by Mike Ratliff
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16 (NASB)
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and A man’s enemies will be the members of his household. Matthew 10:34-36 (NASB)
The number one accusation against those who proclaim the truth from God’s Word in the face of apostasy is that they are being divisive. I believe we should be “innocent as doves” with all men, but we must be prepared by being “shrewd as serpents” to encounter conflict with those who refuse to submit to God’s truth. We are never called to be at peace with false teachers or false prophets or apostates.
From Jesus’ own teachings we learn that the cost of being His disciple is very high. Grace is free, but becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ costs us everything. We are told that no one is worthy of the Kingdom of God who is in love with this world. We cannot serve God correctly if we love our own life more than Him. We cannot love our families more than Him. We cannot love possessions more than Him. We are called to be the interim or peacemaker between those whom we love and God. We are to be the one God uses to bring them into the Kingdom. However, we are also called to not waiver and turn our backs on God and His ways because pressure is continually put on us to compromise our walk with God for the sake of peace.
49 “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Luke 12:49-50 (NASB)
Jesus came to cast fire on the earth. This statement by our Lord is speaking of judgment. John the Baptist made the following statement about Jesus Christ.
11 “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12 (NASB)
John the Baptist used three references to Baptism in this passage. The first was “water for repentance.” This is what John the Baptist’s role was. His baptism symbolized cleansing. It was for those who were being baptized to show their commitment to repentance. The second was “baptize you with the Holy Spirit…” This signified that all genuine believers in our Lord Jesus Christ are Spirit-baptized. They receive the Holy Spirit indwelling them. No one without Him is genuine. The third baptism is with “fire.” This is referring to the baptism of judgment upon all the unrepentant.
Notice also that John tells us that in this our Lord will use His winnowing fork in His hand. What does that mean? This was a tool used for tossing grain into the wind so that the chaff is separated from it and blown away. This is speaking of separating those who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit from those who are to be baptized by fire. The grain signifies genuine disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ while the chaff represents unbelievers. The grain is gathered into barns, but the chaff is burned with a fire that is never quenched.
If we look back at Luke 12:49-50, we see that Jesus deeply desired for this unquenchable fire to be already kindled. He then states that He has a baptism to be baptized with. His baptism was one of suffering. This is referring to his suffering and death on the cross. When a new believer is baptized, the ceremony symbolizes identification with Him in death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus stated that he was in great distress until His baptism was completed.
Why was Jesus in distress about going to the cross? Was He afraid of the beatings or the nails in His flesh or death? No, He knew that while on the cross that all of God’s fury and judgment against sin would be poured out on Him. He would endure God’s wrath against our sin.
51 Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke 12:51-53 (NASB)
Again, our Lord tells us that through His work on the cross there would be two groups of people. One group is made up of His disciples. The other group is everyone else. This “division” will run through families, cities, nations, churches, you name it. No matter where we go in this world, no matter what groups we are part of; those groups will contain some from both divisions. As a result, along with the natural conflict that goes on through the works of sinful men everywhere, there will be a supernatural division between our Lord’s flock and the rest of the world. This division will not be peaceful. It takes many forms. There is outright persecution in some situations. However, some of the worst conflict here comes when non-believers insist on being part of our Lord’s flock on their own merit.
Despite the efforts of those who try to be at peace with apostates, our Lord knows better. He knows who is bound for the fire and who is bound for the barn. However, we do not. That is why we must be very careful whom we accept as our brethren in Christ. We do no one any favors if we blindly accept everyone’s testimony without careful observation. If we give people false hope then we have done more harm than good.
What about families divided by the cross? I know that many reading this have loved ones that believe they are Christians because of their works, or what church they belong to, etc. What are we to do? We must never stop being peacemakers. (Matthew 5:9) We pray for them continually. We witness to them every chance we get. When war breaks out over the division we always seek to leave a door open in which to do our peace work.
What about apostates who demand to be seen as genuine? If you look closely at these people, you will see that they have made up their own version of Christianity that is self-focused and temporal in nature. We must never allow anyone to proclaim a false version of the Gospel to be proclaimed as genuine. We must never allow anyone to twist our Lord’s words or the Bible’s words to make them say what they do not say. How are we to confront them? We must do so only from the basis of truth from God’s Word. That is why I do not allow debate on this blog unless all arguments are based in scripture. Personal and Straw Man attacks are not allowed. Instead, we use God’s Word to simply proclaim the truth. If any change is to be made in these people it will only come through the working of the Holy Spirit in them, not through arguing.
On the flip side, however, I was at a bookstore today with my wife. While she was browsing in another part of the store I was looking at Bibles. Next to me was a nice looking, well dressed, Black man who was looking at several Bibles. After a bit I made the comment that there didn’t seem to be any NASB Bibles in that store. He chuckled and agreed with me. From that point on we had a very edifying conversation about how much we loved God’s Word, our own pilgrimages since God had mercy on us, what God was doing with us now and so on. After several minutes we were close knit brothers and I didn’t want it to end and I could tell he didn’t either. That is the type of fellowship genuine believers have and will always have because we are Baptized into one faith, that is, into Christ by the Holy Spirit. What a Joy! That sort of thing is impossible with a false believer or with an apostate or with any unbeliever. I pray you see the difference and I also cannot wait to see my new friend again, but I do know that I will see him in eternity.
Soli Deo Gloria!