This post is meant to be the follow up and conclusion to the previous post, Imitation Game. Sadly, it denotes the continual downhill slide of many who profess Christ, as well as their eventual demise if they refuse to repent. May it be otherwise.
I can only imagine. Yes, we’ve heard it before, sung it, thought it out, dreamed it, and for many, their imaginations have indeed become present reality.
Our imaginations can be a powerful force in one of two directions. They can take the form of a motivator toward some noble end, and to the contrary, act as a force to commit the most heinous of crimes. When it comes to our imaginations, the vital need is the ability to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction- not just what may become possible, but whether what we imagine is actually even permissible before God. Just because we can think up and fantasize over some potential pleasant scenarios for our individual or corporate futures, that does not make those thoughts sanctioned of heaven.
It is safe to say that all of us as Christians have and do ponder our own lives and think about where they might take us or what avenues of service we might pursue. Sadly, most of us have convinced ourselves that this is actually a decision we are free to make on our own. However, this is by no means the truth. A simple reminder here may help:
“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs His steps” [Proverbs 16:9]
Notice how our minds play a part in our decision making. As the verse above states though, this is not always a good thing. Our minds have been corrupted by sin just like the rest of us. This is why the Bible states in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16;
“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ”
“…..you, lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind” [Ephesians 4:22,23]
Yes, there is a point to these verses on the proper source we need to utilize in our thinking. For if our natural thinking is corrupt, than we ought not utilize that source to think upon anything at all for we will not come to the proper conclusions our Father is steering us toward. Rather, we will lean upon other natural considerations such as these:
• What is in my best interest
• What do I like to do
• How much money do I need
• Is this a safe place
In most people’s imaginations these are the things that matter most in this life. But might I ask, “If I have indeed been bought with a price and am no longer my own as a Christian, do I even have a right to decide any of the above or set the parameters for what I will or will not do?” In reality, other than my likes and dislikes, I really can’t know the other answers at all now can I?” No I cannot.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” [1 Corinthians 6:20]
Here is the sad reality these days. As foundational as the truth above is in the Scriptures, hardly a professing Christian can be found who’s life actually echoes this truth. Now if for some reason you think your life does, might I ask you:
Do you allow God to decide where you will live, who you will marry, who your friends will be, where you will work, what you will drive, how you will spend your time and how you will spend the money He entrusts you with? All the time, without reservation? You do, great. So I suppose you would also forego all of the above tomorrow if He asked you as well. That’s not so easy now is it?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming that I always obey the standard above. Nonetheless, this is His standard and He alone has the right to do with me and what I possess however and whenever He desires to. Our aim should always be to follow wherever He leads regardless of what that may cost us. This is what true obedient living before Him entails.
Our station in life/where we belong
Definitions of station:
1. A regular stopping place
2. A place or building where a specified activity or service is based
3. A company involved in broadcasting of a specific kind
4. The place where someone or something stands or is placed
Now before I work through the above, we have already shown how God Himself has the right to determine our individual stations in life amongst other things. Now this process can be simplified to some extent if we understand what God is after from us in this life in a general sense. To discover this we only need to return to the beginning of what God established in the New Testament for His people. What do we find there- in the early ekklesias (assemblies)?
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” [Acts 2:42-47]
Herein we have a picture of one of the first gathered assemblies of Christians. Even after assemblies were established and functioning in other regions such as Corinth, Ephesus and Philippi, each followed a similar pattern according to what Paul the apostle set in place.
“Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” [1 Corinthians 11:1]
“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every assembly” [1 Corinthians 5:17]
Now it ought to be safe to conclude that when the Bible speaks of seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, this is not merely some profession of faith without encompassing any action.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” [Matthew 6:33]
It is also safe to conclude that the words “all these things” speaks of two specific things as the context makes obvious: food and clothing. Again, this does not and could not refer to anything in particular we think we want or need. That would be likened to bargaining with God: “I’ll give you 10% God provided I can do what I want with the rest of what I have.” Such is the foolishness of man’s human reasoning. Even so, below Paul once again is instructing Timothy with these similar words, “If we have food and clothing we shall be content.” [See 1 Timothy 6:6-8]
What I would like you all to see is this. God has a manner of providing for His people that He long ago set in motion. This is not merely a manner for one’s natural needs to be met alone (food and clothing) but also for His children’s spiritual needs to be met as well. Furthermore, the result of His children obeying this particular pattern amounts to them becoming individual “lights to the world” [Philipians 2:15] and corporately “a city on a hill” in a specific geographical location. [Matthew 5:14]
I propose to you that it is our obedience to the pattern Jesus Himself (through Paul the apostle) set in motion that equates to our seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness. This is without question the most effective manner in which all three of God’s aims (individual growth, corporate growth and a witness to this world) are accomplished.
Despite the latter statement above being so obviously true, most professing Christians would just assume imagine another entirely different scenario for themselves. A scenario where provided they do their particular religious duties, they are still free to live and decide life’s choices for themselves. Within these choices, man has imagined a manner in which he can seek God, appease his conscience and yet still control his own destiny in this world. Enter the imagination station.
The Imagination Station
Every Christian as they grow older has to make a decision in regard to where they will reside. Many factors contribute to this decision, most of which coincide with what we believe is in our best interest. Sadly, our naturally unrenewed mind doesn’t quite view our best interest the way our Father does. He isn’t guessing about what’s best- He knows and has already made that clear to us- we just aren’t listening.
Many factors contribute to our self-imagined lifestyle whether that be the country we live in, the present cultural climate, prior precedent or even advice or counsel from other people we know and respect.
Our Father wants our top priority to be our interaction locally with other believers. That is what is in our best interest both practically and spiritually. What He doesn’t want is what most of us want- our own independent lives that are not subject to His scrutiny through a local body of believers. That’s the last thing our flesh wants. Our station initially is among a local body of saints and in service to those people. Everything else in life must come secondary to this and be in their best interest- the best interest of the local body of believers. This is the example we find in the New Testament, that people stayed in the geographical locations where God placed them. Now obviously there are exceptions to this rule such as “sent ones” etc; but generally speaking Christians do not move away from their closest relationships. Individuals move away from these relationships when they place their own worldly selfish interests above the spiritual well being of the local family of God. In other words, things like preferences (climate), work ($) and safety trump God’s instruction and commands.
I’d like you to place yourself within the picture above- as one who likely moved off to another location away from those who initially spoke the truth to you. Seeing this is most likely what you chose to do (because you sought independence, either willfully or unwittingly) you will likely compound that mistake with these following mistakes as well.
• Chances are you moved away to pursue a particular station (job) in life or decided to attend some form of higher education. The first choice removes you from people you know and know you and subjects you to entirely new relationships which may or may not be helpful or beneficial. Either way, you will no longer be in a safe environment where all of your practical and spiritual needs can be met. You attempt to convince yourself this is or was necessary when in fact is is not. You have violated a first principle of christian service in placing your own needs as more important than others by moving away.
• Now that your environment has completely changed, you feel obligated to find some form of fellowship with other Christians. This will almost always consist of finding your station amongst a local institutionalized church which will not function in the manner God has shown in Acts chapter 2. The whole process of building friendships will have to start over and no longer will you have the blessing of your close knit family helping to look after your personal needs if you have some. Remember that you are in this position because you chose to move away- you sought an independent lifestyle.
• Now that you have found a group of believers in church, you will have to submit yourself to their way of doing things or lose your welcome. It will become their responsibility to broadcast their version of the gospel and your responsibility to fit into to the various molds/programs they have available. In other words, you will have to find your station within the institutional framework, thus promoting something that not only conflicts with traditional Biblical Christianity but in fact opposes that. All this and more because you chose to be independent.
It is only in our imagination that we believe we are called to live independent lives as Christians. The New Testament never exhibits this kind of behavior and in all places and manner opposes this. As Christians, we are called to be interdependent with one another (living intertwined lives daily one with another).
It is only in our imagination that we believe institutional religion can somehow replace 1st century assemblies. How can something God never endorsed nor sanctioned replace what God has set in motion? In not a single instance nor situation is what man is building through earthly churches even remotely as effective as God’s design through local assemblies.
It is only in our imagination that we think we can serve God acceptably just a few hours a week or that this is all He requires of us. The Bible commands that we gather together daily for the purpose of mutual edification as we learn to lay down our lives as living sacrifices.
It is only in our imagination that we believe we owe God 10% of our money or our lives when in fact He owns 100% of us. How can we claim to be His without working toward this end?
The hardening of the heart
Most of us remember the story about how Moses came before Pharaoh in Exodus chapters 7-14 and and asked him to let God’s people Israel go free. You may also recall that it took one plague after another to get Pharaoh to finally give in, and even afterwards he still attempted to chase the Israelites down near the Red Sea after the fact.
You may or not remember the back and forth sequence between Pharaoh hardening his own heart and then God Himself also hardening Pharaoh’s heart. God’s action was simply the response to what Pharaoh himself chose to do- the more Pharaoh rejected God’s desire through Moses the harder his heart became and the more embittered he became toward his captives AND the more determined he was to rely upon his own solutions/ingenuity= magicians.
Most human beings are a lot like Pharaoh was. They like to be independent, they like to make their own decisions, utilize their own resources- all the while answering to no one. We assume wrongly that we can find our own place in this life, both practically and spiritually and in the end we can honor God as a result. “Our” results often speak for themselves and yet we double down anyway.
These days their are countless professing Christians that have done one or more of the following in Jesus’ name, seemingly without the slightest hesitation or care.
• Professing Christian leaders extolling the traditions of men over obedience to the commandments of God- thus making them of no effect. Every single church leader is actively participating in doing this to one extent or another.
• Christian leaders openly boasting about their personal achievements
• Spending and borrowing millions of dollars on facilities and thanking God for what he never told them to do or build.
• Hundreds if not thousands of self-proclaimed apostles and prophets
• Attributing bizarre manifestations like laughing, rolling on the ground, shaking and barking as the Holy Spirit.
• Attempts to “christianize” transcendental meditation and practices like Yoga
• Rejecting objective truth for subjective experience
• Telling people Jesus needed to be born again and went to hell to suffer for sin
• Promoting worldly marketing strategies to grow their churches
• Attempts to unify everything “christian” with apostate Rome
• The gospel of giving to God to get rich/prosperity gospel
• Practicing divination and witchcraft and calling it prophesy
• Attempts to borrow worldly secular programs like AA to help God’s people
• Imagining falling gold dust and glory clouds from heaven
• Sucking on the graves of so-called heroes of the faith
• 1000 other vile and blasphemous practices all by professing Christian people
All of the above are the direct result of two things:
1. People relying upon their own imaginations in their attempts to serve God.
2. A slow hardening of their hearts to the truth- a hardening that increases over time and becomes more pronounced, and if persisted in long enough, results in an entire rejection of God and His truth.
Back to Israel for a moment. Do you remember what God did to the generation of people whom He miraculously delivered from the bondage of Egypt? Well here are God’s words in Psalms 95:7-11. Take special note to the people’s claim in 7a followed by God’s declaration in 7b-11:
“For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” (7a)
“Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation, and said they are a people who err in their heart, and they do not know My ways. Therefore I swore in My anger, truly they shall not enter My rest” (7b-11)
There is a very similar situation and pronouncement in Matthew 7:21-23;
“Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. And I will declare to them, “I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME , YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”
Now to those of you who may be tempted to resign such pronouncements to Israel alone may I add this from Hebrews 3. This also from verses 7-11 which this time do not begin with a self-confident vain imagination from men as before, but with God’s plain declaration:
“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, (7a)
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED ME BY TESTING ME, AND SAW MY WORKS FORTY YEARS. THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’; AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.’” (7b-11)
Now if for some reason you still don’t think this applies to professing Christians than God the Holy Spirit sums up the above text with this:
“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” [Hebrews 3:12]
Here’s the kicker folks. Everyone of these very serious problems (sins that stem from men’s imaginations) could have been isolated and avoided had people obeyed God from the start. Pick any one of the above and test it. Place every Christian within a small house assembly where they have to be held accountable. No opportunity to make a name for oneself there. No way to get rich. No way to build a world wide ministry platform. No way to compete with your brothers and sisters if you live what the Bible actually teaches. We the people are to blame for both allowing and even at times encouraging these lies.
There is a reason Jesus uses the graphic illustration about “cutting off” in Mark chapter 9 when it comes to sin. He means it. If you toy with sin, it will first corrupt you, then deceive you, then harden you, then kill you.
Where every individual who professes Christ and yet tampers with sin is in this process, I do not know. I do know however, that the majority of them are well on their way sliding downwards with little help of any lasting redemption. If you harden your heart towards God’s truth and desire He will reciprocate that back to you. God will grant you just exactly what you desire in your inward parts- even if that desire is a king in the place of Jesus Himself. Isn’t that what God gave to Israel when they rejected Him through Samuel? (1 Samuel 8) Isn’t that exactly what will happen when the man of sin is revealed too? (2 Thessalonians 2: 1-12).
There is only one remedy for an unrenewed mind determined to imagine outside of God’s known intentions in the Scriptures. That remedy has never changed from the beginning. It is simply exercising faith in what God has set in motion and repentance of anything that may oppose that, thus Him. If you attempt to save yourself, you will have to live with yourself- and the consequences that will surely follow if you do.
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, IF, we hold fast the BEGINNING of our assurance firm until the end” [Hebrews 3:13,14]