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Believing the Bible vs. Applying the Bible: Excuses or Obedience?

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…" (2 Timothy 3:16).

Evangelicals stand on the full inspiration of the Word of God. Sadly, we are not as firm when it comes to applying the Word. We believe the Bible from cover to cover in debate, but when we look inside the covers on our own, we have problems. The texts can be history, prophecy, promises, commands, or statements of fact. Our problems are not problems of understanding; they are problems of unbelief. Our solutions are:

• Stay ignorant.
• Run lightly over the text.
• Do much explaining of what the text “really” means.

A few examples of statement-of-fact passages are Colossians 3:9, Romans 1:6, Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:9. The chapters these verses are in make the truths much clearer.

Here are some clear commands Christians are hesitant to obey:

1. Church discipline: 1 Corinthians 5, especially verses 9-13.

"I wrote to you in my letter not to asso…

Relaxing the Law of God

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-20).

Jesus taught that there are three eternal destinies:

• Least in the kingdom
• Great in the kingdom
• Never in the kingdom

In the rest of Matthew 5 Jesus taught how He fulfilled the law by going back to the motives of the heart - hatred, lust, and love. This has to do with the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is never less than the lette…

Which Parts of the Bible Do Christians Need to Obey?

As Christians, are we to obey all the commands in the Bible, including keeping the Torah and the Sabbath? If not, where do we draw the line?

The New Testament has specific statements about the laws found in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). I hope you are willing to look them up, as there are too many to print out:

Health Law: Mark 7:1-23. The key phrase is in verse 19: “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.”
Civil Law: Romans 13:1-7. Since we are no longer in a theocracy, God has transferred this authority to the civil government.
Sacrificial Law: Hebrews 9:26-28 and 10:10-14. These sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ. It would be sin to practice them now because it would deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
The Sabbath Law: Romans 14:5-8, Luke 6:1-10, Mark 7:27. We can learn several things from these passages: God allows and receives those who consider every day alike; we are allowed to do good on the Sabbath; and the Sabbat…

Something’s Wrong with Human Nature

This is an excerpt fromThe Dynamic of Service by Paget Wilkes. It is a book that has been a great help to me in evangelism over the years.

“They did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Rom. 1:28).

In seeking to turn men to Christ, let us start with this terrible fact. Whatever else men desire, whether of good or evil, they do not desire God; men are not seeking after Him.

God has planted within us a capacity for knowing Him, the instinct that should surely feel after Him, that it might find Him. But alas! alas! men seek Him not. That instinct has been paralyzed; the desires of the human heart have been poisoned at their very source. Let us not suppose that mere teaching or enlightening of the understanding will meet the case. By no means. Deep down in the human heart there is a rebellion and hatred of God. Men desire not Him. They hate to retain Him in their knowledge; there is not one that seeketh after Him—no, not one.

Our own enlightened hearts, remembering the folly and sh…

Responsive Love: Our Obedience to God

The Bible speaks of the Church as the Bride of Christ. In this relationship, the Church is feminine, and Christ is masculine. A man’s love for a woman is originating love. A bride’s love for her husband is responsive love. She loves because he loved her first. The more he loves her, the more she loves him.

"We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

God’s love for us is sacrificial. Our responsive love towards Him is obedience. Make a study from the Bible on how much God loves, and how much He loves us. Keep this study going. You will find your love for Him growing. You will find your obedience growing, too.

Keep Your Conscience Clear

"But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:15-16 RSV).

"Keep your conscience clear." This sounds like, "Keep your powder dry." In both cases, it is a means of being ready for battle. A clear conscience is a means of shaming those who revile good behavior.

The conscience is kept clear two ways: l) Obeying God. 2) Confessing sin when disobedience occurs. I find that obedience is the simpler of the two. When I sin and my conscience is not clear, it is harder, because of pride, to confess my sin.


This post coordinates with the #SamePageSummer Bible Reading Challenge. Join the challenge here - we'd love to have you reading with us!
Written July 1984.

Not Works-Righteousness: The Relationship Between Faith and Obedience

In evangelical circles, the word faith has a good reputation. Every Christian knows that he entered the kingdom of God by it. Unfortunately, that is often the last time we had firsthand experience with the word. We admire faith in others, especially if they are dead and famous, like George Müller, Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, or James Fraser. Reading their biographies can encourage our faith, or it can be a means of trying to have a vicarious faith.

The word obedience does not have such a high reputation. Many Christians have the idea that obedience is an exercise in effort, and therefore a work. They associate obedience with reluctance, trial and failure, and works righteousness.

It is my intention to show from the Scriptures that obedience is not opposed to grace and faith and, consequently, it is not the near synonym of works righteousness that people think it is. Obedience is made possible by God’s grace and is a near synonym of faith.

Romans, the great book o…

"Don't Preach to Me"

Saving faith is a gift from God. Faith in spirits, idols, and false gods is not. Faith from God can be recognized by 1) its object—God, 2) its unwavering quality, and 3) its saving results. God causes this kind of faith in a particular way: "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

Faith is caused by hearing the Word preached. It should not surprise us when someone says, “Don’t use the Bible,” or, “Don’t preach to me, I don’t believe that stuff.” Of course he does not believe—he hasn’t heard it.

"For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach…

How to Increase Your Faith in God

Unlike grace, we do not need faith in quantity. Jesus used quantitative terms when speaking of faith, but notice how He used them: "Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?'” (Matthew 14:31).

Jesus equates “little faith” to doubt:

"But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6).

"But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).

Jesus also used the word small to describe faith: "Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, 'Why couldn’t we drive it out?' He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there" and it will move. Not…

The Heathen in His Blindness: Seeing as God Sees

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16)

The Apostle was not in awe with the beauty of the Parthenon. He was distressed.

Some of us have been to parts of the world where there are beautiful minarets, Shinto gates, and shrines, and beautifully carved statues housed in ornate temples. Do we think like the Apostle Paul? If not, is it because he saw things as God sees them, and we see them like the rest of mankind? May God help us to be distressed with false gods.

''In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown
The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone. "
(Reginald Heber 1783-1826)


This post coordinates with tomorrow's reading in the #SamePageSummer Bible Reading Challenge. Join the challenge here - we'd love to have you reading with us!
Written February 1984.

When Families Are Not Doing Well

Recently I was struck by the spiritual needs of three fathers in the New Testament and how Jesus Christ met their needs. The first was a nobleman whose son was at the point of death (John 4). The second was the Philippian jailer who was about to take his own life because his jail had fallen apart (Acts 16). The third was Cornelius, a Roman army officer who was searching for God (Acts 10). All of their needs were urgent—so urgent that each man sought help and got the help he wanted, and more, in a wonderful way.

Here is something extra that blessed me in reading these passages:

"Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, 'Your son will live.' So he and all his household believed" (John 4:53).

"The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family" (Acts 16:34).

"He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; …

God's Grace & Our Faith

God’s grace is wonderful. The Bible calls it lavish, overflowing, and abundant. It saves and forgives and gives us strength, power, and boldness to obey. God gives it in great quantities for our needs, whatever they are, and it is always sufficient for those needs.

If you look for the word grace in the Bible, you will find expressions like these:

"Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people" (Acts 6:8).

"When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God" (Acts 13:43).

"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:3).

Grace belongs to God, and He gives it to us.

Now do the same search with the word faith.

"For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints…" (Eph…

One Heart & One Soul: Will You Pray?

“And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).

Two things strike me as I read this sentence. One is great power, and the other is great grace. It seems to be possible to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus without great power, and it seems to be possible, too, to have a body of believers who do not have great grace resting upon them.

There was something special that preceded this statement: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and one soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32).

People were not attached to their possessions, and they were of one heart. Maybe this is why there was great power and great grace? No, this was another evidence of that power and grace.

Here is the reason in verse 31: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and…

Learning to Be a Mature Christian

The most effective teaching is by example and imitation. That is how we learned our native language. It is how we learned to do good things and bad things. Example and imitation are also God’s means of conforming us to the image of his Son:

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21).

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children" (Ephesians 5:1).

"Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith" (Hebrews 13:7).

Find a person who follows the example of Christ and then follow his example. You have considered the outcome of his way of life, and now you can imitate his faith.

There are not that many good examples, and you may not be near enough to imitate the ones there are. This was Paul’s solut…

Using Christian Resources Like a Christian

"Of making many books there is no end" (Ecclesiastes 12:12).

The Christian publishing industry is booming. We should rejoice that Christian teaching is being so widely circulated, yet at the same time we ought to pray that biblical standards be maintained.

A serious temptation accompanies the widespread availability of Christian books, blogs, and podcasts. Because so much has been written and spoken about a multitude of subjects, it is far too easy to turn to one of these sources before opening the Bible. Books and other resources produced by Christians are profitable only when they are approached as a supplementary source of guidance. True godliness is cultivated in those who labor in the Scriptures, for there we find the Lord’s counsel (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:15-17).

Luke commended the saints in Berea who measured the teaching of Paul and Silas against the Word of God: "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with…

Broken Cisterns & Works-Righteousness

"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13).

Do you see the difference between these two sins? The first is forsaking an artesian well, a flowing spring of life-giving water. There is no end to the supply. God is this life-giving spring. To forsake Him is both evil and foolish.

The second sin has to do with recognizing the need for water, but trying to get it from a cistern. The sin is digging the cistern. It is salvation by effort. Digging a cistern does not provide water to fill it. Even if water came, it would be stagnant. There is another problem, too: it is a leaky cistern. Soon there will be no water, not even stagnant water. Digging this cistern is a foolish attempt at creating your own salvation. It does not provide life.

"Jesus answered, 'Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I giv…

The Way to Continuous Revival

The Christian Church has been blessed with several revivals in recent history:

• The East African Revival of the 1930s -‘50s. See Roy Hession’s The Calvary Road, Norman Grubb’s Continuous Revival, and Festo Kivengere’s Revolutionary Love.
• The Welsh Revival very early in the 20th century, where tens of thousands were converted in a few weeks. See Jessie Penn-Lewis’ The Awakening in Wales.
• The Korean Revival and the North China Revival, also early in the 20th century. See When the Spirit’s Fire Swept Korea by Jonathan Goforth.
• The Great Awakening in the middle of the 18th century and the Second Great Awakening in the middle of the 19th century. These two hit England, Scotland, Wales, the Colonies, and the United States.

The United States did not experience anything in the 20th century that could remotely be called revival. We had two World Wars and the ascendancy of liberalism in the Church, but Europe took most of the damage in both.

The nations that did have revivals also exper…

Being Kind to Ungrateful People

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).

Notice that God is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked. We are to be like and act like our Father in Heaven. Remember this as you think and pray for those you know who are ungrateful or wicked.


This post coordinates with the #SamePageSummer Bible Reading Challenge. Join the challenge here - we'd love to have you reading with us!
Written July 1989.

Two Words to Remember in 2020

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace… (Galatians 5:22a)

Love and peace are words which indicate things of indescribable value and quality. Today these words are used as synonyms for temporal, physical events such as sexual relationships and the absence of war.

I can think of two other words which are not as unlimited in meaning but where there has been no attempt to change the meaning. In fact, they are largely ignored. This is a time of violent expression and polarization of peoples, nations, and opinions. Even Christians find themselves choosing up sides and thereby refusing to use these words and to practice what they stand for.

The words are gentle and kind. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger, and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you."

Wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking are motivated b…

Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth: Violence, Justice & Vengeance in the Bible

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

Justice or Vengeance?

Jesus quoted “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” as “it was said.” It was said as a justification for vengeance and retaliation. Jesus countermanded this saying. But wasn’t it a quotation from the Old Testament? Yes it was, but it is not to the Old Testament passage that Jesus was referring. If it were, He would not have said, “You have heard that it was said.” He would have said, “It is written,” and He would not have disagreed with the Scripture. Jesus was disavowing the misquotation of this Scripture by people who wished to ex…

"Therefore I Would Not Hear"

Part of the freedom man has received from the Lord is having the ability to refuse to listen to Him. Man has exercised this freedom many times.

"But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts" (Zechariah 7:11-12 KJV).

But God has the same kind of freedom: "Therefore it is come to pass, [that] as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts" (Zechariah 7:13 KJV).

This is a dreadful statement. God had also said He would not listen one and two hundred years earlier in Jeremiah 11:11 and Isaiah 1:15. There is something He will listen to, though—a prayer of repentance. But repentance is more than just saying, “I’m sorry.” It is a change of hea…