Thursday, March 17, 2016
How Can We Recognize the Difference between God's Inspiration and Satan's Temptations and Deceptions in Our Minds?
Think about this question as it may apply to you.
How can we know the difference between God's thoughts in our minds, our own human thoughts, and any thoughts from Satan that Satan may put into our minds to tempt or deceive us and lead us into error or sin? To put it another way, if a thought enters your mind, how do you know if it is your human thought coming from your human nature or human reasoning only, or if it is Satan's thought he is pumping into your mind to mislead you, or if it is God's thought inspired in your mind by God's Holy Spirit?
I am talking about thoughts relating to choices we have to make regarding doctrinal or moral issues. I am not talking about choices we must make that are not related to the principles the Bible speaks about.
So, for example, I am not talking about thoughts regarding a choice we have to make between buying a Jeep or a Volkswagen, or having pot roast or chicken for dinner, or taking a job with one company or another. In the matter of which job we take, we may indeed want God to give us wisdom and to guide our decision according to his will. But this is not very much a doctrinal or moral decision, in most cases. The best choice as to which company we work for may depend on information we do not have, but God does, such as what the environment will be like, what the opportunities may be with one company versus another, etc. For example, maybe the boss who is hiring us is planning to quit and will be replaced by a harsh, inconsiderate boss - we don't know that but God does. So we may ask God to guide the circumstances or let us know somehow what choice we should make, according to His will.
But I am talking about decisions we must make in regard to principles of God's way of life - the application of God's law and truth - understanding God's view of right and wrong and submitting to God's will in such cases.
This may be in regard to doctrine. It may be in regard to avoiding a sinful or unwise course of action. It may be a matter of understanding God's will in the matter of His righteousness and how He wants us to live.
Suppose a new member asked you this question because he wants to know how he can know what thoughts God may be inspiring in his mind through the Holy Spirit and what thoughts Satan may be putting in his mind to deceive him and lead him to sin. Perhaps he is thinking of a doctrinal issue he has thoughts about, or a decision he has to make. He is asking you, a long-time member, because he is looking for good advice. How would you answer?
And if you ask this question of yourself in your own mind, how would you answer yourself?
Stop reading this for a moment, maybe a few minutes if necessary, and think how you would answer this. Then continue reading after you have tried to answer this.
Here is my answer, and I think it is the only right answer possible. If you know a different answer, I would encourage you to submit it in a comment to this post.
My answer is this.
We can know this by the Bible. That is the only sure way. The Bible is God's word, God directly speaking. The Bible is the only infallible, direct word of God. And in the Bible, God gives us direct instruction in all matters of doctrine and in matters of the understanding of and application of the spiritual principles of God's law and way of life.
Finding Answers by Believing What God Says
The Bible is God's mind in print. By reading or studying the Bible we can know God's thoughts, God's purpose, and God's desire. The Bible teaches us what pleases God.
We understand God's word, the Bible, by reading or studying it, believing what God says, and striving to live by what God says. Then, understanding God's word, we can know God's will and way and thoughts. That is a learning process that may take time, but as we consistently study God's word and put it into believing action, we learn more and more accurately God's will and how to apply the principles of God's way of life to the decisions we have to make.
We must have a right attitude towards God and His word when we read the Bible. We must want to please God and both know and do His will in everything. We must have an attitude that includes willingness to believe what God says in the Bible and live by it.
God helps those who approach His word, the Bible, in this way to understand His thoughts and will (Isaiah 66:2).
Then, when a thought about a spiritual or doctrinal issue comes into our mind that is wrong, from Satan or from our sinful human nature, or simply in error, we can check God's word to see if our thought is right. We can check our thoughts against what God directly says to us in His word the Bible. Anything that is contrary to God's word is in error, not from God's Holy Spirit. It may or may not be from Satan - it may be simply a sincere human mistake - but it is not from God.
But checking the Bible is not always easy. Sometimes it takes work. We may have to search for and find and study all passages that relate to the subject. We may have to seek counsel from others to see what they find in the Bible to add to what we find for ourselves.
But God made us for work. He gave us minds and bodies to work with. He did not make us to be idle and have good things handed to us without our effort. This is illustrated in the Old Testament. The poor would provided for, but they had to make the effort to glean the fields that produced food (Leviticus 19:9-10) - read the book of Ruth, chapter 2. When God brought the Israelites into the promised land, they still had to fight for the land. God gave them the land by giving them the victory in battle, but they still had to make the effort.
Work and effort are good because they not only show God where our hearts really are, more so than just our emotions and feelings, but because they help to reinforce and develop our commitment to what we are working for. If you work for God's truth, you will appreciate it and retain it better. You will value it. It is God's gift, but sometimes He wants to see our effort to seek God's will and truth. He does not always make it easy. And so it is with Bible study to learn God's will, thoughts, and truth.
Of course, not everyone has the same ability to dig out and study truth in the Bible. Some people read faster and some read slower. Some people remember more detail, some less, some are more analytical, some less. But God knows our abilities and can make allowances, giving extra help to understand the Bible to those with less natural ability.
But what God wants of those whom He calls in this age to be the first fruits is an attitude of mind that is simply willing to believe and obey what God directly says to us in the Bible. And God tests us on that. It seems simple to state that. And it is simple, but that does not mean it is easy. In practice, it is hard. But it is necessary.
To have this attitude, we must be called by God, drawn by God to Christ (John 6:44). The majority of the world cannot come to this attitude, or cannot come to an understanding of God's truth, for Satan deceives them. They may think they are willing to believe and obey God, but Satan deceives them and they deceive themselves. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). They are not really willing to believe what God says. You can show them what God says very plainly in the Bible, but they will not believe it. God knows that He has not opened their minds to the truth, and He makes allowances for that, allowing them to come up in a general resurrection when Satan will be put away or to live into the millennium when Satan is put away, and they will have their chance to be tested and to believe what God says at that time. But our time is now.
But if we are not willing to believe God's word, we can deceive ourselves again just as the world is deceived. God's calling gives us the opportunity for salvation, but we must seize the opportunity, respond to God's calling, and believe what He says.
When we get ideas about doctrine, or when we are considering a matter of controversy in the Church of God on policy or doctrine about which various fellowships might disagree, even in cases where we must try to resolve such a difference to know where God wants us to attend, we can search the Bible to know the truth.
And as we think about these things, as we form opinions, and as thoughts come into our minds relating to the question at hand, we can search the scriptures to know if those thoughts are right thoughts, thoughts inspired by God's Holy Spirit in our minds, or if they are Satan's deceptions and temptations or our own human error.
Is Having a Right Attitude Sufficient?
One man I heard seemed to think that all we have to do, after repentance, baptism, and conversion, is to have an attitude of earnestly desiring to know God's will and to please God, and if we do, we will know God's will and his thoughts. He seemed to think that Bible study is secondary.
I suppose he means, if you desire to please God, God will give you a sense of sureness about what thoughts in your mind are from Him.
Not a very good answer, in my opinion.
There are many in the Church of God who have not grown up in a strong religious background other than the Church of God. Some have grown up in the Church and some have grown up in a secular, non-religious background. Some may have had parents who were atheists, and some may have had parents who were agnostics or only nominal Christians with no strong religious commitment or feelings.
Many such members may have no experience with family members or even their own thoughts and emotions in a household that was deeply religious, yet deeply deceived. They do not know what it is like in a family that is strongly Catholic or strongly religious in a Protestant faith.
They may imagine that the people from such a background do not think they have a strong desire to please God. But that is absolutely wrong. Protestants and Catholics can feel a very strong desire to please God. They may feel they have a very strong desire to know God, to know His will, to know what pleases Him, and to do His will to please Him.
They have the desire. Like Saul the Pharisee before he became the apostle Paul, they have zeal but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:1-2). Why? Why, with their zeal and desire to know and please God, does God not give them true knowledge of His will? Paul gives the answer from his own experience.
"And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Timothy 1:12-13).
Did you catch that? Paul persecuted the Church ignorantly in unbelief.
Paul was ignorant concerning God's will and God's thoughts and his zeal was not according to true knowledge because Paul, at that time named Saul, did not BELIEVE.
Whom did Paul not believe? He did not believe God.
It is not those who have zeal to please God and know His will, or who think they have zeal to please God and know His will, to whom God reveals truth, but those who are willing to believe WHAT GOD SAYS.
God, in His mercy both towards Paul and towards those in the world He would call into the Church through the preaching of the gospel by Paul, took hold of him and by a great miracle and trial shook Paul up, then named Saul, so that he was then able to believe. Christ spoke to Saul out of heaven and struck him blind. It was a bit easier then for Saul to believe God.
Even then, I do not for one minute think God took from Saul freedom of choice. Saul could have refused God's calling - God forces His salvation on no one - but Saul did not refuse.
But the reason Saul was ignorant of God's truth, God's will, and God's thoughts before then was not because of a lack of desire on his part to know God and God's will and thoughts and to please God, but he was ignorant because of his unbelief. He did not believe God.
The scriptures were there for Saul. He knew the passages that we read on Passover, passages in the Old Testament that predicted the suffering of Christ (Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:1-12, Psalm 22:1-31). He also knew the prophecy of Daniel that gave the timing of the coming of the Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27). He could have easily put two and two together to know that Jesus must be the Christ. And there were plenty of witnesses both of the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection, if Saul's mind was open to do an honest investigation.
But before Christ struck him down, Saul was content to believe the traditions he was raised in, the traditions of the Pharisees, more than he was willing to believe what God said in the scriptures (Philippians 3:3-6).
He didn't check his thoughts and doctrines about the prophesied Messiah against the scriptures with an open mind to let God's word tell him if he was right or wrong. Yet apparently he had a zeal to please God, but only according to his traditions of the Pharisees.
So it wasn't a lack of zeal to please God, to know God's will, or to do God's will that prevented Saul from knowing God's thoughts. It was an unwillingness to compare his thoughts and doctrines against the scriptures to see if they were right and an unwillingness to believe what God's word says.
Was the proof of Jesus being the Christ in the Old Testament scriptures? Yes, absolutely. Saul could have found it if he were willing to believe God's written word. He was not.
The proof that Saul could have known that Jesus was the Christ from scripture, if he had been willing and able to believe the scriptures, is that after Paul's repentance and conversion, after he became willing to believe the scriptures he had previously not believed, he and others at that time showed from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Apollos was able to prove from Old Testament scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
"Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus....and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 18:24-28).
Paul also was able to prove that Jesus is the Christ. "But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 9:22). "Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ' " (Acts 17:2-3).
And God commends the Bereans for being more noble or fair-minded to check the scriptures to see if the things Paul said were true. "Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men" (Acts 17:10-12).
So the proof of Jesus being the Christ was in the scriptures, but Saul, despite his desire to know and please God, refused to believe the scriptures.
Maybe he thought, as some members of the Church think today, that as long as he had zeal to know and please God, God would make sure that he knew the truth, and thus there was no need for him to check his beliefs with an open mind against the Bible.
Do you think that many deeply religious Catholics and Protestants do not want to please God, to know God's thoughts, and to do God's will? They do, or they think they do.
But try to show them, in the Bible, what we can plainly see (if we grew up in the Church or if we are willing to believe the Bible), about the Sabbath, the holy days, the soul not being immortal, etc., and they will not believe it. They will use every mental and argumentative trick to twist the scriptures, and they don't even realize they are doing it. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
God's test for His people has always been whether we will believe and obey His word.
Abraham was the example of believing God's word. Time and again, the Bible speaks of Abraham's willingness to believe the word of God.
"For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness' " (Romans 4:3). "And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God" (James 2:23). "And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
"Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, you who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you; For I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him" (Isaiah 51:1-2).
"Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? just as Abraham 'believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.' So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham" (Galatians 3:5-9).
The test is the same for us. Will we believe God? Will we have faith to believe the Bible? Not just, do we have a good attitude, or, do we desire to know God, or, do we desire to know and do His will. Catholics and Protestants may have that. Saul had that, but it didn't help him before he finally believed God's word.
Herbert W. Armstrong was able to give us the truth because he was willing to believe God, to believe the Bible in other words. He always checked his thoughts and doctrinal ideas against the Bible to test if they were true.
After Mr. Armstrong began to preach on radio, thousands of people who heard him accepted the truth because they were willing to do what Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible". And believing their Bibles, they became willing to support Mr. Armstrong with their tithes and offerings so the work could expand and so we could have the truth we have today.
Your knowledge of God's truth today is a direct result, a direct fruit, of thousands of people believing what they read in their Bibles more than their opinions, more than their traditions, and more than their ministers. You probably wouldn't know what you know today if they just felt that because they have an attitude of wanting to know God's thoughts and please Him that God would somehow reveal His truth to them apart from the Bible.
What is wrong with saying, "Just have the right attitude, and you will know. Just be zealous to have a stong desire to know God and please Him and internalize His thoughts - cry out for that - and you will know God's thoughts"?
The problem is, without the Bible as a mirror, we cannot see ourselves clearly. The Bible is the only objective check. Anyone can deceive himself into thinking he has a good attitude, that he wants to please God, that he is zealous to know God's truth and will and thoughts. But the only real test, for ourselves, for others who face the same questions, and for God to see where our hearts really are, is the Bible.
In other words, only by the Bible do we have any chance of correctly measuring our attitude to know if it is right. And if we are not willing to search and believe the Bible for the answers to all questions of doctrine and the application of God's spiritual law, that unwillingness itself is evidence, to God first of all, and should be to ourselves, that our attitude is not right.
"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
What is wrong with saying, "The key to knowing the will of God is to do what it says in Romans 12:1-2: 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God' "?
There is nothing wrong with that, providing we understand that it must be the Bible that shows us how to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. It must be the Bible that shows us what is holy and what is not. It must be the Bible that shows us what is acceptable to God. It must be the Bible that shows us what the principles of this world are that we should not conform to. And it must be the Bible that we use to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. We also prove God's way of life, which we learn from the Bible, by living it. We learn of God's way from the Bible, then we live it, and by living it we prove that God is telling the truth and that His way of life works.
It is God's word that defines all these things for us.
There have been Catholics and Protestants who thought they were presenting their bodies as a living sacrifice, some of them missionaries, some being willing to die or be tortured for their beliefs. But they didn't know the will of God because they didn't believe what God said. There are Catholics and Protestants who think that God is transforming their minds, but without believing the Bible, they have no way to measure that transformation or really know if it is from God.
Moreover, the only way we can preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world is to say, as Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe us, believe your Bible". If we try to preach the gospel by saying to the world, "Make sure your heart is right and that you desire to know God's will, and then you will (somehow) know the truth", that will go nowhere. Catholics and Protestants will just be confirmed in their minds in their own false doctrines.
And we cannot successfully preach what we don't practice. If we teach the world to live by every word of God, the Bible, as Jesus taught (Matthew 4:4), we better live that way ourselves.
The Bible MUST be the final arbiter and test of truth in matters of doctrine and the application of God's law in the decisions we must make.
We should also not make the mistake of thinking that we are immune to deceiving ourselves about our own attitude and desire to know God and please Him because we are baptized. We may think we earnestly desire to know and do His will, but if we are not checking and believing the Bible and doing what God says, we are showing God that our attitude towards Him is NOT right, even if we think it is. God is our judge, not ourselves.
If we need a reminder that those in God's true Church can deceive themselves about their spiritual attitude and condition, we only need to consider Christ's message to the Laodiceans. They did not know that they were spiritually blind, poor, wretched, miserable, and naked (Revelation 3:17).
Are ministers and members of the Church of God able to know God's thoughts, God's will, God's truth? Yes, absolutely. But we know God's thoughts and truth by the Bible. God's Spirit helps us understand the Bible and escape from Satan's deceptions, but we still must make the effort to search out the answers in the Bible. We have our part to do. Then God, by His Holy Spirit, will help us to reason correctly about putting scriptures together to know God's will, provided we are willing to believe and do what God says.
Yes, we can know God's thoughts and counsel because He reveals them to us through His word, the Bible.
But if we will not make the effort to look for the answers in the Bible, or if when we find the answers we give the scriptures a twist in our interpretation of the Bible according to our pre-conceived beliefs, not letting the Bible interpret the Bible, that lack of effort or lack of willingness to believe God's word shows God that our attitude is not right, that we are kidding ourselves, that our apparent emotional desire to know His thoughts and will is just a false emotion, not based on reality.
Moreover, not all who attend in the Church of God, either as lay members or ministers, are necessarily actually converted. Some may be tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). We should have learned this from the experience of Worldwide in the decade after the death of Mr. Armstrong.
There have been false ministers among us in the past, and there can be false ministers among us in the Church today. The only protection against deception taught by a minister on any point of God's truth is the Bible.
Ministers and members of the Church of God are NOT immune to deception. I heard someone talk about his experience searching for the term "barley harvest" and finding some teachings from someone who claims to be Church of God that were, shall we say, "surprising". That is just a reminder that there is much doctrinal confusion, controversy, and disagreement in the scattered Church of God, and this among those who have been baptized.
One might say, "Yes, but the same thing can happen in our reading of the Bible. We can deceive ourselves about what we read, twisting scriptures unconsciously without realizing it, deceiving ourselves".
Yes, that is possible. But we have a better chance of not deceiving ourselves if we are searching the Bible for answers than if we are not looking to the Bible. At least with the Bible, we have something more objective than our own thoughts. We have infallible words direct from God Himself. We can learn to believe God one verse at a time if necessary. We will be faced with choices, to believe God or not, and we have the opportunity to make right choices, to believe things God tells us even when we do not want to believe.
The Bible is the only objective measuring stick to determine if the thoughts we have about doctrine, about right and wrong, and about God's law and the application of His law to our decisions are right. And it is the measuring stick God can use to test our attitudes towards Him, if we really desire to know and do His will.
A Lesson in Jeremiah
There is an incident in the book of Jeremiah that may illustrate this. The people came to Jeremiah to inquire of God's will, promising to do what God said. Here is the story:
There was a group of Jews who were left in the land of Judah after Nebuchadnezzar took most of the Jews captive to Babylon. The governor of the Jews that Nebuchadnezzar had appointed was murdered, and the Jews were afraid that Nebuchadnezzar would hold them responsible. They wanted to flee to Egypt. You can read of their story in Jeremiah chapter 41.
Then, in chapter 42, as they started on their way to Egypt, they asked Jeremiah to inquire of God the way they should go, promising to do whatever God said, to go to Egypt or not go.
"Now all the captains of the forces, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people, from the least to the greatest, came near and said to Jeremiah the prophet, 'Please, let our petition be acceptable to you, and pray for us to the Lord your God, for all this remnant (since we are left but a few of many, as you can see), that the Lord your God may show us the way in which we should walk and the thing we should do.' Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, 'I have heard. Indeed, I will pray to the Lord your God according to your words, and it shall be, that whatever the Lord answers you, I will declare it to you. I will keep nothing back from you.' So they said to Jeremiah, 'Let the Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not do according to everything which the Lord your God sends us by you. Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we send you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God' " (Jeremiah 42:1-6).
"And it happened after ten days that the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Then he...said to them, 'Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition before Him: "If you will still remain in this land, then I will build you and not pull you down, and I will plant you and not pluck you up....Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid; do not be afraid of him," says the Lord, "for I am with you, to save you and deliver you from his hand...." But if you say, "We will not dwell in this land," disobeying the voice of the Lord your God, saying, "No, but we will go to the land of Egypt where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor be hungry for bread, and there we will dwell"....Thus says the Lord...."If you wholly set your faces to enter Egypt, and go to dwell there, then it shall be that the sword which you feared shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt; the famine of which you were afraid shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there you shall die" ' " (Jeremiah 42:7-16).
" 'The Lord has said concerning you, O remnant of Judah, "Do not go to Egypt!" Know certainly that I have admonished you this day. For you were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, "Pray for us to the Lord our God, and according to all that the Lord your God says, so declare to us and we will do it" ' " (Jeremiah 42:19-20).
"Now it happened, when Jeremiah had stopped speaking to all the people all the words of the Lord their God, for which the Lord their God had sent him to them, all these words, that Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men spoke, saying to Jeremiah, 'You speak falsely! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, "Do not go to Egypt to dwell there." '....So they went to the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord...." (Jeremiah 43:1-7).
The people may have thought they were willing to obey God. But when God's word came, it was apparently different from what they expected, and they did not believe and obey God's word, though they had promised they would.
The problem with just trying to work up a good attitude, a burning desire to know God's will and to please Him, and then wait for God to make us sure that the thoughts in our mind are from Him, is that without the objective and infallible word of God, the Bible, we cannot rightly judge ourselves and our thoughts and our attitudes. We might think we have a right attitude, but maybe we don't. As with the Jews who asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them, the real test of our attitude is not a feeling that we want to know God's will, but actually believing God when He speaks to us directly through His word.
Did the Jews think they wanted to know God's will? Of course they did! Why else did they ask Jeremiah to inquire of God for them? But they didn't know their own minds.
And if we are not willing to let God's word judge and test our thoughts by diligent Bible study, working hard at it if necessary, that right there I think is a pretty good indication that our attitude towards God is not right and that we are deceiving ourselves if we think we really want to know God's will and please Him with all our hearts.
An Example of Finding the Answer in the Bible
Before I end this, I want to give an example of the kind of question and decision about the application of God's law this may apply to. I have discussed this before, but it bears repeating (and repeating, and repeating, and repeating).
Suppose a man in the Church of God has a thought about preaching the gospel. His thought is, "We should not preach the gospel to the world until we draw closer to God, and that is a process that takes time, and we cannot rush God, so this may take years". Then he asks himself, "Is this thought from God's Holy Spirit, or is Satan trying to deceive me and keep me from supporting the preaching of the gospel by pumping this thought into my mind?"
How can he know if this thought, that we should wait with preaching the gospel to the world, is from God or from Satan? If it is from God, he must accept it and stay in the fellowship he is in, which also follows this thought as policy. But if it is from Satan he must reject this thought and find a fellowship that is preaching the gospel to the world. So the question is important. From God or from Satan - how can he know?
One man might say, "Desire with all your heart to know God's mind and His will and please God, and God will cause you to know the answer".
Is that practical? The problem is, it only raises another question. "How will I know if I really desire to know God's will and please Him and I am not just kidding myself? How can I judge my own attitude objectively?"
Moreover, it assumes God will be pleased with that approach and will not require the work and effort to search out the answer in the Bible. For how can we really live by "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God", as Jesus said (Matthew 4:4), if we take that approach? And how can God know if we are willing to believe His word, as Abraham did, if we won't even take the trouble to study His word for the answer?
Rather, that man should search the Bible for the answer. He may also seek a multitude of counsel, speaking with members and ministers to see what scriptures they have found that apply to this question, and he can add those scriptures to the ones he has found on his own. And by making this effort, he is showing God that he is willing to take the first step to really know God's thoughts and God's will.
Then putting scriptures together, he can find this.
Christ said we are to get the beam out of our eye before correcting our brother (Matthew 7:3-5). This, at first, may seem to support the idea that we as a Church should get our own act together before preaching to the world.
But then he will also find that God directly commands us to deliver His message to warn the people (Ezekiel 3:17-18). See also (Matthew 22:39, Matthew 7:12, Proverbs 24:11).
So this narrows the question a bit. Should we think of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning as correcting our brother, something we should not do until we get the beam out of our own eye? Or should we think of the gospel and Ezekiel warning as delivering God's message, with God doing the correcting, and we are just the postman delivering God's message, which we are commanded to do or the people's blood will be on our heads and God will count us as murderers?
God has no beam in His eye. God can correct the world and use us as the postman, delivering the message, and the postman does not have to be perfect before he can deliver the mail.
So how does that man find the answer? Again, in the Bible. He can look at the examples God gives us. The Bible is full of examples that show God's law in action. The Bible will show if the "beam in the eye" principle applies to preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning.
And here are examples from the Bible to answer the question.
Example one. God sent Jonah to warn Nineveh. Yet, if the beam in the eye represents spiritual or moral faults, Jonah certainly had one or more beams in his eyes. He did not have an attitude of obedience to God, for after God commanded him to deliver the message, he ran from God (Jonah 1:1-3). Then, even after repenting of that, his hatred for the Ninevites seemed to be so bad he was sorry and wanted to die because they repented (Jonah 3:1-10)! Yet, not only did God use Him, but his mission was successful! Jonah's preaching bore good fruit because Nineveh repented, yet Jonah had a beam in his eyes before and after he preached the message. Now, if God does not want a man with a beam in his eye to preach God's message (not his own) of warning to sinners to repent, HOW COULD GOD HAVE SENT JONAH TO DELIVER THE MESSAGE?
Example two. Jesus sent out His twelve apostles to preach the gospel. They were successful. They preached the gospel. They evidently baptized (John 4:1-3). They healed the sick. They cast out demons. Yet James and John had beams in their eyes. They were unconverted. They sought the best places in the kingdom in competition with the other apostles (Mark 10:35-41). They wanted to call fire down from heaven to burn up a village, and Jesus said they did not know what spirit they were of (Luke 9:54-56). Now, how could Jesus have sent men with beams in their eyes to preach the gospel if He intended those with faults and sins NOT to preach the gospel till they get the beams out of their own eyes?
Example three. Judas. Need I say more? Judas was a thief who stole money from the money box (John 12:4-6). Jesus said that among the apostles, Judas was not "clean" (John 13:10-11). He also said that Judas would have been better off had he never been born (Matthew 26:24-25). That sounds like the bottom to me. The only thing that compares is the scripture in Revelation that says the beast and false prophet will be cast into the lake of fire. To say that Judas had a beam in his eye would be an understatement. Yet Jesus sent him, along with the other apostles, to preach the gospel. And he must have been successful in healing and casting out demons, same as the other apostles, because he didn't seem different to them - they didn't know who the betrayer was until Christ told them (John 13:21-29).
So how could Jesus send out Judas to preach the gospel if Jesus did not want His disciples to preach the gospel with beams in their eyes? The answer: Jesus never intended His "beam in the eye" lesson to apply to preaching God's message of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the general public. He was only talking about personally taking the initiative to correct a brother. Taking God's message and delivering it to a mass audience as God commands is a different matter entirely.
Why is it different?
I mentioned this before, but the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning are not our message of correction to a brother, but they are God's message, God's correction to the nations. Since God crafts and shapes the message, and He also commands that we deliver the message, it is HIS responsibility, not ours. God is the author of the message, and we are the delivery man, that's all. God does the correcting, not us. It is God who says to the nations, through us, "Let me get the beam out of your eye", and He has the right to do this because He can see clearly - He has no beam in His eye.
IT IS NOT OUR MESSAGE.
But God commands we deliver it, whether or not, like Jonah, James, John, and Judas, we have beams in our eyes at the time we deliver it.
Besides that, the gospel is not all correction. Some of it is just positive, encouraging information about how God will save the world.
In any case, even the warning can be delivered as simply a sharing of information. You don't have to accuse the reader or listener of wrong doing. You can simply share what you know - God is going to punish those who are doing such and such, and the tribulation is coming for those who do not repent. Then Christ will come and save the world and set up the Kingdom of God. It is up to the reader or listener to examine himself to see if he is guilty or not based on the scriptures we quote for him. We don't have to set ourselves up as his judge - we let God do that - we just share with the reader or listener what we have discovered in the Bible, and he can do with that what he pleases.
And if our man who is doing the Bible study is willing to believe these examples in the Bible, he can know that his thought, "We should not preach the gospel to the world until we draw closer to God, and that is a process that takes time, and we cannot rush God, so this may take years", is NOT from God's Spirit, but is from Satan or from his own mistaken human reasoning (or the mistaken reasoning of another person he got this from).
Then replacing that wrong thought with what God through the Bible has taught him, he can put into practice Christ's teaching, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). He can further put that into action by supporting the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world, even knowing that he has faults he needs to work on himself. And if he cannot do that in the fellowship he is in, he can do that in a fellowship that preaches the gospel.
He might also consider this, that if his pastor or human leader or leading ministers in the fellowship he attends think they are not qualified to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to a world that desperately needs it, what makes them think they are qualified to preach to the Church of God on the Sabbath?
In other words, if they have beams in their eyes that prevent them from preaching to the world, why doesn't that prevent them from preaching to the Church? And if they have to draw closer to God and be reconciled to the Father before they can preach to the world, why do they not have to do this before they preach to the Church?
Moreover, if we claim we believe God when God says, love your neighbor as yourself, what right do we have to hold the truth we have only for ourselves, using it to try to be reconciled with the Father, but not sharing it with our neighbors so they can have the same chance to be reconciled to God? What right do we have to use our resources of time and money to make ourselves ready for the coming trials, the great tribulation, the Day of the Lord, and the return of Christ without using some of those resources to enable others outside the Church to have the same opportunity to make themselves ready for the coming end-time events?
If we behave selfishly in this matter, we are like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan who, when they saw the man left almost dead in the road, passed by on the other side (Luke 10:29-37). If we act selfishly, trying to achieve closeness with God but without also helping our neighbors find a relationship with God and without obeying what God directly says to us in His word, I don't think we will be reconciled with God because I don't think God will accept us on those terms. We have to go to God the way God tells us, not our own way contrary to the Bible. We are like members of traditional Sunday-keeping churches of this world, who when you show them what the Bible says about the Sabbath, say, "Well, here's the way I look at it".
This is a perfect example, I think, of God's warning, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25).
Do you really think God will accept that kind of worship?
He who rejects love towards neighbor is also rejecting love towards God. He who thinks he loves God is kidding himself if he does not love his neighbor as God commands.
Preaching the Gospel by Example
A pastor or teacher may excuse not preaching to the world by saying, we must preach the gospel by our example.
Certainly we should be a light and an example to those around us. But one who believes that this is sufficient for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public should consider two points.
The first one, which is pretty obvious, is that our example, apart from preaching the gospel with a direct message to a mass audience, only reaches a few people around us. And even most of those people do not know why our example is good. A person might see you open the door for someone or show unusual kindness, but how many learn the gospel and the Ezekiel warning from you because they saw your good deed? Very few will even ask you about your beliefs, and the few that do will probably not discuss it further than a very small number of points, not enough to get the full picture.
But the second point may be one that the "preach the gospel by example" crowd usually do not consider or do not talk about.
The very preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning is a good example to show the world. For the Church of God, which is small, to sacrifice and labor to get the gospel and the Ezekiel warning out to a mass audience is an example of love towards our neighbors that people will notice. But if we do not preach the gospel, we are showing by our failure to do so, by our bad example in this case, that we do not love our neighbors enough to sacrifice for them.
And then, when those of us who go through the tribulation with the world (and there will be many of us I am sure), when the masses find out that we knew what was coming but didn't make the sacrifice to warn them, they will likely say, "Why didn't you do more to warn us?" They will notice our bad example of selfishness in that case. That is not being a light to the world.
Catholic and Protestant missionaries sometimes show a better example of love than some Church of God fellowships by sacrificing to bring what they think is the truth to a world that needs it. They show more zeal for their mistaken message than some of us show for the truth. That is NOT a good example on our part.
Showing a willingness to sacrifice our time, our money, and our very lives to bring the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to a world that needs it is one of the ways we let our light shine. When we do this, we are testifying to others that we have an outgoing concern for others and that we are so committed to the truth of God that we are willing to sacrifice for it.
And while we are preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world, if we ourselves have faults to overcome (and who among us doesn't?), we work on overcoming those faults at the same time as we preach the gospel. And as we grow in grace and knowledge, as we overcome our sins more and more, as we draw closer to God and experience a greater reconciliation with the Father, our preaching of the gospel to the world will become more effective as God blesses us. And the desire to finish God's work, as Christ in us inspires us with the same zeal to finish the Father's work as He had (John 4:34-38), should add to our motivation to overcome and draw closer to God so God will bless our efforts to preach the gospel.
In other words, love towards our neighbors that leads us to share the gospel with them should motivate us to overcome our sins just as our love for God motivates us. And it was this way with Jesus also. Christ's motivation to sanctify Himself was not just to please the Father or be saved Himself but for our sakes also. Jesus said, "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth" (John 17:19).
Sitting on the Fence
Some in the Church of God are still undecided on the Bible issue. They haven't made up their minds if God's word is to be their absolute primary guide in their life. They haven't really made a commitment, 100%, to believe God, to believe what He says absolutely in everything. They are sitting on the fence. And as they sit on the fence on the Bible issue, they also sit on the fence on the gospel issue. "Yes, I want the gospel to be preached", they may say. But they do nothing. They show love to God and their neighbors with their mouths but not in action, and their hearts are undecided.
They remind me of the words of Elijah, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if Baal, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).
So I will challenge the undecided to make up their minds. The Church of God since Herbert W. Armstrong started on radio has always stressed the Bible, the Bible, the Bible. Why? Because the Bible is God speaking. Mr. Armstrong proved that, and many members, including myself, have proved it.
The one thing that makes the Church of God different from Catholic and Protestant churches is our commitment to live by every word of the Bible. It is one of our defining characteristics. It is our heritage, our culture, our roots, and our history. Yet some ministers and members in the Church of God do not take it seriously.
Make up your minds. Do you believe the Bible or not? You attend with a Church that claims to follow the Bible. Does that mean anything to you? Do you think this is something inconsequential, minor, secondary? Do you put the Bible only on the level of Church articles, minister sermons, and Church tradition? Or do you tremble before its authority?
The stakes couldn't be higher. God says, if we don't deliver the warning to the nations, we are murderers in His sight. There is blood guilt upon the heads of every man and woman in the Church who is not supporting the preaching of the Ezekiel warning to the world by whatever means lawfully available to that person, with whatever opportunities and resources God give us (Ezekiel 3:16-21). God Himself shows in the Bible, when we put the scriptures together, that there is no excuse for waiting while we "draw closer to God" or "become reconciled with the Father".
And the root of this thinking, that we are somehow excused from delivering God's message to the world while we try to get closer to God our own way, is our casual attitude towards God's word. That slack attitude towards the Bible is getting many Church members in trouble with God. There is a price to pay, and that price is building up. The longer one waits before believing and obeying God's word about the gospel, the harder it may be to repent, and there may be less chance a person will be able to do it.
Here is the conclusion.
We need to have a repentant attitude and a right attitude and respect for God as we study the Bible. But having that attitude will not make God's thoughts and God's will known to us apart from sincerely looking for answers in the Bible. It takes both, not one or the other. We need a right attitude, an attitude of faith in God and His word, a willingness to believe God's word the Bible more than our own opinions, more than our ministers, and more than our traditions. We need to earnestly desire to please God and know His thoughts. If we don't have that right attitude, our understanding of the Bible will be hindered. But having that right attitude is not enough if we do not look to the Bible for answers. We have to have a right attitude AND we need to get seek the answers to our questions in the Bible.
" 'For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,' says the Lord. 'But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word' " (Isaiah 66:2).
"Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11).
"When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18).
"To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20).
Here are links to other posts in this blog on related subjects:
"Unbelief Is Sin, and We Must Put It Out of Our Lives", dated April 8, 2015, link:
"Showing Mercy", dated April 9, 2015, link:
"Why Does God Communicate to Us through the Bible Today, More than through Miracle-working Apostles and Prophets as He Did in the First Century and Before?", dated August 14, 2015, link:
"Incorporation of Church of God, The Father's Call", dated December 21, 2015, link:
(At the bottom of this post is an extensive list of related post links.)
"Did God Put You Where You Are in the Church, and Should You Stay There?", dated February 18, 2016, link:
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
CHAPTER 3 - THE EZEKIEL WARNING
CHAPTER 4 - WHY PREACH THE GOSPEL? - A LESSON FROM THE HOLOCAUST
CHAPTER 5 - SHOULD THE CHURCH FEED THE FLOCK ONLY?
CHAPTER 6 - OBTAINING GOD'S HELP -- PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH