This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
We’re going to make a proclamation which I believe is appropriate for this particular theme, taken from Titus 2:11–14.
“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age; looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed, and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”
I have been allotted a text, which was a challenge to me, but I accepted the challenge. It’s in Malachi 3, the first part of verse 2.
“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears?”
Those are two questions and I believe they’re not rhetorical questions, they’re not just simply presented to make an impact, but they’re questions to which we should give an answer. I’m going to do my best to give you an answer out of the scripture to that question, “Who may stand in the day of His coming? Who may endure when He appears?”
I want to focus particularly on the phrase “the day of His coming”. I believe there are two mountain peaks in Christian truth which soar above all others. The first is the cross, the second is the coming of the Lord Jesus. I have the impression that far too little is said about either of these in most contemporary churches today. Paul, when he went to the Corinthians, had been to Athens before and he preached a very intellectual sermon. Having my background in the classics, Greek and Greek philosophy, I think I can appreciate his sermon. He even quoted a Greek poet. And, the results were rather disappointing, a few people believed.
Then he said in his letter to the Corinthians:
“I determined that I would not know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
I think he had learned a lesson, not to use worldly wisdom or literary themes but to focus on the one thing that everybody needs to know about, not merely Jesus Christ but Jesus Christ crucified.
Then he said:
“I was with you in weakness and in fear, and in much trembling, my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] and of power.”
I personally believe if we want the demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, it will come when we focus on Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I have been in plenty of meetings—and some of them I’ve been responsible for—where we have tried to work the Spirit up. I think it’s a prevalent disease among God’s people at this time and it can’t be done. You cannot work the Spirit up, He comes down. He comes down when He’s pleased with what we’re doing and saying. Nothing pleases Him more than us to proclaim Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
But the text before me goes on to the second of these great mountain peaks, the coming of the Lord Jesus in power and in glory to establish His kingdom on earth. And again, I think there is far too little said in most congregations about the coming of the Lord Jesus.
Some little while ago, if you could believe that God deals with preachers, God was dealing with me privately about things in my life that He did not approve of, and sins which had not been dealt with. I understood that He was expecting me to confess certain sins. Some of them had been committed probably thirty years ago but one thing is clear in the New Testament, the only sins which God forgives are those which we confess. If we do not confess, we are not forgiven. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins when we confess them. I was struggling with something not so much that it was so terrible but that it was so stupid. I was kind of hesitant to actually say the words and I got this impression, the Lord said to me, “You’ve got two choices. If you accept my grace you can confess it to me now privately and no one else need ever know. But, if it goes unconfessed there will be a day when it will be revealed before the whole universe, and every eye will see and every ear will hear what you were ashamed to confess.”
There’s a few scriptures about the coming of the Lord that have impressed me. In 1Corinthians 3:13, I think Paul is speaking about this day, it says:
“Each one’s work will become manifest [or revealed], for the Daywill declare it [or reveal it] because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test each one’s work of what sort it is.”
So in the day of the coming of the Lord, everybody’s work and the way that each of us has lived will be revealed to the whole universe.
And then he says in 1Corinthians 4:5:
“Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart, and then each one’s praise will come from God.”
So, in that day God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will reveal the motives of every heart.
If we have anything that we would be ashamed of and we wouldn’t want the angels and all humanity to know about, we need to deal with it now because it will be too late then. Every single secret thing and every concealed motive will be brought out in the full light of the glorious presence of Jesus Christ. That to me is a very solemn thought.
Jesus also said in Matthew 10:29:
“Every secret thing will be revealed, and everything that is covered will be opened up.”
All of those scriptures I believe refer to this day of His coming. No wonder Malachi says, “Who will be able to endure the day of His coming?”
I believe myself, on the basis of many years of reading the New Testament, the one key truth which needs to be emphasized above all others to produce holiness in God’s people is the truth of the coming of the Lord. I think if you were to examine the scriptures you would find, as I have found, the great majority of appeals for holiness in God’s people are based on the reality that Jesus is coming. My conclusion is that if we do not frequently declare, proclaim and teach the coming of the Lord, the standards of holiness in the church will inevitably be far below what they should be according to the New Testament. I believe it’s an indispensable condition for holiness that we proclaim boldly and continually these two great truths: the cross and the coming of the Lord.
I’d like to give a quick run through of a number of scriptures about holiness, all of which are directly connected with the fact that the Lord is coming. In 1Corinthians 1:7–8 Paul says:
“So that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ...”
Notice that phrase, eagerly waiting. Let me ask you frankly, are you eagerly waiting for the coming of the Lord? The majority of Christians I know are not as far as I can see. I believe the New Testament requires that this be our attitude, eagerly awaiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ:
“...who will conform you to the end that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
One of the words that’s continually used in connection with the coming of the Lord is the word blameless. One of the conditions that we have to achieve to be ready for that day is to be blameless. Paul really appeals for righteousness and holiness on the basis of the fact that the Lord is coming.
Then in 1Thessalonians 3:12–13 Paul says:
“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”
Notice again the appeal for holiness is directly connected with the fact that Jesus is coming.
And then in 1Thessalonians 5:23, one of our favorite proclamations:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify us completely and may our whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Then in Titus 2, which we just proclaimed but it will be good to say it again, at least the essential part of it, Titus 2, I’ll say the whole passage:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us...”
Notice that grace teaches. Some people have the attitude that grace means “I don’t have to do anything”, that it places no responsibility on me. That is a complete misrepresentation. Grace teaches us that:
“...denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age...”
“...looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ...”
And notice Paul calls Jesus God.
“...who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed, and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”
To me that’s a beautiful phrase “His own special people, zealous for good works”. I’ve often asked myself over the years, “What is God hoping to get, or planning to get, out of history? Why has God endured the wickedness, the rebelliousness, the crime, the agony and the suffering that has gone on for thousands of years? Why doesn’t God intervene? What is He waiting to get?” My answer is His own special people. That’s what God intends to get out of history and He will do everything that is needed. He will tolerate all sorts of injustice and wickedness in order that every one of those whom He has chosen for Himself will be ready at His coming. He has a special people that He is purifying for Himself. And notice the emphasis on purity.
Then in 1John 3:1-3, again, another of our proclamations.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God, and we are. Therefore, the world does not know us because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Notice the connection with holiness and seeing Him as He is.
And then the concluding verse in this passage:
“Every one who has this hope in Him [in Jesus] purifies himself, just as He [Jesus] is pure.”
There’s an interesting contrast, Titus says Jesus purifies His own special people. John says every one who has this hope in him purifies himself. It’s a two way process. Jesus will do it if we’ll cooperate but He will not do it apart from our cooperation.
One of the things I want to emphasize this evening is the need to preach consistently, continually, emphatically the truth of the fact the Lord is coming. A lot of Christians are almost embarrassed because there’s been a certain amount of ridicule about this truth. Satan always ridicules anything that he’s afraid of. He is terribly afraid of the impact of this truth if it is once released to the people of God.
Some people say it’s a difficult subject, and there’s all sorts of different theories about the coming of the Lord. Is it pre, is it mid or is post? I’ll tell you something, I don’t know. I’m absolutely not ashamed to say I don’t know. I know He’s coming, I know we need to be ready. I don’t believe myself that the Lord has given away all the details, some things are secret. Moses said in Deuteronomy 29:29:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children, that we may do them.”
I believe most problems connected with the truth of the Lord’s coming stem from the fact that people are trying to discover the secret things and in so doing they often ignore and fail to obey the revealed things. Let’s leave the secret things with God. It is actually presumptuous and irreverent to try to pry God’s secrets out of Him. But the things that are revealed, those are our responsibility.
Let me read you the words of Jesus in Mark 13, the last two verses of that chapter. These are so clear and so emphatic. Beginning at verse 32:
“But of that day [and this is the day of His coming] and hour, no one knows; neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.”
If Jesus doesn’t know, I’m content not to know as well. You see? I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything.
“Take heed, watch and pray, for you do not know when the time is.”
Jesus said emphatically no one knows the day or the time. Anybody who declares, as somebody has done recently in the United States, that he knows the exact date of the Lord’s return is a false prophet. And what amazes me is the number of people that believed him. Charismatic people, Spirit, quote, filled people, even members of my own family. I was astonished to discover that one of my own daughters who has known the Lord since she was three or four years old was actually taken in. It frightened me to think how easily people can be deceived. Thank God she’s out of it now. Well, everybody had to be out of it.
You know the man that taught this, he gave one date and it didn’t come true. He said he got the year wrong. You know that that man all that time was using the money he was getting to build a very large headquarters. What would the use of that be if the Lord was coming?
But you see, I have to say this, God’s people are easily fooled. It’s tragic. I sometimes almost weep when I think how easy it is to fool the people of God. I’m not excluding myself.
Going on with this:
“It is like a man going to a far country who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming: in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he finds you sleeping. And what I say to you I say to all, watch.”
I do not know how anything could be more emphatic than that. It is a message for everybody. Watch, stay awake, be expectant, be prepared. And if your theology doesn’t make room for that then you have to change your theology because what Jesus said stands, and it applies to everybody here tonight, including myself.
I am particularly—I need to say this carefully, I know my present pastor is here so he’ll forgive me, I’m sure. I was brought up in the Anglican church in Britain. I went through all the things that were expected of an Anglican that I knew—probably some of them I didn’t know. I was christened, I was confirmed by no less a person than the Bishop of Oxford. I went through the whole thing and I never met God. I often said I’m sure God was in the Anglican church but He and I never met. When I by accident came in touch with Pentecostals—and I didn’t know such people existed—I got involved with them by accident. And before I knew better I got saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know such things were possible. I have to confess, and I say it tonight, I became rather negative and critical about the Anglican church. I’m rather glad that they didn’t have tape recorders in those early days of my experience because a lot of unkind things I said never got recorded. But I want to say tonight I repent of that. I realize looking back I had one inestimable treasure in the Anglican church which was they read the Bible in every service. What a blessing! How many churches do that? And second, I now attend Christ Church here in Jerusalem. I think the Lord has a sense of humor. I don’t think He would let me get out of time and into eternity until I put my relationship right with the Anglicans—which I’m very, very happy to do and I’m very happy in Christ Church. I’m not inviting anybody else to come but Ruth and I enjoy ourselves there. I didn’t know as an Anglican you could enjoy church but I discovered that later.
Anyhow, what I want to say is one of the strengths of so-called liturgical churches is they regularly celebrate the Lord’s Supper. I think there’s a great weakness in some of the other churches that only do is occasionally as a kind of afterthought. I’m glad to hear that you’ll be doing it here tomorrow night.
Let me give you just one scripture which to me is so powerful. It’s in 1Corinthians 11:26:
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
What a privilege to be able to proclaim the Lord’s death. To me it’s a particular privilege to be able to do it in Christ’s Church because it was so close to the place where it actually happened. Furthermore, it’s in the midst of a culture and a religion that totally rejects that truth. I rejoice every time that we praise God in that place and lift up the name of Jesus.
Let me come back to the Lord’s Supper. Paul says every time you take the Lord’s Supper you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. You notice the two peaks? The cross and the coming. Somebody commented on this, when we take the Lord’s Supper we have no past but the cross and no future but the coming. Everything else that’s irrelevant and temporary is submerged between those two ultimate realities, the reality of the cross and the reality of the coming. I personally believe it’s important that we remind ourselves continually of the cross and the coming.
As I’ve said before but will say again, I don’t believe the church can achieve the kind of holiness the New Testament teaches unless these two truths are continually emphasized.
Now I want to speak about preparation for the Lord’s coming because this was the question, “Who may stand in the day of His coming?” I want to turn to 2Peter 3, which has a great deal to say on this. In fact, the real theme of this whole chapter is the coming of the Lord. In 2Peter 3:11 Peter asks another questions. The Bible is full of questions, very penetrating questions. He says:
“Therefore, since all these things [every created thing] will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be, in holy conduct and godliness?”
What manner of persons or what sort of people ought you to be. I want to point out that the first emphasis is not on what we do, it’s on what we are. And again, I associate almost continually with Charismatics, I love them, but they’re so preoccupied with what they do they hardly have time to think about what they are. What sort of persons ought we to be?
In 1942, if you can believe that people were alive then, I came to the city of Jerusalem for the first time and encountered an Assembly of God pastor who was an Assyrian by birth. He coaxed me down to the River Jordan and I was baptized there. He had a little motto on his stationery which was “First be, then do.” I think he had something, I think it’s futile to talk about what we do if we neglect what we are. I’ve said many times, and I’ve heard many other preachers say it, God is much more interested in what we are than in what we do for Him.” And when we focus only on what we do we really cannot have a right relationship with God.
So Peter asked this question, a very searching question, what sort of person ought we to be? He answers immediately, in all holy conduct and godliness. But again, I want to say that I found relatively little emphasis on Christian character in the contemporary church. I may be biased, I may be myopic, maybe I’m wrong. But, I move a lot and I’m continually associating with Christians from many different national and denominational backgrounds. On the whole I find very little is taught or expected about Christian character.
I don’t ever watch television so I’m spared some things but there are well known public Christian figures in the United States who have personally made statements about themselves—I’m not quoting anybody else but themselves—that indicate they haven’t any concept of what’s expected in Christian character. It’s like it’s a forgotten issue.
So, I want to have a little to say about it. Sometime back, just about the same time the Lord was dealing with me about confessing my sins—which I’m happy I did, I feel so much better now. This is again almost a lost truth where I travel, that you have to confess your sins. I was preaching in what I consider to be one of the best Charismatic churches in the United States, a church with a membership of 13,000. I was preaching and there were about 3,000 people present. I got off my theme and I got by accident into the question of the need to confess our sins. I said if we don’t confess our sins we’re not forgiven. So, without any dramatic oratory I said, “If there are people here tonight, you really feel you have something to confess, just take this opportunity, come forward and confess whatever you have to confess.” At first a few people came and then they began to stream forward. After a little while I thought we need to sing something worshipful that was appropriate, and I can’t lead worship, so I looked around for the worship leader but he was down on the floor confessing his sins. Then I looked for the pastor, he was in the same position. Now, these were not cheap second class Christians, they were people that I’ve known, some of them, for twenty years. And yet when the Holy Spirit spoke they suddenly realized that there was something between them and God.
One of the interesting thing that happened that night was a young woman of about seventeen came forward, knelt at the front, I had no idea what she was talking to God about. Her mother who was there after awhile came forward to find out what was on her daughter’s heart. I could see from the whole demeanor they were familiar with church and they were what you would call respectable people. I heard later the conversation that passed between them. The mother said to the daughter, “What is it, honey, that you want to confess?” And she said, “Mother, I’m pregnant.” It was the first time she had told her mother. Later that same young woman said, “After it was all over, everything is right between God and me and everything is right between my mother and me.” But think that there was a churchgoing young lady who was pregnant out of marriage and was just going on going to church. How many people are like that? Far more than most of us are willing to acknowledge. It maybe that before this meeting closes this evening God will be speaking to some of you about things that you need to confess. I’m not going to pressure you but I’m going to say somehow or other God will make an opportunity.
David said at one time, “My sins have gone over my head like a heavy burden, too heavy for me to carry.” That was David, a man after God’s own heart. And yet he was walking around oppressed by a burden of unconfessed sins. Then he said, “O the blessedness of the man whose sins are forgiven, to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.”
Have you ever noticed, perhaps you have, in healing meetings the sinner or totally new convert comes forward and gets instantly healed, and the long-time Christian comes forward and gets nothing? I’m sure there are many different reasons but I tell you one reason, the person who’s just got saved has got clear of all his sins, whereas the long-term Christian may be carrying a burden of sins that have been unconfessed for years. That is a barrier that keeps away healing. Now, that’s not the only barrier to healing, let me be hasty to say that.
We hear a lot today about church growth. I’m not personally involved in anything specifically related to that but I was asking myself the other day, what is the growth in? Is it in numbers or in holiness? Because mere growth in numbers can be more of a curse than a blessing. Jesus said go and make disciples. He never said go and make church members. And my observation is that church members who are not disciples are more counterproductive than productive. In the long run, they will give the world a very incorrect impression of what Christianity really is.
This is one of my concerns, I think I’ll return to it a little later. What kind of impression are we giving to the world? Maybe I’ll say this right now. In 1985 our office staff in Fort Lauderdale, Florida arranged for Ruth and me to appear on the PTL program. I think everybody knows what PTL is, most people have heard about it anyhow. I can talk about it now because everything is out in the open, as far as I know, there’s no secrets I’m giving away. Well, because we never watch television we had really very little idea what we were getting into. We were there for two one hour programs and I was, quote, the invited speaker. In the first one hour I had exactly ten minutes to speak but twenty minutes was given to selling Tammy dolls for Christmas. I think I was the only person that mentioned Jesus Christ in the whole program.
The second program, Ruth and I were given twenty minutes and Ruth happened to say that God had spoken to her. The performing singer, whose name I will not divulge, said, “God spoke to you?” He said, “I wish He would speak to me.” He said, “I wish one Monday morning I’d find a note slipped under my door from God.” He absolutely could not assimilate the idea that God could actually speak to people.
Well, in the light of all that, the results that subsequently followed which became known world-wide are probably not surprising. But you know what concerned me far more than an incident of immorality or even the misappropriation of funds, what really profoundly affected me as I thought it over was all that is giving to millions of Americans a totally false impression of what Christianity is. It has nothing to do with the Christianity of the gospel. And that to me is terrible, that’s fearful. I have come to the place where I will not willingly be associated with any kind of meeting or activity or program that presents a totally false picture of what the gospel is. The gospel contains a cross. Anything that leaves out the message of the cross is a falsification of the gospel. That you can be happy and prosperous, enjoy life and have good health is sometimes true, comparatively rarely. Is that right? You know, Ruth and I in the past have ministered to the sick for as long as seven hours at one time. Most of them were Charismatics but they were sick and they were not particularly wicked people. The theory that Christianity is an easy comfortable way through life is a heresy. It is totally untrue.
I read a book, incidentally, about television evangelists and it only quoted their own words, it said nothing else, but one of the authors said, “Heresy is a worse sin than pornography.” I thought that’s true. It is much worse than pornography.
So, let’s come back to the question briefly. What sort of persons ought we to be? I want to cover briefly four areas of character dealt with very openly in the New Testament. The first one is love. I want to turn, first of all, to Romans 8.
“By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh on account of sin, He condemned sin in the flesh that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”
As I understand it, Paul is teaching that as believers in Jesus we are not required to observe the Law of Moses. I don’t know anybody who does observe the Law of Moses in all its entirety, I’ve never met anybody. But he says what we are required to do is fulfill the righteous requirement of the law. And reading that passage some years ago stimulated this question to me, what is the righteous requirement of the law? What is it that we are required to observe? I came up with a very simple answer. In fact, it can be answered in one word. Love. Love is the righteous requirement of the law.
I’ll give you just a few out of many scriptures. Romans 13:8–10:
“Owe no one anything except to love one another; for he who loves one another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments: you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does not harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
That’s very clear. And then again in Galatians 5:14. Paul says:
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word...”
What’s the word?
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
All the law is fulfilled.
And a little back in my Bible on the opposite page in Galatians 5:6 it says:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything but faith working through love.”
The only thing that really matters in the Christian life is faith working through love.
In James 2:26, you don’t need to turn there, a famous passage, it says:
“Faith without works is dead.”
And in Galatians 5:6 it says:
“Faith works through love.”
So you can make a little mathematical equation and say this: Faith without love is dead. Are you prepared to say that? Faith without love is dead. Say it again. Faith without love is dead.
There is a great deal of dead faith in the church, a great deal. You can have theology, you can have correct doctrine but if it’s without love it’s dead. And dead faith will never produce living Christians.
Another scripture in this context which impressed me tremendously was in 1Timothy 1:5.
“Now, the purpose of the commandment is love, from a pure heart, from a good conscience and sincere faith, from which some having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk...”
And two other versions say “fruitless discussion.” The New American Standard Bible says:
“The goal of our instruction is love...”
And when I read that I said to myself let me examine myself. What am I aiming to produce in the people to whom I preach? Because if I’m not producing love, it’s fruitless talk, it’s idle discussion, it’s wasted time. I’m wasting my time and I’m wasting their time.
And let’s ask ourselves, all of us, especially those of us who are in ministry, are we really producing loving people? If not, we’d better not be doing anything.
See, the basic facts of the New Testament are so simple and so radical.
I had to examine my own ministry. It came about in a rather unfortunate way and I don’t want to go into details, but one man who was close to me and who probably heard more of my teaching in the last few years than anybody else, for reasons which we won’t go into, turned against me very viciously and did everything he could to ruin my ministry. I could have got angry with him and attacked him but it didn’t work that way. I thought to myself, what has my preaching been doing in that man if that’s how he behaves? I didn’t get angry with him, I really searched myself. What is my preaching producing in people? Because if it’s not producing love I’m wasting my time. Is that right? Have I convinced you? I don’t know, I can’t tell. Thank you.
I’m not concerned with audience response but in a way I like to know are you with me? Have you heard what I’m saying?
Now let’s move on to another area of character, one which comparatively little is said in many contemporary churches, purity and chastity. In fact, the word chastity has really dropped out of our vocabulary but it’s a very beautiful word and it describes something very beautiful which should be found amongst us. I want to read two passages, very plain spoken. One thing I like about the Bible is it’s a very plain spoken book. 1Thessalonians 4, beginning at verse 3 through verse 8.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification [or your being made holy], that you should abstain from sexual immorality. That each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. That no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this manner, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness but in holiness. Therefore, he who rejects this does not reject man but God, who has also give us His Holy Spirit.”
That is a very serious charge. The people who do not cultivate sexual purity are not rejecting man, they’re rejecting God who’s given us His Holy Spirit. It’s a frightening thought.
Nowadays if you change terminology, people try to change values. For instance, they don’t talk about an infant in the womb, they talk about a fetus. That sounds all right. Terminating a pregnancy is not the same thing as killing a child. But it is. And other people talk about premarital sex but the Bible calls it fornication. God hasn’t changed His terminology.
Paul in 1Corinthians 6, beginning at verse 9 deals also with this issue and he says some very plain things.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor Sodomities, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
There’s a list of people who are excluded from the kingdom of God. Fornicators, those who practice sexual immorality, are excluded. So are all those who practice any form of homosexuality, and that includes both the active and the passive, the Cademite and the Sodomite. They are excluded from the kingdom of God, they have no place in heaven.
But I noticed something that Paul says to the people he’s writing to.
“You were some of those people, but you’ve been washed, you’ve been sanctified, you’ve been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
That tells me that in the early church homosexuals could be changed. Is that logical? Why is it that people teach today they can’t be changed? It’s not because the nature of homosexuality has changed, it’s the message we preach has changed. God hasn’t changed His message. And thank God I know and many of you know homosexuals who have been gloriously changed and transformed and have a place in the kingdom of God. Let me say to any of you who may have been involved in any way in homosexuality—and in an audience of this size there must be a good many—unless you have repented and been cleansed you have no place whatever in the kingdom of God, you are lost. You’re under the condemnation of God. Now, I don’t say that to bring you under condemnation, I say that to bring you to repentance.
Let’s go on to the third aspect of character which is honesty, truthfulness. Finney once asked a question which I don’t offer an answer to. He said is it possible to be a politician and be completely honest? If not, what are Christians doing in politics? I mean, if not, you understand I’m not prejudging the question, but one thing is obvious, Christians are required to be completely honest.
So, Paul says in Ephesians 4:15:
“Speaking the truth in love, grow up in all things unto Him who is the head.”
One condition of growing up in Christ is speaking the truth. You can’t be dishonest and grow up in Christ.
And then in 2Thessalonians 2:9–12 Paul says:
“The coming of the lawless one [the antichrist] is according to the working of Satan with all power, signs and lying wonders.”
Let me point out to all of you that the fact that miracles are performed does not necessarily attest that the message is from God. There again, Charismatics are so gullible. Satan can perform miracles. He can even bring fire down from heaven. He did it in the case of Job. But, he wasn’t a good person, he was the devil. So you need more than miracles to know that something is from God.
“...with all power, signs and lying wonders. And with all unrighteous deception among those who perish because they did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie that they all may be condemned who do not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
One of my prayers, Ruth and my prayers, is that God will really seal in us the love of the truth, because that is the only guarantee against being deceived. I’ve talked to Christians, and some of them are friends of mine, ministers. I’ve spoken about deception and some of them have reacted in a way that seems to suggest, “Don’t talk to me about deception, that could never happen to me.” I want to say if you think it could never happen to you it probably will happen to you. The one warning that Jesus gave above all others concerning this last time is the warning against deception. He emphasizes it again and again. And the only protection is the love of the truth. People who do not receive the love of the truth when God offers it to them, God Himself will send them strong delusion. That’s frightening. Let’s cultivate the love of the truth.
The word for love there is the word you all know, agape. It’s the strongest word for love. It doesn’t mean you read your Bible every day. That’s good but that doesn’t mean you love the truth. Love goes much deeper than that, it’s a passionate commitment to truth that will not tolerate error or lies or deception. That’s part of Christian character.
I don’t know whether I dare say this but I’ll say it. A good many years ago, things have changed, obviously, my son-in-law who is the director of our ministry in Florida was looking for a firm that would supply packing material because of the material we have to ship. He came to me and said, “I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I found a man that I think will do the job but,” he said rather apologetically, “he’s not a Christian.” I said, “Thank God!” Have you ever dealt with the Jesus bookstore that never pays its bills? I’m not theorizing, I’m talking about actual facts. Some professing Christians are about as unreliable as you could wish to find anywhere. That’s honesty.
Let me give you one other scripture, a frightening scripture. I mean, it frightens me. If it doesn’t frighten you, well, that’s your responsibility. I want to say I’m not speaking as though this doesn’t concern me. It does. It’s Revelation 21:8:
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
There are no liars that will get into heaven. All liars are headed for the lake of fire. This is very simple. There’s nothing we can do to change that. All we can do it change ourselves or let God change us. It doesn’t say there’s an exception for evangelists who are liars, or pastors who are liars, or missionaries who are liars. It says all liars will end in the lake that burns with fire. Unless we repent. Let me emphasize that. This is not a message of condemnation, it’s a message of warning.
And then what to me is the greatest and most important issue of character, and this is the last theme I’m going to deal with in this list of character, is humility. I would have to say, and I think Ruth would agree with me, we took a sabbatical about two years ago, we went to Hawaii. We thought what a wonderful place for a sabbatical. We will enjoy the beautiful sun and sea, fellowship and relax and read our Bibles. It didn’t work out that way at all. It was one of the hardest periods of my life. I got extremely sick and if it hadn’t been for antibiotics and the Lord I would have died. I’m careful to say antibiotics because God showed me you’re too proud to admit that you need the help of doctors. So now I’m very careful to say thank God for doctors. How many Charismatics almost feel embarrassed if they say they had to go to the doctor? In fact, they don’t dare to tell anybody, they sneak off quietly and then don’t tell people where they’ve been. I say thank God for doctors, thank God for antibiotics. Because without antibiotics and the Lord, I would have died. I was on intravenous antibiotics for six weeks. That’s a long time.
So, it wasn’t an easy time. I didn’t intend to say this but I think probably I should. I have a logical mind and I believe in divine healing for more than fifty years. One of the first things that God did for me after I was saved was heal me when doctors couldn’t. I’ve preached healing and Ruth and I have seen many, many people wonderfully healed by God. So, my problem was why am I sick and why am I not being healed? I thought there must be something wrong. I thought why isn’t God fulfilling what I expect Him to do? God has a practice of waking me up about 2:00 a.m. when He wants to say something to me in particular. This particular night it happened that the next day I went into hospital for nineteen days, I didn’t know I was going into hospital. I was turning this thing in my mind and I was saying in effect to God, “God, why aren’t you keeping your commitment? What’s wrong? Here am I, preached it, practiced it, why isn’t it happening?” I wasn’t afraid of death but I wanted an answer, I wanted clarity in my mind.
I won’t go into details but God gave me the scripture, “He that sows to the flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption.” God took me back in a series of scenes extending a number of years and showed me how carnal I had frequently been. Very fleshly. Now let me say it had nothing to do with sexual immorality or drunkenness or misappropriation of funds. But there are other ways that preachers can get into trouble than that. The thing about the Lord was He was so good, He didn’t condemn me, He never was condemnatory. He just went through situation after situation and said, “You remember that, see that and that and that.” And at the end I said, “I understand.” It wouldn’t be a relief to everybody but to me it was a relief because I wasn’t afraid of dying or being sick but I wanted to understand what’s gone wrong. And I discovered it was I who had gone wrong, surprising, not God!
I ended up in hospital and I was treated with great kindness, the doctors did wonderful things for me and here I am alive, flourishing and expecting to live quite a long while. But, I had to learn that God never makes a mistake. How many of you believe that? Some of you really think from time to time God has made a mistake. Is that right? It’s never happened, He doesn’t make mistakes.
But God showed me, showed Ruth and me actually, we had been in various ways proud. For one thing, we had traveled around the world three times preaching and praying for the sick for as much as seven hours at a time. In fact, in one church in Holland we spent eleven hours in the church one day praying for the sick and having wonderful results. But you see, people said, “It’s wonderful at your age, you can go on like that, you have such energy.” I began to think it’s true, really. God has a wonderful way of deflating you, did you know that? He deflated me and He showed me that out of all the things that we can do wrong, the most deadly thing of all is pride.
He showed me there’s a remedy for pride. I make no charge, I pass it on freely, it’s confessing your sin. You try to confess your sins and see how long you can remain proud.
Furthermore, for you married couples, we discovered that one really powerful way to deal with pride is to confess your sins to your spouse. You see, the Bible does say in James “confess your sins one to another that you may be healed.” I don’t believe it’s obligatory to confess to anybody but God unless the person is someone we’ve actually offended. But, it does us a lot of good to confess to one another. And in actual fact, I think really I hit the nail on the head, that’s why we had to get healed. We had to confess our sins. I don’t intend to go into the list but it was remarkable. I mean, God reminded me of things that had happened thirty years earlier that I had not confessed. And He showed me any sin that’s unconfessed is unforgiven. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. But there’s an if at the beginning of that verse.
So, let’s look for a little while at pride and then we’ll move to a close. Luke 14:8–11. I just love the words of Jesus because He’s so down to earth. He was never super-spiritual. He says here:
“When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, `Give place to this man,’ and you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, `Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.”
So Jesus says if you want to avoid being embarrassed, sit in the lowest place. Because when you sit there, there’s only one direction you can go, that is up.
There’s a little verse of John Bunyan’s which I love, it says:
“He that is down need fear no fall,
He that is low, no pride,
He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide.”
And when you’re on the floor you can go no lower, you see. That’s one absolutely safe place. And personally, Ruth and I practice it. Before ministering we usually take time on our faces on the floor just to let God know we are relying on Him and not on ourselves.
Anyhow, this is a simple little story and I saw it so vividly illustrated, I can’t go into it. A lady that we were associated with was so offended because she wasn’t put at the right place at the right table. She’s become our enemy. I mean, it was done in all innocence without any intention of offending her, but she’s offended to this day. What a tragedy! She hasn’t learned the lesson, sit in the lowest place. Then there’s only one way you can go, isn’t there? It’s up.
Then Jesus sums this up:
“For whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
That’s a totally universal law. It’s more universal than the law of gravity. Whoever exalts himself will be abased, whoever humbles himself will be exalted. You have the decision to make as to whether you’ll be abased or exalted. And according to what you do the results will follow.
The great example of this is two supernatural beings, Lucifer and Jesus. Lucifer, scripture says in Ezekiel 28, his heart was lifted up because of his wisdom and his beauty. He reached up for the highest place and what happened? He fell. It works everywhere.
On the other hand, it says of Jesus, and perhaps we should read this in Philippians 2:8–9:
“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross...”
Notice the next word:
“...therefore, God also has highly exalted Him.”
Jesus was not promoted because He was a favorite Son. He was promoted because He met the conditions for promotion. He humbled Himself to the lowest, therefore God exalted Him to the highest.
And that principle works in the life of every one of us, there are no exceptions. It pays to humble yourself.
A little higher up in Philippians 2:3 it says:
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
According to my personal observation, and as I say, I travel around a lot and meet a lot of people in ministry, I think the greatest single problem in the Charismatic movement today is personal ambition. Most ministers have an element of personal ambition in their motivation. Paul says let nothing be done through personal ambition.
What’s the alternative? The alternative is have one desire, to see Jesus glorified, no matter where I end up.
What is the response we are to make? 1Peter 5:5:
“Likewise, you younger people...”
And for me, anybody who’s under sixty is young! But I know that’s not true for everybody.
“...submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”
I don’t know whether you know it, but that word “be clothed with” means put on the apron of humility because in the culture of those days slaves wore white aprons and nobody else wore them. And so, to put on a white apron is to say you’re a slave. Peter says show everybody you’re a slave, put on the apron of slavery and be everybody’s servant. Then he says:
“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time.”
So, if you want to be exalted, there’s just one thing you have to do, humble yourself.
But, if you exalt yourself, if you’re motivated by personal ambition and pride, you will be humbled, you will be abased. There’s nobody in the universe that can break that law.
Let me say one more thing which really lines up with what I was saying about PTL. In Romans 14:22:
“Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”
We need to be very careful we do not condemn ourselves by what we approve or endorse. To the best of my ability, and I’m very fallible, I make mistakes, I will not take a place on a platform which is proclaiming something that is totally unchristian. It may be very Charismatic but I will not be associated with it. I don’t want to give anybody the impression that I think that kind of thing is Christianity.
I was reading a Christian magazine, my eye fell on an advertisement. I didn’t bother to read it but the advertisement said “the best in Christian entertainment.” That started a question in me, I said to myself, Christian entertainment? Is that a legitimate phrase? Is there such a thing as Christian entertainment? There’s certainly a great deal in the Charismatic movement that you could call that but is it a legitimate thing? Is it really Christian?
You see, one thing I know about worship, and I thank God for the worship that was offered here tonight, worship is not entertainment. Worship is the total giving of yourself to God. And when you hear some people say, “I go to such and such a church, the worship is so good.” But, what they’re going to see is a kind of performance. I will not be associated with that, to the best of my understanding and ability. I may make mistakes, I may find myself in situations I shouldn’t be in, but I don’t want to condemn myself by that which I endorse. So, there are some places you won’t see me, and some of them are quite well known places. I think I’ve said enough.
In a few well chosen phrases I’m going to answer the question what sort of person ought we to be? I’m going to go back to 2Peter 3:11 which says what sort of persons ought you to be.
And then Peter gives seven answers and I just want to trace them briefly and close.
The first answer is in the same verse, holy conduct and godliness. We ought to be holy in our conduct and godly.
The second one is in verse 12, looking for the coming of the day of God. All Christians should be eagerly anticipating the return of the Lord Jesus. Unto those who eagerly wait His coming, He will appear for salvation. He will not appear for salvation to those who are indifferent.
I have a friend whose been a friend of mine for at least thirty years who has a rather different background from mine. He says things differently, He’s an American. I mean, there is a difference between the British and the Americans, you know that. I’m both, incidentally, I want you to know. Anyhow, he said when the Lord comes back he’ll expect something more of the church than to say, “Nice to have you back.” That’s about all some Christians would offer Him at the moment.
You know what I believe? I believe God is going to let things happen to a lot of us that will make us desperately anxious to see Him back, because we should be eagerly waiting for His appearing.
And then it says in the same verse hastening the coming of the day of God. We are not passive, we have something to do to hasten the coming of the day of God. What is it? Matthew 24:14:
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.”
When? When the gospel of the kingdom has been proclaimed in all the world to all nations. Whose responsibility is that? Ours, right. All of ours. Not some special group of people, the whole church is responsible in some way or other to be involved in the proclaiming of the gospel of the kingdom to all nations.
Now, I know there are a lot of Jewish people here and you will have to say, “Well, that’s the Gentiles.” Let me tell you, let me remind you, in Romans 11:25–26 Paul says:
“When the full number of the Gentiles has come in, then all Israel will be saved.”
So whenever you are working for the salvation of the Gentiles you are also working for the salvation of the Jewish people, for which I long and pray. But I’m doing all that I know to do to preach this gospel of the kingdom in all the world, because I want the Lord to come back. As I look at the world today and the wickedness, the suffering and agony, I think, “Lord Jesus, come quickly.” But we have to do something to make it happen, we have a responsibility. We have to hasten the coming of the day of the Lord.
That was number three. Number four, these are all found in verse 14:
“Therefore beloved, looking forward to these things [number four] be diligent...”
“...to be found by Him in peace...”
And number seven:
That’s the answer to the question “Who may stand in the day of His coming?” The people who fulfill the conditions. Holy conduct and godliness, looking for, hastening the coming of the day of God, who are diligent, found in peace—no ruptured relationships that could be healed, without spot—no unconfessed sin, and blameless—no duties that we have neglected.
And then Peter ends with a final warning which is what I will end with tonight, the last two verses of 2Peter 3:
“You therefore beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked. But grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
There are only two alternatives, the positive or the negative. We can grow in grace or we can fall for our own steadfastness. But one thing we cannot do is remain static. There is no static condition in the spiritual life. He who is not advancing is sliding back. So I leave that as a challenge for you here tonight. Grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.