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Matters of Character and Company Within The Church

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Don't be fooled by those who say such things, for "bad company corrupts good character." Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don't know God at all. -- 1Corinthians 15: 33-34 (NLT)

There is an undercurrent of flawed thinking running through the church that does not serve God well. It serves the church fine, that is the construction of a building, but not necessarily the kingdom. It is the "kumbya" judge-not theology that says everything is permissible, even that which is not beneficial and doesn't serve the true cause of Christ. It basically says that everyone who walks through the church doors must somehow be serving God and as long as they say Jesus enough, we do not need to look at their theology too closely -- I mean who are we to judge? Except the Bible has been enormously clear that we are absolutely to judge:

It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you." -- 1Corinthians 5: 12-13 (NLT)

From as far back as Cain and Abel, we are supposed to be our brother's keeper. The Book of First Thessalonians says that one of the aspects of Christ's will for our lives is to test everything that is said! Paul warned Timothy to guard only two things carefully -- his life and his doctrine. The Bible is absolutely clear on these matters. But because we inherently dislike confrontation and because we have raised up too many leaders who are more concerned about attendance than spiritual maturity, we find churches overrun by goats and wolves pretending to be sheep. The goats simply do not know any better because they are actually unsaved but the wolves are there to destroy the flock. That could very easily include the flock you find yourself in today.

Our key verses come from the closing section of the first letter Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth. It appears that after Paul left them, some goats and wolves came into their fellowship. They were welcomed with open arms and they proceeded to spread their own personal theologies that taught there was no resurrection of the dead despite that being contrary to the Gospel teachings of Christ being raised from the dead. These false teachings then went on logically to say that if there is no resurrection from the dead then we may as well party like its 1999! It is interesting to note because this is what a lot of false theologies do. They seek to take us away from the true Gospel and change what our course of action should be. We should be about the Father's business in bringing the true Gospel to the lost, not eat drink and be merry. Modern false teachings work the same way.   It may not be as obvious as teaching there is no resurrection from the dead though. It may just be to allow some secularization within the church in order to "reach more for Jesus." Of course the end result is that we are not reaching them for Jesus but rather for a secularized church. Sure they may attend in the end because they can get entertained and told that their sins don't matter but they are no closer to heaven than they were -- only they think they are -- which is the true danger. Now within these two verses we find three imperatives we must be aware of within our own churches and lives.

The first one is the obvious -- bad company corrupts good character. Now this may seem obvious to us but the challenge is in discerning who the bad company truly is. The reason why the Bible describes the wolves as being in sheep's clothing is that wolves generally do not walk up to us in church and introduce themselves as wolves. They look the part of sheep. They talk the part. I would venture enough to say that a lot of the wolves do not even realize that they are wolves. They may be a product of poor teaching and false salvation. This is not new beloved. Remember it was one of the disciples of Jesus that betrayed Him. For three years Judas walked with Jesus and the other 11 disciples and the Gospels give no indication that anyone was the wiser. Even in the early church we see a story where Philip goes to Samaria and there he finds someone named Simon the Sorcerer. To me the name should give it away but realize that you will not meet someone in church today who will say they are "Bob the heretic" or "Phil the Philanderer." But here is what the Bible tells about this encounter:

But now the people believed Philip's message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed. -- Acts 8: 12-13 (NLT)

Simon himself believed and was baptized. He then joined Philip and followed him everywhere. He was a believer according to these verses. He was "saved." He even was baptized. All of the outward appearances and qualifications were met. I am sure he learned to raise his hands in worship and shout "praise Jesus!" But all of the outside manifestations were not revealing the truth about what lay in his heart and when Peter came to visit -- he was exposed. Peter laid hands on the new believers and they were immediately baptized in the Holy Spirit. Here was the reaction of Simon:

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. "Let me have this power, too," he exclaimed, "so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!" But Peter replied, "May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God's gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin." -- Acts 8: 18-23 (NLT)

For your heart is not right with God. You words might be right. The company you are keeping might be right. You outward profession of faith and public baptism might be right. None of that however indicates the condition of your heart and whether it is truly regenerated in Christ Jesus. You can fake religion for years and years but you cannot fake the fruit of the Spirit over long periods of time. Who you are eventually comes out. Until Peter arrived however, Simon was the brother sitting next to you in the pew. Judas was once the ministry leader everyone respected. Test everything beloved. Sitting in a church does not make you a true Christian anymore than sitting in a garage makes you a car.         

The second imperative we must learn today is to think carefully about what is right and stop sinning. There is a thread of poor theology running through the modern church that seeks to move us away from being concerned about sin. The only one who wins in that scenario is the enemy. It is important that we correctly separate out sin in relation to salvation and sin in relation to sanctification. I am not speaking about salvation. If you have truly accepted Jesus Christ into your heart and have been regenerated then your salvation is secured because of the mercy and grace of Almighty God. The Bible says none shall be plucked from His hand and nothing can separate you from His love. You do not have to work for it. You did nothing to earn it. It is a free gift and you simply have to accept it. So please, when I am speaking about sin here I am speaking not about your eternal life, which is secure, but your current life, which you still have to navigate. Even when explaining this fantastic gift of grace Paul was clear:

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? -- Romans 6: 1-2 (NLT)

Think of it this way. Sin has two costs associated with it. One is in relation to an eternal separation from God. That cost Christ paid for with His blood and you have been redeemed. The other cost however deals with the principle of sowing and reaping and when you sow to your sinful nature you will reap a whirlwind of heartache, not eternally, but for this life. Here is a practical example. It is a sin to commit adultery. If you are saved and fall into temptation and commit the sin of adultery you have not forfeited your salvation. Like King David, you can repent and God will always forgive you. But that does not mean that you escape your wife insisting on a divorce and the destruction of your family. That does not mean that you escape your loss of respect and possible ministries you work in. In the case of King David he lost two children and his kingdom. Sin always has a cost associated with it. This new theology is designed to make us feel better about our sin when in reality we should feel worse about it. It is designed to make us feel better about ourselves when we should feel better about God.

This is running rampant in many churches. There is a concerted move away from preaching on sin and repentance. It is not considered seeker friendly. I mean who wants to come to church and hear about how bad they are? If your salvation decision was not generated by the overwhelming weight of your sin, then you need to make sure that you have truly been regenerated. That means you are a different person -- radically -- then you were. Not perfect but chasing God instead of chasing the world. Beyond the salvation issue the lack of sin preaching and the kumbya- the cross has done everything theology is leading the church to be filled with carnally thinking Christians who do not even realize their need for personal repentance in their lives. We need to not only be thinking about what is right but to think carefully about it. Why the extra adjective here? Because this is not a game to God beloved! He did not give us the "do's and don'ts" on a whim. They are not for His benefit but for ours! "Well I am tired of be preached to about my sin!" -- Yeah? Then you are tired of God because He cannot coexist with our sin. "Well I am tired of being beat up in church!" -- Yeah? Well that is called conviction; it is the job of the Holy Spirit. I might add if you feel you are being beat up in church because of sin preaching then I assume you are getting beaten up in your daily walk already by the devil. Think about that.

The last imperative is possibly the most frightening to realize. Paul is speaking here to a congregation of believers and says that some of them do not know God at all. Did you get that beloved? We are not talking about minor differences and discrepancies. We are not talking about debates over theology. We are talking about the taboo subject in American churches today -- false salvations. We have wanted so badly in this country to make Christianity easy, accessible and relevant to the lost that we are creating generations of people who think they are heaven bound. We made salvation prayer based -- say a magic three sentence prayer, claim you believe it, and voila! You are now saved -- here is a Bible and some literature. Have a nice day. Then that Bible gets put on a shelf and the person returns to exactly who they were before that church service. But here is the really bad part. Many of them now will no longer truly seek God because someone has assured them they are ok. If you think you are ok, you do not seek out a doctor. The church will quickly assimilate them into their structure and they will be "plugged in" to their ministry to use their "giftings." Never any follow up on their lives -- just an explanation on tithing and a plough to put their hands to. I have spoken with people placed into leadership roles within the church without so much as an interview into their lives and walks. People who admitted to me they were not reading the Bible, praying, or even understanding how to do those things because the church never explained it to them.

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