Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Marked for life: discernment ministry in light of Ezekiel 9:1-11
By Pastor Larry DeBruyn
Someone once said that sin is as much a breaking of God's heart as it is the breaking of His Law. When God looked down on the perversity of the people on earth before the Deluge, it was recorded that He "was grieved in His heart" (Genesis 6:6b). When confronted by resident wickedness both without and within the professing church, Christians can manifest one of three reactions: approval (1 Corinthians 5:2), indifference (Zephaniah 1:12), or disapproval as indicated by the presence of either anger (Psalm 119:53) or grief (Psalm 119:136). So the question becomes, as we see the worldliness-wickedness invading the church, how do we feel about it? Are agitated by, indifferent to, or accommodating of it?
Not unlike the society and church of our times, during Ezekiel's ministry Judah found herself in a moral and spiritual "melt down." Fraud, violence, adultery, and idolatry were running rampant amongst God's chosen people. Idols had been set up in the Temple (Ezekiel 8:17; 9:9). From his location in Babylon, the Lord took Ezekiel on a virtual reality tour of the Temple, the place where on the Mercy Seat beneath the Cherubim, God's Shekinah glory was to have been seated (Ezekiel 8:4). What he saw in that place of worship stunned the prophet. On his guided tour of the inner court, the Lord showed the prophet where first the people had substituted an idol image for Yahweh; where second, the elders worshiped animals; where third, the women sobbed over the death of Tammuz, a mythological fertility god who had married the Egyptian goddess Ishtar; and where fourth, the priests worshiped the sun (Ezekiel 8:5-18). Up-close and personal, the prophet saw how the nation had abominated into apostasy, how Israel had turned from worshiping the Creator to idolizing the creation and its creatures (See Romans 1:21-23.).
Yet in the midst of all those "alternative spiritualities," and like the remnant of Elijah's day who refused to bow their knee to Baal and kiss the idol god (1 Kings 19:18), some believers preserved themselves to be holy unto the Lord. So the Lord instructed the angel dressed in white to mark an "X" on the foreheads of the faithful, a mark that would spare them from the coming divine judgment (circa 600 BC). Most have heard about "the mark of the beast", the mark the deceived will receive at the end of the age, an identity without which they will neither be able to buy or sell (Revelation 14:9-12). The prophet Ezekiel wrote about a different mark, an "X" that was to be written on the foreheads of those in Judah who had refused to go along with the popular spiritual trends of that day. The "X" would spare them from the coming divine wrath. So the Lord instructed the angel: "Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst" (Ezekiel 9:4).
Pause with me . . . for a moment let's project back to that era and ask ourselves the following question: If we had been alive in Ezekiel's day, would the angel have marked us to be spared from divine judgment?
It was a remnant who strongly disapproved of the apostasy of the majority. In the words of the Lord, they groaned and sighed over the "abominations" (Ezekiel 8:6, 9, 13, 15, 17; 9:4) they saw being committed in the name of religion in their midst. What they saw sickened them to the core of their spiritual and emotional being. Would the angel have marked us if we had lived in that day? We should check out our feelings. Charles Feinberg observed: "Grief is always the portion of those who know the Lord in an evil day. The marked ones were penitent and faithful at a time of widespread departure from the will of the Lord." Another commentator adds that the criterion for receiving the mark was "an affair of the heart--a passionate concern for God and His people. Failing that, there was no mark . . ."
Some in the mainstream Christian media have called those involved in discernment ministry "Christian attack dogs." Maybe a better metaphor-label would be "Christian guard dogs"! Discerners so love their Master (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ) and His Bride (i.e., the church) that they agonize to protect His truth and her purity.
Allow me to propose a litmus test as to whether or not we might have been marked in Ezekiel's day.But before asking some questions, we should note the Apostle Peter's warning: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you" (2 Peter 2:1; Compare Matthew 7:13-15; Jude 17-19.).
Based upon Peter's prediction, does the worldliness that is invading the church bother us? (James 4:4)
Does it concern us when we see churches being manipulated by the mechanics of church growth, when the end of growth justifies any means to achieve it? (2 Corinthians 2:17)
Does it bother our souls to see the goal of growth eclipsing Gospel, to see methods employed usurping the Message preached? (Romans 1:16)
Does it grieve us to observe the church believing God's truth less while enjoying "worship celebrations" more? (Matthew 15:8-9)
Does the rampant immorality amongst professing evangelicals cause us to sigh? (1 Corinthians 5:2)
Were you bothered a few years ago when one evangelical leader, who led a movement in his state to preserve the institution of traditional marriage, was cornered into admitting that he solicited sex from a male prostitute? (Jeremiah 23:14)
Do false teachers with their strange and unbiblical teachings annoy you? (Revelation 2:2)
Given our media age, does the development of the personality cults around evangelical leaders and speakers, where appearance and a schmoozing style trump substance, concern us? (1 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Peter 2:3; Jude 16)
Are some of us even unaware that there are such critters as false teachers who stupefy their followers with their heretical teachings? (Romans 16:17)
Does it upset us to see the Christian faith being publicly maligned for reason of the immoral behavior and unbiblical teachings prevalent amongst professing evangelicals? (2 Peter 2:2)
In short, are we discerners? (Hebrews 5:14)
If we are not, then we should not expect to be marked.
Well, you might be asking, how can we know whether or not a person is a false teacher? Through Jeremiah the Lord provided this description of false prophets: "The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds" (Jeremiah 14:14). Of such prophets Jeremiah said that, "They speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:16b).
Again, I ask you, do you know of any false prophets today? You may protest the question saying, "Well, I know men who speak for God who are true." But that's not the question. Do you know any false teachers? I know this is a discomforting question--but do you? If you don't, I would say that you have a very grave problem . . . a very grave problem indeed. And it is this: You may not value God's truth enough to know what it is and thereby be incapable of discerning "the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:4-6).
From his study of human history, a famous historian once remarked how he observed that the majority was seldom right. Jesus agreed. He said: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it." He continued to say, "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." Then the Lord concluded: "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:13-15).
Interesting, isn't it . . . that the Lord warned the multitudes to watch out for false prophets in the very context in which He differentiated the way of the majority from the Way of the minority. Jesus knew that to their own destruction the majority will follow the way of the false prophets and teachers. They will not be marked out for salvation. They will not be "X-Men". Like the compromisers of Ezekiel's day, they went along to get along.
So allow me to ask you again: Dear Reader, do you know of any false prophets around today, or are you living in denial, in "a spiritual never-never land"? Will you choose to remain unwarned by the very warning that Jesus and the rest of the prophets and apostles warned you about; mainly, that false prophets and teachers will arise who will lead multitudes to walk the broad way leading to destruction? Remember: Seldom is the majority right.
For any Christians concerned to discern, they may be comforted to know they're taking the narrow Way. A spirit of discernment is symptomatic of true faith. The Lord's sheep care, yes, even "sigh and groan" when they see fellow evangelicals lapsing into worldliness and ungodliness. Goats however, are unmoved (Matthew 25:31-46). Yet the caring can be comforted to know that their discernment evidences their solidarity with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Being concerned to discern marks them out-- "X" -- as true believers (See 1 John 2:18-24.). Yet the overriding emotion of discernment ought to be that of grief. Yes, there may be a time for anger. God gets angry. He was with Ezekiel's generation, so much so that after He had told the angel in white to mark the believing remnant, the Lord instructed the other six angels, "Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house." (Ezekiel 9:5b-6). Yet we must remember that, "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James 1:20).
So it's truly a sad day when we see those professing to know God believing and behaving as if they do not. So it's significant to note that the divine judgment was to begin in the sanctuary and then work its way out through Jerusalem and the rest of the entire nation (Compare 1 Peter 4:17.). This order of judgment compelled Paul to command the congregation at Rome: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18, KJV). But if we are to engage in such marking, we ought to be reminded that the accompanying emotion ought to be one of grief. Yet we ought also to be reminded that in the end those who refuse to mark false teachers may not be marked by the Lord to be spared divine judgment.
Used with permission. Reformatted slightly for blog posting. See original here. ENDNOTES  Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969) 55.  The mark was the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a taw (i.e., the Hebrew "T"). Early Christian commentators noted that often the last letter was written as an "X" that could substitute for a person's signature. See John B. Taylor, Ezekiel (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1969)103.The marking of the faithful finds precedent at the time of Israel's exodus from Egypt when at the first Passover the Lord instructed the Israelites to "take some of the blood and put it on the two door posts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it," after which He explained: "And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exodus 12:7, 13).  Ibid. 102.  David Aikman, "Attack Dogs of Christendom," Christianity Today, August, 2007, 52. Aikman writes: "By all means criticize fellow Christians if necessary, but do so with grace." Real discerners do it with a sigh and a groan.
[NOTE: This article was originally published in 1993. It was rediscovered recently while sorting old papers. It is timely and applicable to the current series Herescope has been running on the early history of the Emergent/Emerging church movement. The context of the early Emerging Church culture was Humanistic psychology with all of its tenets and practices, which were being imported into the evangelical and Protestant churches indiscriminately and wholeheartedly at the time.]
Dr. Carl Rogers is the founder of what is termed client-centered or person-centered therapy. It is difficult to distinguish his impact upon the field of psychotherapy from his overall impact upon American society. Enormous transitions were made in the 1960s when Rogers, among others, pioneered the advance of psychotherapeutic techniques and philosophies into schools and society. Rogers propelled his methods and ideas outside of the stifling confines of the authoritarian counseling office, which was still largely functioning in a Freudian mold at the time. He was at the forefront of the immensely popular encounter group movement, which rapidly transformed churches, schools, businesses and personal lives. His use of language, his style, and his ideas have so thoroughly permeated the culture, that it is now difficult to distinguish them.
It is important to understand Rogers from a Christian perspective. The task is arduous, and one risks oversimplifying and overgeneralizing the issues. The sheer volume of published works by Rogers, his critics, and researchers, as well as his continuous revisions and updating, force one to carefully narrow the focus of any analysis. This post will attempt to focus on some of Rogers’ basic underlying premises and compare and contrast them with Scripture. Because his ideas have penetrated the culture so thoroughly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to unravel them. Yet the basic, foundational ideology is preserved in Rogers’ counseling theory and practice, from which all other ideas and techniques emerged.
In order to understand Dr. Rogers, it is essential to go back to his basic counseling theory. It is here that one will find detailed accounts of his view of the basic nature of man. Rogers’ background plays no small role in this, for he broke psychological and religious ties with his family to come to his own beliefs. He was influenced by the views of John Dewey, Sigmund Freud and Soren Kierkegaard. One can clearly see the influence of both modern Humanism and Existentialism upon Rogers. Further, his view of man is based, in part, upon Phenomenology, which uses personal, subjective knowledge as the foundation for an abstract, “scientific” psychology of human beings.
At its core, Rogers viewed the nature of man as intrinsically good, trustworthy, and rational. It is from this foundation that Rogers built his entire premise: that man has an inherent tendency toward actualization, growth, health, adjustment, independence, and autonomy. Each aspect of Rogers’ philosophical and practical counseling system is based upon the view that man is progressing towards self-actualization. When this is thwarted, man develops mechanisms to cope, which ultimately result in the need for counseling. Everyone has their “actualizing tendency” thwarted, especially in early life, especially by their parents; therefore, everyone is a potential candidate for therapy. This explains the nearly institutionalized societal belief that “everyone needs counseling.”
The theory that one is damaged when their actualizing potential is stifled explains the rapid rise of preventative measures and self-esteem programs that intervene early in a child’s life, or during periods of crisis. Rogers’ views have significantly impacted child-raising theories and practices, and have provided fertile ground for social reformers. According to Rogers, parents impose boundaries on behaviors that the child finds satisfying or pleasurable, thus forcing the child to become untrue to themselves. The imposition of parental values upon the child is viewed by Rogers as a negative; it can cause the child to develop a self-concept that is incongruent with many organismic experiences based upon his/her actualizing tendency. An experience that the child thought was satisfying then becomes associated with loss of love and a diminished self-esteem. This creates what Rogers terms incongruence, resulting in anxiety, and sets defensive mechanisms in operation.
These ideas about self-esteem, promulgated by Dr. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow (in his well-known “Hierarchy of Needs”), have so thoroughly penetrated both secular and Christian society that they are rarely called into question or challenged. They became part of the popular culture’s worldview, and were subsequently mainstreamed into churches via revised Sunday School curricula, bestselling books, and other religious media. In the wider culture, Rogers' basic ideas gave rise to the self-centered, self-focused, self-gratifying “Me Generation,” which quickly degenerated into utter hedonism.
The Christian view of the nature of man directly contradicts the Rogerian belief in the natural goodness of man. The Bible teaches, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22) Man is not innately good, but rather his nature has been altered irreparably by the Fall. His condition is irredeemable, except for God’s provision of His Son, Jesus Christ, and His finished work on the Cross. Man cannot overcome his basic fallen nature. His ultimate problem is not his early life, or his past, or the thwarting of his actualizing potential. Man’s problem is sin, and he cannot save himself.
In the Scripture there are only two conditions of man, saved and lost. All are sons of Adam and are affected physically, emotionally and spiritually by the Fall. Man is guilty. When that guilt is assuaged at the Cross by the shed blood of Christ, man is profoundly changed. “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the So of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Redeemed man, then, has a reference point for his guilt. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:6) Regenerate man is much more than a formerly guilt-ridden personality; he is a new creature. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Unredeemed man is guilty. Scriptures make is abundantly clear: the only way to overcome guilt is through repentance and confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Regenerate man is then indwelt by the Holy Spirit, a fact that means nothing to Humanists. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit that enables a man to change his thoughts and behaviors. “For is ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Romans 8:13) The daily, moment-by-moment process of sanctification is what transforms the Christian into the likeness of Christ. This process includes the mind: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
The Great Permissiveness
Man, in both moral and mortal dilemma about his basic condition of sin, encounters a permissive Carl Rogers who believes in no absolutes. Moral behavior is defined without parameters because of Rogers’ inherent belief in the basic goodness of man. Rogers believes that man will always hearken to congruence, to the good, to the best for Self, to the actualizing tendency. Therefore, the typical, traditional Rogerian counseling session has no external regulations because Self is seen as the center, the regulator, the final criteria for behavior. Self will find a way.
Behavior that is inconsistent with self-concept is categorized as “incongruence” or “dissociation” according to Rogers. The self-concept is always fundamentally good, but one’s life experiences can alter one’s perception of Self. If the Self is not valued and given consistent unconditional positive regard, then this creates anxiety. Counseling is the process whereby the behavior becomes congruent with the self-concept, thus relieving anxiety. (Note that the behavior does not become congruent with the external criteria of Scripture.) Therefore, the role of the counselor is to be the permissive, empathetic, compassionate assuager who allows the authentic Self to begin to actualize. Self is catered to and Self thrives. Ideal relationships, then, optimize self-concepts and do nothing to thwart the actualizing tendency by putting up barriers.
The Scriptures, however, make it clear that man is in need of barriers. Man must resist sins and the temptation to sin. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” (Romans 6:13) Ten essential barriers are spelled out in the Ten Commandments. The Scriptures make it abundantly evident that sin starts in the heart: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Man’s proclivity to commit sin is a key Christian doctrine which flies in the face of the “actualizing tendency” doctrine of Carl Rogers. Removing barriers and restraints upon human behavior only serves to increase the likelihood that man will engage in sin.
If one rejects Rogers’ underlying premise that man is inherently good, then it follows that one must also question the rest of Rogers’ foundation. Clearly, Self is not to be catered to. Self is supposed to die! “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:10) And, again: “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Self-esteem teaching and preaching fails to take Self up Calvary road to the Cross. It allows “wiggle room” for sin, just like Rogers’ permissiveness. God’s grace is not to be confused with permissiveness. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:11) Permitting sin ushered in a new era of tolerance. The church eventually adopted a hybrid of Rogers' self-esteem gospel, teaching that man is basically good, but in need of a bit of tweaking, revamping, gentle prodding, technical assistance and wooing.
Scripture teaches that man is created in the image of God. Man bears that image and it was not eradicated by the Fall. Man occupies a unique position in creation, and in the heart and mind of God. Man has worth because God has imputes him worth. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) The Existential and Humanist views of man, which influenced Carl Rogers, create a void which denies the special nature of the creation of man. Scripture repeatedly demonstrates that there is a profound and unique difference between man and other creatures. This Existential void was easily and rapidly filled by Eastern mystics, who see man as indistinct from the rest of creation. Christian theology, influenced by Eastern mysticism, then gives rise to the belief that man’s only uniqueness is one of role – that he is merely a “steward” over the rest of creation. And in this context, a heresy rapidly gained ground teaches that man is self-actualizing into an image-bearer, a co-creator, approaching godhood.
The Nondirective Church
Rogers’ feelings-oriented ideas and practices quickly filled a vacuum in the impersonal, unresponsive Protestant churches of the 1960s. Rogerian techniques profoundly and rapidly influenced pastoral counseling across the entire theological spectrum, and appeared to create a real breakthrough in ministering to people’s needs.The focus shifted to “meeting my needs” and exploring feelings.Feelings quickly took precedence over facts. Feelings reigned supreme, and biblical doctrine was the baby thrown out with the bathwater.
Christian leaders embraced these techniques indiscriminately, without recognizing or acknowledging the underlying foundation which denies absolutes. But, Rogers’ insistence on the counseling practices that use compassion, empathy, genuineness and openness, arose out of a very different theological construct than Christianity. Rogers’ use of these techniques evolved out of his belief in man’s need for unconditional positive regard and his belief that man is his own ultimate moral authority. Rogers advocated for a controversial morally neutral position. In his world there were no sinful behaviors in need of rebuke (see Titus 1:13, e.g.).
But Scripture makes it clear that ministering is far more than simply exhibiting compassion and empathy. For example, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient with all men.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) In fact, the case could be made that one should avoid too much empathy and openness: “but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” (Romans 16:19)
Another Rogerian technique, nondirectiveness, also substantially altered Christian ministry. Rogers’ use of nondirectiveness in counseling was founded on his belief that man is inner-directed. He conceived the therapist’s role in nondirectiveness as eliminating barriers to actualizing and allowing the client the freedom to explore new boundaries of self expression and awareness. A popular corollary to this is the assumption that the client will not “open up” unless there is a climate of acceptance and tolerance.
Non-directive counseling eliminates traditional authoritarian structures. It creates an artificial climate of acceptance which fails to account for the very real barriers imposed by Scripture. Nondirectiveness is accepting, warm, compassionate, but non-confrontive and never controversial. Nondirectiveness substantially fails to warn, admonish, and exhort. It fails to hold one accountable for sinful behaviors. It fails to direct one’s focus to the Cross and repentance. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) Nondirectiveness is glorified passivity. At its worst, it permits a person to do unthinkable deeds, or roam into gross error or terrible danger without warning. Nondirectiveness is the prophetic trumpet giving an uncertain sound (1 Corinthians 14:8).
Rogers can be credited with breaking societal barriers and redefining what constitutes a “normal” individual. The definitions of mental health were utterly changed. The path to self-actualization superseded rationality. Societal mores and codes of personal conduct were turned upside down. In this sense, Rogers was wildly successful in setting up a competing system to that which had previously governed society. Man had been governed, in the first half of the 20th century, (for the most part) by societal norms and rules of conduct that were heavily influenced by the Christian ethic. Carl Rogers, and an entire movement that erupted after him, left society and the Church dangling precipitously on some new affective ropes. Moral, rational man was “out.” “Getting in touch with myself” was “in.” Moral decency and codes of conduct went by the wayside. The touchy-feely “self-esteem” rhetoric quickly manifested itself in a huge glut of educational tools, popular media entertainment, self-help books and government-sponsored social programs.
In the church, a profound shift took out solid biblical exegesis and foundational knowledge about the Scriptures. The void in biblical understanding was filled by “how to cope” and “self-esteem” materials. Nowadays Rogers’ beliefs are intertwined like tentacles around traditional Christian doctrines. This is due to the fact that most seminarians never received solid training on the dangers of intermingling values and beliefs with Humanist psychological leaders such as Rogers. Rather, by the mid 1980s most seminaries had set up counseling and psychology programs of study which variously incorporated Humanistic foundations into Scripture, resulting in a mishmash that was, at its core, still Humanism.
Humanism then rapidly gave way to the modern mysticism that is so prevalent today. If one is on a search for more self-fulfillment, in the context of no boundaries, and in a permissive atmosphere of nondirectiveness, it is only logical that the spiritual lusts will then rise up and seek self-actualization and fulfillment. In Scriptures this is known as spiritual adultery and idolatry.
Since the 1960s, vast amounts of books and literature, and massive national Christian ministries have been built on Carl Rogers' foundations. The modern church is only vaguely aware of the impact his ideas have had on their faith, their use of language and terminology, their view of Scripture, and their ideas about the basic nature of man. It is claimed that many people have been helped. But, at what cost? And where did it lead? Rogers’ shifting anchor of Self pulled many away from the Solid Rock that is Jesus Christ.
Rogers’ foundation, once laid, set the stage for the total “transformation” of the evangelical church.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
*Sarah Leslie received an M.S. in counseling where she was trained in Rogerian psychology and counseling techniques (which she repudiated by God's grace). The original version of this article was published in the Free World Research Report, January 1994, p. 9. For more information on this topic. see all of the many books and articles available from PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries. For further interesting reading on this topic, see the article "Third Force Psychology in the Classroom."
For several decades our society has brazenly displayed the slogan on T shirts to auto windows, "NO FEAR."
David, in Psalm 36:1, makes it clear that this generation of sinners is not unique in their folly. "The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes." Perhaps this generation is even more brazen, for they have not only "said in their hearts," they have blazoned it in bold advertisement!
The second verse of Psalm 36 goes on to describe the infatuation of this generation with itself, and the pursuit of self gratification, "For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful." Paul, in writing to the Romans, repeats the words of Psalm 36 in Romans 3:18, following eight verses from the Psalms and Isaiah. He begins the sobering description of humanity in verse 10: "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one." The remaining verses mix well with the cesspool of wickedness found at the close of Romans 1. The awful judgment of God upon these things seems to have little effect on many, for the Scripture declares of this crowd at the close of Romans 1:32, "...but have pleasure in them that do them."
It used to be that we heard such comments as "How could a loving God send anyone to an eternal hell, a place of torment for eternity?" only from the cults and those not professing Christianity. What is alarming to me is more and more the absence of the focus, among those professing to be at least evangelical Christians, of the notion of "the fear of God." The "fear of God" is being smothered, watered down, disregarded and, for some, even denied! God has become the "friendly helper," the "lover pursuing us," "the one who will save the whole world," who is made in the imaginations and expectations of human dreams -- anything but a God of judgment! All of this is not done without the inclusion of Scripture, but mixed with just enough human logic to make this 'god' palatable and tolerant.
There is yet another factor that ironically weighs heavily in this shift. It is the fear of peers and "theologians," and those polished writers who have become respected, admired, read, embraced, and quoted for their "deep insights." To dispute with them, or disagree with them -- and who would think to be so "judgmental" as to call them "heretics"?? -- well, that would be so "unkind" and "divisive" is the common thinking. What a bit of irony, that man would fail to fear God, but fear his own peers!
Numbers 11 illustrates and contrasts the responses of a group who feared man and two men who feared God. The twelve men who were chosen to spy out the land were the best of the stock from each of the twelve tribes. All twelve saw the same people, the same cities and the surrounding areas, along with the fruit of the land. Ten of these men allowed their imaginations, and then their exaggerations, to feed their conclusions, and then divorced these conclusion from all the past provisions, rebukes, and promises from God, ultimately succumbing to the fear of men. Two of these men, Joshua and Caleb, remembered all that God had done. They saw the blessings and the judgments of God, and they feared God above all, even above the entire multitude of likely over a million people. They sought to persuade these people to fear God rather than men. What is sad is that, even after the judgment of God upon these peoples, it does not appear that a revival took place. There was only sorrow for the consequences of their sin, and in their apparent "change of mind" they were again judged of God.
The fear of God is not fed by what we do not know about God. It is not that we are in the dark, wondering about what God might do to us, since He is so mighty, powerful, and we don't know what He might do next. Rather, we fear God because what of we do know and are told about Him in His Word, the Bible! The fear of God is fed by Truth! It is fueled by faith! It is both the imaginations of our minds and the exaggerations of our experiences and perceptions that destroy our faith, and corrupt our minds, leading us into the fear of men.
This fear of God for the Christian is not a terrorizing, nor a paralyzing sort of fear. Yet it does bring us to a holy trembling when we read of such passages as in Hebrews 10: 26-31. Consider for example, "....For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." Verse 31 says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God." Again, in Hebrews 12: 25-29 note a couple of phrases: "....let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and fear: For our God is a consuming fire."
If we doubt, disregard, disobey, and fall into unbelief, we should be terrorized by the above passages, and run to the Cross of Christ in brokenness and repentance. The truths of these words should not only drive us to repentance, seeking mercy and forgiveness, but these truths should serve as holy preventatives to sin and to the temptation to doubt or disobey. Paul reflects this when he declares to the Corinthians, in verse 27 of chapter 9 in his first epistle. "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.... "
"How do you do this Paul?" we might ask. He tells us how in Galations 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Now, completing I Corinthians 9:27: ".... lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
Did Paul fear God? Indeed he did, and it motivated him to holy living! This illustration is a sound rebuke to those who would argue in defense of some of the popular preachers, teachers, theologians, and writers who are abandoning, neglecting, along with modifying, what they once taught. Men once sound in the faith can be deceived!
It is my opinion that one of the ways the disregard for, and now the abandonment of, the teaching of the fear of God has come through the churches is the new methods and teachings in evangelism. Take a clear look at the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans, as he begins his first written evangelistic crusade. His text is not John 3:16. Of course we know that "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...." But Paul tells us that this love from God cannot be understood nor experienced until the world recognizes "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [i.e., suppress] the Truth in unrighteousness." (Romans 1:18, emphasis mine) How this refusal plays itself out in deterioration and debauchery is found in the verses that follow. It is not a pretty scene.
No human being can comprehend in any measure the love of God until they have been keenly aware of the wrath and judgment of God. It is on the "forgiven" side of Calvary that love is comprehended and experienced. Let me remind us that even in the Proverbs we are told, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Proverbs 9:10) Note that it does not say, "the love of God is the beginning of wisdom."
Again, in 2 Corinthians 5:11a: "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men...." And yes, Paul does go on to state in verse 14, "For the love of Christ constraineth us...." Note that Paul does not say that it is the love of Christ that is to be used to persuade men to salvation. Paul has experienced the love of Christ, and is living on the "forgiven" side of the Cross.
There is another illustration that has profound truths for evangelism. It is the record of the first convert to Christianity, and his very brief but Biblical effort of evangelism. His first effort appears to be a failure, but only the Lord knows how many his testimony has brought into the Kingdom. The record of these events is recorded in Luke 23: 39-43. Two criminals were hanging on two crosses, one on each side of our Lord Jesus. Both had been placed there "justly," as the one testified. All three had been sentenced to die. It was the bitter and unrepentant criminal that spat out the words, "If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." It was the yet unforgiven, criminal evangelist that stated these profound and most important words, in the form of a question that the whole world needs to answer, "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly: for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss."
What a confession! How glorious the forgiveness, and the peace! What the unrepentant criminal did not see and recognize. The truth was that since Jesus is The Christ He did save the dying criminal. And only by not saving Himself from death could He save anyone! Jesus could not save a man who wanted only to escape the consequences of being caught in sin. This was the error of Esau. He was sorry that he lost his inheritance, and not repentant for his sin. He like Cain, was angry at his brother, and in his anger sought vengeance rather than repentance. The Bible calls him a fornicator (Hebrews 12:16). It would appear that this term refers to his spiritual fornication.
One last illustration comes from a scene in the book of Revelation. It is John, the "beloved," who calls himself loved of God, who sees the Lord in all His glory. Does John go running to the throne and give Jesus a "big hug"? Never! He says, "I fell at His feet as dead...." It is then that the Lord tells John "fear not...." (Revelation 1:17) This response from God is not a rebuke to John, but a response for John to now listen and write. Be assured, John wrote what he saw and what he was told in the fear of the Lord.
May the Lord have mercy upon the Church of today, for the Scripture tells us that "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God...." (1 Peter 4:17a)
de-ceit-i-fi-cate (DĒ SĔT' Ĭ FĬ KĀT) v. [ME deceiven ; OFr. deceveir ; L. decipere, to ensnare, deceive, de from & capere, to take] 1. The practice of intentionally changing or altering the meaning of a word, or phrase, in a deceitful attempt to conceal, pervert, and/or destroy the original meaning of the word, or phrase.
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