October 12, 2015

Ignorance & Apathy

The story was told of a reporter who was taking a brief survey on a city street.  He asked a passerby to comment on the biggest problems in our country, ignorance and apathy. The individual supposedly replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”  That response reflects the attitude in the average church toward the Bible. I am amazed at the gross ignorance of the scriptures amongst those in our circles. The same is also true of the average church leadership and, unfortunately, of some pastors.

And now, if I have your attention, let me explain.  Most people I know have knowledge about the Bible, but few actually have knowledge of the Bible.  To know about Adam in the garden, Joseph’s coat of many colors, Daniel in the lions’ den, or David and Goliath is to know about the Bible.  That is not the same as knowing what God is communicating to us.  The Bible is a book about God.  The scripture is there for us to understand who He is, what He has said about Himself, and what that means to us.

It doesn’t take an extended conversation to see that the average person in the church has surface information about the Book, nor does it take very long before they demonstrate a lack of understanding of what God has actually stated.  They tend to repeat what other people have said or written, but they have never tested it with the text.  A greater tragedy is that, when you ask them to explain their beliefs, they simply don’t care.  Their ignorance is displayed when they say, “I think” or “I believe” or “my view is.”  What is even worse is to hear them say, “That is what my pastor, or my church believes.”  Apathy is evident when they say, “It’s not all that important.”


Over the past year, I have been grieved again and again by people from my past who don’t know or even care what God has said.  As students or members of the church, they have all had the same basic teaching.  Some have done very well in embracing “what the Bible says,” so at least there is some success.  Others have no shame in rewriting the Bible anytime it doesn’t agree with them.  Some of these folks who sat under biblical teaching have joined churches that are actually cultic.  Most of them do not even have a clue about the doctrinal position of the church and have never asked.  Many have moved to the “emerging church” because of its entertainment emphasis as opposed to true worship.  They have no idea where the church is or where it is headed theologically, and they don’t seem to care.  Even when God has written Ichabod over them and closed the doors, they just move on to another church tragedy filled with ignorance and apathy.

I have been tempted to use some of the names of those churches and the individuals who have turned their back on God’s word, but then ignorant people would call that “judging.”  One thing that seems evident is that this curse is caused by the fact that so many people in those churches have never been born again, and so they have no ability to understand the text that is spiritually discerned.

Do you have any idea why so many so-called churches today have changed their names?  There was a time when you could see a church name and at least know where to begin with your questions.  With the “dishwater” types of names so many churches have now adopted, you have to begin at the beginning;  there is no other obvious place to start with your questions. Church websites have deliberately watered down their statements of faith in order to prevent your realizing that they are a cult.  They know that most folks don’t know what questions to ask, nor do they know why certain doctrines are a key for understanding.


This problem often begins with churches when they try to select a new pastor.  To start with, it is Christ who calls pastors, not local churches.  The church’s main task is to find out who it is that Christ has selected as His under-shepherd for that congregation.  Countless hours are wasted in ignorance and apathy as those who are responsible discuss surface issues and miss the main focus.  If Christ designates a man as local shepherd, you can be sure that person will be equipped and qualified.  You can be sure that Christ would approve a man of the Book - not a man who knows just about the Bible, but one who actually knows what God is saying.  We often end up with someone who is telling only what they think God is saying.  God help us!  When it comes to finding out what a man really believes, who in the average local church would be able to do that?  Get off your high horse!  Yes, it is true that all of us know some basic Bible facts, but who is going to protect the church from doctrinal error?  Who in the church’s leadership has understanding that would root out false teaching in a candidate?

This is why so many churches have fallen prey to the “emerging church” movement and to entertainment in lieu of true worship.  Pastors who know what God has said in His Book and who are called of Christ have backbone and will stand up to such nonsense.  A man who is called by Christ will be a man who understands God's holiness as being central to what we know about Him.  He would be reviled by the worship of man and intolerant of having the filth of the world dragged into a congregation.


How do we deal with ignorance?  There is no end to opportunities in this arena.  Ask yourself, “How many minutes each week does the average church member spend in solid, serious study of God’s Word, including church meetings?”  There you have the heart of ignorance.  The first step is to make sure that any and all teaching and preaching are carefully crafted and filled to overflowing with who God is and what He says.  Then ask in what ways we can increase valuable study of the Word by each member.  It should begin by setting aside books written by humans and then moving to studies of the Book.  How do we deal with apathy?  Challenge people to search their own hearts.  God will speak to them if they have not become His son by faith.  A spirit of revival is needed in the church that is self-absorbed, and that includes the preaching of God’s word regarding sin.  Because they love their sin, the “emerging church” hates preaching on wickedness.  They breed immorality because to them God’s word is only a toy.

Only God can break through to the mind that has embraced ignorance.  Only He can break the heart of someone who doesn’t care.  I grieve for those who are comfortable in their trap, but there surely must be some of them who are still open to preaching about a holy God.

Shepherd’s Staff is Prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min.

A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches.  Write for information using the email address Shepherdstaff2@juno.com or Shepherd Staff

September 15, 2015

Israel is a Tough Nut

A lot of opinions have been tossed around as to who Israel is, and it is time to ask some questions. To begin with, what is behind the “replacement theory?”  That is the idea that the Church replaces Israel. Actually, this theory comes from a humanly developed hermeneutic. The one biblical hermeneutic recognizes the clear, distinct, and eternal differences between Israel and the Church: Israel is the wife of God, and the Church is the Bride of Christ. This distinction cannot be changed and will remain in eternity.

At least the replacement idea is clearly stated and is easy to recognize. The problem for those in our camp is that there are small encroachments on this subject. Any narrowing of that clear biblical distinction has to use the same hermeneutic that the replacement theory uses. Any distinctive that belongs to the Church and is assigned to Israel is a step in the wrong direction. It even appears to be a mild form of anti-Semitism.


In the Arabic world, we teach some of the finest believers I have ever known. This subject is difficult for them because of things that have been done to them. I don’t excuse anything that anyone does that is wrong or inconsistent. On the other hand, though, this discussion deals with who they are and not what they have done.

The nation of Israel that is now in the land is a nation. It is foolish not to recognize that fact. This present nation, however, is not equal to the Old Testament theocratic nation of Israel. It is not equal to the nation of Israel in the Millennium. The people in this present nation are God’s chosen people despite their rejection and hard-heartedness. The Bible does tell us that they will return to the land, but that they will return in unbelief. They will be a different people in heart when the “New Covenant” is fulfilled just prior to the Millennium. That will be a miracle of God, just as your own personal salvation was a miracle of God.


Many writers have been proposed opinions about this subject. It has been suggested that the nation now in the land has no claim on the land. This would be the Reformed position, but it is wrong. It is the Jews that God has chosen as His special people, no matter when or where they are on the earth. The land grant - all of it - was given to the people, not to the nation. (Genesis 15:18-21) Even when there was no organized nation, the land belonged to them, the people; thus the people in the land at this hour do indeed retain the promise of the land grant.

I have often been asked, “If the present nation of Israel were driven into the sea, would that affect my understanding of prophecy?" The answer is no. We know only what we see and what is clearly stated in the Bible text, but God knows what He intends to bring to pass. On this subject we must be careful about assigning to Old Testament texts meaning that is not clearly tied to the specific subject.


Bible history is very clear: any nation, group, religion, or individual who offends God’s chosen people will, without question, be judged by God. In due time, any nation that has turned its hand to God’s chosen people will be destroyed. Theologians ignore this judgment by simply having those people disappear. In the end, scholars will be judged for their philosophical and allegorical treatment of Israel. The problem is that any offense, whether large or small, offends a Holy God. This is not just a matter of disagreement; it is a serious consideration.

The leadership of our country has turned its hand against God’s chosen people and has opened the door to their destruction. If the nation that is now in the land were to be slaughtered, how is that any different than what Germany did to the Jewish population? This is not about what the present nation is doing; it is about who they are. They are in unbelief and have rejected their Messiah, but they are still God’s particular people, like no other people in history. It is a backdrop for those who try to blend the Church and Israel. No matter how small, it is not a light matter; and everyone who has participated in this, no matter who they are, should expect judgment.

One has only to read the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to see what happens to those who set their teeth against this ancient people. Without doubt, it ends in the greatest bloodbath in the history of the earth.


You can do your own study from scripture and history as to why God’s people lost possession of the land. It was their own fault. They failed to obey, to keep the covenant; and God promised they would be dispersed and that others would take their land. In God’s time, though, they will have all of the land that God willed for them. While they are driven out of the land, not occupying it, the land still belongs to God’s chosen people. He has never revoked that promise of ownership.


The cancer of the “emerging church” has swept through our own ranks. The mantra is, “We have changed our methods, but not our message.”  It is possible that some do not understand what they have done, but that is a bold-faced lie. The “emerging church” is filled with theological error, and on the subject of Israel they are dead wrong. I find it difficult to understand why people who have been taught truth seem to find it so easy to ignore doctrinal error when moving to one of the “entertainment churches.”   In their disobedience they now say, “It doesn’t matter.”  Even those who have moved into cult congregations are unable to see the false teaching. They appear to be blinded to truth, and what is worse is that they actually enjoy the Laodicean congregations they have joined! Perhaps the “noise” has helped to impair their hearing and their hearts. In the end, they have no idea how these false teachers have arrived at ideas that offend a Holy God.

Shepherd's Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min.

A communication service of Shepherd's Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd's Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address, Shepherdstaff2@juno.com or visit Shepherd's Staff.

Related Readings:
An Introduction to Dispensationalism

George Zeller's: Introduction to Dispensationalsim

August 5, 2015

Dr. Rick Flanders: Who Was John Birch?

Most people who have heard of John Birch associate his name with the John Birch Society, a public-policy educational association founded in the 1950s to combat communism. But the truth is that if nobody had named an organization for him, his name would be properly honored today, especially by fundamental Baptists. On August 25, 1945, John Birch was murdered in China, which was a significant event at the beginning of the Cold War because he was killed by Communists who, at the time, were supposed to be our allies. The seventieth anniversary of his murder occurs this year, and there are many reasons for Christians to remind themselves at this time of who this great man was.
1. HE DID NOT FOUND THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY. The John Birch Society was organized in 1957, but not by John Birch, who had been dead for more than a decade. The founder was Robert Welch, a successful candy manufacturer who had made himself a serious student of world events and saw the need to take action against forces he saw were threatening the freedom of the United States and the so-called“Free World.” The society was named for John Birch because of the significance of his death to the larger situation we called the Cold War. Not only was the young Birch killed by the Communists, but the murder was covered up by the United States government. This cover-up of an act of aggression against us by the Communists, along with several more such cover-ups that were exposed in the post-war era, revealed a tangled web of treason and conspiracy that moved some to take action for the preservation of their liberty from powerful forces that threatened them. The death of John Birch, and the efforts of the American government to hide the facts about it, demonstrated the awful predicament in which our nation has been since World War Two. It also relates the remarkable story of the bravery and dedication of a young American Christian to his country and to his Lord in the face of great peril.
2. HE WAS A BAPTIST PREACHER! John Birch was born in India to Presbyterian missionary parents in 1918, and was twenty-seven years old when he died. At seven years of age, he was “born again” (read John 3:1-17) by trusting in Jesus Christ for his salvation after hearing the gospel in the Baptist church his parents (who had been Presbyterians but left them over theological liberalism) had joined. When he was eleven, he surrendered to the Lord’s call to be a missionary. John was a dedicated Christian as a teenager and a strong Bible-believer as were his parents. When the time came for him to go to college, he went to a Southern Baptist Convention institution, Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, to begin ministerial training. He was already an accomplished preacher and preached often as a student, even pastoring a Baptist church for a time while in school.
3. HE WAS A FUNDAMENTALIST. As a student at Mercer, John Birch came to see clearly the issue of infidelity in the churches, and took a stand against professors at the university who were undermining the faith of the students. He also had a chance to hear the famous fundamentalist preacher, J. Frank Norris, preach against what in those days was called “modernism” (a term for the liberal theology that had crept into the churches, which questioned or denied cardinal doctrines of the Christian Faith), and determined to take his stand. In his senior year, Birch united with a dozen other Mercer students to petition the state Baptist convention to investigate certain teachers on charges of heresy. In the midst of the furor that ensued, University officials threatened to expel the upstart. The newspapers made his name a household word in Macon, in either positive or in negative terms. In time, the heresy charges failed to convict the professors, and John Birch finished his senior year. He was graduated magna cum laud from Mercer. Instead of going on to a Southern Baptist seminary to further his education, he enrolled in the new Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute that had been organized in Fort Worth, Texas, by Norris, who was a leader in the national “fundamentalist” movement. Fundamentalists contended that Christianity must be defined in terms of the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, and that those who denied any of these cardinal tenets of the Faith, even if they are ordained ministers, are not really Christians. Fundamentalism was a grassroots movement in the historically evangelical churches against the influence of liberalism. John Birch was an all-out fundamentalist, and his intentions were to train to be a missionary and go to China to help the Baptist fundamentalists who were laboring courageously and faithfully there.
4. HE WAS A MISSIONARY. In 1939, God sent John Birch to China as an independent Baptist missionary. He worked with two legendary fundamental Baptist men, Oscar Wells and Fred Donnellson. When he arrived, China was torn in the conflict that became the Second World War. Japan had invaded China, and the United States was putting pressure on them while seeking to stay out of the war. The government of Nationalist Chaing Kai-Shek over China was being challenged both by a Communist insurrection and the Japanese invasion. As the war progressed, his missionary support diminished to a trickle, and the place of his service came under Japanese control. Nevertheless he vigorously and zealously spread the Gospel, won souls to Christ, and nourished the Baptist churches in occupied China. American interest in the plight of China brought military help from the United States even before Peart Harbor. Volunteers from our country formed a unit of air force to aid the Chinese that was famously called “The Flying Tigers,” which fought the Japanese bravely until they were absorbed into the U.S. Army after we entered the war. All this time John Birch served the spiritual needs of the Chinese people with the war raging around him.
5. HE WAS A PATRIOT. In this situation, Birch volunteered to join the United States Army. He made application to be enlisted, based on two appeals: (1) he wanted to help his country and the Chinese he came to serve, and (2) he needed an income. He argued that his fluency in the language and familiarity with the culture of the people would make him valuable to the war effort of the United States. As an ordained Baptist minister, he was seeking appointment as a chaplain. Eventually he made an attempt to join General Claire Chennault and the Flying Tigers, the fighting unit of American volunteers this great man commanded. It was the general that told Birch that they had no need for a chaplain, but that they did need an intelligence officer who could work behind Japanese lines and provide important information for the 14thAir Force (as the Flying Tigers came to be known). Eventually Birch was appointed an officer and served in the Army during World War II while he served the Lord as a missionary and an evangelist in war-torn China. He preached on Sundays and spied for Chennault during the week. After Birch was killed, General Chennault said, “John was more than just a very good officer in my command. In fact, I have always felt toward him as a father might feel toward a son.” In a letter to the Birch family after John’s death, General Charles Stone, his commander after Chennault, commended his service.
“As an intelligence liaison officer of the Fourteenth Air Force, Captain Birch performed invaluable services which greatly aided the achievement of ultimate victory. His work was performed to a great extent behind enemy lines and often under hazardous conditions, in circumstances of extreme personal hardship and immediate danger. His unassuming manner, unswerving loyalty, and personal courage earned him the respect and admiration of officers and enlisted men among both American and Chinese units.”

John Birch played a unique role in wartime China: he was a combination of Baptist missionary and American intelligence officer. His service at to both God and country was virtually unprecedented.
6. HE WAS A HERO. While interviewing with General Chennault regarding his application to serve in the Army, Birch played an important role in the renowned mission of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle to bombard Tokyo. After the attack on Japan, Doolittle’s squadron of planes ran into trouble over China, as the famous flier’s plane ran out of fuel. He and his comrades wandered the Chinese landscape until providentially they ran into John Birch. Birch and his cohorts were able to get the great pilot and his men to American troops and safety. The news of his heroic efforts in this incident gave Birch credibility and favor before General Chennault, and got him a commission as captain. As the war with Japan came to a close, Birch had proven himself to be a remarkable soldier. He also had come to serious spiritual and political conclusions about the significance of the war. He wrote to his family,
“I believe that this war will set the stage for Antichrist. I’ll have a lot to tell you when I get home. Things about the future of China and of the world.” 
As he prepared to come home, John Birch was to fulfill one more mission. Under orders of General Albert Wedemeyer, commander of American forces in China, he and ten other soldiers (three Americans, five Chinese, and two Koreans) were to take a train to Suchow to inspect the airport there before Birch would make his way back to the United States. In their journey the eleven where detained by Communists and eventually John Birch and his Chinese personal aid were shot and Birch was killed. The aid (whose name was Tung) was badly wounded and basically left for dead but survived and gave an eyewitness account of the captain’s abuse at the hands of the Communists. John Birch repeatedly refused to surrender weapons and other equipment carried by his men, insisting that since the war was over and Americans were supposed to be allies of the Communists, they were under no obligation to be subject to this treatment. They would not be disarmed by the Red Chinese. The arguments were heated and repeated. Tung warned John Birch against antagonizing the Communists, and several times the captain replied, “Never mind, Lieutenant, I want to see how the Communists treat Americans. If they kill me, America will stop the Communist movement [advance] with atom bombs.” They did kill him. He was buried we think in Suchow. But instead of holding the Communists responsible for this hostile action, the American government decided that the incident should not be made known. The story of the murder of John Birch became a tightly-guarded secret.
In a letter to his parents in 1944, John testified,
“If my hour to depart should strike, I am ready to go, thanks to the merits of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The source of his bravery in the final hours of his service to his country was the assurance John Birch had in his mind and in his heart that he would go to Heaven. His decision to risk his life by standing for the rightful interests of the United States was based on the conviction that his life could be a sacrifice for the betterment of the world. All of these amazing qualities in the life of John Birch resulted from the work of grace wrought in his heart by Jesus Christ.
After the war a newspaper reporter who had spent much time in China (Adeline Gray) wrote in amazing terms about John’s life and service in a letter to his parents.
“Yesterday, I read of John Birch’s death in the [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star and was very shocked. Your son was one of the finest men who ever came to China. He never drank, smoked, swore, or did an unkind thing to anyone. He believed that wars were due and are due to lack of religion. He talked of this in most lofty and beautiful worded sentences. He exerted a profound effect upon the thousands of people who came in contact with him…

“His loss is a great loss not only to China, but to America and the world. He loved China and the Chinese people dearly and planned to stay in China all his life. During the war he performed many dangerous and heroic feats. As a member of the U. S. Army Intelligence, he often was parachuted out into Japanese areas and spent weeks and months behind the lines. He was a beloved man of the U.S. Army in China; he was widely known all over China…

“I understand that no news agency was allowed to send out the story of your son’s death from China for fear of arousing Chinese Communists and American relations to a higher pitch of instability and ill-will. So his death was not mentioned in any news story from China. Otherwise, it would have been on the front page of every paper in the U.S.”

On the Fourth of July in 1945, he had written a letter home that eloquently stated his perception of the need of the world:
“There is only one real problem in the world with all its complicated evils, and there is only one answer, amidst the maze of futile plans. Here is the problem and the answer: ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 6:23).”

Over the years after his death, the heroism and martyrdom of John Birch occasionally leaked out from the classified report, with statements made about him in Congress and the press. But the report itself was never seen by the public until it was de-classified in 1980. However, the testimonies of soldiers and family-members who knew his story have inspired thousands of Christians and patriots for seventy years. How he lived, what he said, and what he did tell us all that there is more to life than staying alive, that only in Christ can the needs of men be met, and that the still-spreading collectivist conquest of nations is evil at its core and essentially spiritual in its errors. May he be remembered, and the lessons of his life heeded.
Have you bowed to Jesus Christ as your own Lord and Savior? Reader, have you received the gift of eternal life by faith in the Son of God? Christian friend, will you stand bravely for the truth of God in these dark days when many may be challenged to pay a price to live for Christ? As we remember John Birch, may the Lord use the testimony of his life and death to draw us to love the One Who loved us, and gave Himself for our salvation.
“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
(Revelation 6:9-10)
1. Welch, Robert. The Life of John Birch. Belmont, Massachusetts: Western Islands, 1960.
2. Hefley, James and Marti. The Secret File on John Birch. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.
3. The John Birch Society, 770 N. Westhill Blvd., Appleton, WI 54914—920.749.3780.
4. Arlington Baptist College, 3001 West Division, Arlington, Texas 76012—817.461.8741: ask for information on John Birch.

Dr. Rick Flanders

July 28, 2015

The Failed NIU to be Reconstituted as "Northland Baptist Ministry"

Update (8/6/15)

It is with great regret that we must announce that, for personal reasons, Jeff Kahl has resigned his position as Executive Director of Project 14 Global Missions. This is effective immediately. Please pray for Jeff and his family as he seeks the Lord’s will for his life. We want to thank Jeff for tirelessly working to promote world missions and the other endeavors of P14GM. 
Because of Jeff's departure from P14GM, this seriously impedes our ability to assume control and operation of the Northland campus. We are currently reviewing our options, and the Board of P14GM is working with the current Board of Northland to determine the best course of action. Further announcements will be forthcoming as soon as any decisions are made. 
Respectfully, P14GM Board

Dear Ministry Friends,

After weeks of prayerful consideration, in-depth research, and constituency testimonials, it became clear God would have us continue a walk of faith in reviving a fresh, dynamic, impacting Northland campus. Therefore, the board members and executive leadership team of Project 14 Global Missions voted on Saturday, July 25, 2015, to unanimously and cheerfully accept the stewardship responsibilities of the Northland campus, effective immediately.

I have already notified the founding family members of this decision, and they stand in full support of moving Northland forward in the tradition of its original core values and vision. With an aggressive youth and family camping program, along with a relevant and impacting training facility, Northland and P14GM will have an opportunity to impact churches, campers, and the world. Utilizing this beautiful Wisconsin campus, along with our national office in Charlotte, North Carolina, and our two Nicaragua campuses in Central America, the goal of getting more trained laborers into the harvest field is an exciting prospect.

Exceedingly generous funds were pledged and given on behalf of Saving Northland. The friends of Northland and P14GM made this achievement possible, because of their many kind and heart-felt gifts. Out of one love for God, love for Northland, and love for ministry, the future of Northland continues. We are still receiving gifts and donations to satisfy a bank note that is due soon, but not due immediately. We ask that friends of Northland will continue to help this worthwhile cause.

We are pursuing the name Northland Baptist Ministry, focusing on camps, education, missions, and ministry helps. Northland Camp and Conference Center will change to Northland Camp and Retreat Center. The Project 14 Global Missions board of directors will lead Northland Baptist Ministries in parallel philosophy and commitment to our other ministry and mission focuses around the world. We will merge our global mission efforts at Project 14 Global Mission agency, Global Bible University, OneLife Christian Camps, and BluePrint Church Planting program to Northland campus in strategic ways to be determined soon.

On behalf of our entire P14GM leadership team, we publicly thank the Lord for this opportunity and consider its stewardship a sobering responsibility. Praise God for His faithfulness.


Jeff  Kahl
Executive Director
Project 14 Global Missions & Northland Ministries

Related Reading:
Northland International University Closes

An Anecdotal Answer to the Demise of Fundamentalist Schools

July 15, 2015

The “Standards” Mess

“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

(Second Corinthians 3:5-6)

Dr. Rick Flanders
Many organizations have and maintain standards.  Of course, over the years churches in particular have preached and upheld certain standards of belief and behavior.  The concept of doctrinal standards, creeds, and statements of faith in religion is normal and expected.  The idea of standards of conduct for church leaders, church members, and the Christian way of life is also generally accepted.  The question is not whether churches should have standards.  All religious movements and organizations do.

There is a problem today, however, over the mess that has grown up over standards in conservative churches.  There is a whole movement against the standards fundamentalists have followed, and there is anotherone over whether they should have standards at all.  In all the fussing on “both sides” of the standards issue, some very basic facts are being lost.  When Christian thinkers come back to the basics, the truth about these matters becomes clear, and we can clear up the mess!  So let’s take a constructive approach, and consider four important and indisputable facts.


Somehow we have forgotten that the standards Bible-believing churches have maintained over the years were developed from the teachings of the Bible.  Before anybody debated standards, preachers and teachers in the churches were preaching that the Bible has things to say against certain things and for certain things.  They preached that scripture condemns drinking and intoxication, speaks against the lasciviousness of social dancing, advocates modest apparel, calls for personal restraint, mandates sanctifying the body, and exhorts believers to stay away from worldly amusements.  That’s where we started.  Christians were living by the Bible.  They studied God’s Word to learn how to live!

Do church people today know that holiness in the Bible is separation from evil and to God?  Do they know that Christians are called upon to live holy lives (check First Peter 1:13-16)?  Scripture requires both ecclesiastical and personal separation (see Second Corinthians 7:1 and Second Timothy 2:16-22).  The children of light, according to Ephesians 5, must not do what the children of darkness are doing (verse 7), nor endorse what they do (verse 11), nor even unnecessarily talk about what they do (verse 12).  That’s what the Bible teaches!  It’s separation, a concept that is controversial today among critics of the standards. The Bible makes an issue of clothing and the covering of the body from the beginning to the end (you can see this first in Genesis 2:24-25 and 3:6-11 and 21, and follow it throughout scripture).  Scriptural promises (such as Matthew 5:18 and 24:35) are the basis of believers insisting on the traditional text behind the King James Version and rejecting the revised text followed by so many of the new Bibles.  Keeping the law will not save anybody’s soul; but grace doesn’t mean that there aren’t any rules, that the Lord has no opinions, or that saved people have no obligations about how they behave.  The “rules” or standards that spiritual Christians followed and taught for years were not arbitrary or based on tradition.  They came from Bible teaching.

The real issues in the “standards” debates are questions like “Does the Bible have anything to say about gender roles and distinction?”, “Is there Bible doctrine that would motivate a Christian to abstain from using tobacco?”, “According to the scriptures, does it matter what Bible a church uses?”, or, “What teaching of the Bible would affect whether or not we go to the movies?”  Many have believed that scripture does teach things that apply directly to questions such as these.  The real and legitimate discussions regarding the standards are discussions about Biblical interpretation. They are not arguments over whether or not certain old “standards” are still appropriate for our day.  They ask whether our spiritual fathers were right or wrong about what they understood that the Bible said.  Many of us think they were right!  For example, reasonable people see that Christians who dress modestly and appropriately for their gender are following scriptural principles.  These are not petty squabbles over personal tastes.  They are serious issues about the revealed will of God.  No kidding!


As conservative churches grew and added to their ministries and staff, it was necessary for them to set standards of life and belief for those who led and represented them.  These standards were actually applications of the Bible teaching that had led those churches for years.  In other words, although it normally takes time for new church-members to arrive at the same conclusions about Christian living which are followed by their teachers, when they joined the ministry team, they had to follow standards that reflect the corporate viewpoint of the ministry.  When people takepositions of responsibility in the ministry of the church, they are expected to uphold and live by these standards even before they have come into total agreement with all of them.Leaders are responsible to some degree for the behavior of those who have joined the team! This is why the conclusions of the Bible teaching were “standardized.”

What the New Testament says about polluting oneself with idols (Acts 15:20 and 29, First Corinthians 8 through 10, and Revelation 2:14 and 20) by eating the meat sold at the pagan temple was applied to modern issues by setting the standard not to attend movie theaters or night clubs or other places associated with sin.  What the Bible teaches about gender distinction (in places such as Genesis 1:27, Leviticus 18:22, Deuteronomy 22:5, First Corinthians 11:1-16, First Timothy 2, and Revelation 9:8) led leaders to call on co-workers and followers to dress with their gender in mind.  Teaching and interpretation led to the specific standards, when behavior necessarily had to be “standardized.”

Some standards were also sometimes recommended to everyone up front, before they had a chance to be supported with reason and scripture by the pastors and teachers.  Bible teaching always leads to behavior adjustment.  Sometimes the conclusions or “bottom line” of the teaching had to be stated at the beginning and came to be regarded as a set of standards.  Ordinarily believers who are being instructed “to observe all things” that Jesus taught (Matthew 28:20) will grow in knowledge over a period of time, and come to correct conclusions only after a while.  But when the conclusions are “standardized” for workers up front, the period of instruction and growth is not in the mix, and there can be problems.  Certainly church workers can follow the rules without really buying into them, and often this set-up has helped people grow.  Many adopted the standards from their hearts, based on what they saw in the Bible, only after following them for other reasons as they grew in grace.  This isn’t really a bad idea.  The man who smokes may save his own life by giving up tobacco because the preacher told him to do it (Hebrews 13:17) well before he really understands why.  However, standards must eventually be backed by persuasion from scripture if they are to do the good they were supposed to do.  And before they are, there can be misunderstanding and problems.

Such standardizing necessarily took place in Christian schools.  Students, as well as faculty and staff, were required to follow Bible-based standards from the first day.  In many cases, these rules were not adequately defended or justified with scripture during the school year, provoking some to wrath.  The connection between certain standards and God’s will and ways was not always made.  But the standard-setting in the form of rule-keeping was justified.

Note that the setting of standards for God’s people to help them in their lives was done in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Deuteronomy 4:5-8 teaches us that following standards can help us live with more wisdom than we really have.  Adopting the rules will give us a head start on living wisely while we are growing in grace and knowledge.  Acts 15 records the setting of standards for the benefit of the Gentile Christians, at the same time that Legalism was rejected (notice especially verses 1, 5, 10-11, 19-29).  Standard-setting is not necessarily Legalism.  Legalism requires rule-keeping for salvation or spirituality.  Standards followed under the truth of God’s grace can really help growing believers, as we can see in Acts 16:4-5.  So standards are good, not bad, although they cannot stand alone.  They must be backed by the Bible.


Critics of the standards complain that the kind of Christianity they knew growing up was “all about the rules.”  They identify it with Legalism, and sometimes make fun of having to keep a bunch of rules.  Supporters of the standards zealously defend the “old-time” expectations and taboos while sometimes neglecting to defend them from the Bible.  Both are wrong.

Christianity is not just about rules.  Rules and guidelines have always been part of church and Christian living, but they have served only as helps and props.  The Christian life is really about love!

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God: and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.  In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”

(First John 4:7-11; read also verse 12 through 5:3)

Christianity is God’s love coming to us through Christ, and coming through us to others.  See this also in John 15:9-12.  The real thing is often lost by both pro- and anti-standards people, and the rules become the big thing.  They aren’t the big thing.  According to Galatians 5:22-23,walking in the Spirit keeps us within the boundaries of the rules (“against such there is no law”).  Those who are absolutely surrendered to Christ observe higher ideals than those who just live by rules.  They live the way they do because they love Jesus with all their hearts.  Carnal people who hate the rules can only see the rules, and resent them.   Prideful and unspiritual people who keep the rules also only see the rules, and miss seeing Jesus.Both kinds of Christians are carnal.

Some folks who complain the loudest about the old standards as they were enforced in their families or churches are really hurting from the hypocrisy of their parents and leaders, and not the effect of the rules.  Proud and harsh attitudes are not spiritual.  Efforts to cover up inconsistencies in the homes we grew up in were not the result of following the Bible.  They were products of making the standards the big thing and not making love for God the heart of the home.  Making mean and harsh statements against others isn’t spiritual either.  Jesus taught us not to judge others (remember Matthew 7:1-5).  Yet the Bible does say that spiritual people, while not judging people, should judge things.

“But he that is spiritual judgeth all things…”

(First Corinthians 3:15)

We are to discern from scripture what things are right and what things are wrong, from God’s perspective.  There is nothing wrong with saying, “That’s wrong.”  But we are taught to love the erring brother and meekly hope to pull out the mote from his eye, instead of scorning him and proudly holding up ourselves as better (see Galatians 6:1-2).  Much of the heat in the arguing over standards is generated by carnal people engaged in combat with other carnal people.  Take a look at Galatians 5:13-16.


The Bible has very many good things to say about keeping rules, while also warning us against giving rule-keeping a role it should never have in the Christian life.  We find this help in Second Corinthians 3:5-6:

“Our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

The Law of God expresses the opinions of God, and therefore is “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12).  However a set of rules in itself does not enable me to keep the rules.  “The law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (see Romans 7:13-24).  In other words, the Law is good, but not good enough to help me.  Just knowing what is right does not give me righteousness.  But Jesus Christ came to give me His righteousness.  It is His righteousness that saves me, and it is His righteousness that provides me with the Christian life.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”

(Read Romans 7:22-8:4)

Those who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is the key to living the Christian life!  We learn that our sufficiency is in God alone, that Christian living only happens when we are living by faith, relying on the Holy Spirit to provide the life of Christ!  The rules set the standard for how we ought to live, but they can’t get us to that standard.  The standards describe for me what a spiritual man looks like, but they do not make me spiritual.  It is the Holy Spirit that does this.  The letter of the law only can condemn us when we fail, and the Bible says that it kills people.  Standards without the Spirit are deadly.  A revival that acquaints believers with the ministry of the Spirit will liberate the unhappy believer and give him the victory he wants and needs.

“Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

(Second Corinthians 3:17-18)

The devil got us into this mess of looking at standards apart from the bigger picture.  The rule for the Christian is, “What does the Bible say?”  And the Bible calls upon us to conform to the will of a holy God.  Doing so will require self-denial and sacrifice, as Jesus told us.  But the Bible tells us that the Christian life is Christ’s life in us.  Loving Him and yielding to the influence and power of His Spirit within us is what causes us to experience the abundant life He came for us to live.  When we come back to these simple truths, we will get out of the mess we are in, and get back to reaching our dark and lost world for God!  Revival will deliver us from the standards mess!  Those who rebel against good standards must humble themselves and learn the reason for the standards, which is love for Jesus Christ.  Others who have been killing those under them with the letter of the law must go deeper than the rules, and learn to be filled with the Spirit!

Dr. Rick Flanders
Revival Ministries

July 2, 2015

A Day of Prayer & Mourning

Several voices are calling for a day of mourning and prayer for our nation. It has been suggested that we choose July 4th of this year for that purpose. It would be a good contrast to what we normally see as a fun day with the family. One would have to note that security forces are saying that there are credible threats against us on that day.

A precedent for this is found in Proverbs 29:2 - When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn. In my nearly eighty years of life, this world has moved further into moral self-destruction than in all the rest of history. Those who misunderstand the holiness of God ask …where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation. One question will solve this: when, in the history of this world, has there been a worldwide push to support sodomy? This may not include every nation, but who would ever have expected the news to be filled with photos of crowds in the streets of so many countries calling for the spread of this wickedness? This has never happened before.


Some years ago I wrote an article with this title. Now in our nation, when you add the murder of thousands of unborn children to the exceedingly wicked spread of sexual perversion, it spells judgment. The wicked laugh at such an idea, saying “We don’t even know if there is a God.” Some in our circles tell us it isn’t so bad. Others ridicule God’s justice and push their own "sloppy agape" to silence the voices of truth.

Have it your way. The fact is that God has to judge this nation because He is holy and all other things flow from His holiness. God will judge this nation. We don’t know just when or how, but we do know why. We do know the times and the seasons (I Thessalonians 5:1), and we do know how God has done this in the past. He has used wicked rulers, enemies, and even the weather. We do know that this world is cursed by sin, and …we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” (Romans 8:22) We do …know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. (II Timothy 3:1) A list of crimes against God is outlined in that text, and they continue to increase at breakneck speed.


The pessimist cries, “Woe is me, there is no help or hope! It’s all over; nothing we can do. Face it - we have lost.” The optimist cries, “It’s not that bad. We will recover. Focus on the positive, and ignore the negative.” The realist cries, “This is a critical hour. We are set for the judgment of God. God is still on the throne. In the end, we will win; and we have a responsibility in this hour. There is no time for a pity party. We are overcomers, and the battle is not done."

Actually, both the pessimist and the optimist have their heads in the sand. They both fail to engage the opportunity God has given us in this hour of trouble. As true believers, we were born for this hour. It is a great time to share the love of God and the gospel of Christ. The contrast is so great that, if we respond as God has directed, God will bless in many ways. This is a great hour for truth. The pessimist ignores it, and the optimist denies it. The realist steps up to take the challenge God has put before us. A holy God has called us to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

It is not loving to soft-pedal sin. It is not loving to cover or ignore wickedness. It is loving to tell the truth and make it plain and simple. We are not supposed to surrender or be silent. We need to see things as they are. This is not time for the silence or cowardice.


The truth is that our nation has crossed the line. Except for the grace of God and the possibility of a national revival, there is no coming back. The destruction of this country is sure, and the judgment of God has been sealed. This may be why mention of America is nowhere to be found in the scriptures. We should mourn because that judgment is near. In recent years our country has come close to civil war several times, and in the last year any one of these “flash points” could have set off fighting in the streets. We had a warning of outside destruction on 9/11; now the destruction is from within. Racism is on the rise, the elite in our capital violate our founding documents, the economy is set for collapse, and our military power has been neutered. One might add to this the current open hatred for biblical Christianity.

Of course there are small rays of light, such as the spirit of forgiveness in Charleston and some in leadership who speak out for righteousness. The entertainment church in general, however, has become virtually useless and doesn’t have enough power to blow the nose of flea. We should mourn because no nation that chose to kill its young and its old, embrace sodomy, or to turn its hand against God’s chosen people has ever continued.

If I had a flagpole, I would lower it to half-mast on the fourth of July in remembrance of the “death of a nation;” but I refuse to surrender, to soft pedal sin, to run and hide, to be silent. My only task is to speak as God speaks, love what God loves, and hate what God hates. The reason for this is that true believers are winners, not whiners. Read the Book: He wins, we win, they lose. PERIOD.

Shepherd's Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min


A communication service of Shepherd's Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd's Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address, shepherdstaff2@juno.com

June 29, 2015

The Cult of Self

There is sufficient information in the scriptures to remind us of our personal responsibility.  As individual believers we are to diligently attend to the physical, mental, and spiritual condition of the being God has given us.  This reaches into every area of life including social, service, family, and our macro and micro context of life.  Specific instruction is given in each of these areas, and we are meant to pay rapt attention to our personal role in each one.  Our minds, hearts, and bodies do not belong to us; Christ has purchased them with his “precious blood”.  (I Peter 1:18, 19)  God’s will is primary in our daily living.  We are stewards as to our minds, obedient as to heart issues, and our bodies are limited to those things that bring glory to God. We have a responsibility for our own selves, and we need to pay constant attention to this task.

Individualism is a great concept, but in the end the use of our own abilities should focus on God and others.  Our world, nation, and culture have corrupted this concept.  Self-centeredness has become the rule of the day.  Paul identified this for us: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy.  Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good. Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away.” (II Timothy 3:1-5)

No one could describe our present society better than this.  The heart of the matter is today's undue emphasis on self or the “Cult of Self”.  So many people who call themselves "Christian" are not talking about the sacrificial Christianity Paul spoke about in Romans 12:1.  The spiritual atmosphere in their lives is not about God and others, and their speech betrays them. “Me, mine, my, I think, I believe, I want” is all about self, as in the secular song entitled “I Did It My Way”.  What we should say is “God’s Word clearly states” or “God’s will is” or even “What do others want or need?”


Instead of the mind being used to glorify God, human reason and intellectualism have become a source of pride.  Young minds follow evangelical scholars because it makes them feel important.  As a result, they accept theological error because "the intellectual must be right, you know".  Philosophers hide behind science and tend to "complicate to confuse".  The truth is that no thinking person could really hold to a “big bang” theory or to the theory of evolution.  Even a child can look into the heavens and see that vastness of space and the unnumbered stars and know it couldn’t just happen.  Where and when did all that matter come into existence?  An elementary student who has been taught the function of the human brain knows that it couldn’t just happen.  On the other hand, young minds are pressured to believe in evolutionary myths by teachers who appear to know it all.  This generation of intellectual pagans has accepted man as God and has joined the Cult of Self.

Some time ago I began using the word "humianity" to describe the religion of man.  It is a play on the word Christianity.  The authority of Christianity is the Word of God and its teaching that our God is the sovereign creator.  On the other hand, the authority of humianity is human reason, and their god is man; hence the Cult of Self.  They worship the creature rather than the creator (Romans 1) and have chosen death rather than truth.  The Cult of Self uses the mind to worship self.


A holy God is their creator.  He created the human body, and as creator He is owner; as owner He can make the rules.  Since man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), man's primary purpose is to glorify God.  This must be done not only with the mind, but with the body.  God has the authority to make the rules.  He has given us information about what we can put on the body and in the body.  He tells us how to use the body to glorify Him.  Those who are caught in the Cult of Self pay little attention to God's instructions; perhaps some lip service, but mainly they “do that which is right in their own eyes”.  Why do people take drugs, participate in illicit sex, and pay little attention to what they eat and how much they eat?  Why do they put their bodies at risk, and why are they careless about their health?  It is because they have joined the Cult of Self.


By plan, we visited an emerging church one Sunday.  The music was so loud you could hardly think.  They sang a secular song I had never heard before, and the so-called worship leader asked, “Do you know why we sang that number?"  His answer was “because we like it!”  That is the Cult of Self, plain and simple.  In our worship of God as Christians, we sing what honors Him.  The reasoning of self is that “God doesn’t care what we do; He just wants us to be happy."  Wrong again; God wants us to be holy.  

Now, here is the sad thing.  In our conservative, fundamental churches we are increasingly having the same “self” problem.  Some folks have to be heard on every subject and very seldom listen to others.  No matter what transpires, they are the center of it; they think it is all about them.  That is the Cult of Self.  I read a story about a family who lost a loved one.  One of the fringe members was carrying on about the death and bringing a lot attention to himself.  A grandchild rich in wisdom beyond her years said, “This is not really about you; we need to try and be of help to the others”.

We all know someone like that in our churches.  They worship self.  They have to be the center.  They have to be right.  Their opinion is always the right one, and they have the answer to everything.  They have to be recognized and honored.  There you have it - right in our churches, the Cult of Self.  A good illustration of this topic is found in II John 9-11; and by the way, how you interpret those verses will tell you something about yourself!

Shepherd's Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min


A communication service of Shepherd's Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.  Shepherd's Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches.  Write for information using the e-mail address, shepherdstaff2@juno.com

June 25, 2015

Archival Series: Salvation & Discipleship

We are continuing with the series by Dr. Rick Flanders. If you are new to this series you might begin with Part One, Part 2 and Part 3 before proceeding.

One of the most hotly debated issues in the Lordship Salvation (LS) controversy revolves around the doctrines of salvation and discipleship. Most LS advocates see these as one and the same. LS advocates blur the lines of distinction, which creates an evangelistic message that conditions the reception of eternal life on a lost man’s upfront commitment to what should be the results of a genuine conversion in discipleship.  Dr. Rick Flanders wrote Salvation and Discipleship, which addresses this vital issue in the Lordship Salvation controversy. The article first appeared at the Baptist College of Ministry website and with the author’s permission it is being reproduced here as a multi-part series. I am hopeful every guest will read this series with discernment and prayerfully consider the plain teaching of Scripture as Dr. Flanders presents it now in this fourth installment.

The Bible teaches that we are saved by faith in Christ, and also that we are to live by faith in Christ. Faith makes all the difference both in having assurance that you are saved and in living the Christian life after you are saved. We see this clearly in the book of Galatians. Chapter 2, verse 16, says that “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” We are justified (made right in the sight of God) by faith in Christ (as opposed to earning God’s favor through our supposed obedience to God’s law). Then verse 19 begins a discussion about how to “live unto God,” and verse 20 says that this is done also “by the faith of the Son of God.” Chapter 3 begins by affirming that, just as we were saved by faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, so now we are “made perfect” by the Spirit through “the hearing of faith” (read verses 1-3 carefully). Although the Christian life is indeed about commitment to obeying Christ, and discipleship involves self-denial and sacrifice, they are never successfully lived out except by faith. Just as real assurance of salvation comes only by faith in Christ, victorious Christian living is experienced only by faith. Notice also these scriptures:
•“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

•“Whosoever is believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:1-5)
Colossians teaches that we walk in Christ the same way we received Him: by faith. I John says that we are born again by believing, and that we overcome the world also by faith. Whenever a Christian gets his eyes off Jesus and Calvary, and begins to look to himself for assurance of salvation, he loses what assurance he had! When we focus on how we feel, or how earnest we were when we came to Christ, or how much our lives have been changed, we have forgotten the basis of our assurance. We are not saved through anything we have done, or do, or feel. Real salvation is based on what Jesus did for us. When we focus on that, God gives us assurance grounded in faith.

Just as many fail to have blessed assurance because they have stopped seeking it by faith, many come short of victory in their Christian lives because they are seeking it through the efforts of their flesh. As we have seen, discipleship is about works, and it will be our works that will be rewarded if we succeed at discipleship, but nobody ever succeeds at Christian discipleship until they learn to live by faith. Perhaps the strongest passage about the cost of discipleship is Luke 14:25-35. In it we find the Lord Jesus calling upon would-be disciples to count the cost (verse 28) before committing. There are several other strong statements made in the New Testament by the Lord Jesus about being His disciple, and it would be good for us to be familiar with them, too.
•“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)

•“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:34-35; see also Matthew 16:24-25 and Luke 9:23-24)
Some of the same ideas are taught in Luke 14, and the language there is possibly even stronger.
•“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (verses 26 and 27)

•“Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, cannot be my disciple.” (verse 33)
The phrase “cannot be my disciple” troubles us, but its meaning is clarified as we are reminded of the stark difference between salvation and discipleship, even in this chapter. All of these words of warning were given to the “great multitudes” that came to Jesus and went with Him after He illustrated salvation with the parable of the Great Supper (see verses 15-26). In that parable the way to salvation was made extremely clear, and also very easy. The invitation to the feast of salvation is given to all, and it is simply, “Come, for all things are now ready.” God has done everything that must be done for a sinner to be saved. He has given His Son to die a Sacrifice to pay for our sins, and He has raised Him from the dead, the Victor over sin, death, and Hell. All the sinner must do is come and partake of so great a salvation! But as many responded that day to the offer of free salvation, Jesus turned and warned them of the cost of discipleship. Salvation costs us nothing because God Himself paid for it. However, discipleship costs us everything! In verse 26, we are told to give up people we love; in verse 27, we are told to give up our plans for the future; in verse 33, we are told to give up our possessions. If we don’t, we cannot be His disciples. What Jesus meant by these things is explained by the two parables of discipleship He told, one about building a tower, and the other about making war (read again verses 28 through 33).

In the illustration about building the tower, the Lord emphasizes how foolish it would be for a man to start building without knowing if he had enough materials or money to finish the project. People would mock such a man and say, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” In the illustration about making war, the Lord points out how foolish it would be for a king to go to battle against an army larger than his unless he was convinced that he could win anyway. In both cases, the man starting into a venture should first count the cost, and evaluate his chances of success.

These parables picture discipleship, the Christian life. The follower of Jesus is building a tower, and he is fighting a battle. Will he succeed? Notice that the question is about finishing successfully. Will he begin but not be able to finish? Will he go to war, but only to be defeated? When Jesus said, “he cannot be my disciple,” He meant, “a person who will not forsake people, plans, and possessions will not complete the task he has begun; he will not succeed as a disciple.” The fact is that these three (people we love more than Jesus, plans we have for our lives, possessions that mean so much to us) are the things that usually draw a believer off the path of discipleship. Jesus tells us to forsake them all in our minds before starting out. It is not that we should “hate” our family any more than we should literally “hate” our own lives, but that we must love the Lord Jesus so much more than the dearest of our earthly loved ones that our love for them looks like hate in comparison with our love for Him.

Now the question of our likelihood of success comes before us. Will we make a success of our Christian life? Do we have enough to finish the tower? Can we defeat the enemy that is mightier than we? Think about these questions. The right answer is the same for both: yes and no. In our own strength and ability, the answer is “No.” The twelve did not do very well at discipleship in their three years of following Jesus while He was with them on earth. We do not do very well at living lives surrendered to Christ when we try to live for Him by our own power and determination. However, the Lord never intended us to live the Christian life, to fulfill the demands of discipleship, in our own strength. He said, “Without me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). He called on those who came to Him for salvation to yoke up with Him for discipleship (Matthew 11:28-30). With His help, we can build the tower, and we can defeat the foe! When we live by faith, the answer is “Yes.”

Let us not forget the context of the words we have been examining in John 8. Jesus told those who had just believed on Him for salvation that if they would continue in His Word, they would be true disciples of His (verses 31 and 32). And He promised that the result of their continuing in His Word as His disciples would be that they would “know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The incident with the woman taken in adultery set the stage for the unfolding of this teaching about victory over sin in the life of a saved person (read again verses 1 through 12). Salvation from the condemnation of sin is the possession of every believer in Jesus Christ. Liberation from the power of sin is the experience of believers who commit to discipleship, and live it by faith. Actually, we are free from the bondage of sin the moment we believe on Christ for salvation (see this in verses 34 through 36), but it won't happen for us, so to speak, until we learn about it from the Word, and reckon it true by faith. This happens as we follow Jesus in discipleship (read again John 8:12 and 31-32).

No penitent sinner who has come to Christ need struggle over whether or not he is saved. No saved person need struggle in defeat without knowing victory over his sins. Jesus has provided deliverance from both the penalty and the power of sin, and we can have it by faith in Him.

Originally published September, 2010
The series continues with Part Five the final installment.

Dr. Rick Flanders has an itinerant preaching ministry for revival. He can be contacted at drrickflanders@gmail.com. Dr. Rick Flanders Revival Ministries

See- John MacArthur’s Discipleship Gospel and Summary of Lordship Salvation From a Single Page for related reading.