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You Be The Judge


 

By Richard W. O'Ffill

You have probably heard of what is called the "generation gap." They say that the older generation is just "out of it;" the younger generation is up-to-date. They say that the older generation likes the status quo; the younger generation is into change.

To some degree this might be true. The older generation does seem to be more satisfied with things the way they are. I tend to be that way in some things. I find I enjoy wearing a certain jacket I have had for ten years. To me an old jacket is like an old friend, and you just don't throw away your old friends!

During the Christmas holidays a few years ago my brother-in-law and his wife, with my wife and me and some other members of the family, were sitting around the fireplace one evening. You might ask, "I thought you lived in Florida? What do you mean sitting around the fireplace?" Well, we Florida people will use any excuse to sit around the fireplace. We even joke about turning up the air-conditioning and then putting a fire in the fireplace!

Well, there we were sitting around the fireplace. My brother-in-law had on a fine wool sweater. He informed us that this sweater was fifty years old. It was made by the McGregor Company. It looked great, even after fifty years. (Maybe I should also say that my brother-in-law looks great also, because at age sixty-five he is still able to get into something that he wore when he was fifteen years old!)

What this illustrates is that just because something is old does not make it good. If that were true, what about the many people who proudly collect old cars and other antiques? I have sometimes wished that I had kept even some of the toys I had when I was young. Not only would they be nostalgic, they might even be worth a little something these days. There could be money in that attic of yours!

It is not so much the age of something that determines whether or not it is desirable; a lot depends on how it is kept up. Don't misunderstand me. I am not hung up on old things. I like change. I like new things. In fact, life is about change. Something that is not changing is not alive. The question is not shall we change, but how shall we change, and what basis shall we use for change? I am also convinced that as we change and when we change, we must be careful not only to know where we are headed, but also from where we have come.

When a young couple marries, they start a new home. But the new home is to a large degree a continuation of the homes from whence they have come. This is not necessarily bad. It is a good idea to maintain certain traditions and customs. Traditions and customs give continuity and stability. They give identity and meaning.

In an earlier sermon in this series, I stated that I think it is dangerous to experiment when we are risking our souls in the process. When you don't know how deep the water is or how swift it may be flowing or what dangerous things may be lying under the surface, a person who merely jumps in without knowing what is beneath the surface may live to regret it. Sadly, there are a lot of people who have tried just that and who are spending their lives paralyzed. There are others who didn't live to tell about it.

There seems to be what might be called spiritual boredom out there these days. People want some kind of change. "The status quo is unacceptable," they seem to say, "so let's change and see what happens later. At least we won't be bored anymore." Friend, we must be careful when we start tinkering with faith and morals. The attitude of change for change's sake can be spiritually fatal.

For instance, consider three old-fashioned words: gospel, truth, and doctrines. These days there seems to be a shift away from truth and doctrines. Perhaps you have heard someone say they are tired of hearing about doctrines--that we ought not to be hung up on preaching the doctrines. Some feel we should be preaching only the gospel. Some even go so far as to suggest we ought not to be as concerned with truth, but should focus only on the gospel.

We used to be concerned with doctrines and truth. Nowadays this is somehow seen as having been a mistake. I am personally convinced that if there were some kind of excess in emphasizing truth and doctrine in the past, it will be nothing compared to what will happen when we cut our ties with truth and doctrines and jump out into the dark, swirling waters of the future. These waters are loaded with sharp obstacles that are dangerous to our soul salvation. It is truth and doctrine that show us where salvation is.

Many times when someone begins to try to apply truth to a particular situation, there will be someone who will say, "But we ought not to judge." Perhaps we are confused on this concept about "not judging." Let me illustrate. Suppose I want to go to Fort Pierce, Florida. I stop to get some gasoline, and the person at the desk informs me I am on the road to Jacksonville. The person who tells me that I am not on the right road is not judging me. They are only telling me the truth. I can stay on the road to Jacksonville if I want to, but I will not get to Fort Pierce on that road, because contrary to what some people may think, not all roads lead to Fort Pierce!

Perhaps we have not thought very seriously about the impact that error plays on our eternal destiny. Now, I know that the person who is lost will be the one who persisted in sin. I know also, that when we speak about being saved or lost, we are not speaking about theories and doctrines--we are speaking about people. Yet, we must understand that error can lead a person into sin or perhaps keep them in sin on a false pretext, just the same as my error in continuing on the wrong road will not lead me to Fort Pierce, but to a place I may not want to go.

Sin and error are not the same. We need to understand, however, that Satan uses error to keep a person in sin or to lead them into sin. Therefore, to talk about salvation without pointing out error may make salvation difficult, if not impossible, to attain. This is because the devil has constructed a wall around salvation to keep people out. That wall is the wall of error. This is why I am thoroughly alarmed when I hear people say we should not talk about truth or doctrine. I am alarmed, because it is truth and doctrine that break down the walls of error and make salvation understandable.

Unfortunately, in many places these days the word "truth" has fallen out of fashion. The words that are "in" are toleration and diversity. Tolerance is valued over truth. So what if a person is on the wrong road. Leave him alone. To be tolerant is considered more important than to be truthful. Be "open-minded" is the watchword. You know what they say, "It's right, if it's right for you."

Unfortunately, a person who stands up for the truth these days may be seen as a bigot. The philosophy of this decade has almost become hostile to the very idea of truth. Someone told me they were listening to a talk radio show, and the hostess was upset because the Salvation Army had come out against homosexuality. She was telling the people not to give to the Salvation Army anymore because, in her opinion, they were bigoted.

Unfortunately, the philosophy of "what is right for you is right" has made its way into the church in some places. Some have now decided they want to be so redemptive that they declare a person can do whatever they want, but please don't get mad and stop coming to church.

We may not be aware of what is happening to us. It is almost unbelievable. Have we forgotten that the church was founded on truth? Jesus Himself said that He was the truth. And yet we in this generation are declaring that open-mindedness and toleration are more important than truth. Some even believe that anything and everything is truth. The church was founded on truth, and it can only prosper as it holds up the truth. When truth is diminished or played down, the church will suffer.

In this generation people are being encouraged to have a relationship with God. They are being told that to have a relationship with God is more important than truth or obedience. Some might question, "Well, what is wrong with that?" True, we all necessarily have a relationship with God; and because we are different, we will each have a special relationship with Him. Yet it must never be forgotten that the relationship we have with God must be based on the truth, because He is truth.

A relationship with God that is homemade or our own design is not going to be a relationship with the true God. It needs to be understood that all of the idols and false gods that have ever been worshipped were simply the result of people developing a relationship with God outside the parameters of revealed truth.

A willingness to let each person find God in their own way, as they see it, is going to lead away from the true God into a kind of neo-paganism. Not paganism on some cannibal island, but right here in our own environment, perhaps even in our own church. God is a personal God, but He is no respecter of persons. His will is revealed to everyone through the Holy Spirit from the Scriptures. Yet, I am concerned when I hear people say, "God told me this" or "God told me that," or, "I said this to God, and He said that to me."

Certainly God communicates to each heart through the Holy Spirit, but He does not give each a new revelation or new truth. Rather He helps each to understand truth that is already revealed in His Word. Truth is as eternal as God Himself. Though truth is understood differently at different times, and though a particular truth will have special relevance for a particular time, there is really no such thing as new truth.

Many people are claiming that God is telling them this or that, and they don't need even to read the Bible anymore. After all, if God is talking directly to a person, who needs to get it secondhand, so to speak? Consequently, where we used to go directly to the Bible to find truth, now more and more the question is asked what we think the truth is. This is why it is absolutely dangerous in the 21st century to try to play down truth or doctrine. It is truth and doctrine in the Scriptures that let us know when the Holy Spirit impresses our mind, or when it is the devil trying to lead us astray.

Remember where Jesus said in Mark 7:6-9, "He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."

Can't we see what our Lord was saying here? He is saying that when we declare that doctrine and truth are not important or when we feel that God is speaking to us directly, we begin to devise things, to tailor truth as it were, to make things up as we go along.

These days the text could paraphrase this way, "You are wasting your time saying that you are worshipping me if you are not keeping my commandments. You have laid aside the importance of the truth and are making up the rules as you go along. You are deciding for yourselves what is important and what is not. You are rejecting the truth so that you can follow your own inclinations or go along with the crowd."

Scripture warns that the church will be inundated with doctrines of demons, destructive heresies, myths, falsehoods, perverse teaching, commandments of men, human traditions, empty philosophy, vain deceit, speculations, lying spirits, worldly fables, false knowledge, and worldly wisdom.

  • Colossians 2:8: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
  • 2 Timothy 4:4: "And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."
  • Matthew 15:9: "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
  • Colossians 2:22: "Which all are to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men?"
  • Titus 1:14: "Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth."
  • 1 Corinthians 11:19: "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."
  • Galatians 5:20: "Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,"
  • 2 Peter 2:1: "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction."
  • 1 Timothy 4:1: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;" (Notice the text doesn't say that they stop coming to church, but that they depart from the faith.)

It seems to me that we ought to be concerned with what these texts are saying. Are they talking about something that has happened in the past? Are they talking about something that will happen in the future or are they talking about something that is going on right now? The answer is probably all three of the above. It seems to me, then, that we ought to be asking ourselves how we are going to know that we are not being taken in by all of this. How can we know when someone is giving us counterfeit money unless we know the real thing?

The current attempt in some places is to play down doctrine and truth, and to ask instead what someone's opinion is. This is spiritual suicide. It is not shooting oneself in the foot, as they say, but rather in the head.

Did you know that practically all of the philosophers since the time of Plato assumed the objectivity of truth? That means they believed there is a body of truth and that truth never changes. Philosophy itself was a quest for the highest understanding of truth. This did not mean that everyone agreed what truth was, but virtually all agreed that whatever was true for one was true for all.

Our generation is different. Have you heard the word "existentialism"? Existentialism means that truth is in a person's mind rather than something that exists as a principle. In this modern age, the concept of existentialism has been widely accepted. It is because of this that people say, "It is right if it is right for you." As a result, the Bible has become less and less important. People are more concerned with how they see reality than how the Bible sees it. Public opinion is now being substituted for what used to be a "thus saith the Lord." So everybody and anybody are considered to be an authority in the area of faith and morals.

Have you noticed that in more and more Sabbath School classes there is less teaching of the Word and more time being given for people to express their own ideas as to what is right or wrong? The most prevalent question being asked these days is, "What do you think?" Often, Sabbath School class teachers say they do not see themselves so much as a teacher of the class but as a facilitator. They say they want to encourage people to ask questions, and then when they go home they can think about the answers for themselves. It is amazing that faith and morals should be up to individuals to decide. Of course, it is up to individuals to decide whether or not they will obey, but not to decide what is right and wrong. God decided that long ago--long before we came on the scene.

There is nothing wrong with asking questions as long as they can be answered authoritatively. Do we go to school with answers but not questions? On the contrary, we go to school to learn the answers. A teacher of physics doesn't ask the students to tell what they think the laws of physics are; the teacher tells them what they are. The contribution that the student makes is to apply what they have learned. It is the same way in chemistry class. The class learns chemistry laws; and once having learned, they can then apply the laws of chemistry in experimentation in the lab.

So in the matter of faith and morals, the Bible has the last word. It has the last word in all that has to do with right and wrong. We can't add to what is there, neither can we take away from what has been revealed.

One of the big problems these days is that there are a lot of people who are willing to teach the Bible, but very few who are willing to learn first what it actually says. This is baffling. In every other science we learn the rules or the laws that govern a science. But it seems these days, that in matters having to do with faith and morals, every person is an authority to do as they please. Faith and morals in the 21st century seem to be questions for which there are no wrong answers. Everybody is right.

Have you noticed these days that a person who is concerned with the truth and Biblical doctrine is often accused of being Pharisaical or a legalist? Love for the truth is not the same as legalism. To infer this is to sabotage the very thing the church so desperately needs today. Many are too superficial with Biblical truth. The excuse often given is that we don't want to be legalistic. A person who states the truth in an authoritative or positive way is even thought of as being narrow-minded.

Some are saying that doctrine divides. A person who is concerned about doctrinal matters is seen, by many people, as being un-Christian. People who are concerned with spiritual discernment and with sound doctrine are accused of encouraging a divisive attitude. But this is exactly in reverse. Any kind of true unity must be rooted in truth. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth" (John 17:17, 19).

The unity that Jesus prayed for must be proceeded and, in fact, grow out of sanctification in the truth. An attitude that ignores or glosses over the crucial doctrines of the faith is not Christian unity. It is ungodly compromise.

It should come as no surprise then, as doctrine continues to be more and more de-emphasized, that more and more churches are moving away from the preaching of the Word to other kinds of activities. They are more and more moving into drama, music and entertainment. These things are designed to evoke an emotional response instead of enlightening the mind.

The excuse given for using rock rhythms, drama, and all the rest in some churches these days is that this is necessary because the worship service was dead. I would not disagree that in many places the worship service was dead. But I am convinced that it died when the preaching died. When there was power and conviction in the preaching, the other parts of the program were in the background. It was the sermon that moved us; it was the sermon that changed us!

Holy Scripture has specifically pointed out that preaching is the way the gospel is to be communicated. It is true that music, drama, and all the rest may touch the emotions, but emotions can be touched by any number of devices. The thing that makes all the difference is that the emotions must be grounded on a foundation of knowledge and understanding. Without these a person becomes a victim of their emotions.

For example, the emotions of physical intimacy are basically the same, be a couple married or unmarried. There is even the possibility that intimacy in the case of an unmarried couple may even be at the time more exciting, inasmuch as it is forbidden fruit. But in the eyes of God, it is the commitment and the foundation upon which the emotions rest that either sanctifies the couple or condemns them in their sexual union. Just because a person's emotions are turned on is meaningless unless it is a result of a God-approved experience of the mind. God meant for us to come to Him as a result of the impressions of our hearts and minds. He meant for us to respond to truth, not merely emotions.

Listen to these texts:

  • 1 Corinthians 1:18: "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."
  • 1 Corinthians 1:21: "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."

I can remember as a child going to camp meeting to hear the great preachers. I will never forget their calls for surrender. During the altar calls, I felt an emotion, an emotion that was springing out of a call from the Word of God to repent and give my life to Jesus. I also remember the "Weeks of Prayer" at the academy I attended. On Friday night the speaker would make a special call for surrender. He would call upon all to make wrongs right, to confess to teachers and to our fellow students if we had cheated or done wrong. For some reason, this type of altar call is not made much anymore. In fact, it is becoming rare to hear any calls to repent. It seems the invitation these days is to come to Jesus and be happy.

The emphasis in the church of the 21st century is on love and unity. Now love and unity are what the gospel is all about, but love and unity are to be the product of something, a result of something. There is a false love and even a dangerous unity. Remember, in the sixties the hippies were preaching love, and you know what they meant by that. In the matter of unity, even those in an evil cause can be united. Love and unity must be built on a foundation of non-negotiable truth. When doctrine and truth are relegated to a secondary status, it is not possible to have the love and unity that Jesus prayed we might have. These days it seems that when there is a call for love and unity, the result is to declare war on all standards.

To most people, even to some Christians, almost nothing is black or white. Everything--be it right or wrong, true or false, good or bad--is painted in shades of gray. If a person speaks in terms of good or bad, people are offended or think that person is extreme. There can be no doubt we have arrived at an age of compromise. There are even many people who see the word "compromise" as a positive word. I believe there is a place for compromise in some areas of life. But when it comes to Biblical issues, moral principles, theological truth, and other spiritual absolutes, compromise is never appropriate.

Some people use compromise as a tool for church growth; they use it as a platform for unity and some even see it as a test of spirituality. If a person seems to be taking an uncompromising stance on almost any doctrinal or Biblical issue, a chorus of voices will label them obstinate, unkind, heartless, and even divisive. For many people compromise has become a virtue, while devotion to truth has become offensive. A person who dares to take an unpopular stand for truth in a definitive way or someone who expresses disagreement with someone else's teaching may even be marked as a troublemaker.

We may think that much of life is about gray areas, but the truth is that far more things are black and white issues than most of us realize. Most of the truths of the Bible are explicitly contrasted with opposing ideas.

The Bible calls upon us to discern, to distinguish between right and wrong. In the Garden of Eden there were two trees. Our eternal destiny is a choice between heaven and hell. There are two ways, God's way and all the others. Those who have chosen God's way are spoken of as being saved, the others as lost. We are either the people of God or the people of the world. There was the Mount of Blessing and the Mount of Cursing, the narrow way and the wide way, one leading to life and the other to destruction. There are those who are for us and those who are against us. There is life and death, truth and falsehood, good and bad, light and darkness, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan, love and hate.

Christ is the way, the truth and the life, and no one may come to the Father but by Him. His is the only name under the sky by which one may be saved. In all of these cases, we are not talking about gray areas or compromise.

The Scripture speaks with authority. It demands that we submit to God and resist the devil (James 4:7). It urges us to turn away from evil and do good (1 Peter 3:11). It urges us to discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (l John 4:6). It calls us to reject the broad way that seems right to the human mind (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25). It tells us that our ways are not God's ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). It orders us to protect the truth and reject lies (Romans 1:25). It declares that no lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21). It guarantees that the righteous shall be blessed and the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:1, 6), and it reminds us that friendship with the world is hostility toward God (James 4:4).

The Scriptures call us to be able to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). Malachi 3:18 calls upon us to discern between the righteous and the wicked; between those that serve God and those who don't. Ezekiel 44:23 tells us that we are to teach the people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. The Apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:22) speaks of those who are established in present truth and those who have purified their souls in obeying the truth.

Where the Scriptures speak with a clear voice, we must draw a hard line. Christ is against human philosophy, He is against empty deception, He is against human tradition, and He is against the elementary principles of this world. In matters having to do with faith and morals, there can be no gray areas; there can be no compromise. The concepts of the world cannot be integrated with true Christian belief. They must be repudiated and resisted.

The Word of God demands that we make a definitive choice. It asks, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal, follow him" (l Kings 18:21). In another place it says, "Choose you this day who you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

The fact that many of us have accepted compromise with the world is leading us down a one-way street to what is in the end ruin. Have we forgotten? Scripture and church history plainly reveal the danger of compromise. Yet in many areas we have no longer confronted the world and its values. Instead of overturning worldly wisdom with revealed truth, many today seem to be obsessed with finding areas of agreements. It seems that for many the goal has become integration with the world rather than confrontation with the ways of the world and its false philosophies.

The awful thing is that as we more and more absorb the values of the secular culture, we are losing the ability to differentiate between good and evil. What is going to happen to the church and us if everyone proceeds down the slippery path of public opinion?

We should not be surprised. Sound doctrine divides, it confronts, it separates, it judges, it convicts, it reproves, it rebukes, it exhorts, it refutes error. None of these things is very highly esteemed in the culture in which we live. Yet we must insist! The health of the church depends on our holding firmly to the truth. When the time comes in which we no longer tolerate strong convictions of truth, we will loose the ability to be able to discern between good and evil.

Many in the church today are hung up on image and influence. Many have the misconception that to win the world to Christ they must first win the world's favor. They think that if they can get the worldlings to like them, they will accept the gospel.

Many are trying to make the gospel "user-friendly." This is the philosophy in many churches. They are trying to make the unconverted feel comfortable with the Christian message. They believe they must give the people an incentive to come and hear the gospel, so they must give the unconverted something they are used to; and so they put on a show--they entertain them. They avoid sensitive subjects like sin and judgment. The whole point is to make the church a place where non-Christians can relax and for them to feel good about themselves.

And so to accomplish this, the preaching of doctrines and the truth is being downplayed. But we are left with the question--how to build a generation who knows right from wrong if there is fear that someone in the church that day might not like hearing the unvarnished truth? Since when has it been legitimate for the church to try to woo the world? The Apostle John wrote, "Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). Jesus Himself said, "The world hates me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil" (John 7:7).

No true Christian wants to be a troublemaker. No one who has the mind of Christ enjoys conflict. To a Christian, harmony is preferable to discord. But when truth is at stake, the person who has the mind of Christ will not allow error to go unchallenged. If we are to be truly like Jesus, we must both proclaim the truth and at the same time must condemn error in clear and precise language.

This means that we will need to learn how to discriminate. The word "discriminate" carries a painful connotation, but the word itself is not negative. Discriminate simply means to make clear a distinction. Discrimination signifies a positive ability to draw the line between good and evil, true and false, right and wrong.

Sadly, the idea of discrimination and discernment are out of favor. We are not supposed to draw lines. We are not supposed to discriminate. But how can we be saved if we lose the ability to discern between good and evil, right and wrong? If we fail in this, not only will we be lost, but we will cause others to be lost as well. The Scriptures tell us to examine everything carefully and to hold fast to that which is good and to abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

When they brought the lady to Jesus who had been caught in adultery, let's not forget that not only did He tell her that He didn't condemn her, but He clearly told her to go and sin no more. He was saying that what she had done was wrong and not to do it anymore.

We are not wrong in calling for love, for unity, and for a spirit of forgiveness. But we must understand that this will be impossible unless we can discern between right and wrong. This will be impossible unless we have built on a base of truth. If truth is left out of the call for love and unity, what we have are the examples of Jim Jones and David Koresh. We will have created a monster.

I invite you right now to make a commitment--a commitment to be faithful to the Word of God. After all, the Word is the source of all truth. If we will commit to the truth as it is in Jesus, we will be protected from the evil and unrighteousness that is growing in the world and, sad to say, even in the Christian context.