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Nowhere in the Bible is there a command instructing believers to receive the love of the truth. Neither is there a single call anywhere in the Scriptures to “receive Jesus” but that does not stop many Evangelicals from telling people to do so. By contrast, receiving the Holy Spirit is mentioned once in John’s Gospel and three times in Acts, whilst in Romans and Galatians Paul wrote of his readers having received the Spirit. Strange then that many who describe themselves as “Bible-believing” do not encourage new believers to receive God who is the Spirit into their lives, whilst others seem to have forgotten that He is indeed Holy. By now therefore you may be wondering why I chose the above title for this essay. Notice I did not say that the phrase “receive the love of the truth” was absent from Scripture; I simply wrote that there was no command to do this. We need to look further at the context in which this statement is found.
In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul addressed a rumour that Jesus had already returned. He assured them that their Saviour would not return, nor would believers be gathered to Him until after the “Man of Sin is revealed”. From the subsequent description there is no doubt that this “son of perdition” is the one described elsewhere by John as the Antichrist. Paul added (v9-10) that the coming of this “lawless one” would be “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,” accompanied by “all unrighteous deception among those who perish.”
This is the context then in which we find the phrase which I am considering here. Having told his readers that The LORD would allow the Antichrist to rise to prominence with a full outworking of the Devil’s powers in order to deceive those who are dying in their sinfulness, he then explains the basis on which a just and righteous God could treat them in this way. This is “because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” In these few words the Holy Spirit revealed much about those who will be taken in not just by the Antichrist, but also by the spirit of Antichrist which John made clear was at work in the first century (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3 & 2 John 1:7). In the Old Testament The LORD used deceiving spirits to test the hearts of the children of Israel. In Deut. 13:1-5 He warned Israel that He would allow to arise amongst them false prophets who would perform signs and wonders, yet encourage them to chase after other gods. He said He would do this in order to test them “to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Earlier (6:5) He had given them the command which Jesus would later describe as the greatest commandment of all, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Mt. 22:37, Mk. 12:30 & Lu 10:27)
Later in their history we read of how Micaiah the prophet explained to King Jehoshaphat of Judah why all the other prophets were telling King Ahab of Israel that he would be successful if he attacked the King of Syria. (1 Kings 22 & 2 Chronicles 18.) Jehoshaphat did not trust the words of these prophets and insisted that Ahab called for a true prophet. Micaiah however was not popular with Ahab because he refused to go along with the crowd, and told Ahab the truth rather than what he wanted to hear. At first Micaiah feigned agreement with the rest of the prophets, but even Ahab knew he was not being honest and pressed him for the truth. This truth was that Ahab would be killed in battle and the men of Israel (the northern kingdom) would be scattered. Micaiah goes on to explain why all the other prophets were lying to Ahab; The LORD was seeking to bring to an end the reign of this evil king and had asked in the court of heaven how this could be accomplished. Both records describe how a spirit came forward and volunteered, “I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” The LORD sanctioned this offer and despite Micaiah spilling the beans, Ahab went ahead with the attack and died in battle.
Clearly deceiving spirits which inspire false prophets are not a new feature of life which will emerge only in the run-up to the end of the age. If you think about it you will see that this is indeed a very old tactic; Satan originally possessed a serpent in order to deceive Eve and has not changed his tactics since. However he remains, whether he wants to or not, a servant of The LORD, and our Heavenly Father uses Him for His purposes. This is why he was allowed to motivate Christ’s execution; an action he will eternally regret. (1 Cor. 2:8) When our heavenly Father tests people in this way it reveals the true nature of their hearts; it asks if He is their first love or whether they love someone or something else more than they love Him. In 2 Thess. 2 Paul explained that it was for this very reason the Antichrist will be able to deceive multitudes when he appears. Having explained that it will be “because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” Paul added that it was “for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
Notice the Holy Spirit’s clarity. There are no grey areas in men’s hearts! From The LORD’s perspective we either believe the truth or take pleasure in unrighteousness. Now I do not believe the Holy Spirit is saying that people will be all one or all the other throughout their lives, but that God in His righteousness will make sure that everyone will have opportunities to respond to His voice speaking to them personally. (This happens in a variety of ways but discussion thereof is not within the scope of this article.) When The LORD speaks to an individual they are presented with a choice – do they take notice and obey what He says or do they reject His grace and ignore His call? This happens both to those who are not Christians and to those who are, and they can be life-changing moments no matter which way a person responds.
Many times The LORD addressed Israel in this way. When Moses set out God’s conditions for their future prosperity and security in the later chapters of Deuteronomy, he concluded (in 30:15-20) with one such offer. His summary started “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil,” and he continued by summarising the blessings of obedience and the curses of rebellion which he had just recited to them. He concluded with these historic words, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.” Whilst the offer to live in and posses a physical land was (and still is) unique to Israel, the principle expressed in these words is universal.
Israel, as anyone who has read the Old Testament knows, consistently failed to choose life and consequently had to be reminded of these conditions repeatedly. One such occasion is found in the first chapter of Isaiah. This book opens with a description of Judah; a nation which was in a complete mess due to its rebellious attitude to their God. Can I suggest that you reread it to be reminded of its impact. The LORD makes clear that He is no longer listening to their prayers and in v16 He commanded them to wash and to stop committing the evil they were engaged in. Instead they should, “Learn to do good;” which He defines as seeking justice, rebuking the oppressor, defending the fatherless and pleading for the widow. This is followed by a verse which most Evangelicals know the essence of, even if they don’t know its context. “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.’” Although this verse is loved by many, very few take to heart the rest of the offer. It concludes in v19 & 20, “‘If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword’; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
When The LORD reasons with a person, it is not on the same basis as we negotiate with one another. When He speaks, He offers life if we obey and death if we excuse ourselves from obedience, even if we do so nicely. It is amazing how a few very simple but profound principles run throughout the Bible. We should not be surprised by this, as The LORD has made it clear that He does not change (Mal. 3:6) and we know that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) In Genesis 2 Adam was effectively told, “Obey and live, rebel and die.” In 2 Thessalonians Paul highlights how the same principles will be applied to those whom Antichrist is allowed to deceive. They will be those to whom The LORD has spoken but who have responded by rejecting the truth and loving unrighteousness.
At this point we need to look again at v10 which contains the title of this study. We could easily get distracted into a study on what it means to “perish” or “to love the truth”, but would thereby risk missing the important truths for believers hidden within a warning for unbelievers. The most important thing that this verse makes clear is that no-one can love the truth in and of themselves. It is not simply that those who are deceived are vulnerable because “they did not love the truth” but “because they did not receive the love of the truth.” By saying it this way the Holy Spirit is emphasising that, like faith, loving the truth is not something which we can find within ourselves, but something which we must be willing to receive from The LORD as a gift. We read in Eph. 2:8 that the faith which saves us is “not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” which is why we are saved by His grace rather than by our own efforts. Gifts however are of no benefit if those for whom they are intended do not receive them. Historic divisions within the Church have led to some seeing grace as something which no-one can resist, whilst others seem to believe that faith is something people choose to exercise of their own will even though it is a gift.
When the British monarch agrees to award honours to some of their subjects, it is usually in response to work those people have done in one form or another. On such occasions the majority of those who are offered an honour choose to receive it, but occasionally an individual refuses to do so. Such people normally reject a honour because of some deep conviction, but it is a choice they can make only because it has been offered the to them in the first place. It is very similar with God’s gifts which come from His grace. Just as no-one can award themselves an honour from the monarch, neither can anyone present themselves with God’s grace. However, when the Scriptures tells us that people perish because they refused to accept God’s gift of the love of the truth, then it is an unavoidable fact that each and every one of them must have at some point in their lives been aware of being offered that gift but refused to accept it! This has very significant implications; at the very least it tells us that those who will be deceived by the Antichrist will be trapped not through their ignorance, but because they made a wilful choice to reject what God was offering them. This is true not only of those who are yet to be deceived, but also of those who have been deceived in the past, and those who are being deceived by the spirit of Antichrist at the present time.
This truth should also impact us because when Jesus warned all to enter in through the narrow gate of humility towards God, He added that there would be few who actually did this, the majority preferring the broad way of unbelief. (Mt. 7:13 & Lk. 13:24) The Revelation of Jesus Christ which John received makes it clear that even as global trouble crescendos to its climax, people will not repent of their unbelief and sinfulness, (9:20-21, 16:9-11). Instead, as we discover in 2 Thess. 2, they will be deceived by the lie that man does not need God’s help in any way. Again we are brought back to the stark choice between good and bad, which in this case is manifested as the choice between the truth and the lie – the definite article appears in both vs.10 & 11. This emphasises that the truth which we are called to receive the love of is not simply truth as a principle but is something which is identifiable, having been defined by The LORD not by man. Clearly therefore we need to consider this further. However, let us first recap my main points from the preceding paragraph; we cannot find this love of the truth within ourselves, it is a gift we are offered by God, but it is also a gift which men and women can refuse to receive.
If it is important for Christian believers to receive the love of the truth, how is that truth described? Is it a particular set of beliefs or doctrines to which one assents? Historically, doctrines have for many centuries been the test of orthodoxy within institutionalised churches. Understanding the differences between good teaching and heresy has on many occasions protected Christian communities from false teachers. The other side of the coin though is that when those who do not love the truth have held sway in church institutions, then doctrines have also been used to persecute those who did embrace that love. Church history records the death of many God-fearing Christians at the hands of ecclesiastical authorities which desired temporal power far more than they sought The LORD’s approval. In the majority of such cases doctrines were used as the justification for the harsh suppression of those who knew their God.
If The LORD thought that a precisely defined set of doctrines would be sufficient to protect disciples of Christ until He returned, surely the Holy Spirit would have ensured that such a list was clearly recorded in the New Testament. He did not do this! Such a set of doctrines would in fact have become a second Law and as such would been useless in bringing life to those who were dead in their sins. Gal. 3:21 reads, “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.” The contrast in the New Testament is clear - righteousness is credited to human beings through faith in Christ – Rom. 3 & 4 for example. In this way the Scriptures testify to something far more valuable than mental assent to a set of doctrines as the core of faith in Christ. That core is an ongoing relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Gal 5:18 reads “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” To this Romans 8:14 adds, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Being led by the Holy Spirit both looks back to the friendship that Adam enjoyed with his Creator before he spurned His love and points forward to the fellowship the Redeemed will have with their God on the new Earth (Gen 3:8-10; Rev. 21:3-4). Ephesians 1:13-14 states, “having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (See also 2 Cor. 1:22 & 5:5.)
The Old Testament records the lives of men and women who enjoyed a friendship with The LORD, even though it also details many of their failures. Abraham, for example, was economical with the truth more than once. Moses could not enter the Promised Land because of his petulance. David arranged a man’s death in order to cover up his own sexual immorality. But despite their sinful natures, these and many other men and women listed in the Jewish Scriptures are described in Heb 11:39 as “having obtained a good testimony through faith”. However, their fellowship with God was not to be equated with ours, for the author of Hebrews continued, “[they] did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”
What promise then was reserved for us? In Luke 24:49 Jesus told His disciples before His ascension, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you;” adding that they should wait in Jerusalem “until you are endued with power from on high.” In Acts 1:4 Luke recorded this command again, but in a slightly different way. Here he wrote that Jesus ordered them, “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father” which He had taught them about. On the Day of Pentecost Peter was not afraid to make the connection between Jesus and the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. He told his audience that Jesus, “being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the Promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” When the people asked how they should respond to their previous rejection of God’s Messiah, Peter responded “Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He then added, “For the Promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” The Scriptures therefore make clear that the promise reserved for believers in Jesus Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit, as received initially on the Day of Pentecost, and according to Peter available from then onwards to everyone whom The LORD would call, be they Jews or Gentiles (those “afar off”).
You may be wondering what this has to do with receiving the love of the truth. What I hope to have communicated so far is that the truth is not a collection of doctrines, but something able to give life. What is the truth then? Most will recall these words of Christ, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Jesus Himself therefore is the Truth Whom we need to receive the love of. However, Jesus taught that He and the Father are one (John 10:30 & 17:21), so His claim to be the Truth is not to be understood in isolation from His Father, but as an expression of “the fullness of the Godhead” (Col. 2:9). There are of course three persons in the Godhead, and Jesus also witnessed to the Holy Spirit’s character as being Truth. “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-15) The Truth we are to receive the love of is therefore an essential characteristic of the whole Godhead, expressed in Jesus Himself and made known to us by the Holy Spirit of promise, Who was first poured on the Church at Pentecost and Who has been sealing those who have received Him ever since.
Given that The LORD, the Godhead as a whole, is the Truth we are to receive the love of, why would anyone refuse to embrace Him with open arms? The fact that many would not do this is the reason is why Jesus urged people to turn off the broad and busy way to death and onto the narrow, difficult one which leads to life. Many people know John 3:16, but few are able to put it in its context. We cannot do that fully here, but simply note what Jesus went on to say. In v17 He made it clear that His Father is a saving God and not One who is seeking to condemn, adding “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (v18) However, His next statement is my reason for citing this passage; “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practising evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (v19-21)
Fallen human nature, even after we have been converted, finds it hard to walk in God’s light for, as Jesus stated, His light exposes the darkness of our deeds. Receiving the love of the Truth is exactly the same as living day after day in His light. The work of the Holy Spirit in Christians’ lives is to make us more like Christ, who always did the will of His Father in heaven. Paul wrote, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18) That image is the likeness of Christ, into which all genuine believers are being transformed by the refining fire which is the Holy Spirit. (Rom 8:29, Rev. 3:18 and Mal. 3:1-3). Now none of us enjoy being thrown into a fire, be it a physical one, the heat of persecution or the refining fire of The LORD’s spotlight - in the latter case because it reveals exactly what our hearts are like. When addressing the traditions of the religious leaders, Jesus made it clear that the evils of unbelief come out of the heart. (Mt.15:15-20 & Mk. 14-23) When we are converted, our hearts are not instantaneously deep-cleaned, but we start out on a path where the Holy Spirit comes alongside as a friend, as a guide and as a trainer in holiness. His work in us is to lead us into The LORD’s Light. However, if we mistakenly cling on to those things hidden in our hearts which the Light reveals, then His Light becomes to us the refiner’s fire – Malachi 3 describes Him as sitting “as a refiner and a purifier of silver”. This image refers to the refiner of that time who would heat up the molten metal in some form of bowl or cauldron then scoop off the impurities with a ladle as they rose to the surface. The refiner knew that the metal was finally pure when nothing marred his reflection in the surface of the metal.
Having been created in The LORD’s image and then defaced by sin, His purpose in the Redeemed as mentioned above is to restore us to His own likeness. A command which was given three times to the Israelites in Leviticus is applied to the Church in 1 Peter 1:13-16, “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” His desire is that we cooperate with His work of restoring us to holiness. The Malachi 3 reference taken in its context expresses His determination to purify the Levites, “That they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness.” They had been called to serve The LORD and in order to do this they had had to be sanctified (Num. 8), but over the years they had defiled their calling. Hebrews is a book which compares the Law and the Gospel, and its main argument is that the second is far superior to the first. Chapter 2 starts with a warning that if ignoring the former brought condemnation, how can Christians expect to escape if they ignore a far greater salvation? (v1-4) This however is exactly what many of us are tempted to do.
Many Christians resist bringing the whole of their hearts into the Light of God; they resist His work of exposing their unbelief and replacing it with His gift of faith. As they dig their heels in, the Light of His love also reveals itself to be the Refiner’s fire, sent to burn up their unbelief. However, He will only do this if we offer ourselves on His altar; He will not violate the freewill he has bestowed upon each one of us. Of course none of us can offer ourselves daily on the altar of spiritual worship described in Rom. 12:1 except by the grace of God. Sacrificial altars are where lives are laid down in gratitude for receiving a greater grace. Unlike the multitude of animals killed under the Law, He does not drag us to the altar of Christ. We are free to turn our backs on it. Worse still, some, heedless of the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), think they can get by with offering some things to The LORD whilst keeping back others for themselves. In being willing to lie as they did, this couple demonstrated that they were unwilling to receive from The LORD the love of the Truth. A similar failure to examine themselves to make sure they were still in the faith (2 Cor 13:5) led some at Corinth to fail to recognise that breaking bread together is a complete identification with the total sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 10:18), and consequently some were sick whilst other had died! (1 Cor 11:30-32) Hebrews tells us that Christ’s sacrifice was first and foremost of His will; quoting Ps 40:6-8, the Holy Spirit ascribes these words prophetically to Christ, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” (Heb. 10) If we are to walk in His footsteps, we also have to be as totally committed to doing the Father’s will as Jesus was.
When I initially thought of writing this article, I was very tempted to give it a title similar to the sub-heading above. However, that would have been a cheap shot in an attempt to motivate others to read it. It is much easier to motivate people to read about the faults of others than to consider the condition of their own hearts. But the passage which provides the springboard for this essay makes plain that it is those who do not discipline their own hearts who end up being deceived. It is for this reason that I have also determined not to discuss errors in the Church be they ancient or modern, but to encourage you to examine your own hearts in the light of the Scriptures and the warnings they give about loving something (or someone) more than The LORD our God and His Truth. As quoted above, when Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, He identified none of the Ten Commandments but one from Deut. 6 which called Israel to love God with everything within them. In Rev. 2 Christ commended the church in Ephesus for their hatred of false teachers, but warned that they had lost their first love. That love was not the flush of emotion felt by a couple when they first fall for one another, but the sacrificial agapé love of the Father which fulfils that first commandment and is a response to His love for us. (1 John 4:19) This reminds us that it is more important to examine our own hearts than to stand against the false teachings of others. David Pawson, a well-known Bible teacher, has said for many years that the best way to combat error is to preach the truth.
So, if a love of The LORD is to be our first love and it is from Him that we can keep on receiving the love of the Truth which is in the Godhead, let me ask again why is it that some place themselves in great danger by refusing His gift? When Jesus criticised the Pharisees He pointed to their hearts (not their doctrines) as the root of their problems. Read Mt. 23 and consider if this is not so: “All their works they do to be seen by men... They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues... and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.” Later He added, “You pay tithe of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith... You are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness!” John often records Christ’s righteous anger with this group of religious men, who were so concerned to be fulfilling what they considered to be the finer points of the Law that they completely missed the heart of what their God wanted. Religion to them had become a way of gaining power and prestige.
John’s first record of a direct confrontation with these prominent religious figures is in the fifth chapter of his gospel. Jesus had chosen to heal a man on the Sabbath and this had offended their religious principles. However, He was aware that the Pharisees’ commitment to the Scriptures was not matched by their commitment to His Father (v37-40). He followed up that assertion with this hard-hitting truth, “I do not receive honour from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honour from one another, and do not seek the honour that comes from the only God?” I often wonder how many Christians today have grasped the implications of that last sentence. This article is about our willingness to receive from God the love of the Truth which is in Him, and it is also therefore a warning about the dangers of refusing to receive that gift from Him. Conversely, whilst we cannot stop other people seeking to give us honour, as His unworthy servants (Luke 17:7-10) we should not take that praise to ourselves, remembering that The LORD does not give His glory to another. (Isa. 42:8 & 48:11) I highlight this here because it reminds us of the Biblical warning about the need for Christians to allow God’s peace to guard their hearts. (Php 4:7)
The reason why many religious Jews could not accept Jesus was that they did not love The LORD their God with all their heart. Instead, they loved themselves and the prestige which comes from the world. John the apostle made clear in his first letter the dangers of having such a divided heart. He urged his Christian readers, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (2:15) This echoes Jesus’ own assertion that “No one can serve two masters;” adding “for either he will hate the one and love the other...” (Mt. 6:24) The Holy Spirit makes clear throughout the Scriptures that Christians cannot get by with divided loyalties – we either love God alone or we love something or someone more than we love Him. Love of the world expresses itself in three ways. John identified these in his next statement: “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.” With their eagerness to be patted on the back by their peers, the Pharisees were dominated by the pride of life. Despite John’s warning, many Christians today seem to be following the hearts of the Pharisees. At times this is understandable; ambition for instance can be very deceptive. We can have what we think is a form of ambition which will honour God, but I have observed many times (in myself included) that this always involves the person with the ambition being in the forefront and “doing something great for God”. Others want to be Christians and still receive accolades from their academic colleagues. Then there are the dangers which Christian leaders have to face up to. Amongst these are such traps as taking pride in the numbers in one’s congregation, or these days even the number of followers one has on the internet. King David made a similar mistake when his desire to build a house for God caused him to take a census of Israel.
The above is of course not an exhaustive description of how the pride we can take in our own lives (including what we can do for God) can steer a Christian’s heart away from loving The LORD with all that they are. John lists two other ways in which loving the world prevents us from loving our God as we should. These are the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes. These need not be the headline-grabbing sins which we can all easily name; they can also be the more acceptable ones which dominate much of Western society. Many of the norms of our society’s materialistic lifestyles can and should be described as one or other of these two lusts. Each is as deadly as the other. Paul warned Timothy, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Tim 6:6-10)
Why, you may wonder, am I not being more specific? Why am I not detailing particular attitudes or doctrines which lead Christians to turn away from walking with The LORD? The answer is simple. As noted above Jesus taught that unbelief, and therefore evil actions, come out of the heart. Critiquing the doctrines of others may warn against their outward errors, but does not help anyone to guard their own hearts against the root of such unbelief. That root is essentially a love of ourselves, commonly expressed through a love of the things belonging to this doomed world, a love which can only cut across our love of The LORD. We often excuse our hearts being divided in this way, believing within ourselves that our Creator does not mean what He has told us. But His warnings are to be taken seriously because they concern the danger we can put ourselves in. They are warnings which arise out of His love for us, warnings which make clear that what we sow is what we will reap. Through Paul the Holy Spirit warns us, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” (Gal. 6:7-8) Putting the love of people, prestige or the things of this world before our love of our Father is sowing to the flesh, or to be brutally honest, pampering to it! From this we will harvest ruin – this is the root meaning of the Greek word translated ‘corruption’ in most English translations. Our God knows that we cannot love Him as we need to if we are left to our own resources, which is why He offers us all the gift of the love of the Truth. So again, let me ask why then do so many people seemingly refuse to accept this wonderful gift?
Perhaps the simplest answer to the above question is that loving the Truth demands a price that most people are not prepared to pay. One of the most misleading pieces of evangelical jargon is that salvation is free. This is true only in part – none of us could ever amass the righteousness required to earn our salvation; only Jesus Christ has been able to do that. The LORD knows our poverty in this respect so He is prepared to salvage us from sin and death without any payment on our part. However, conversion is only the start of a journey which Jesus Himself described as the way of the cross, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Lk. 9:23) It is important that we do not beat about the bush with old and new converts alike – salvation costs us the whole of our lives! Six times the New Testament records Jesus’ warning, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Mt. 10:39, 16:25; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:24, 17:33 & John 12:25.) The latter makes clear that the central issue, as emphasised earlier, is a question of whom we love and whom we hate: it reads “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” We cannot serve our own selfish interests and love God. This is made clear every time the Holy Spirit brings to the surface the dross hidden in our lives which deforms the image of Christ in us – and make no mistake, we all have plenty of it and it all needs removing! At such moments we are faced with a choice; do we cling on to the love of the world, defined as it is by the Holy Spirit as the pride of life and the twin lusts of the flesh and the eyes, or do we lay down our lives, our human loves and cry out for His gift of the love of the Truth? Are we motivated to embrace the truth about Him, the truth about the world and lastly, but by no means least, the truth about ourselves?
Some years ago I heard the claim that the Greek word usually translated “confess” in 1 John 1:9 and elsewhere, actually means “agree about”. This well-known verse reads, “ If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” ‘Confess’ here is homologeo (Strong’s No. 3670) from which we derive the English word ‘homologous’. It is formed from two words: homo meaning ‘the same’ and logos which is often translated ‘word’ but commonly described in philosophy as the rational principle which governs and develops the universe. David Pawson often describes logos as meaning “the reason why,” saying that Jesus is the reason why creation exists. My point here is that logos does not mean simply a word, but a logic or reasoning and therefore homologeo, though translated ‘confess,’ does not actually mean ‘admit’ as one might admit to a crime in court, but rather to take on board the same reasoning or thinking about something. Randall’s paraphrase of the first phrase of 1 John 1:19 is therefore “If we agree with God’s view of our sins...” This has much more far-reaching implications than the confession of sins included in many liturgies, be they formal or informal, which are regularly recited across most Christian traditions. Such “catch-all” confessions are useless at renewing our thinking (Rom. 12:2). If we are prepared to receive the love of His Truth from our Saviour God, then we will witness our thinking about Him, about the world and about ourselves being brought back into greater and greater alignment with His. Most importantly, we will begin to see ourselves in His Light or, as Paul urged his readers, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” (Rom. 12:3) Interestingly the Greek word here translated ‘soberly’ is translated as ‘right mind’ in Luke 8:35, when referring to Legion after Jesus had cast a multitude demons out of him and into a herd of pigs. As noted above, the Pharisees did not have a right mind about themselves, thinking far more highly of themselves than they should, because they preferred the praise of men over and above the approval of God.
To have a mind which The LORD has trained to think like He does is only achieved through the on-going work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It cannot be developed through the ways of the world, for just like the flesh, these are opposed to God’s ways. I have cited above Paul’s call for a renewed mind in Rom. 12. Earlier he had written, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” (8:5-7) In 1 Cor. 2:11-16 Paul also distinguishes between the wisdom from above and that of the world. Whilst he does not mention Jesus’ assertion that the Pharisees could not believe because they received the praise of men, in v14-15 he explains why Jesus statement was true then and remains relevant today, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no-one.” Notice that here too, the Scriptures testify that we need to receive something from God; what we are called to embrace are the things offered to us by the Holy Spirit. It is in our heart where the word (logos) of God is actively at work making a distinction between “soul and spirit” and discerning “the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) Jesus told His religious critics that because they had refused to believe what had been written by Moses, they were unable to believe what He taught. (John 5:45-46) Those who excuse themselves from fully accepting God’s previous revelation demonstrate unquestionably that their hearts are hardened to His truth. Consequently when He speaks to them today, their hearts being already hardened, they will not receive His gift of faith and its accompanying love of the Truth.
When Moses first asked Pharaoh to let Israel go, the Scriptures record that the king hardened his own heart against God. Once he had confirmed his unbelief by repeatedly hardening his own heart, The LORD stepped in and refused to allow him to repent, but instead hardened Pharaoh’s heart further. In this way Pharaoh brought upon himself the deception which eventually killed him. His pride as ruler of Egypt blinded him to the authority of His Creator. The passage where this study started warns that in a similar way those who refuse to accept from The LORD the love of His Truth (in its entirety) will end up being deceived by those who operate by the spirit of Antichrist. The Antichrist is an alternative to Christ because he is opposed to Him. To attract followers to himself, he and his disciples preach an alternative gospel, one which appeals to our flesh that loves this world and itself and consequently hates the Father.
My burden in this article therefore has not been to focus on the external errors of others, for knowing about them even in detail will protect no-one from making errors of their own. What will keep us close to our Saviour God in this life and the next is a willingness to accept from Him day after day the love of the Truth which is in Him. To do this we need to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit. Having mentioned above one verse from Gal. 5, I will close with another. I share it as an encouragement to you even though you will not find many who recognise its importance. The Holy Spirit in Gal. 5:16 encourages us thus: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” [Emphasis mine]
© Randall Hardy – July
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