by Mike Ratliff
3 “ Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3 (NASB)
I spent many years as a deacon in two SBC churches in the late 1980’s the 1990’s and the early 2000’s. I would say that my spiritual maturity during that time was one of a new Christian who was growing, but certainly not someone who would be considered an elder. I was untrained theologically. The preaching and teaching we received in those churches was not very deep. The leaders in those churches were more interested in encouraging the people to work harder and give more. My main spiritual gifts are all centered around teaching so I gravitated toward teaching Bible Study classes. One of the things God did during that period that changed my growth rate in Christ was me being selected for Precept training as an instructor. Those going through the courses paid for the classes and part of that money went to have me and a few others trained to do Inductive Word Studies from God’s Word. I went to all three levels of training and the third level, in 1992, was learning how to do Greek word studies in the New Testament. This changed everything for me, but it was several more years of circumstances beyond my control that God used to move me into this discernment work that I do now.
The ministry I have now, even though it has elements of discernment work, is more geared towards being a source of spiritual food for our Lord’s people, the suffering Church, because so much of it has become corrupt and, in some cases, apostate. After the Purpose Driven debacle about 10 or so years ago where so many pastors wanted to emulate Rick Warren and take their churches down the wide boulevard of destruction thereby becoming Seeker Sensitive storefronts, God used me and several others to help those who suddenly found themselves without an uncompromised church in their community since all those around them had followed suit so-to-speak. Those who resisted, like I did in 2006, found a pastor who was formerly a friend tell them that if they did not conform then leave.
At about the same time the Emergent Church or whatever they call themselves now became a real resistance movement against those of us who stood against their new liberalism and everything Rick Warren and those like him were doing. Those were ugly times. The rules for comments on this blog came into being during that time because of the pure evil I had to deal with from some of those people on a daily basis.
This was going on at the same time that I was working very hard to try to maintain my ministry to those who truly needed help. Some even told me that their only source of spiritual teaching they could get was what they could get online from blogs like mine. The discerning part is truly hard work, at least for me. Part of being discerning is having to listen to or read certain preachers and teachers in order to compare what they are saying to what God’s Word clearly says. Some of my friends and fellow team members at CRN are exceptional at this. I, on the other hand, become weary of it very quickly. I know that we must do it, but it just wears me out especially since much of what I am hearing from these people is exactly what I was immersed in from the time I was a new Christian until God shoved me out of our old church when it went Purpose Driven back in 2006 as I shared above. Since then, it is as if shields have been removed from my eyes.
In the following study we will look at the truth that our Lord gives rest to those who are His while our enemy and those who pretend to be preachers of the Word, but are really working for him want to keep all believers in bondage to the lie that to be righteous before God they have to do good works continually. As my friend Chris Rosebrough says, this is nothing but “law, law, law” not grace.
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Matthew 11:25 (NASB)
Yes, our Lord Jesus used sarcasm. Here, he refers to the Jewish leaders as wise and understanding while His followers as little children in comparison. On the other hand, carefully read the following passage.
3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 [ For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.] Matthew 18:3-11 (NASB)
God has revealed His truths to those the world would not deem worthy, while those the world would otherwise elevate, like the Jewish religious leaders, are left blinded to them. These “unworthy ones” in the world’s eyes are given the truth of the Messiah and His Gospel even in the face of those who hate these very truths. God’s ways are not man’s ways.
26 Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Matthew 11:26-27 (NASB)
Here we see the Sovereignty of God over all the affairs of men and that Christ claims that the task of executing the divine will has been committed to Him. This claim would utterly blasphemous if Jesus were anything less than Sovereign God Himself.
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB)
Carefully read the passage I placed at the top of this post (Matthew 5:3) then reread Matthew 11:28-30 (above). To whom are these messages addressed? They openly invite all who hear, but they both are phrased such that the only ones who will respond are those burdened by their own spiritual bankruptcy and weight of trying to save themselves by keeping the law. The unregenerate heart is so stubborn that without a sovereign-bestowed spiritual awakening, none will acknowledge the depth of their spiritual poverty. Jesus says in v27 that salvation is the sovereign work of God. Then in vv28-30 this coheres with the free offer of the gospel. What is the result? In v29 those to whom the Son chooses to reveal the Father (the regenerate) hear the gospel, believe the gospel, turn in repentance to the Son for salvation and, in return, find rest for their souls.
This is why it is so tragic for these so-cool pastors with their “mega-cool” works-righteousness churches putting so many of their “Jesus-followers” in their congregations into such bondage of trying to keep the works of the law. This is the opposite of the rest promised by our Lord. This rest speaks of a permanent respite in the grace of God completely apart from works (v30).
If you hear any preacher try to manipulate the preaching of God’s Word in such a way so that he can lay guilt trips on those who hear him so they will submit to him to do more works in order that God will then do this or that then what you have heard is a man attempting to use the Word to put his people in bondage to the law. When I hear something like that it angers me because it takes me back to those days before God drew me into the light by removing me from the deception. It makes me both sad and angry when I think of all those believers out there in this sort of bondage to a works righteousness and they don’t even know it. They believe this is how God works because they don’t know the Word of God well enough to check out what they are being taught. Therefore, these discernment ministries are vital. We may not be able to get everyone to listen, but God may get some to hear the truth and move into the light and out of the bondage. God’s will be done.
Soli Deo Gloria!