Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to be prepared when you hear false teaching.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: There’s such a lack of biblical discernment on the part of God’s people today. It makes us susceptible to false teaching. That’s why you need to know God’s Word.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, for Thursday, November 16, 2017.

This week Nancy’s been talking about what your church needs. It’s part of a longer study on the letters to churches we read in Revelation.

Now, we know your church doesn’t necessarily need another Bible study, it needs Jesus. But Revive Our Hearts has a passion to assist the church in knowing Jesus better. So we’re inviting you to put a group together and study Titus 2:1–5 with Nancy. She and six other friends have delivered a series of messages on DVD.

You and your group can get together once a week, watch the teaching together and then use your study guide to discuss that week’s topic. You’ll have a few follow-up questions through the week and some reading in Nancy’s book, Adorned.

We’re calling it the Adorned Small Group Kit, and you can get more detail at ReviveOurHearts.com. Okay, let’s get back to Nancy’s series, “What This Church Needs.”

Nancy: From time to time the senior leadership team of our ministry will get together and do some strategic planning, some evaluating of where we’re at as a ministry. One of the exercises we go through periodically is what they call a SWOT analysis. Are you familiar with that? S-W-O-T.

We get one of those big flip charts up and post papers around the walls. And we look first at:

S—What are the strengths of the ministry?

W—What are the weaknesses of the ministry right now?

O—What are some of the opportunities that we’re facing?

T—What are some of the threats that we’re facing as a ministry?

That helps us evaluate where we are, where we’ve been, where we’re heading and adjustments that we need to make in different areas of the ministry.

In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus does a kind of SWOT analysis (S, W, O, T), an analysis of the churches. He points out their strengths, the things they have going for them. He points out their weaknesses, opportunities that they’re facing that He has placed before them, open doors for witness.

Then He talks about the threats that they’re facing. And the threats that were being faced by these first century churches in Asia Minor fall into two categories. There were threats from the outside. We’ve seen how they were living in the Roman era and there were threats of:

  • persecution
  • the pagan religions
  • the worship of the false gods
  • the pagan temples
  • the idolatry

They lived in a pagan Roman world where there was a lot of opposition externally.

But they also faced internal threats, threats from within:

  • spiritual lethargy
  • loss of spiritual vitality
  • false teaching that crept into the church
  • worldliness
  • accommodation to the world within the chuch

These are threats from within. Jesus talks about these different threats as He says to the churches, “These are the things that you need to be dealing with.”

Now at the end of the each of the seven letters Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” We’ve seen that all these letters were meant for all seven churches and beyond them for all the churches of that era. There were many other churches in Asia Minor and in other parts of the world in that day, and the message of these letters was intended for all the churches of that era.

But not just for the churches in the first century; these messages inspired by the Holy Spirit and left for us in our Bible are intended for us, for Christians and churches of all eras. They are meant for our warning, for our encouragement.

They are meant for our corporate application—“Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”—but they’re also meant to have individual, personal application. “He who has an ear [singular], let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

As we’ve looked at these letters, you may have found yourself at times thinking, “Boy I wish these people in my church would hear this. I wish my pastor would hear this. I wish my pastor’s wife would hear this. I wish my husband would hear this.”

And Jesus He doesn't say, “Let somebody else hear.” He says, “You hear. If you have an ear to hear, you listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” The encouraging thing is that even if your church doesn't hear, you can hear; you can respond to what Jesus says.

One commentary that I read had this line that I thought was so precious. "The tireless Spirit of God still pleads with the individual heart."

He's pleading with your heart. He's pleading with my heart. Even when it seems at times that multitudes en masse are not following the words of Christ, there is still a remnant—a few, those who says, "Yes, we will hear. Yes, we will follow what Jesus says to the churches."

Now, I've said it a number of times throughout this series, but I think it bears repeating. These letters in Revelation 2 and 3 are incredibly relevent to the churches in our day. That has just struck me over and over again as I've worked through these passages.

You may have seen on the Internet an article that came out not long ago and it made its way through the blogosphere. It was called "The Coming Evangelical Collapse." Here's just one, little quote from that article. The writer says, "An anti-Christian chapter in history is about to begin. Evangelicalism doesn't need a bail-out, much of it needs a funeral."

Now, I don't agree with everything in that article. I don't necessarily agree with the total assessment. But I do think the author was right when he says that Evangelicalism is in serious trouble.

This is the message, this message in Revelation 2 and 3, that the Church needs to hear today. It's the message we need to hear. 

These are the things that mattered to Jesus about the 1st century churches in Asia Minor. And they’re the things that matter to Him about our churches today.

As I reflect back over these months of walking through this passage and these letters to the churches, I think you could summarize the concerns that Jesus has for His churches under three different headings. And I want us today and in the next program to just look at those three primary concerns as we review and overview this series.

The three primary concerns have to do with the church’s passion, the church’s purity, and the church’s perseverance—passion, purity and perseverance. Let’s take those one at a time.

First of all passion. Jesus is concerned about the church having left its first love as He says to the church in Ephesus, “I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (2:4).

He says to the church in Sardis, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die” (3:1–2).  He’s saying, “You have a form, but there’s no life. There’s no spirit.” He’s concerned about the appearance of things that is not consistent with the reality, a lack of passion.

He says to the church in Laodicea, “You are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were either cold or hot!” But he says, “You are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold” (3:15–16). Lukewarmness, half-heartedness, lack of passion.

You see, love for Jesus and an authentic relationship with Him is the heartbeat, the life blood, the spring of our faith and our service, our perseverance, and our purity.

If we don’t have an authentic relationship with Christ, if we don’t have passion for Him, then we’re going to grow weary in serving Him. We’re going to give up. We’re not going to persevere. We’re not going to have any reason to be pure in an impure world if we don’t have a passion for Christ. That has to be the source.

Your orthodoxy, your doctrine, your tradition, your history, your spiritual roots—none of that will carry you to the finish line, to the day of Christ if you don’t have a passion for Christ. It’s not enough that we have orthodoxy. That’s vital but it’s not enough.

It’s not enough that we have impressive statistics or that our churches have a glowing reputation. Lifeless, loveless churches are a heartache to Christ. He wants us to be hot-hearted, to be whole-hearted. So He deals with the issue of passion.

Then He deals with the issue of purity. Now that purity breaks down into two areas. First of all, doctrinal purity and then secondly, practical purity—how we think and how we live, our doctrine and our practice. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy—purity of doctrine and practice.

First of all, the issue of doctrinal purity. Jesus wants the churches to hold fast to the truth. Doctrine matters. We are not to be tolerant of deviation on core theological issues within the church.

Now as we’ve seen within the churches in Revelation, there were some popular leaders and teachers who may have been extremely gifted. They had charismatic personalities. They were called the Nicolaitans in one case. Those who followed the teaching of Balaam, the so-called prophetess who’s referred to as Jezebel—these were teachers who were highly influential. And they claimed to be speaking the truth.

Many within the churches, the churches that had once been thoroughly biblical and Christ-centered, many within those churches followed their teaching and were led astray by their teaching.

So in these letters Jesus deals with the practical issues related to that kind of teaching, about attending pagan festivals and participating in various pagan practices, especially in some cases they were expected to do this as part of their job.

These teachers had said, “Look, if it’s not really what you think in your heart, just go ahead and do it.” There were these false teachings. And this teaching gave people license to accommodate to the culture around them.

These teachers were probably considered in their day to be theologically progressive, open-minded. “We need to change with the times. Be reasonable. What matters is what’s in your heart, not your external behavior.”

And these teachers, these leaders, were creating confusion. People were becoming deceived. As a result of the false teaching, they were ending up in sinful practices, in idolatry, and in sexual sin.

Jesus said to these churches that these teachers and their teaching needed to be confronted. It needed to be exposed. He named who they were. "This is what I’m talking about. This is what you’re dealing with. It needs to be dealt with."

The churches were responsible to test the claims of these so-called Christian leaders and to weigh their teaching against the Scripture. How does it measure up to God’s Word? The churches were to be discerning. They were to reject any teaching that was false, that was contrary to the Word of God, and they were to remove those false teachers from the church.

Now, this is a mindset that we have in very few evangelical churches today. As a result many, many of our churches are being subtly infiltrated. Many Christians’ lives are being subtly influenced by teachings that at first sight they don’t appear to be way off. If they did, people would have discarded them. But they just appear to be just a little bit off.

And we say, “Oh well. He just understands that differently.” It’s not an easy thing to deal with, but it’s vital.

I came across an article not too long ago by Peter Jones who is the executive director of truthXchange. He has been a seminary professor. He’s an author. He’s a theologian. He wrote an article about a national pastors' conference. 

The article which was reporting on that conference was called “Evangelicalism Hijacked by Closet Theological Liberals.” Let me just read what this man who is a theology professor, a Christian leader and author and a biblical thinker, what he wrote in reporting on this pastor’s conference. This is an evangelical pastors' conference. He said,

It’s amazing to see how these once faithful publishers of evangelical orthodoxy are now consistently and deliberately launching a massive but subtle attack against the "Fundamentals" for which evangelicalism stood courageously against liberalism in the past.

While I am struck by the sincerity of the brilliant public speakers named below, who still have evangelical piety and passion [he’s not questioning their heart. But he says], their openly-stated theology is turning large swaths of the evangelical church into various new forms of old-fashioned though very cool liberalism.

He’s saying this is having a very pervasive effect in the church. Then he talks, and I’m just picking out some excerpts here, about several trends he saw in this conference.

The first one was the undermining of Scripture.

Then he talks about the absence of Christ. Not only the undermining of Scripture but the absence of Christ. He says, "Christ’s atoning death was passed over in silence." Peter Jones’ comment is, "This is pure liberalism gone wild at an evangelical pastors' conference."

Now, today we have a mindset of "live and let live." This big theological tent that people can come under; it’s willing to embrace anyone who believes anything or nothing. But according to the Word of Christ to these churches, we’re not to embrace anything and everything.

There are cardinal doctrines of our faith that are not open for discussion or negotiation.

Now there are secondary doctrines. There are third level doctrines where the Scripture leaves room for different interpretations. I’m not talking about those.

I’m talking about the doctrines of:

  • The inspiration and the authority of Scripture. It is God-breathed.
  • The Trinity
  • The deity of Christ
  • The vicarious sacrifice of Christ for our sin
  • The fact that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone
  • The fact that there is a literal Heaven, Hell, and coming judgment

These are precious doctrines. If we cease to hold these we cease to be believers in Jesus Christ. This is the truth. These are the things we believe. This is why we have creeds. We say, “I believe this is true.”

But in our day holding to sound doctrine can be seen as divisive or narrow. We will get some mail here at Revive Our Hearts; we’ll get some email from some people who will be upset that I read the article to you that I just read. That’s okay. We like mail at Revive Our Hearts.

Now listen, I’m not trying to upset anybody. But I’m saying as I’ve studied these letters that it’s become so obvious to me that doctrine matters, that Jesus cares, and that we need to care about truth being protected and proclaimed from the Church.

There is such a lack of biblical discernment on the part of God’s people today. It makes us susceptible to false teaching. That’s why you need to know God’s Word. You can’t depend on other people to be educated for you biblically. You need to get into God's Word. You need to know the truth, and you need to learn how to discern truth from error.

Within evangelicalism today there is a not so subtle shift away from the importance of sound doctrine in churches to what one author calls “a generous orthodoxy” where we’re supposed to look for and try to learn from the good in all religious systems.

Jesus does not encourage a generous orthodoxy in these letters. He does not say to the churches that they should try to humbly learn what they can from the Nicolaitans and the woman Jezebel and the other false teachers in the synagogue of Satan.

Instead of a generous orthodoxy we need what A.W. Tozer calls “a gentle dogmatism.” He said,

Moral power has always accompanied definitive beliefs. Great saints have always been dogmatic. We need a return to a gentle dogmatism that smiles while it stands stubborn and firm on the Word of God that lives and abides forever.1

We need to love those who are being deceived, and we need to try to reach them. But we are not to give them a platform to exert their influence or to spread teaching that is contrary to the Scripture. Doctrinal purity—Jesus cares about it, and we have to care about it.

That leads to His concern about practical purity. You can’t separate doctrinal and practical purity from each other. Holy living, right conduct flows out of doctrinal purity. Right doctrine produces right living. And right living is rooted in right doctrine.

As we’ve said, there were popular teachers and leaders in the days in the first century in these churches in Asia Minor who said, “Accommodate to the world. Be flexible. Be progressive. If you need to, go to the pagan feasts.”

What started out as them just putting out their toe in the world ended up with a full swim in the pool of the world in idolatry and sexual immorality.

And Jesus said, “No! Stand against it. You must be holy.”

Practical purity, holiness is crucial to our Christian witness in a dark world. Our world worships Caesar. It worships self. It worships money. It worships sex. And in that world our lives need to say, “We worship Christ alone. We serve Him. We have no God besides Him. By God’s grace we will be pure in this impure world.”

In the book of Revelation you see the contrast of two cities. There is the city of Babylon that is called the great city of Babylon. It reminds me of Vanity Fair in Pilgrim’s Progress.

It’s progressive. It’s wealthy. It’s alluring. It’s a big city. It’s a great city. It’s a city of great commercial enterprise, and it’s the city of man. It’s Babel. It’s man discarding any thought of God. “We will be our own god.”

And so it’s free; it’s promiscuous; it’s popular; it’s the popular way; it’s the broad road. It’s the city of Babylon.

And then we have contrasted the Holy City, the new Jerusalem where no unrighteousness dwells.

The question for us is:

  • Which city are we going to pay allegiance to?
  • What city are we going to live for?
  • What city are we going to orient our lives around?
  • What city are we going to pattern our lives after?

God’s people, Christians, true believers in Jesus Christ—we’re members of that Holy City. We’re looking for a city whose maker and builder is God. And that means though we live in this world, we are not of this world. We are to be pure through and through, not just external behavior, but hearts that have been purified by the blood of Jesus Christ.

We are to stand out. We are to be different. We are to be pure in an impure world because we are not citizens of Babylon. We are not citizens of this present age. We are citizens of the new Jerusalem, the Holy City that endures forever.

And by God’s grace our lives, our churches, should be a shining light set on a hill for all the world to see, to see the righteousness of Christ and by God’s grace some of them to be drawn out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light so they too can become citizens of that Holy City.

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back to pray. That message is part of a series called, "What This Church Needs." It’s one of several series this year covering the first three chapters of Revelation and the words Jesus spoke to a group of churches.

Today’s teaching has helped sharpen my thinking. It prepares me for any false doctrine that I may encounter. Do you feel the same way? If Nancy’s teaching is valuable to you, would you help us continue providing it each weekday? The program wouldn’t be able to come your way without the financial support of listeners.

When you give a gift of any size, we’d like to send you the 2018 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar. The calendar’s theme is “The Truth That Sets Us Free.” Each month’s page supports this theme with quotes and artwork. We want it to be hanging in your home. Just donate any amount by calling 1–800–569–5959 and ask for the calendar, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Tomorrow we’ll hear the final teaching in our half-year-long study of Revelation 1–3. Please be back with us then. Now, Nancy’s back to pray.

Nancy: Oh Lord, I pray that You would give us a heart of purity, doctrinal purity, personal, practical purity. May we love holiness. May we love truth. And where it’s gone missing, where we’ve abandoned our first love, would You give to us a new, fresh passion for Jesus, a love for Him? May those things that You addressed to the churches there in the first century, may we hear You addressing them to us today. May we have ears to hear what You say to the churches. I pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth cares about the future of the Church. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

1 A.W. Tozer. Man--the Dwelling Place of God. "The Importance of Doctrine.

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