The Plumbline

by Mike Ratliff

This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. (Amos 7:7 ESV)

In John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, the characters’ names usually define their character. For instance there is Ignorance. He refuses to believe Christian and Hopeful when they tell him that unless he goes through the narrow gate to begin his pilgrimage, he will not be allowed into the gate of the Celestial City. Then there is Talkative who equates making a fuss about one’s sin with actual repentance. Early in Christian’s pilgrimage, he comes across two other pilgrims named Formalist and Hypocrisy who come from a country called Vain-Glory. They tell Christian that the shortcut that they took to the path, bypassing the narrow gate, was necessary because it was too far to travel from Vain-Glory to it. All were revealed to be counterfeit Pilgrims and none of them made it into the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ save Christian, Hopeful and Faithful.

These characters had one thing in common. They were all pilgrims on the path to the Celestial City, but they entered it on their own terms. They walked according to their own rules. Man is fallen. He is incapable of knowing God or His ways without the grace of God regenerating the heart. However, even though the gate to salvation is narrow and hard to find, His standards are still higher than any Man can attain outside of His grace. He does not lower His standards nor put away His plumbline.

The prophet Amos uses some powerful metaphors, such as God’s sieve in Amos 9:9. In chapter 7 verse 7 we read of God holding a plumbline in His hand. What is a plumbline? It is used in building. To build solid, straight structures, we must use one to be as precise as possible. Spiritually, God tells us that in all that we build up, we must act by the sure rule of righteousness.

God builds this way. He removes the old walls when tested by the plumbline, and thereby found faulty. Truth requires the removal of falsehood. Unlike Men, God builds in truth, reality, holiness, and purity. Those who know God and are known by Him should build the same way. Good solid structures are never built hastily, but are built according the highest standards. Spiritually and practically, truth should be our object. This standard is higher than man’s. Our building by faith should never be according to the eye of man because then we become man-pleasers. Instead, we build by the Word, in God’s sight, after Christ’s example, by the Spirit, unto holiness.

As we obey God in His building of the Church, we should build just so. We should flee any temptation to be man-pleasers and thereby corrupt our work. We do it right when we teach the Scriptures only in all things. We preach nothing but the Gospel. We begin by laying sinners low by the Law, and exalting the grace of God. We lead men to holiness and peace by the doctrines of truth. We exercise discipline that our churches may be pure.

Several years ago, in the late 1980’s, our Pastor called a business meeting right after services one Sunday morning. Then several men went up on the platform. The Chairman of the Deacons presented the case of one of our members to be disciplined for not repenting of leaving his family for another woman. One of the men on the platform had gone to the man to counsel him, but he refused to repent. Then two of them went together, but he still refused to repent. After much prayer and several attempts to get the man to return to his family, they brought the matter to the church. We voted the man out of our membership and committed to care for his family.

When I shared this with some of my coworkers, they were shocked that we would do such a thing. I was told more than a few times after that that we were a bunch of hypocrites and all we were doing there was driving people away from Church. I tried to show them that this is what we do when we are obedient, but it fell on deaf ears.

God’s plumbline is used for testing. We should always use it on the wall of self-righteousness, conceit, boasting, careless living, and trust in ceremonials or religiosity. God most certainly uses it in our lives. If we are really His then we will find ourselves continually being offered opportunities to obey Him or not. When we do finally stand before Him our works will be judged with it. Those who do not know Him will stand before the Great White Throne and God will judge them with it.

But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. (1 Corinthians 11:31 ESV)

We must use God’s plumbline on ourselves. To not do so leads to the blindness of self-deception. We should examine ourselves most assiduously leaving no stone unturned in our hearts.

God’s plumbline will be used for destroying. All genuine Christians will be saved justly through our Lord Jesus Christ, and in their case every sin will be destroyed, and every trace of evil will be removed before they enter the Celestial City, which is, of course, Heaven. This is our Glorification. Those who are rejectors of Christ will find their doom intolerable, because they, themselves, will be unable to deny its justice (Luke 19:27). They will know that their misery is deserved. God’s sentence based upon His plumbline will be infallible. There will be no revision. His judgments are impartial and just, therefore, each verdict will stand forever. (Matthew 25:46)

“Nothing will induce me to form an impure church. ‘Fifty added to the church’ sounds well at home, but if only five of these are genuine, what will it profit in the Great Day?” – David Livingstone – Missionary to Africa.

Oh that our Christian leaders would grasp this truth! Sadly, just a few ‘get it.’ The focus on ‘doing church’ is not to build a pure church setup according to God’s plumbline, but to build one with wood, hay, and stubble as building materials. They do this by going for numbers alone. They accomplish this by bringing the world and its ways into their churches then create something that is not a real church at all.

God is holding His plumbline. I fear that what passes for Christianity in our time is failing the test. May God have mercy on us.

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “The Plumbline

  1. re: God’s plumbline is used for testing.

    Very true. The pragmatic attitude in this country does not lend it very well to using God’s plumbline for testing. Usually leads to fireworks when you gentle point it out to leadership. The attitude is if it works it must be good which is the unbiblical approach. We need to use the Word of God as the plumbline, not experiences, feelings or so called “measurable results”.

    Thank you for taking time for studying and writing.

    Your brother in Christ,


  2. I have a movie which explains a heresy called, “Outcome Based Christianity.” The most important point about the movie is exactly what Derek was talking about in his blog above. Today’s apostasy dwells on feelings, emotions, big screen TV’s, entertainment, and numbers instead of rightly dividing the Word. I have learned that even though we may do everything by the book, we will not always get our desired results in everything we do. The prosperity gospel will explain life’s misfortunes or hardship as a result of someone’s lack of faith or disobedience. Even Paul, (who is a greater man than all of the ‘great’ Christians of our day) was viewed as scum and refuse by people who encountered them. Their walk with God was a difficult journey, which cost them way more than any of us can understand. They were shipwrecked, went hungry, worked with their own hands to put food on their table, were tormented, and so forth. Compare that with today’s so called men of God who want nothing to do with you when you face adversity or become afficted.

    Mike, there are times when we sow heavy and reap nothng. I have gone through seasons where those who I witnessed to gave me the same response as a block of wood or a tree on the side of the road. Then there are times when I have labored for the kingdom, and reaped very heavy or only just a little. Those ups and downs are just the way it goes. Who knows what tomorrow will be? We may sow heavy and reap little. Because we will not always get the outcome we desire, we must be prepared to remain obedient in the desert, just as much as we would on the moutaintop.


  3. Outcome based Christianity produces false prophets and teachers. The result of this heresy is always some new teacher who rises to the top, because he comes up with some ‘new formula’ which the world loves. This is what Jesus warned us about. …. Men who would add to the Word of God or even try to tweek it to fit men’s desires.

    Look at today’s popular teachers. They have body guards, private Jets, and they have high status in the world. They reduce the Word of God to a convenient formula to fit men’s desires. When Rick Warren and Joel Osteen pass away, there will be some other new hot shot who rises to the top with a book deal and an even better so called formula. The world will receive him/her with open arms and an interview with 60 minutes, a million dollar book deal, or the front page of FORBES magazine.

    Walking with God is not easy. I tell this to anybody who asks, and I am not ashamed of it. Saying anything less than that is making merchandise of our Lord. Jesus did not say to go out into the world and make used car salesmen. He said to speak the truth. He said to feed the sheep…. not entice them.


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