The Church's Identity Crisis
“And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; ...” Jesus Christ, in Matt 7:23.
Does God know you?
Dear friend, may I ask you a question that every person on earth must answer, namely, does Jesus Christ know you? I know what your answer is likely to be to the question, 'do you know Jesus Christ?', but this is not my question. My question is, does God know you? If you have replied 'yes' to this question, how do you know? The Bible unequivocally teaches on which basis Jesus Christ knows you, and I want to ensure that you understand this. You may think that the answer is obvious, however, the chances are substantial that it may come to you as a sobering experience.
We are currently living in a time during which it is difficult to identify a true Christian. Some of us are living in countries and communities known as Christian where the majority of people identify with the Christian faith. Social media is saturated with Christian messages, and people whose mouths would have been washed out with soap water by their grandparents, amazingly, often 'like' and re-post a Christian message. Many confessing Christians' spiritual experience are so shallow that there is often little difference between them and the unsaved world. How does one identify a Christian? How does God identify you as a Christian?
Right from the outset I would like to clarify that this article is not about the ground of salvation -- it is about the evidence of salvation. Hopefully, we all understand that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary! However, my question is, how do you know that you are saved? Yes, it is true that the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are a child of God (Rom 8:16), but the Bible also teaches that a child of God is a new or changed person (2 Cor 5:17). What is the primary evidence of this new or changed person?
Christianity of our day has a confused identity. Who, what and where is the Church? With whom must I identify myself as a Christian and with whom not? The norms and standards of the Church of our day are not the same anymore as those I have grown up with! When I was a youngster it was still relatively easy to know whether someone was a Christian or not. All one needed to know was whether the person was born again or not -- and one could see that before he or she made any Christian confession. He or she would speak, act, look and smell different to the world! Today virtually everybody confessing to be a Christian. also claim to be born again. However, a minority are exhibiting the identity of regeneration! Together with the apostle Paul in Gal 4:19, my heart is crying: "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,"
The source of confusion ...
What does a Biblical Christian look like? Let us answer this question by first answering the question, what does a Christian not look like? The Bible teaches that there will be a great apostasy and deception in the world and the Church during the last days (within which we live). (E.g. Mat 24:24; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 3:1-5. Also read the article: Another Jesus -- A Different Gospel.) In other words, if the Bible is true, we must critically evaluate the general standard of Christianity around us in the world today. What is the primary symptom or characteristic of the apostasy and deception of the last days the Bible is talking about? Jesus gives us the answer in His prophetic address. In Matt 24:3 we read: "Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" After Jesus told them about, among other, false christs, wars, earth quakes, famines and pestilences that will come, He made the following statement in verse 12: "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."
The primary characteristic of the apostasy in the Church of our day, is contempt for the law of God. The Lord was not only speaking of the unbelieving world when he made this statement. The love of many that will grow cold, is a reference to the love of believers. Jesus is speaking about believers -- He is speaking about church-going Christians! In Matt 23:28 Jesus told the Pharisees: "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." What is the reason that Jesus Christ will declare "I never knew you", in Matt 7:23 we have quoted at the beginning? The answer is: "... depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" The original word used here for lawlessness is 'anomia', which also means unrighteousness. Therefore, unrighteousness = transgression of, or contempt for the law of God.
We may very well ask, which law is Jesus talking about when He uses the word 'lawlessness"? Is He talking about the laws of the country, or is He talking about the moral law of God? There is an increasing tendency among Christians to equate the idea of Biblical lawlessness with transgression of humanistic standards and political correctness. We have invented our own humanistic laws, transgression of which apparently are viewed by some as greater sins than what the Bible calls sin. These include our own definitions of discrimination, sexism, racism, apartheid, homophobia, human rights, including the right of abortion, etc. These humanistic laws manage to detract even a large portion of the Church of Jesus Christ from God's moral law as contained in the Bible!
Let us emphasize that where the Bible speaks of 'lawlessness', it is not a reference to humanistic laws or the laws of a country -- it is a reference to God's moral law as revealed in the Bible, of which the Ten Commandments are the foundation!
But the law is fulfilled in Christ ...
The New Testament teaches us that the law is fulfilled in Christ, but what does that mean? This is a profound subject and I am not pretending to cover it in detail. I am only briefly summarizing -- this is the essence of the issue!
The law consists of three elements -- the Moral Law; the Ceremonial Law; and the Judicial Law.
- The essence of the Moral Law consists of the Ten Commandments.
- The Judicial law concerns the punishment for transgression of the law. The essence of the Judicial Law is that deliberate transgression of the law is punishable by death.
- The Ceremonial Law concerns the temple service, the various sacrifices and all the ceremonies concerning remission of sin in the law of Moses. The essence of the Ceremonial Law is: Without blood there is no remission of sin. Heb 9:22.
This is how the law is fulfilled in Jesus Christ:
- Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the Judicial Law by taking the punishment for transgression of the law upon Himself through His death on the Cross of Calvary.
- Jesus Christ also fulfilled the Ceremonial Law by offering Himself as the perfect Lamb of God as a complete, once for all sacrifice for the sin of the world.
- Jesus Christ also fulfilled the Moral Law with His victory over sin, Satan and the world through His resurrection from the dead.
By faith in Jesus Christ He now engraves the Moral Law of God on the table of every born again child of God's heart.
(E.g. Ezek 11:19,20; Ezek 36:25-27; Rom 8:1-11; 2 Cor 5:17-21.)
What fulfillment of the law does NOT mean ...
Fulfillment of the law does not mean that the law has been abolished -- not even the fourth commandment! The law is fulfilled in Jesus Christ -- not abolished! Therefore, Jesus makes His purpose for coming to this world unambiguously clear in His sermon on the mount in Matt 5:17-20: "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Emphasis my own. Remember, we clarified above that unrighteousness = transgression of, or contempt for the law of God.) The apostle Paul confirms Jesus' words in Rom 3:31: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law."
A modern tendency exists to dilute or even render irrelevant the role of the Old Testament in the message of the Gospel. This is a fundamental error! It is only possible to correctly understand the New Testament and the Gospel within the context of the Old Testament! The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament -- not the replacement thereof! In order to correctly understand the message of the Bible and the Gospel one must see and understand the complete Bible-picture. The Gospel does not start with Matthew chapter 1 -- the Gospel starts with Genesis chapter 1! (By the way, Matthew's Gospel does not begin with the birth of Jesus Christ -- it begins with Abraham! See Matt 1:1.)
The basic characteristic of a Biblical Christian
If this is so, what then, is the fundamental characteristic of a Biblical Christian?
A Biblical Christian's life testifies of a changed life on whose heart the Moral Law of God has been written by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
What does the moral law of God look like in New Testament terms? Has the law of God not changed in the New Testament? In stead of a list of musts and must-nots, surely the law now is love, not so so? The Word expressly says in Rom 13:10: "Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." This is indeed so, for Jesus Himself said in Matt 22:37-40: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind'. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
The problem, however, is that many Christians apparently fail to connect Jesus Christ's law of love with God's Moral Law, as contained in the Ten Commandments. The reason for this is an erroneous concept of love. It is of fundamental importance to distinguish between humanistic (or human) love and Divine love. Human love is natural love -- like the love of a parent for their children, and friends for each other. We are all born with natural love. However, natural love is inherently self-centered, and primarily loves himself and his own circle.
No person can love God with natural love, for this is exactly the characteristic of the fall and why all people are born in sin. No person loves God by nature. The love Jesus is talking about in Matt 22:37-40 is Divine love. This love is a gift of grace from God on the grounds of Jesus' fulfillment of the law on Calvary -- and is only received through the indwelling Holy Spirit with regeneration. This is why Jesus said to Nicodemus in Joh 3:3: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
The law of love
The question now is, what does this law of love look like in New Testament language? The standard of God for the Christian is indeed much higher than the Old Testament moral law, because it is driven by Divine love. The law of love in the New Testament does not only include the outward deed, but also the deepest thought and motive of the heart. The moral content of the New Testament perfectly fits into the framework of the Ten Commandments, as set out below. It looks like this:
My love for God
- 1. You shall have no other gods before me. You may not worship, idolize, trust, fear, or love anyone or anything else in this life more than Me. You must love Me and trust Me with your entire heart and in every area of your life. I demand an entire surrender of your life in faith to Me -- spirit, soul and body. (E.g. Matt 22:37; Matt 6:24; Matt 10:37-39; Rom 12:1,2; Rom 14:23; Phil 3:19; Heb 4:12)
- 2. You shall not worship, idolize, or love more than Me, any image, likeness, artwork, statue, photo, picture, video or movie of a person, movie star, hero, loved one, or anyone or anything which is created -- not even in your imagination or thoughts. I demand that you worship and love Me with an undivided heart. (E.g. Matt 22:37; Rom 12:1,2; Heb 4:12)
- 3. You may not take in vain, or misuse the Name of the Lord your God. You must bear My image, be My representative and be My witness here on earth. You may not betray, disown, misrepresent or dishonour My Name -- you must represent Me in righteousness and truth, in harmony with My character of holiness and love -- through your behaviour, your talk and conversations, through what you watch and listen to, as well as your dress and appearance. Do not take My Name upon your lips, or call on My Name if your life does not testify of Me. (E.g. Matt 26:29, Matt 26:74, Eph 4:29, Matt 18:7, Matt 26:24)
- 4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. You, your family and everyone in your service, must set apart one out of every seven days for God's work and purpose, resting from your week's work. You may also not prevent others within your life-circle from doing so, by what you allow yourself on the day of the Lord. This is the Day of the Lord, for in six days the Lord created the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested. (E.g. Matt 12:8; Mar 1:21; Mar 2:27,28; Luk 4:16; Act 16:13; Act 18:4)
My love for my neighbour
- 5. Honour your father and mother. Submit to God's delegated authority over your life. Respect and submit to the authority of your parents, your husband, each other in marriage, the government, your spiritual and other leaders, the school and every other form of authority in your life -- for there is no authority that does not come from God. (E.g. Rom 13:1-7; Eph 5:22-33; Eph 6:1-9; 1 Pet 2:13-18)
- 6. You shall not murder. You must live in a healthy relationship with your neighbour. You may not be hostile or aggressive, or cherish hostile, loveless, or revengeful thoughts and feelings towards another. You may not live in a broken relationship with your neighbour. You must love your enemy, pursue peace, reveal an attitude of humility and tolerance towards everyone, forgiving them who transgress against you. (E.g. Matt 5:21-26; Matt 5:38,48; Matt 6:14,15; 1 Cor 13:4-7)
- 7. You shall not commit adultery. You may not break or violate the marriage covenant. You may not participate in any form of sexual behaviour before or outside of marriage between one man and one woman. You may not watch, cherish in your thoughts, or promote sexuality in or outside a love relationship outside of marriage, through your behaviour, speech, dress or appearance. Marriage is an institution of God and an example of the relationship between you and Jesus Christ. A holy, intimate relationship must prevail between you and your spouse and you must remain faithful to him or her until death. My solution for problems in your marriage is reconciliation -- in the same way I have reconciled Myself with you by laying down My life for you. Divorce is only an option for an unbelieving spouse. (E.g. Matt 5:27-32, 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Cor 7:10-16; Matt 18:7-9, Mar 7:9, 1 Cor 6:13,18, Gal 5:19, 1 Pet 4:3,4, Rev 17:4.)
- 8. You shall not steal. You may not cause anyone to be disadvantaged or deprived through your behaviour. (E.g.. Matt 19:18, Eph 5:28)
- 9. You shall not bear false witness. You may not lie, be fraudulent or deceiving. You must at all times speak and live the truth in love. (E.g. Act 5:3; Col 3:9; 1 Joh 1:6)
- 10. You shall not covet. You may not desire anything in this world outside of the law, will and plan of God for your life. You may not love the world and the things of this world, and nothing of this world may have you in its power. (E.g. Matt 5:27-30; Matt 16:24-26; Rom 7:7,8; Jam 1:14,15; 1 Joh 2:15-17)
This is God's standard for a Christian. Test yourself. Do you love the law of God as set out above, more than anything else in your life? It is not possible to love God more than you love His law -- for the law of God is an expression of His character -- how and who He is. Everyone who confesses to love Jesus Christ, will also love His law -- if not, you are worshiping another Jesus!
This is what Biblical Christians looks like ...
- Biblical Christians are people who have a testimony of repentance and regeneration -- a testimony that God has forgiven their sins, and has written His law of love on the table of their hearts by His Holy Spirit. No, you don't need to have a date -- but you have to be sure that it has happened to you! God's law of love is the reason why every person needs to come to repentance. The law is God's standard for every human person -- and that is why regeneration must be accompanied by repentance. When someone testifies that he or she has repented, it means that he or she has returned to God's standard for their lives -- namely the law of God. Someone who does not subject him- or herself to the law of God, has not yet come to repentance -- and they deceive themselves if they believe they are saved!
- Biblical Christians are people who have been set free from the punishment of sin and transgression of the law, who are standing in a personal love relationship with Jesus Christ, in a living prayer life with an open Bible, with a sincere desire to please God in and through their lives, and to obey and live in accordance with the law of God.
- Biblical Christians are people who are sensitive to sin, and see sin as God sees sin. People who do not attempt to dilute or minimize the law of God through various theological tricks, bringing down God's standard to a human standard, or hiding behind a 'we-are-all-sinners' syndrome. Biblical Christians strive to increase their spiritual standard to God's standard of love. Contempt for the law is the reason why a superficial awareness and conviction of sin are present with many Christians. Some Christians are cheapening grace by saying that God does not see my sin anymore, as He is looking at me through the spectacles of God's righteousness. This is a deception and perversion of the truth. This is only true for sins that I have confessed and repented from -- grace is not a license to continue living in sin!
- Biblical Christians are people who are searching for deliverance from the power of sin and the law -- people who are searching after more of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and do not rest until they are experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the victorious, liberating power of the Holy Spirit over sin and the law -- which is every Christian's rightful inheritance in Christ Jesus.
Be cautious of another Gospel
“For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!“ (2 Cor 11:4.)
There are many other characteristics of a Christian that can also be mentioned, such as the gifts, a variety of blessings, experiences, miracles, healing, forms of worship, ministries and callings -- but these characteristics vary from Christian to Christian and has to do with our equipment for carrying the Gospel into the world. There are pastors and teachers whose central ministry focuses on these decorations on top of the cake, while their message is limping from a lack of fundamental Gospel truth. It sounds wonderful to the audience who wants to be tickled in the ear, though it actually divides, and eventually destroys the Church!
The decorations do not make us more spiritual Christians, and if you are testifying of a Divine gift, intervention, miracle or blessing in your life while your life is not on God's standard of the law of love, it is an example of what 1 Cor 13:1-3 are talking: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing."
When you substitute the word "love" in the above verses with "God's law of love", you will see the bigger picture and understand what the apostle Paul means by "love". When you meditate on Paul's description of love in 1 Cor 13:4-7, you will come to the conclusion that every single one of those love-characteristics mentioned, has an application in God's moral law, as it is summarized in the Ten Commandments.
Why are we so divided?
Why can the Church across denominational boundaries not agree on what constitutes a Biblical Christian? Why are we still divided over basic issues? Does Jesus answer this question in Matt 24:12: "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."? Is this perhaps the reason why the Ten Commandments are not read anymore during our worship services? Are we afraid of being branded 'legalistic' or 'formalist'? Is it perhaps true that if the modern Church starts reading and hearing the Ten Commandments during worship services, the church will run empty? Maybe it will! Maybe this is the watershed!
Satan hates the law of God! Across the Christian nation of America, among other, there are actions aimed at removing the Ten Commandments from public life. Where evangelical Christians succeed in displaying the Ten Commandments, the powers of darkness endeavor to remove or break it down. For example, on 28 June 2017, someone demolished a recently erected monument of the Ten Commandments in Arkansas with his vehicle. Be aware that the devil and his demons also strive to destroy God's law in your own life, with meaning! Especially, be on the watch out for a lawless Jesus and another gospel!
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" Matt 7:21-23.
The question is not, 'do you know Jesus Christ?'. The question is, 'does Jesus Christ know you?'
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