LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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ITíS THE MESSAGE

   


ďBehold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,Ē Says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

 

 God always has a message for people that is relevant to the time in which they live. God wants for people to seek Him and to walk with Him at all times, but at different times in history the issues people must work through change. God always sends a messenger with the message for the times. All too often, people miss the message and follow the messenger. No matter how faithful the messenger might be, God does not want for people to follow the messenger, He wants them to follow the message. When people follow the messenger the often miss the message God is trying to get across. In the end, they miss what God has for them and become disillusioned by a man who could not sustain the work of God through his own charisma, special wisdom, or hard work.

Malachi says that Godís messenger is the messenger of the covenant. It is through the message that God works salvation and brings out a righteous life in His people. God never builds up a personal following for a man. God never endorses the personal philosophy of a man or his approach to what he thinks or believes to be the will of God. God never supports a sectarian message or work. God never is in anything that draws people away from His perfect will.

Godís message always has to do with salvation because God is not Godís will that any people perish in eternal death because of sin, but that they might repent and be saved. The history of the Christian church shows that, at different times, God found it necessary to emphasize certain aspects of salvation to keep the church on track. The Early Church preached the message of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate God through Whom salvation from sin was made possible to the exclusion of all other ways. In the Sixteenth Century, God chose Martin Luther to restore the message of justification by faith alone. In the Seventeenth Century, God used James Arminius to restore the message of free will and personal responsibility for sin and the need for personal responsibility in seeking Godís gift of salvation. In the Eighteenth Century, God used John Wesley to restore the message of entire sanctification and holy living. In the Nineteenth Century, God used several men to restore the message of the visible body of Christ as the true and visible church of God . D. S. Warner and his associates, in particular, saw the truth that this church of God is visibly manifested in the reality of the holy lives of Godís people.

It seems that since the late Nineteenth Century there has been no additional message from God, although there are surely people who would disagree with that statement. However, it is not that we need a new message, we need to respond favorably to the message God has already made known to us. Unfortunately, we are left to clear away the debris that people have strewn in the way. Cults, perversions, fanaticism, well intentioned but misguided efforts of sincere people, division, and countless other factors have either obscured our vision of or have distracted us from Godís message. Now is certainly a time in which we need to hear the messenger of the covenant speaking out clearly from the din of all the religious squabble and blather that inundates the Christian world today.

There are many Christians from among differing opinions of faith and practice that have this sense of a needed message. When looking for the message we must not fall into the trap of following the messenger: It is always the message that matters. The messenger God sends may be someone our denominational distinctives, our prejudices, or our deep seated beliefs might say God canít use. The right message will bring us to God; the wrong message will take us somewhere else.

The Twentieth Century saw an unparalleled proliferation of the gospel through missions, printing, radio, television and the Internet. While the means are there, the message has not always been clear. We cannot undo the past. The Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant. Behold, He is coming. He will make His message clear and it will accomplish what God deems important in our time. What is there about salvation, the covenant, that we need made clear?

 

Before we consider what the message is, it will perhaps be a good idea to consider what the message is NOT.

First, the message is not the gospel. I mean this in a very narrow sense because in a very real sense Godís message is always the gospel. The point I want to make is that the gospel message is well known, in fact, so well known that it has been taken for granted. It may be that the gospel has become generic in our time. People do not distinguish the differences from what is preached by one group from what is preached by another group. They see it all as the same and they think that any differences are inconsequential. If we, or any one group, claim that we preach THE gospel, people are totally unmoved and take for granted that our gospel is the same as everyone elseís gospel. Even though people might be ignorant of what the gospel is really all about, if we make the claim to preach the true gospel compared to other gospels that are false or flawed, our claim is totally lost on those people; they canít recognize the difference.

Second, the message is not the message of the true church. There was a time when this was true and many people were drawn out of sectarianism to the teaching and practice of unity among believers. However, in our time any claim to be the one and only true church is meaningless in the face of the moral relativism of American culture. This does not mean there is no truth to the message of the biblical church; it only means that the message does not attract that many people any more. In fact, it may actually drive people away is it is not properly presented. Modern people are jaded or cynical when it comes to church in general and any claim a group makes to being THE TRUE church will more than likely be met with, not skepticism, but disgust. We should not stop teaching the biblical message of the true church; we just have to realize that it is not the main message for today.

Third, the message is not the doctrine. While doctrine is very important in Christianity, the message is not ďthe doctrine.Ē Yes, God wants people to believe certain teachings and to avoid other teachings, but Godís message for our time is not a certain set of doctrines. The common attitude among Christians is that doctrine divides, and therefore it is something to be downplayed or avoided. This is unfortunate because that attitude causes many people to be drawn into beliefs that are contrary to sound doctrine. If we hawk a certain set of doctrines as ďthe message,Ē people will see us as division makers and they will avoid us like the plague. People donít mind if we believe a certain set of doctrines, they just wonít listen if we set our doctrines above everyone elseís.

Finally, as far as this discussion is concerned, the message is not self-realization. The modern American sense of individualism that has come to separate people from each other, even in marriage and in the home, has engendered a nation of people with low self-esteem. The purpose driven church and purpose driven life movement has changed the message of the gospel from God saving people from a life of sin to God encouraging people to be all they can be. The gospel of self-realization is at its best pop-psychology and at its worst Eastern mysticism. Either way, it is bad theology.

 

What then is the message for our time? In my opinion, the message that will reach hearts that are hungering for a real knowledge of God is the message of holiness. The term holiness has become ambiguous in the Christian world today. Many people have no idea what it really means and to others it means something other that what it is. Some people believe in positional holiness rather than practical holiness. Positional holiness says that a person is holy because of his position in Christ as a ďsavedĒ person and that this holiness has no practical expression in a personís behavior; whereas, practical holiness says that Godís holiness is manifested in a ďsavedĒ personís life in his behavior. Some people believe that holiness is the same thing as legalism: A set of rules that people must follow scrupulously. Some people believe that holiness is fanaticism, that holiness is something revealed through strange or excessive religious behavior. Some people believe that holiness is emotionalism that overpowers a personís emotions and causes him to have unusual ecstasies. And others believe that holiness is miracles and mystical encounters with God. In expounding the message of holiness we cannot assume that people will understand what we are talking about. It may be that we will always have to tell them what it is not before we can tell them what it is.

The message of holiness is an integral part of Godís covenant. The messengers of salvation that preach the gospel of salvation from sin are obligated to preach holiness as the natural and logical outcome of salvation. Consider the six following texts that make reference to holiness and decide for yourself if holiness is important or not. If these texts donít require holiness as the outcome of salvation, then what do they mean?

 

Luke 1:67 Ė69, 74Ė75. Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: ďBlessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David . . . To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life

 

Romans 6:22 . But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.

 

2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

 

Ephesians 4:22Ė24. that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,  and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,  and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

 

1 Thessalonians 3:12Ė13. And 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.

 

1 Thessalonians 4:7. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.

 

These passages from the New Testament clearly establish that one of the end results of salvation is holiness. Any gospel that does not produce holiness in the lives of people is not a true presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The message we are to proclaim is the message of holiness. It is not that WE have the message of holiness and others do not, but just the message of holiness itself. We are not to call people to ourselves. If we proclaim holiness correctly, people that are seeking God in deep sincerity with the desire to be all that He wants them to be will come to the message.

If people come to the message, they will know who is standing for that message and are living it out. They will want to fellowship with such people and worship together with them. On the other hand, if such people quit standing for the message of holiness, the people who still see the message of holiness must stay with that message even if it requires that they separate themselves from a fellowship they once enjoyed.

If you stand for the message of holiness, you will always be in the right place. You will be in the center of Godís will for your life.