- How God Speaks to Us (Ephesians 3:4-5)
- The Reliability of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19-21)
- The Sufficiency of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
- He Is the Creator (Revelation 4:10-11)
- He Is Good (Mark 10:17-18)
- He Is Holy (Isaiah 6:1-3)
- He Desires a Relationship with Us (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)
- Jesus Is the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4)
- The Bible is God’s Word (Matthew 15:3-4)
- The Bible Is Reliable (Isaiah 55:10-11)
- God Expects Us to Obey (Romans 2:6-8)
- Sin Is Lawlessness (1 John 3:4)
- All of Us Have Sinned (Romans 3:23)
- Sin Leads to Death (Romans 6:23)
- Christ (Acts 2:36)
- God’s Son (Matthew 16:15-16)
- Savior (Acts 13:23)
- Belief (John 3:16)
- Repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10)
- Confession (Romans 10:9-10)
- Baptism (Acts 2:38)
- The Definition of Repentance (Acts 26:19-20)
- Knowledge of God’s Will (2 Samuel 12:7-9)
- Honesty About Sin (2 Samuel 12:13)
- Willingness to Change (Matthew 19:20-22)
- Immersion in Water (Acts 8:38-39)
- Of a Believer (Colossians 2:11-12)
- To Wash Away Sins (Acts 22:16)
INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS
- It’s Consistent (Colossians 3:17)
- It Calls Us to the Word (Acts 17:10-11)
- It Honors Jesus, Not Ourselves (Ephesians 5:22-24)
- Ask About Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20)
- Evaluate Their Worship (John 4:23-24)
- Listen to Their Teaching (John 8:31-32)
- God’s Pattern (Mark 10:6-9)
- Judgment on the Immoral (Hebrews 13:4)
- Lust (Matthew 5:27-28)
- Divorce (Matthew 19:7-9)
- Why (2 Corinthians 8:8-9)
- When (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
- How Much (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
- The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-47)
- The Laying on of the Apostles’ Hands (Acts 8:14-18)
- Their Nature (Acts 2:6-11)
- Their Duration (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
- It Denies the Innocence of Children (Mark 10:13-16)
- It Holds Us Accountable for Others’ Sin (Ezekiel 18:1-4)
- It Minimizes the Power of Choice (Romans 5:12)
As we move into the final portion of our half-hour study series, we come to topics that won’t come up in studies with everybody but might come up in studies with somebody. The first of these topics is spiritual gifts. Many of you may well have had, as I have had, the experience of talking Bible with somebody who believes that the miraculous spiritual gifts of the first century continue today.
Let me be honest with you, brethren. It is difficult to find success in studies with such people. Though it’s not obvious, these problems stem from a disagreement over spiritual authority. In everything we say, we appeal to the authority of the Scriptures. People like this, though, generally place the authority of their own experiences over the authority of the word. They are more concerned with what they have seen and felt than with what the text says.
Of course, “difficult” is not the same thing as “impossible”. I know people who have come out of Pentecostalism to become faithful disciples, and there are certainly honest hearts in any group. To equip us to help such people, then, let’s consider miraculous spiritual gifts.
The first problem with claims of modern-day gifts has to do with the first-century origin of such gifts. In the time of the early church, believers received gifts in two ways. The first was THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Look at Acts 10:44-47. In this story, we see the Gentile household of Cornelius receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in tongues.
This is in fulfillment of a prophecy made in Joel 2, in which God promises that He will pour out His Spirit on all mankind. Even though the passage we’re considering doesn’t mention this prophecy, it describes both halves of its fulfillment. The first took place on the day of Pentecost. It’s what Peter is referring to when he says that “we”—that is, we Jewish believers—received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10, the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit in the same way.
After this event, we never see another occurrence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, and it makes sense that we wouldn’t. After all, God promised to pour out His Spirit on all mankind. He poured it out on the Jewish portion of mankind on Pentecost, and He poured it out on the Gentiles of the household of Cornelius. As a result, all of mankind received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the first century. God has kept His promise, so we have no reason to look for more Holy Spirit baptism today.
Second, believers could receive spiritual gifts through THE LAYING ON OF THE APOSTLES’ HANDS. Consider the evidence of Acts 8:14-18. In this text, the phrase “the laying on of the apostles’ hands” is extremely significant. At this point in Acts, the gospel has just come to Samaria through the preaching of Philip the evangelist. Philip is one of the seven from Acts 6, but he is not an apostle. He has spiritual gifts himself, but he does not have the ability to communicate those spiritual gifts to others.
As a result, the new Christians in Samaria were without spiritual gifts. They did not receive them until the church in Jerusalem sent the apostles Peter and John to lay hands on brethren so they could receive them. Only apostles had the ability to do this.
This poses a serious problem for people who claim to have these gifts today. Where did they get them? They can’t get them from the baptism of the Holy Spirit because the promise of the Spirit has been completely fulfilled. They can’t get them from the apostles because all of the apostles are dead, and you can’t become an apostle unless you are an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus. The Scriptures lead us to the conclusion, then, that Christians today should not expect to receive miraculous spiritual gifts, and those who believe they possess them merely are deceiving themselves.
This conviction is further strengthened when we consider THE NATURE of first-century miraculous gifts. For example, look at Acts 2:6-11. This passage is important because it gives us more evidence than any other about what the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues was like. Today, there are millions who claim to have the gift of tongues, but they say that they are speaking in a prayer language or in the language of angels. However, that’s not what the first-century gift of tongues was. Instead, we see from this text that the gift of tongues gave the apostles the ability to speak foreign languages they had not studied.
Back when I was getting my religious-studies degree, I did some research into the origins of Pentecostalism in the early part of the last century. The earliest Pentecostals claimed to have the ability, like the Christians of Acts 2, to speak foreign languages.
However, they quickly retreated from that claim because it is falsifiable and was falsified. If you claim that you have the spiritual gift of speaking Russian, all I have to do to determine whether you are telling the truth is find somebody who has learned Russian and have him listen to you. If he says, “Yep, that’s Russian”, like the audience in Acts 2 did, then you have proved that you have a gift. If, however, he says, “That’s not Russian,” he has proved you are mistaken. People who claim to speak in a prayer language make that claim because it isn’t falsifiable, but what they claim to have is not the true gift of tongues.
Finally, we must ponder THE DURATION of gifts. Let’s read from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Everybody agrees that this passage says that spiritual gifts will come to an end. However, there is disagreement about when this will occur. Brethren traditionally have argued that “the perfect” is the completed revelation of the Scriptures. Pentecostals, on the other hand, generally contend that the text is saying that gifts will come to an end in heaven.
However, there is a serious problem with that interpretation. In contrast with the spiritual gifts that will pass away, Paul says that three things will abide: faith, hope, and love. That doesn’t fit with heaven at all. Faith won’t abide in heaven. It will have become sight. Hope won’t abide in heaven. It will have been fulfilled. Only love will remain.
Paul has to be talking, then, about a time on earth when we will still have faith and hope but won’t have gifts. From this, we must conclude that “the perfect” is the complete written word. Because we have it, we no longer should expect to have miraculous spiritual gifts.
Of all of the spiritual topics that we might address, one of the most sensitive is giving. First of all, it’s about money, which always has been very important to people. Second, though, the Holy Spirit’s words on this subject have been misrepresented and abused for 2000 years. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul writes about preachers who saw godliness as a means of gain, and sadly, there are untold thousands of religious leaders who still think this way today. As a result, whenever we raise the subject with a new convert or with brethren in general, there is always the suspicion that the preacher is motivated by selfishness rather than love of the truth.
This is unfortunate, but it most not deter us from teaching that truth. Those who recently have obeyed the gospel need to understand what their financial responsibilities are, and more mature Christians need to be reminded. For the next lesson in our half-hour study series, then, let’s consider giving to the Lord’s work.
The first thing that we must teach when it comes to giving is WHY it is important. Frequently, those who collect the contribution will talk about returning to God a portion of that with which He has blessed us, and that’s true, but it’s incomplete. Our motivations for generosity should go much deeper than that.
As evidence, consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8:8-9. In context, Paul is urging the Corinthians to contribute to the collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem, and he tells them that their example must be Jesus. We don’t normally think of Jesus as a generous giver, yet Paul points out that that’s exactly what He was. Before He came to earth, Jesus had everything. He was rich on a scale that makes the concept of riches meaningless.
However, even though Jesus was rich, He made Himself poor. He left the glories of heaven behind for life down here in the mud with us. Indeed, He surrendered His life on the cross, so that the One who once had everything was left with nothing. Why? So that through His poverty He could make us rich, so that we could share in the glories of heaven with Him.
If we want to be like Jesus, then, we will seek to give as generously as He gave. We will view the contribution as on opportunity to imitate His self-sacrificing love. When you get right down to it, giving is about love. It’s about love for the poor brethren here and around the world whom this church helps. It’s about love for the children who are taught in our Bible classes and for the brethren who are built up in the faith. It’s about love for the sinners who so desperately need to hear the gospel. When we give generously, that reveals our love. When we don’t, well, that reveals our love too.
Second, let’s consider WHEN we should give. Once again, the apostle Paul helps us out here, in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. There are several things that are worth noting about this text. The first is that this collection is supposed to take place on the first day of every week. Interestingly, it is the only thing that we are directly commanded to do every Sunday. We only have an example of brethren sharing in the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, and preaching, singing, and prayer can occur at any time.
We need to be careful in our attitudes toward these things. I think that sometimes, we can fall into the habit of thinking of the other expressions of worship as these wonderful, exalted activities, whereas the contribution is this distasteful necessity that we do because we have to, but we want to get it out of the way as quickly as possible because we’re embarrassed about it. Brethren, that’s dead wrong. Giving is no less a sign of godliness than any of those other things, and it’s just as important to Him!
Second, Paul says that each is to give as he may prosper. To put things another way, our contribution is supposed to be proportional to our income. If some Christian is unemployed and doesn’t have any income, then because he isn’t prospering, God doesn’t expect him to give. It is when we have the means to give but choose not to that our non-giving reveals a heart problem.
Third, notice the purpose of the collection. Paul says it’s so that no collections will have to be made when he comes. In other words, because there is a big need in Jerusalem, Paul wants the Corinthians to get this money together bit by bit, over time. That way, when Paul returns to Corinth, the whole sum will be waiting for him, and the Corinthians won’t have to scurry around checking under couch cushions for loose change.
From this, we see that one of the purposes of the collection is to gather together money for large expenses in the future. It’s 100 percent legitimate for a church to have a treasury with money sitting in it, against the day when a cyclone wipes out the brethren in Zimbabwe or the septic-system pumps at the church building give out, to name a couple of the expenses the Jackson Heights church has seen this year. Not only is it authorized to store up money like that, it’s prudent!
Finally, let’s turn to the question of HOW MUCH. Look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. Once again, there are several things in the passage that are worth attending to. The first is that we must give as we have decided in our hearts. We can’t go through our week spending, spending, spending, and then when Sunday rolls around, God gets whatever is left in our purses and our wallets. That’s not deciding in our hearts. That’s letting our materialism decide for us. Instead, we need to put our giving as the top line item in our budgets and make the rest of the budget work around it.
Second, notice that giving as we have decided in our hearts does not give us a monetary amount, either absolutely or as a percentage. In fact, if we go through the whole New Testament, we will never see any particular figure attached to giving. Tithing, giving 10 percent of our income, was an Old-Testament practice that has not been carried over from the Law of Moses.
How much we give is entirely up to us. I once had a sister ask me if she should give as a percentage of her gross income or of her net. I told her only that she should give whatever she could give cheerfully. The only guidance I will give a new Christian, or indeed any of you, is to look into your hearts, consider what the Lord has done for you, and return to Him what you know is right.
Third, though, notice that God promises that whatever we give, we won’t suffer because of our giving. This isn’t a promise that He will make us rich. However, it is a guarantee that if we are generous in our contribution to Him, He will make sure that we always have the means to be generous. When we are contributing, we don’t have to worry about the consequences. Instead, we can trust in Him.
By my count, we are nearing the end of our series of half-hour studies we might hold with an unbeliever or a new convert. After today, I have three sermon topics remaining, one relating to instruction in righteousness, and two that are miscellaneous studies. Today, though, we are going to turn our attention to something that we must discuss with everyone who has recently obeyed the gospel—the subject of sexuality.
If there is any sin that our society loves, it is sexual sin. Practices that were hidden in shame during my parents’ time are now accepted and even celebrated by a majority of Americans. There are millions of people in our country who would be deeply offended if they heard me say what I’m about to say. Nonetheless, our job isn’t to win popularity contests. It’s to declare the whole counsel of God, and if somebody doesn’t like that counsel, that’s on them. Without further ado, then, let’s explore the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality.
This study must begin with GOD’S PATTERN for intimate relationships. Jesus sets out this pattern in Mark 10:6-9. I’ve heard it said that when the Treasury Department trains Secret Service agents to detect counterfeit money, they don’t do that by showing them examples of counterfeits. Instead, they have them study genuine money, and anything that doesn’t have those characteristics is counterfeit.
In the same way, the best way for us to understand Bible teaching on sexuality is to look at the genuine article of God’s plan. It’s very simple. God makes us male and female, joins us in marriage, and in that marital relationship, we become one flesh. That’s it. Full stop. Any sexual activity that does not involve one man and one woman, and anything that does not take place in marriage, is not according to God’s will.
This includes even so-called same-sex marriage. There are many today, some of whom are even quite prominent, who will claim that their homosexual relationship is sanctified because they have been “married”. I bear these people no ill will, but they are plainly wrong. It’s easy for us to tell what God’s intent for marriage is by looking at His design. He has designed us as males and females, and that design reveals His intent for male and female to go together.
By contrast, when we consider two males or two females, it is clear that God has not designed them to go together. Any union between them is contrary to His will, and regardless of whether they claim to be married or not, it will not receive His blessing.
This is important because the Scriptures also teach us that God will bring JUDGMENT ON THE IMMORAL. Here, let’s read together from Hebrews 13:4. There are two parts to this verse. The first part reaffirms the goodness and holiness of sex in marriage. From the beginning, God has intended husband and wife to become one flesh, and their coming together pleases Him. It’s a blessing that we should receive and enjoy with gratitude as we receive and enjoy all of God’s other blessings.
However, the same is not true for fornication and adultery. My father-in-law insists that people often don’t know what these are, so let me explain. Fornication is sexual activity outside of marriage; adultery is when a married person becomes sexually involved with someone other than their spouse. There is a stern warning attached to both of these practices, and it is that God will judge the fornicator and the adulterer.
Let me be clear. Unmarried people, if you want to be with somebody, you need to marry them. If you are not married to them, and you become intimate with them anyway, you are sinning, you are dishonoring your Creator, and you are placing your soul in peril of eternal damnation. Married people, if you want to be with somebody, be with your spouse. If you get with anybody else, you too are sinning, dishonoring your Creator, and placing your soul in peril of eternal damnation. Sexual sin is like antifreeze. It might taste good, but if you drink it, it will kill you.
Similarly, all Christians need to be aware of the dangers of LUST. Jesus warns us about these in Matthew 5:27-28. Here too, to make sure that nobody is left in the dark, let’s define our terms. Lust is unlawful sexual desire. It is when you allow your mind to dwell sexually on somebody you don’t have a right to be with. This could be somebody you know in real life, or it could be somebody you’ve only seen online.
It is no secret to any of us, I think, that pornography, which exists to excite lust, is one of the scourges of modern American society. Tens of millions of people in our country use porn on a regular basis. In fact, as I wrote recently on the church blog, rates of premarital sex in America are actually going down, in part because of the prevalence of pornography.
Once again, let’s make no mistake about this. Lust is sin. Porn use is sin. It will kill our souls just as dead as fornication and adultery will.
In some ways, lust is even more dangerous than fornication and adultery because it’s much easier to keep secret. If we have a porn habit, the worst thing that can happen to us is not that we get found out. It is that we don’t get found out. I shudder to think of all of the apparently faithful Christians who will lose their souls on the day of judgment because they loved pornography more than they loved Jesus.
Don’t let that be you. If you’re struggling with porn, get help. Tell your spouse. Tell one of the elders. For that matter, if a brother feels comfortable coming to me, I’d be happy to help him. It’s much better to forfeit your pride than to forfeit your soul.
Finally, let’s consider the subject of DIVORCE. We see the Lord’s teaching on this in Matthew 19:7-9. Here, He’s warning us about another one of the counterfeits of God’s plan for marriage. It’s when somebody divorces their spouse and marries another. Regardless of what the physical marriage license might say, that’s no marriage in God’s eyes. Every time those two people come together, they are committing adultery.
There’s one exception to this rule, and one exception only. If and only if your spouse cheats on you do you have the right to divorce them and remarry. Only physical adultery can dissolve the marriage bond.
This is certainly one of the hard sayings of Jesus. I’ve studied with married people who didn’t have the right to be together on multiple occasions. It’s hard to tell such people the truth, but here as elsewhere, only the truth can save souls. It’s even harder for them to put away an unlawful spouse, but I’ve seen courageous Christians do exactly that. They can rest assured that however they suffer here, they will be more than repaid eternally.
It is certainly true that when I consider the Lord Jesus, there are many things about Him that intimidate me. I read about His holiness, His meekness, and His love, and it’s sobering to realize that I’m supposed to imitate His greatness in all those things.
However, there are some things about Him that reassure me, and one of them is that He can be very sarcastic. Consider, for instance, the question of Luke 6:46. That’s got some bite to it, doesn’t it? His point is plain. If we call Him “Lord” but don’t do what He says, we are no disciples of His at all.
This is important in our individual lives, and it’s important in our corporate lives as members of a congregation. Is our congregation doing what Jesus says, or isn’t it? Even a new Christian has to know how to distinguish churches that are from churches that aren’t, so for our ninth half-hour study session, let’s explore the topic of choosing a church.
Before I go on, let me note that the scope of this sermon is going to be limited, as the scope of every sermon in this series has been limited. This is not an explanation of every nuance of the work of the church. Instead, it’s a guide to make sure that somebody who knows none of that will be headed in generally the right direction.
The first thing that we ought to do in evaluating a congregation is to ASK ABOUT BAPTISM. We see the centrality of baptism in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Any church that truly is submitting to the Lordship of Jesus is going to do these two things. They are going to baptize, and they are going to teach those they baptize to observe all the commandments of Jesus.
Several weeks ago, we learned what the one baptism we are authorized to administer is. It is the immersion in water of a believer for forgiveness of sins. If a church administers that baptism, they are acting as authorized by Jesus. If they do not, they are not.
Furthermore, if a church does not administer the baptism of the Bible, its members do not enjoy the benefits of Bible baptism. They are not disciples. They are not Christians. They are not forgiven of their sins. They likely believe that they are, but they are deluded and mistaken. Assembling with a group of people like that has no more spiritual benefit than assembling with the Elks Lodge on Sunday morning.
The only way to find out the truth here is to ask. Go up to the preacher or the pastor or the whoever and ask three questions: “How do you baptize?”, “Whom do you baptize?”, and “Why do you baptize?”
Be very careful of weasel-word answers to the last question. Some will tell you things like, “We baptize because Jesus commanded us to.” Usually, people who say such things do not believe in baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and the only way to smoke them out is to ask them directly, “Do you believe that baptism is necessary for forgiveness of sins?”
If you get any other answer than a “Yes,” you know that the people in that church are not actually disciples, and you shouldn’t worship there. There’s no need to consider anything else in this lesson. Those people have flunked the most important Scriptural test.
Second, we ought to EVALUATE THEIR WORSHIP. Once again, the words of Jesus set the standard. He tells us what the worship of His people is like in John 4:23-24. True worshipers must worship God in spirit and truth.
Notice that Jesus does not say that they will worship God in spirit and sincerity. Our society likes to confuse sincerity and truth, but they can be two different things. Sincerity is subjective. We all sincerely believe things, but we can be sincerely mistaken about them.
Truth, on the other hand, is objective. Something is either true or it isn’t. Even if nobody believes the truth, the truth is still true.
When it comes to the will of God, we know where to find truth. Jesus says in John 17 that the word is truth. Only worship that is authorized by the word is true worship.
Consider, for instance, a congregation that is welcoming and friendly, but they’ve got a rock band or a piano up on stage. According to ordinary English usage, bands play. Pianos are played. The movie titles are And the Band Played On and The Piano Player, not And the Band Sang On and The Piano Singer.
Bands play musical instruments. A piano is a musical instrument that is played. In both cases, the playing of a musical instrument is being offered as worship to God, and anybody who disputes that has got an agenda.
Let’s test that against the Scriptures. If the true worship that Jesus contemplates involves musical instruments, we will be able to use the Scriptures to prove that Christians are supposed to worship using musical instruments. No such evidence exists, so the congregation with that band or piano isn’t worshiping in truth.
At this point, our next decision isn’t optional. Jesus doesn’t say that those who worship God can worship in spirit and in truth if they want to. He says that they must worship in spirit and truth. If we want to be true worshipers, we can’t be a part of a church that doesn’t worship in truth.
Finally, if we are evaluating a church, we must LISTEN TO THEIR TEACHING. Once again, this is a sermon point about the word of Christ and the truth of Christ. Look at what He says about the importance of teaching in John 8:30-31. Abiding in the word is what makes us true disciples. When we abide in the word, we come to know the truth, and the truth will set us free.
The very mission of the church is to be the pillar and support of the truth. If a church does not teach the truth above all else, it has failed in its mission.
There are several ways this can happen. First, obviously, is if a church teaches false doctrine. If we visit a congregation, and we hear things that we know aren’t in line with the Scriptures, obviously that’s not a church to which we should join ourselves.
The second lesson here is subtler. In order to completely fulfill its mission, the preaching and teaching of a church must be more concerned with the truth than with anything else.
Sadly, in too many congregations, even ones that get the first two points here right, the teaching of the church does not emphasize the truth. The preacher’s goal is no longer enlightenment. It has become entertainment.
I don’t have anything against jokes, but if a sermon becomes a comedy routine, that’s a problem. I don’t have anything against emotional stories, but if a preacher does nothing but move from one tear-jerker to the next, that’s a problem. I don’t have anything against wisdom from other sources than the Bible, but if a sermon is built around pop psychology instead of the word of truth, that’s a problem.
Brethren, we don’t need a church that will entertain us. We need a church that will feed us, and only the word can do that.