 18).
"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven (the Great Commission); and whatever you (as a result of presenting the Gospel Message) bind on earth (when the Gospel Message is believed) shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth (when the Gospel you preach is disbelieved) shall have been loosed in heaven Matt. 16: 19 NASB italics mine."
" He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3: 18 NASB)."
Before leaving this world, the Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that the commission (Matt. 28: 19, 20) to preach the Gospel Message and to make disciples was given to the Church at large. The Church at large consists of every born again believer of the Church Age.
The Church that our Lord ordained does NOT consist of such things as physical buildings, physical altars, or officiating priests, even though such things were (past tense) very much a part of the activity that God established for the Old Testament dispensation.
The reintroduction of such things that were a part of the Old Testament dispensation into the dispensation of the Church Age is what promotes participation in such religious activity as the means to obtain/retain salvation. Salvation is secured by faith (trust/confidence) in the atoning Work that took place on the cross, l-o-n-g before the first "holy building" of the Church Age was ever constructed.
Here in the Church Age, the "temples" (note the plurality) of God here on Earth is the physical bodies of all born again believers (1Cor. 3: 16) throughout the course of their post salvation spiritual lives here on Earth. Church Age believers do not "go to Church," but are the Church that gathers together (Heb. 10: 25).
Unlike what was required during the Old Testament dispensation, the building, if any, in which Church Age believers gather together is of no significance or consequence.
The Lord Jesus Christ is present with the local assemblies wherever (Math. 18: 20) two or three born again believers gather together to worship Him.
Man is impressed and easily deceived (Gen. 3: 6/Exodus 8: 7/Matt. 24: 24 ) by what he can see with his eyes, hear with his ears, and by what tugs on the heart strings of his emotions. The devil will make use of all three ports of entry into the souls of Man. If what man sees with his eyes, hears with his ears, or feels in his emotions is NOT from God, it is from the Kingdom of Darkness coming in the form of either a counterfeit or alternative offer.
Q. How is one to know the difference?
A. If it is from God, its roots can be traced back to an accurate interpretation and application of the Word of God.
Time and space do not allow for a complete listing, but let's take a look at a few examples of some of the ongoing activity that is commonly found in the buildings associated with products and practices that Christian Religion that run contrary to the Word of God.
The celebration of the Lord's Supper (Communion) is NOT for the purpose of reproducing the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's stated purpose is for Church Age believers to bring into remembrance (1Cor. 11: 24, 25) the Person and the atoning Work of the Lord Jesus Christ that He accomplished (past tense) while on the cross,. This bringing into remembrance is to take place until He returns (1Cor. 11: 26).
Traditionally, it usually the pastor teacher (as the leader of the local assembly) that leads the congregation in the celebration of the Lord's Supper (Communion), but this can be accomplished by any born again believer, as well. It is of no significance or consequence what type of building (if any) is involved, nor does it matter where (Matt. 18: 20) or *how Church Age believers are gathered together. *Believers can gather together in the traditional (face to face) manner in a local assembly, or via the many means of modern technology that have become available .
Much of the "holy apparel" worn by clergy and members of religious orders are products of the religion that ordained them. Once again, we can see where such apparel was (past tense) a part of the authorized activity in the tangible temple of the Old Testament dispensation (Exodus 28), but no such Biblical authorization ever took place for the "priesthood" of the Church Age.
The "priesthood-" of the Church Age consists of each and every born again believer (1Pet. 2: 9). As "priests," they represent themselves when interacting with God, having been given direct access to the throne of God, and as priests, represent God before Man, here on Earth. Christian religions have established their own priesthoods, and have given such priests authority and functions that did NOT come from God (1Pet. 2: 5) for the Church Age.
Much of the pageantry that has become the norm within many areas of the Christian Community is held in high esteem by Man, but is no more than the products, traditions, and practices of Man made religion. Again, we can read of processions and rituals that were (past tense) around the altars and within the temples of the Old Testament, but NOT for the Church Age in which we are now living.
There is no place for graven images where Church Age believers gather together to worship God (Isa. 42: 8).
"You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God...(Exodus 20: 4 NASB)."
Paying homage to anyone or any thing outside of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit) amounts to idolatry.
"I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images (Isaiah 42: 8 KJV)."
There is NOTHING that any human being, present or departed, can do for a Church Age believer that God would NOT do IF it was what God has in mind. During the Old Testament dispensation, attempts to communicate with departed human souls (sinner or saint) was punishable by death. When King Saul secretly turned to such sources, it was the final deed that resulted in military defeat for the nation of Israel, the death of his son (the prince), and is own suicide.
Candle stations, facilitating prayers that are addressed to personalities outside of the Trinity not only promotes idolatry, but runs contrary to the format for prayer that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to His disciples (Matt. 6: 9). According to Matt. 6: 9, prayers are to be addressed to God the Father.
Pray, then, in this way; ‘Our Father who is in heaven...(Matt. 6: 9 NASB)."
All prayers are to addressed to God the Father (Matt. 6: 9), under the authority given to the born again believer (John 14: 13) by God the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ), and in the enabling power of God the Holy Spirit (John 15: 5). No where in Scripture does it even suggest that the people of God are to pray to any personality outside of the Trinity.
The last tangible altar that God acknowledged was the Roman cross on which the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified.
Here in the Church Age, there were (past tense) apostles, and are evangelists and pastor teachers. The target group of the evangelist is primarily those who have need to hear the Gospel Message in order to be saved, whereas the primary target of the pastor teacher are born again believers who need to be edified in order to identify and execute the post salvation spiritual life.
Note that in () where the offices of the Church are listed, there is no mention of sacrificing or dispensing priests! In (Acts 6: 2), there is the mention of deacons, whose Biblical function it was/is to serve in administrative positions, so that those who are there to primarily promote (study and teach) the word of God have more time to do so.
The Biblical qualifications and the process for training and ordaining future pastor teachers and deacons for the duration of the Church age had been established and documented in such the New Testament Scripture as the Books of Timothy and Titus.
There are confessionals that have been established and manned by priests that are the products of Christian religion. The intangible "confessional" that God established (1John 1: 9) is open 24/7 and does NOT involve clergy (1Tim. 2: 5). The type of confession (1John 1: 9) that God acknowledges is a private matter of prayer that takes place at any time and any place. There is no penance required for a sin debt that has already been paid in full.
In fact, penance is an insult and an attack on the atoning work that the Lord Jesus Christ declared to be "finished-John 19: 30 NASB) while ON the cross.
Designated areas and/or accompanying apparatus facilitating water baptisms are common within the Christian Community. Where Scripture and many Christian religions differ is over when and for what purpose are water baptisms serve.
As of the Church Age (beginning at the Feast of Pentecost), all of the water baptisms that took place involved persons who had already been born again, as a result of they having made a conscious decision to believe in the presentation of the Gospel Message, and for the purpose of identifying them as members of the universal church of God. As time passed, different "denominations" evolved, and with them, came different teachings and practices concerning the timing and purpose of water baptism.
Many taught/teach that water baptisms are necessary to finish God's work of salvation. Scripture teach that the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ was finished (John 19: 30) on the cross, and that benefits (eternal life) of that work becomes a personal, individual, and permanent (Romans 8: 1) reality if/when he/she is born again (John 3: 18).
Q. If the purpose for being baptized with or in water was to address orignal sin, then why was the sinless Lord Jesus Christ baptized by John in/with water?
A. Biblical baptism of ALL kinds is for the purpose of identification. The Lord Jesus Christ's baptism was for him to publicly identify Him as the Lamb of God and the atoning Work that He would later accomplish on the cross. The type of baptism that IS a part of the salvation process is the identifying work Eph. 4: 30) that is performed by God the Holy Spirit (not clergy) the moment one is born again, and does not involve being immersed or sprinkled with water.
Some denominations require water baptism for membership in their denomination or local assembly. Being a member of a denomination or local assembly and being a member of the Church that God designed is NOT one in the same. There will be many who became members of a denomination and/or local assembly that were never members of the Church that God designed (Matt. 7: 21-23).
"Not 3everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to be on that day, "lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matt. 7 21-23 NASB)."
The will of the Father is for men to believe in the Person and the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 6: 29/1Tim. 2: 4). Those who do believe are immediately baptized (identified) by God the Holy Spirit as a child of God and forever (Romans 8: 1) is a "member" of the Church that God designed (Eph. 4: 30). Note that Paul, who was God's chosen vessel to establish His Church among the ancient gentiles (non-Jewish peoples), was not (himself) sent to baptize (1Cor. 1: 17).
God "knows" (Matt. 7: 23) the ones that He baptizes (Eph. 4: 30).
Some denominations promote water baptism shortly after birth, being the first of several required sacraments that one is to receive if the one involved is to be a member in good standing with this denomination. Such practices are VOID of any decision making on the part of the one "baptized." As many with spiritual discernment have noted, the work of the Reformers (returning the Christian Community to its Biblical roots) is not complete, but is an ongoing necessity.
As I heard one making her "confirmation" once say, her (water)baptism was the result of a choice that her parents had made for her. Her confirmation was a choice that she made for herself. With God, it is always that choices that we make for ourselves that determines the status of our spirituality (John 3: 18), and the quality of our post salvation spiritual life.
Finally, we have the pulpits. Virtually every "holy building" that Man has made has a pulpit from which its clergy speaks. But what can be very different, is the quality and the quantity of the teaching that comes from each one. Many primarily promote Christian Religion; whereas some promote Biblical discipleship. It is the one's that make disciples (students and appliers of the Word of God) that is doing the primary (inside) work that the Lord gave to the Church that He designed.
Some "comment" on the Scripture reading of the day, whereas others make the ancient writings applicable to the day, age, and times in which we are living. If what we hear coming from a half an hour or so, in most cases n a Sunday morning, does not impact what we think, say, and do for the reaming 167 1/2 hours of each week, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed if we are to continue to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8: 29).
Needless to say, if all of the products and practices of Christian Religion (as opposed to Christianity) were to be removed from the Christian Community at large, there would be a major change in what most "Christians" consider to be "Church."
Christian religion has erroneously used the binding/loosening principle of Matt. 16: 19 to justify and to assign duties and functions to its clergy that God has never given to fallen Man in any capacity. Many of the practices that are now a part of Christian religion did NOT even exist within the Christian Community at large for the first few centuries of Church history.
The resulting teachings and practices are what have adulterated the Gospel Message, and have opened to door to what would become widespread apostasy and inevitable divisions within the Christian Community at large.
In this the devil is well-pleased. It plays right into his hands. The devil will never be able to prevail (Matt. 16: 18) against the Church (in its entirety), but he has and will continue to cause as much damage along the way that he can.
Church attendance and its perceived significance tends to follow an inevitable cycle. When there is prosperity and/or when society is in moral decline, Church attendance and its perceived significance declines. When there is a crisis, triggering a spiritual revival, Church attendance and its perceived significance rises.
The devil is well aware that attendance and logistical support goes hand in hand when it comes to the sustaining of the "traditional" local assembly. Cut off the support it receives, and it will fall down.
Having an "internet" ministry/pulpit greatly decreases the "overhead," yet such ministries can contribute just as much to fulfillment of the work (The Great Commission) that God His Church to do as any other type of local ministry. Such ministries and congregations of significance to born again believers who can think outside of the box that Christian Religion has established.
In fact, the "doors" to an Internet ministry are open 24 hrs. a day, seven days a week, wherever Internet access is available. I was blown away to learn just how quickly and just how far around the globe that the international "congregation" of BATMQ would grow, all WITHOUT the need to ask for, or the need to receive, ANY financial contributions to sustain it!
Pastor teachers who can think "outside of the box" have developed new financial approaches as the means to maintain local assemblies/ministries. I know of more than one that rents space in a local theater. I know of another other that rents space in a local motel. on a weekly basis. No heating/AC bills. No building maintenance bills. No electric bills. No parking issues. No yard work issues. No snow removal. No insurance bills. Perhaps the most notable, there are no furnishings or apparatus facilitating the products and practices of religion.
Just a portable pulpit and they are up and running.
The Church that God designed was much more productive and more in line with what the Lord required of it before the elegant cathedrals of the ancient world ever came into the picture. Many of the "store-front" local assemblies that are becoming more and more popular are more in line with what God requires of the Church that He designed than many of the elegant houses of worship in the same cities and towns.
First century "church members" gathered together (Heb. 10: 25) is private homes, private halls, open spaces, market places, and in times of persecution, secret hiding places. Many of the ancient and modern day "houses of worship" are no more than great monuments to the apostate religions that created them to serve their own agenda.
There were times when the Apostle Paul engaged in secular labor in order to support himself, and there were times when he received the logistical support of believers. When there are funds available, Biblically-qualified pastor-teachers are worthy of receiving financial and/or logistical support (1Tim. 5: 17, 28). But no Biblically-qualified pastor teacher is in it for the money (Luke 16: 13). To be Biblically-quaified goes beyond obtaining the required amount of knowledge and the ability to teach. One must have the appropriate priorities, motivation, and mindset (1Cor. 2: 16), as well.
Pastor teachers who do not receive financial compensation and/or logistical are not "controlled" or "influenced" by the ones who could otherwise "control" him. Job security is not an issue. After the Lord Jesus Christ read from Scripture and making teaching a rather brief message (Luke 4: 16-20), the congregation was going to throw Him over a cliff (Luke 4: 28). Being a Biblically-qualified pastor teacher will motivate some to get rid of you, believing that they are doing service to God (John 16: 2). The Apostle Paul was hounded by "religious" people wherever he went, and was ultimately executed as an enemy of the State.
Biblically-qualified Pastor teachers are just as content to minister to a group of two or three (Matt. 18: 20) persons as he would be to minister to a congregation of two or three thousand, if that is where God wants him to be at any given time.
Recently, I read about an imprisoned evangelist who was incarcerated in a hostile foreign country for preaching the Gospel Message. He said that in the environment in which he served God, he would consider his ministry blessed if he were to be used of God to save just ten lost souls in the course of his lifetime.
This wouldn't seem to be very "successful"in the eyes of many. If the truth be known, many who claim to be Christians would have to concede that to them , saving or edifying just ten souls would hardly be worth being sent to prison for, especially with the threat of death if one chose to continue upon release. It would be a lot easier and a lot more popular to tone down the messages and promote relatively good behavior and engage in humanitarian work.
For various reasons, many "Christians" are intimidated (2Tim. 1: 7) or even ashamed and embarrassed (Mark 8: 38) to speak of God or of he things of God outside of their comfort zone of like-minded, fellow believers, let alone risk life and limb.
Consider what God (John 15: 5) can do through just one evangelist whose work resulted in the conversion of ten souls, if each one of the ten converts went on to convert ten more themselves, and the process kept repeating itself.
1 x 10 =10, but 10 x 10 = 100; 100 x 10 = 1,000; 1,000 x 10 = 10, 000; 10,000 x 10 = 10, 000 x ten = 100, 000, and 100,000 x 10 = 1,000,000!
Tens of thousands (if not more) can thank such evangelists as the late Billy Graham for the way God used him to present them with the unadulterated Gospel Message, but who knows who was the one person it was that God used to present the Gospel Message to Billy Graham?
Jesus initially placed the job of the Great Commission in the hands of 11 men. If you are a Church Age, born again believer, the torch has now been passed down to you! What remains to be seen is what, if anything, each one of us, as a followers of Christ, are going to do with it.
The seeds that one plants during the course of his/her lifetime can produce fruit (saved/edified souls) for generations to come! Several of the letters that would later become New Testament Scripture were written from Paul when he was incarcerated in a prison cell in the First Century AD. Such writings continue to be the final answer to many doctrinal issues that have presented themselves throughout the course of the Church Age.
Some born again believers are truly going to be surprised to learn just how many souls were saved and/or edified through their personal participation in the Great Commission. Others are going to shrink back in shame (1John 2: 28), having NOTHING to show for the (Matt. 25: 15) opportunities that God gave them.
Every born again believer has been called to discipleship. Discipleship begins with the individual edification of a born again believer, but with the long term objective of being used of God to evangelize and edify others.
To the extent that God allows (Job 1: 12, 2: 6 ), the devil (1Pet. 5: 8) has a plan of destruction that will involve just enough pain and just enough pleasure for each one of us to keep our minds focused on the here and now, and distracted from eternal issues. To become a target in the realm of spiritual combat, one must be doing things right (Job 1: 1; 2: 3), and be willing to endure great and undeserved suffering for the glory of God.
Most :Christians would not qualify. The devil does not waste ammunition. He is not going to use a hand grenade when a fly swatter can get the job done. Many who consider themselves to be Christians can not even handle the pressures of life that are common to all men, let alone engage in a one on one battle with the devil.
Confrontation with the forces of evil is all a part of the daily spiritual combat that takes place here in the Church Age. What many Christians fail to realize, is that it is through the daily scenarios, seemingly good and bad (), that the forces of evil will taunt, tempt, and encourage the born again believer to do what comes "natural," and not what can be done with enabling power (John 15: 5) of God to do otherwise.
A difficult spouse or relative, rebellious and wayward children, tough employer/boss, errant motorists, annoying and/or inconsiderate neighbors, issues of health, wealth, or opportunities can all be among the daily scenarios that born again believers find themselves in the midst of spiritual combat. Often times, when we respond in a manner that comes "natural" to us, a victory is scored by the devil and the forces of evil. When one chooses to do what God would have us do, God is glorified.
It can difficult to know when we are and when we are not to engage in the conflicting options noted in Ecclesiastes 3. The bottom line for an advancing disciple is what option, under the existing circumstances, would bring the most glory to God.
In our "natural" state of mind, Man is self-centered. Even when we do something that is "nice" or "good" for others, we often do so to make ourselves feel good about ourselves, or to get acknowledgement or something else back in return from the recipient of our good deed. The advancing disciple is called to do good for everyone and at anytime that we are given the opportunity to do so, even if involves our enemies or when know that we are not going to be acknowledged or later compensated in return.
For the natural Man, life is all about what God and people can do for him. For the Christ-centered Man, life is all about what he can for God and other people.
It is "natural" to treat or to respond to others in the way that they treat or respond to us. It is not natural, and therefore takes a conscious decision to do others what we would WANT them to do for us, especially when we know that we are not going to be acknowledged or compensated in return. Followers of Christ are to give their time, talents, and treasures to others while expecting to get nothing in return (Luke 6: 35). Furthermore, Luke 17: 10 teach that born again believers should NOT expect any special consideration for only having done what they should have done in the first place.
In the midst of our pain or pleasure, the devil will desire for us to focus on what we (or others) do NOT have. It might be an unfulfilled desire of relief from emotional or physical pain. It might be an unfulfilled desire to achieve, to possess, or to experience something. Such desires may be for ourselves or others with whom we share a personal relationship. The devil often throws salt into the wound by pointing to the prosperity of the wicked, but Scripture has answers (e.g. Mark 8: 36/Psalms 73) for all such demonic attacks (Eph. 6: 16).
A soldier is required to deny him/herself many things that would render him/her unavailable or inhibited to the call to duty. The Church Age, advancing disciple, in order to be a spiritual warrior in the realm of spiritual combat, must do the same (2Tim. 2: 4).
The advancing disciple will learn to be satisfied (Phil. 4: 12) with whatever he/she has or does not have here on Earth, as long as he/she is where God wants him/her to be, and doing what God wants him/her to be doing. To this extent, God will supply all his/her needs (Phil. 4: 19), and will take away things that run contrary or compete with he plan that He has in mind (Job 1: 21).
Many "Christians" often pray, "Thy will done (Matt. 6: 10)," but what they really mean is, "My will be done."
An advancing disciple, when engaged in spiritual combat, will at times find himself in the role of a lone ranger (Micah 7:6). He/she will find him/herself alone when taking a unpopular stand for God and/or the things of God. This will be painfully true when it involves one's spouse and/or members of his/her own household (Micah 7: 6). The Lord Jesus Christ quoted this Old Testament verse (Matt. 10: 36), reiterating its reality. The "people" test of (Luke 14: 26) is a hurdle along the road to spiritual maturity that many Christians do not want to overcome.
When dealing with worldly-oriented individuals, "Do not trust in a neighbor; Do not have confidence in a "friend." From her (or him) who lies in your bosom guard your lips. For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rise up against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the men of his own household (Micah 7: 6 NASB) italics mine."
Satan knows the powerful influence of close personal relationships. The devil's strategy of using one partner in personal relationship to bring down the another dates as far back as the Garden of Eden.
The devil has alternate plan that differs from the plan that God has in mind for each and every one of us. The devil's alternate plan will always seem like the better way to go at the time. If the devil can not get through to the man , he will try to get through to the man through the woman (and vise vesa). The devil will appeal to the pride in most men and the feelings of most woman. The devil is well aware of the natural desire and the willingness to compromise on the part of both men and woman to please his/her spouse.
Adam sinned (Gen. 3: 12) after he "listened to the voice of your wife (Gen. 3: 17), resulting in the Fall of Man. This was quite a victory for the devil. It cost him nothing (the fruit wasn't his), and he walked away with the "title" (Luke 4: 6) for planet Earth!
Godly spouses and personal relationships with Godly friends can be a great blessing, but the evil influence of a worldly-oriented spouse, "friends," or associates can be devastating. The Bible is filled with examples of how otherwise great men and women engaged in great evil as a result of the negative influence of those they chose as spouses, friends, and associates.
The issue with many Christians is that they fail to see the demonic activity taking place all around them every day in the realm of spiritual combat. Ignorance or denial of such activity is what plays rights into the evil schemes of the devil. Evil is anything that runs contrary, distorts, or pollutes what the Bible has to say on any given subject. No wonder the Lord taught us to pray to be delivered from evil (Matt. 6: 13).
Denying, twisting, and challenging the significance of what the Word of God has to say is the beachhead from which all Satanic attacks are launched. With the exception of the Lord Jesus Christ (), this strategy has worked out well for the devil and his Eph. 6: 12 forces of evil. Learning (2Pet. 3: 18) and then applying (James 1: 22) what the Word of God actually has to say are key elements in the post salvation spiritual life. It was for this reason that the Lord made the making of disciples (students and appliers of the Word of God) the primary inside mission of the Church that He designed.
Downplaying the need and/or the significance of what the Word of God has to say is an essential part of the alternative and apostate "churches" that have evolved WITHIN what is generally considered to be a part of the Christian Community.
Now who do you think would be behind that? He has a long, long, record of success that began in the Garden of Eden.
Many Christians wouldn't recognize a demonic attack (Eph. 6:16) if it jumped up and bit them on their hind quarters! Such believers' perception of demonic activity is limited to the type of overt activity/behavior in such passages as (Mark 5: 1-5/Mark 9: 22/Luke 9: 42), and the type of activity portrayed in contemporary horror films. The religious crowd have a great difficulty acknowledging the demonic activity WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY spoken of in 1Timothy 4: 1 that informs us that there are doctrines being taught by demon influenced teachers.
The Eph. 6: 16 fiery arrows of the devil come from the mouths (Matt. 15: 18) of religious (Psalms 96: 5) and/or natural-minded (1Cor. 2: 14) people all around us each and every day. Such schools of thought can appeal the fallen nature in each and every one of us (Romans 7). The difference in the two categories is that the religious ones have been deceived and therefore think that they are promoting the things of God. The religious ones are quick to point out the evil in the lives of others, but are quite blind to the evil that they promote. The natural-minded souls are focused on the here and now, with little (if any) real concern for eternal issues, demonstrated by the lifestyles and priorities that they establish for themselves.
There can be a great temptation on the part of pastor-teachers to compromise doctrine in order to retain existing membership or to garner new members in order to receive the logistical support they might bring into ministry.
"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and (then) all these things (logistical needs) will be added to you (Matt. 6: 33 NASB)."
"And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4: 19 NASB)."
Are not these principles just as applicable to the local assemblies as they are to the individual believers?
Could it be that it is because the local assemblies are not focused on the mission that they were commissioned to fulfill that they lack the logistical support they need to stay afloat?
The type of local assembly that God designed will draw born again believers to it. The type of local assembly that God designed is a place of refuge and refueling for the journey ahead. The type of local assembly that God designed will receive the financial and logistical support it needs to sustain itself from the type of members that acknowledge its significance to their own spiritual well-being. When local assemblies spend the resources that they are given on the products and practices of religion, they shouldn't expect much in return from God.
"But I have this against you (the local assembly and local believers in ancient Ephesus) , that you have left your first love (focus of attention). Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent (change your minds) and do the deeds (e.g. outlined in the Great Commission) you did (past tense) at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand (local assembly) out of its place (in the Christian Community at large)—unless you repent (change your mind and practices) Rev. 2: 5 NASB italics mine.
" My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (accurate Bible Doctrine). Because you have rejected (the teaching of) knowledge (accurate Bible Doctrine), I also will reject you from being My priest (representative spokesperson)... (Hoseas 4: 6 NASB)."
As of the end of the Apostolic Period (roughly the first century AD), the Church that God designed was not to be governed by an established hierarchy of authority that is above the local assemblies. This is one of the fundamental principles that distinguish the Church that God designed from the alternative churches that have evolved throughout the course of the Church Age.
The Church on Earth that God designed consists of all the independent (of each other) local assemblies of born again believers around the earth. Their unity (or differences) are based on the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the Gospel Message and Bible Doctrine that each one teaches and/or puts into practice.
No one is ever any more saved than he/she became on the day he/she was born again, But clearly, one's choice of where a born again believer chooses to gather together to receive his/her spiritual edification greatly impacts the quality of his/her post salvation spiritual life.
Each independent local assembly is to be under the teaching authority of a Biblically qualified pastor teacher, assisted by Biblically qualified, administrative deacons (Acts 6: 3). The final authority governing what is or is not to take place within in each local assembly is the Word of God, and NOT what has been added to it (in teaching or in practice) by "religious" authorities. The inevitable conflicts between the Church that God designed and the Churches that are the product of Man is what has been at the center of the spiritual combat WITHIN the Christian Community from the very beginning of the Church Age (Galatians 3), and it is only going to intensify as we draw near to the end of the Age (1Tim. 4: 2).
There were many supporters of the Protestant Reformation who promoted it for selfish and political reasons. But the true reformers were NOT seeking to start a new church, but to bring the Roman Church within the Christian Community back to its Biblical roots by purging it of all the products and practices of religion that it had accumulated up to that point in history.
Granted, there IS an "upside" to having an over-seeing hierarchy. To the extent that the hierarchy is correct in its interpretation and application of Scripture, all the local assemblies functioning under their authority are correct in what they do. But there is also a "downside," in that to the extent that the hierarchy is wrong, then all the locals assemblies in compliance are wrong in what they do. Once something, be it right or wrong, is accepted and practiced long enough, changing it becomes nearly impossible, and the inevitable end result is more and more divisions (1Cor. 11: 19) taking place within the body of Christ.
The devil will not overlook the opportunity within the realm of spiritual combat to have these various factions quarreling with each other.
The devil does NOT have the divine attribute of omnipresence (the ability to be anywhere and everywhere at the same time). It is therefore more strategically beneficial for the devil to have ONE primary source of authority to deal with, rather than what would become millions of independent local assemblies as called for in the design plan that God established for His Church.
The establishment of an unauthorized hierarchy with assumed authority over many local assemblies plays right into the hands of the devil. Having such a hierarchy enables the forces of evil to focus on one target that can bring impact an spiritual well-being of an entire empire, nation, and/or denomination.
The Christian Community is in no greater danger of engaging in apostasy than when its leadership becomes bed-partners with secular authority. As Sir John Dalberg-Acton once stated, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power absolutely corrupts.."
The Lord Jesus taught on the need to separate Church and State (Matt. 22: 21). There is the obvious need for compliance with secular authority (Romans 13), but collaboration by the Church with secular authority has a long, long record of creating a scenario in which tyranny flourishes, denying the populace the freedom of individual choice that God has given to each and every soul.
Advancing disciples do not need religious leadership or the laws of Man to tell them what is or is not right or wrong in the eyes of God. We have the Word of God to do that.
All Christians (or anyone else) need to do is to apply the Golden Rule to all that they do when interacting with others, and most of the laws of God and Man will be automatically obeyed. Note that the Golden Rule does not say that we are to do to others what they do/did to us, but what we would want others to do (or refrain from doing) to us. We do NOT want others to cheat us, to disrespect us, to lie to us, to deceive us, to steal from us, to annoy us, to disturb us, to be unfaithful to us, to gossip about us, to assault us, to endanger us, etc., etc. etc.. Therefore if we are to obey the Golden Rule, we will NOT to do such things to others when we interact with them!
The Golden Rule is NOT a suggestion. It is one of the more than 300 commands found in the New Testament. Keep in mind that when we break ONE of God's laws, we stand (in His eyes) as guilty as the one who has broken them all (James 2: 10).
“In e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the (essence of the )Law and the Prophets (Matt. 7: 12 NASB italics mine)."
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God's people have a long, long record of engineering practices and promoting doctrines that are the products and traditions of Man. These traditions are in line with human viewpoint, but are inconsistent with Scripture. Every time Man tries to "improve" upon what God has established has resulted in disaster (Gen. 3: 6). As the old saying goes, the road to destruction is paved with good intentions.
Virtually everything that Man puts his hands to is sooner or later compromised. The Word of God is no exception. Thus the repeated warnings (Gen. 2: 17/Deut. 4:2/ Deut. 12: 32/Proverbs 30:6/Rev. 22: 18) not to add to or to take from (in teaching or practice) the Word of God throughout the Bible and human history.
What separates Christianity from Christian Religion is that Christian Religion consists of all that Man has added to or has taken from the Word of God, in teaching or practice, in a futile attempt to make or to keep himself eligible to receive both the earthly and eternal blessings of the God of the Bible.
Christianity, on the other hand, is all about faith in what God has done, God is doing, and what God will do to, for, and through the people of faith. Here in the dispensation of the Church Age, the people of faith are those who have been born again.
In the midst of the spiritual combat of the Church Age, the local assemblies that are of the type that God designed promote the unadulterated Gospel Message for salvation, and accurate Bible Doctrine for development of post salvation discipleship. This was the primary work that the Lord gave His the Church that He designed to do.
To the extent that any local assembly or denomination has been polluted by the Psalms 31: 6 "add-ons" of Christian Religion, the devil will make use of such a local assembly or denomination to promote evil. Supporting members of either type become partners (Eph. 5: 7, 11) in either the good or the evil that each one promotes.
What makes Christian Religion (as opposed to Christianity) so damaging is that it has been made to appear as having come from the God of the Bible and appears to be what God requires. In truth, whatever contradicts the Bible, in teaching or practice, contradicts the God of the Bible.
Even when Man discovers or engineers something that initially appears to have the potential of improving the human experience, it is not long before the same technology becomes the means of his own hurt or destruction.
"When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate (Gen. 3: 6 NASB)."
The warnings NOT to disobey, not to add, and not to away take from (in teaching or practice) the Word of God are found throughout the Bible (Gen. 2: 17/Deut. 4:2/ Deut. 12: 32/Proverbs 30:6/Rev. 22: 18), yet "people of God" have done, are doing, and will continue to do so throughout the Church Age. 1Timothey 4:1 speaks of the great apostasy (false teachings and practices) taking place WITHIN the Christian Community at large in the "end times" preceding the Rapture (1Thess. 4: 16, 17).
Needless to say, disputing, denying, and distorting the Word of God is something that the devil has engaged in from the very beginning (Gen. 3: 4), and has had considerable success in this critical area of spiritual combat in all dispensations.
Scripture (Rev. 12: 9) speaks of the devil as the one who deceives the whole world. Many religious 'Christians' are quick to point out what they see as flaws in the teachings and the practices of the church down the street, but are totally blind to the false teachings and practices taking place in their own.
There is not ONE "Christian" that I have ever known (including yours truly) that has not, is not, or will not be negatively influenced by one or more of the many Christian Religions that have evolved throughout the course of the Church Age. Pursuing and maintaining the truth is a life long process.
While some denominations and local assemblies are more involved with Christian Religion that others, there is not ONE that has not, is not, or that will not be influenced by it. Pointing out the differences between Christianity and Christian Religion will not make one very popular at the Church picnic!
The phrase Christian Religion is actually an oxymoron, as it contains two antithetical words.
When asked if he/she is a "religious" person, the edified born again believer will respond, "I certainly hope not!" Such a response may open the door of opportunity to explain the all important difference between Christian Religion and Christianity.
As noted in Rev. 2:5, the (Matt. 16: 18) promise of endurance throughout the course of the Church Age was made to the Christian Community at large, and NOT to any one denomination or any one local assembly. God will prove to be liars (Proverbs 30: 6) those who add (in word or practice) to His Word. God will come against a "priesthood" or leadership that fails to accurately instruct His people (Hosea 4: 6), or who misrepresents Him before His people (Numbers 20: 12).
In His timing, God will "close down" a denomination, a local assembly, or a ministry that fails to accurately instruct His people, or that misrepresents Him before the people.
On the other hand, the devil will do all he can do to support and promote apostasy (false teachings/practices) WHEREVER it is found, especially when it comes from a pulpit that claims to speak for the God of the Bible.
Q.: How is one to tell the difference?
A.: Its consistency, regarding its teaching and practices, with what the Word of God has to say (Acts 17: 11).
"Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things (they were being taught) were so (Acts 17: 11 NASB italics mine."
The believers in Beria were praised for having the motivation to compare what they were being taught by the Apostle Paul with SCRIPTURE. Should not we, who now have the completed Canon of Scripture (The Bible) available to us, do the same with what comes from the pulpit we choose to get our spiritual food from? Not knowing where in the 66 Books of the Bible one is to look to make such comparisons is an indication that one has not advanced very far along the road to spiritual maturity. To continually grow in the knowledge of the Lord is NOT a suggestion. It is just one of the 300 commands that are found in New Testament Scripture (2Pet. 3: 18).
I was at a Church one day when the clergyman behind the pulpit advised the congregation to discontinue reading the Bible, if in doing so, it raised questions concerning their faith. On that day, I knew I didn't belong there, and it was time for me to move on in my spiritual life.
As good stewards of the physical body that each one of us were given, one will have concern about both the quantity and quality of the food we feed it. Never-the-less, unless we are a part of the "Rapture" generation (1Thess. 4: 17), our body is going to die and turn to dust (Gen. 3: 19). Accordingly, should we not be even more concerned with our soul that IS never going to die, but will on forever in one place or another when we depart this world?
The devil is well aware that Fallen Man is most impressed by what he can see, hear, and touch. A beautiful cathedral, furnishings, apparatus, music, artwork, "holy" apparel, pageantry, drama, and good speaking voices all appeal to the eyes, ears, and emotions of Man.
But not so with God, if what takes place within the beautiful cathedral with its furnishings, apparatus, music, artwork, "holy" apparel, pageantry, drama, and good speaking voices fail to accurately instruct the people in attendance, it is NOT the type of local assembly that God designed.
This is what Luke 14: 16 is speaking about when it says, "...for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God (Luke 16: 15 NASB)." God detests (has a strong dislike) for anything that leads His people astray, and especially when such things are promoted as having come from Him!
Note that Matt. 16: 18 does NOT teach (as some contend) that the Church was to be built on the person of Peter, but on a confession of faith in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ like the one that Peter had just expressed. Peter well served the Church, and like many of his fellow apostles and believers, was martyred for his faith, but faith in Christ is "rock" on which the Church was/is built.
In this part of the presentation, I repeatedly used the phrase "unadulterated Gospel Message."
To adulterate means to corrupt something by adding to it something that diminishes its original quality, integrity, purpose, and/or significance.
The u-n-a-d-u-l-t-e-r-a-t-e-d Gospel Message teaches the salvation (going to Heaven) is based on one making a personal and individual choice to believe (place one's full trust and confidence) in the Person and the Atoning Work of the Lord Jesus Christ that He accomplished and finished (John 19: 30) while on the cross (John 3: 18). N-O-T-H-I-N-G more and N-O-T-H-I-N-G less! The true Gospel Message becomes adulterated when any further requirements ( in order to either obtain or to retain salvation) are added to it.
Many Christians who believe this fundamental principle (eternal security) of the faith, but restrain themselves from promoting or teaching this truth in fear that it will encourage back-sliding believers to treat salvation as a license to sin .
Edified believers know, and backing sliding believers will learn soon enough, that being the recipient of eternal life (John 3: 16) and the guarantee (Romans 8: 1) of a home in Heaven does NOT mean that one will not receive divine discipline (Heb. 12: 6) while here on Earth for the post salvation sins he/she commits.
Divine discipline can range in anything from having to live with a guilty conscience on up to and including physical death (Acts 5).
All born again believers are already and forever saved and are Heaven bound because of the unearned grace of God (Eph. 2: 8) after having made a one time choice to believe the Gospel Message.
However, not all born again believers in Heaven are going to receive and experience the (1Cor. 3: 14,15) rewards or Rev. 2/Rev. 3 privileges. These rewards and privileges will only be received and experienced by born again believers who choose to identify and execute the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship.
Properly motivated Christians do NOT serve and honor God in order to be rewarded or privileged in Heaven. Properly motivated Christians desire to glorify God, even if there were no rewards or privileges coming. This genuine desire and obedience is the result of the love that they have for God (John 14: 15).
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14: 15 NASB)."
For many who claim to be Christians, its not that they do not have "a" love for God, but that they love themselves (Luke 14: 26), other people, and other things more. For such believers, God never was thier "first love," or as in the case of the believers in ancient Ephesus (Rev. 2: 2-4 ), God is no longer their "first" love.
‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love (Rev. 2: 2-4 NASB).
There are many types and definitions for love, but love can be best measured by the degree of sacrifice that one is willing to make for the object of his/her love.
The commandments being spoken of in John 14: 15 are not just limited to the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20, but include the more than 300 Commandments found in the New Testament that apply to Church Age believers.
James 2: 10 tells us that if we brake just ONE of God's laws, we stand just a guilty in the eyes of God as the one who has broken them all! Romans 3: 23/1John 1: 9 reminds us that we have broken the laws of God.
In fact, it will not be until we advance in the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship that we even become aware of what many sins are!
The post salvation (after one is born again) need to identify, confess, and forsake sin does NOT go away when we are saved. Such things are essential parts of the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship for which born again, heaven bound, going to give an account of to God.
It is fortunate for many that failure in the post salvation spiritual life does NOT result in the loss of salvation (Romans 8: 1), but there are consequences(1Cor. 3: 15). Among these consequences is the divine discipline (Heb. 12: 6) that a born again believer can receive on Earth, and the loss of (1Cor. 3: 14) reward and (Rev. 2/Rev. 3) privileges that he/she would have otherwise received and experienced in Heaven.
Where confusion enters the picture is when one fails to distinguish what God requires for salvation, and what God requires for discipleship. This is where Christian Religion comes into the picture.
Salvation (going to Heaven) requires a one time decision to believe in a presentation of the unadulterated Gospel Message. This can take place at anytime and in any place that God the Holy Spirit chooses.
Discipleship requires that the born again believer learns and applies the principles of Scripture to the thoughts and actions that he/she entertains and engages in on a daily basis throughout the course of our post salvation spiritual life.
Traditionally, this would take place in a local assembly of the type that God designed. While this continues to be so, one can also receive his/her spiritual edification (2Pet. 3: 18) and be equipped for discipleship (Eph. 4: 12) via one of the many means of modern communication, providing that accurate doctrine in being promoted.
One completely fulfills the one requirement need to receive salvation the moment that he/she is born again (John 3: 5, 7, 16, 18). Any further requirement(s) to obtain or to retain salvation that is added to the unadulterated Gospel Message, makes it an adulterated and false Gospel Message. Again, this is where Christian Religion comes into the picture.
Such "requirements" are an insult to the Lord Jesus Christ and an attack on the integrity of the atoning work that He finished (John 19: 30) on the cross. If such "requirements" were necessary, then faith in what He accomplished on the cross was/is not enough. Such a teaching is not only false, it amounts to blasphemy as it brings into question what God has clearly said in His Word (Romans 8: 1).
Scripture warns that there are many false (adulterated) gospels out there, some of which are promoted by various denominations within what is generally considered to be a part of the Christian Community.
Adulterated Gospel Messages, false doctrines, traditions of men, and products and practices of Man made religion are the among the issues within the parameters of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6: 12) that advancing disciples have had to deal with since the very beginning of the Church Age. 1Timothy 4:1 tells us that it is only going to get worse as the day of the Rapture (1Thess 4: 16, 17) approaches.
The truth is that if all the adulterated Gospel Messages, false doctrines, traditions of men, and the products and practices of Man-made religion were to be removed from WITHIN the Christian Community of our day, what many "Christians" consider to be "Church" would be barely recognizable.
Here in the Church Age, the devil is NOT in Hell waiting for all the bad people to be sent down to join him. The devil (and his Eph. 6: 12 forces of evil) are here among us and, prowling around looking for someone to devour (1Pet. 5: 8).
Sad to say, but the devil knows Scripture better than many who claim to be Christians.
One difference between the devil and the ones he has deceived, is that the devil knows what his eternal destiny is to be (Rev. 20: 10), and that his time left here on Earth is relatively short (Rev. 12: 12), whereas the ones he has deceived either believe that there is no eternal destiny for anyone, or that they are going to get into Heaven because of their religious activity, good deeds, and good behavior. Rev. 20: 13, 15 paints a very different picture.
With a few exceptions (Jude 4), the Eph. 6: 12 forces of evil and certainly the devil (1Pet. 5: 8) are here among us on the Earth. They remain to be a force to be contended with in the Church Age dispensation of the Angelic Conflict.
The divine objectives of the of the Church Age consists of preserving, promoting, and proclaiming of the TRUE Gospel Message for salvation, and the promotion of the TRUE post salvation spiritual life of discipleship.
Engaging is this conflict is the "good fight" that Paul wrote about to his letter to Timothy (2Tim. 4: 7). It is the calling on the earthly lives of every advancing disciple to be able to say the same when his/her time of departure approaches.
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only for me, but also all who have loved His appearing (2Tim. 4: 6-8 NASB)."
The question that every born again believer must ask and answer if he/she has been a spiritual warrior on the front lines of spiritual combat, or has he/she been a spiritual worrier, not even sure of his/her own salvation, let alone involved with the salvation/edification of others.
The diabolical objectives of the Angelic Conflict of the Church Age is to raise doubts and fear concerning the divine objectives, and to offer counterfeits and alternatives in the name (authority) of RELIGION. Once again, Christian Religion comes into the picture.
Counterfeits are engineered to be accepted and then passed along to future generations. Alternatives involve both prosperity and adversity, but with the same objective to distract or dissuade unbelievers from participating in God's plan of salvation, and to distract those who are born again from participating in God's plan for the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship.
This is the sword that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of in Matt. 10: 34. This is the sword that He brought, and this is the sword that has been passed down to each and every born again believer of the Church Age.
This segment of the Angelic Conflict does not end with closure. This phase of the Angelic Conflict is presently in progress and will continue to intensify until what theologians call the Rapture (1Thess. 4: 16, 17) takes place, bringing the dispensation of the Church Age to its end (Matt. 24: 14). The Rapture could take place today!