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“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

My good friend Don forwarded me this article in CNN’s Belief Blog section. Although I’m immediately dubious of almost anything that CNN says about religion they have, on occasion, surprised me. This is not one of those times. This is a perfect example of the so-called “higher criticism” that has infected theological study and, therefore, the church. Read for yourself.

My Take: The 3 biggest biblical misconceptions

One of the finest definitions of this method of biblical interpretation is found in John Rothra’s work, Critique of Higher Criticism. He defines this school of study as “a historical approach to scripture that investigates the “composition, date, and authenticity” of scripture in order to determine its “place in history.”  In other words, higher criticism looks beyond the text and into the historical setting surrounding its construction and development. This endeavor requires the critic to accept a presupposition of doubt, meaning he must acknowledge uncertainty exists regarding the precise origins of the present-day biblical text.”

Alarmingly, higher criticism, despite its unique ability to cloak itself in semantics that cover what disbelief lies underneath, is alive and well in many mainline seminaries and denominations, secular graduate schools of theology, and pulpits. I would be curious about your pastor’s response to, “What do you believe about JEDP or the Q Source?”Although my purpose here is not to deep-dive into the intricate arguments for and against higher criticism – as the amount of literature on this subject is absolutely massive – I would like to state 4 simple but critical issues surrounding this scholarly strategy as we see it in this CNN blog.

First, it is based upon dangerous presuppositions. Although every system of thought has them, higher criticism’s starting point is doubt, presuming that the Bible is inaccurate. And, quite often, they use these “unreliable texts” to prove that Scripture is unreliable. Using doubt as a platform for any faith (See the contradiction?) or study is almost certain to pre-determine that the object of your faith or study is false. The blatantly misguided statement of this article’s author – “First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it” – reflects this logic. This is patently false – there are many erudite biblical scholars who maintain the total veracity of the Scriptures. All men, including scholars, are biased in some way. Christianity and Scripture, however, is self-authenticating when we start with the idea that it is God’s Word and, therefore, reliable.

Second, we see as another subtle and insidious problem – the notion here is that the Bible contains truth but is not THE truth. This can be then said of virtually any book ever written (even some of mine would fit into that broad category). The Bible then is not the Word of God but God does speak His truth through it. But, then, so does the Koran, Shakespeare, Keats, and Hemingway. Scripture, in higher criticism, is nearly relegated to the same standard as all great human writings (to be fair, these scholars would probably claim the Bible does contain more of God’s truth than nearly all other writings).

Third, if my second point is true, then who determines what part of Scripture is true or false, relevant or irrelevant, correct or incorrect, applicable or not? The reader (or scholar). The final authority on what has God has really said or done is not objective but subjective. It is left to the interpreter or theologian to decide. Do we see the danger in this? We, then, become the god of what we believe, because we have made ourselves the final arbiter of what is truth. Not the Bible, but us. At that point what we believe is not Christianity but “Selfianity.” We, and what we decide to be true, have become our god, deciding for ourselves what is worth believing and how we should live. And, if you are like me, I don’t trust myself or my intellect that much.

Last, the basic premise of higher criticism is the rejection of anything supernatural (creation, miracles, physical resurrection, etc,). Those parts of Scripture must be inaccurate as such events aren’t “scientifically verifiable.” This is both false and causes the definition of God (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. etc.) to be invalid. And who would want to worship a God who has been stripped of His powerful attributes? Not me – because, at that point, He is no longer God.

I choose to believe Scripture of be God’s Word without error and the final source of truth and authority. This is a wonderful statement of what I believe and I pray what you believe as well – The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

So I will leave you with a quote from the Apostle Peter. He nails this issue dead on:

“And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 19-21).

*Please note this is not a discussion about those who believe in the plenary inspiration and authority of Scripture having different interpretations of the Bible. Those who trust in the reliability of God’s Word are in consensus that fallen man cannot fully apprehend His truth and will often disagree. These differing opinions, however, are not an argument against the validity of Scripture but, in a real sense, affirms what it says about the transcendence and holiness of God and man’s sinful nature. No, this post is about those who think themselves to be so smart that they have concluded that the Bible, in its original text, is filled with unexplainable errors, myth, and legend and its primary value comes from them discerning what is true and false (i.e. what Jesus actually said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do).

*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.   

I love the mental picture John 2:14-17 paints:  

“In the temple courts,” John writes, “[Jesus] found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

Modern church culture attempts to make Jesus more palatable, politically correct, and culturally popular than the way that Scripture presents Him. Though Jesus was a radical and a revolutionary, we have tried to domesticate Christ—almost as if we are embarrassed by His “zeal.” According to God’s Word, Jesus was such an extremist that He was convicted of treason and crucified by the religious and political leaders of His day. He upset the cultural applecart by contradicting virtually every known tradition and religious standard. Moreover, Jesus’ message irritated almost everyone but true spiritual seekers. His unorthodox band of followers was made up of outcasts, including marginalized women, the disenfranchised, and the poor. He was maligned and impugned for His ministry and was devalued by most respected theologians and rulers. But don’t think of Jesus as a victim; everything He did spoke to His authority as God’s Son. While His ways may have chafed against the culture, they were completely right and good. 

Our Lord was never one to uphold tradition over truth, and He minced no words while exposing the hypocrisy of those religious authority figures. Consider the method that Christ used to teach. His greatest sermon began, “You have heard … but…”, an introduction pointing to radical new teachings that would revolutionize the world (See Matthew 5).  Jesus’ approach led some to verbally align Him with Satan (Matthew 12:24). His teachings and behavior sometimes seemed so outlandish that even His own family questioned His mental stability (Mark 3:21).  

Christ was admired by some but understood by almost no one. Eventually, His life was deemed of less value than a murderous criminal and the sinless Jesus was crucified in a convict’s place. Understand that Scripture gives a drastically different picture of Jesus than is portrayed today. He is often viewed as passive, weak, popular, politically correct and altogether tame. Jesus seems so sweet and loving that people forget His sternness and wrath. We must remember that Jesus is just as much “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) and he is “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). 

Why do so many believers forsake Jesus’ radical and revolutionary image? I think the truth lies in the fact that many want peace, harmony, ease, and comfort more than we desire to make an unpopular stand based upon His Word. Each of us must love Jesus enough—and others enough—to become a cultural extremist for Him. We must strive to be more like Him, the real Him, as we seek call out the spiritual hypocrisy, bad theology, and the man-centeredness that waters down today’s evangelicalism.  

We, “[Christ’s] called, chosen and faithful followers,” are to be radicals and revolutionaries with the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 17:14). We do this so that we can effectively share the gospel with a world in desperate need of a powerful Savior. In First Corinthians 2:13-16 the Apostle Paul said,  

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”  

I pray that we take on the “whole mind of Christ” as we carry the gospel message to the world. In following Him we will cut against the grain of our worldly, hypocritical, and self-indulgent culture. This stance for the Truth will not always be popular or easy, but we can rest in the assurance of victory as we radically imitate Christ’s radical mission: to fearlessly testify to the truth of God and demonstrate His eternal Kingship (John 18:37).

*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.

The most memorable presentation I ever heard took place at a speech competition. The speaker was a tall and sturdily built young man with long, curly red hair and an intense stage presence that captured attention. The man’s content and timing were impeccable; he kept the audience roaring with laughter.  

The giggles, chuckles, and bellowing delight revolved around the speaker’s personal barroom experiences as a drunken reveler. His tales were rich with the humor of falls, curses, faints, cavorting, and his history of making a fool of himself. Each story built on the previous one as the man increased the intensity of the hilarity to a crescendo. The auditorium echoed with riotous laughter as he took a long pause. 

Then … BAM!!! He slammed the podium with his fist and screamed a curse. “What are you laughing at?” he demanded, “I’m an alcoholic!” Immediately the laughter ceased. The room became utterly still; the silence deafened. As the young man returned to his seat without further comment, his point was clear: Why do people laugh at tragedy and shameful topics? Why do we laugh at sin?  

Proverbs 14:9 says, “Fools mock at sin” (NKJV). The bulk of American comedy, in all of its forms, is generally crude, mean, offensive, and sacrilegious. Certainly we question the morals of those who would speak such filth in order to accumulate wealth and popularity, but few of us bother to avoid movies and television shows in which such comedy is embraced. Jesus said: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander’” (Matthew 15:18-19). He also stated: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). I’m deeply distressed that Christ-followers find amusement in things that point to the tragedy of sin—things that only highlight the sad, evil thoughts that hold so many hostage. 

In First Thessalonians 5:22 Paul says to believers, “Avoid every kind of evil.” But often believers become intrigued by the vile and base language and stories shared in modern comedy. In doing so, we become participants in the propagation of trash. I agree with few Christian slogans since I find very little substance in “bumper sticker religion,” but one catch-phrase that holds merit when it comes to whether or not a Christ-follower should find enjoyment in vulgar or sacrilegious comedy is “WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?” We should constantly ask ourselves, Would Jesus listen to and laugh at this if He were watching and listening to modern entertainment? If the answer is “no,” we are wise to find entertainment elsewhere.  

Clearly Christ condemned the evil thoughts and words that contaminate our society and taint His creation. They indicate a deeper spiritual issue: our sinful and wicked hearts. In Matthew 12:34 Christ asked, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” On the surface, it’s easy to see the spiritual depravity of the purveyors of the kind of comedy I’ve mentioned, but to enjoy such filth is also a reflection of our sin-stained hearts. We must hold to Paul’s advice to the church as Ephesus: “There [should] be [no] obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place” (Ephesians 5:4). 

Our innate sinful nature and desire for base things over virtuous ones highlight why we so desperately need a Savior from our sin. When we peel back the layers of our human nature, we expose hearts that are radically different than the ones needed to have fellowship with Holy God. Despite the fact that both our culture and those who live in it have lost their innocence, purity, and naiveté, God still demands these virtues (See Colossians 3:8). God’s Word says, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). In the truest sense we can only find those things in Jesus, and so we must pursue Him.  

The Lord is certainly not against laughter; in fact, He created it.  However, let’s remember that He said, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) and that His ultimate standard is complete righteousness.  Second Corinthians 5:21 tells us that only in Christ will we find what we don’t have and yet what a holy God demands. That’s why pursuing Him and His way is no laughing matter.

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-nine – Jesus: The Messenger and the Message

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29).

Both the message and the messenger of the Sermon on the Mount prove unique, distinctive, and powerful. The Lord’s discourse is unlike anything ever heard; it completely contrasts ancient teachings and threatened the theological powerbrokers of the time. Not before Christ’s earthly ministry or after it has the world witnessed teaching of such authority, received instruction to prompt such radical change, or found education that so thoroughly challenges and inspires.

Jesus holds the position of the ultimate communicator and was often referred to by the honorable title of “Teacher.” But that designation proves a tremendous understatement. Christ told His followers that as the Messiah, He should be their only teacher (Matthew 23:10). In other words, His message is the only one that truly matters. The Sermon on the Mount, therefore, stands not just as the greatest sermon ever delivered; instead, it serves as the prologue to the incredible sacrifice Christ made at Calvary. It sets the stage for God’s redemptive strategy, proving that God has a plan to change human interactions, to reintroduce selflessness, and to restore fellowship between Himself and man. Two thousand years ago, on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus unveils much about His role as King as well as the intricacies of His kingdom. He speaks with divine authority. His words hold life-transforming power!

The Sermon on the Mount reveals Jesus as the Savior of the world. The narrow gate leading to eternal life. Further, Christ fulfills Old Testament Law: only through Him do sinful humans find forgiveness and reconciliation with God. As they sincerely surrender to Jesus, people begin to live by “the law of Christ,” the New Covenant standard (Galatians 6:2). This law of love supersedes, enhances, and deepens the principles of the Old Covenant and sums up the law of the prophets without nullifying them (see Matthew 22:34-40).

To one outside the Christian faith, the standard of living Christ sets in His sermon seems outrageous and impossible. But we must remember that all things—including loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety, and walking in righteousness—are possible in His power (Philippians 4:13). Further, Jesus never asked us to do anything He was unwilling to do. For thirty-three years He lived a mortal life, loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety to the Father, and walking in perfect righteousness. Jesus embodied the message He taught.

As we learn and are empowered to walk in Christ, we live out the mountainside message He shared. What a privilege to follow Him! 

Author’s Note

Not long ago a thirty minute lunch encounter shook my world. On a brief visit to the Wycliffe Bible Translators Ministry in Texas, I met an eighty-year-old translator and missionary who—along with his wife of fifty years—planned a return to the deepest jungles of Africa. I do not remember the man’s name, but I’m certain that God does.

For over ten years the man and his devoted wife worked with a remote and primitive people-group. In that time they translated small portions of the Bible into the villagers’ native tongue—a language for which there were virtually no books. By endearing themselves to the people by giving insight on how to keep the tribe’s newborns alive and free from pestilence, the two earned acceptance and eventually befriended them. Over the years, as they translated the critical New Testament texts and placed them in the hands of those who could communicate biblical truth to the tribe, the missionaries lived in tents and their target audience in huts. Their lives were not easy.

All of this happened several years before I met this devout man. The couple had long ago returned to the States in pursuit of retirement. God, however, gave them a new vision for how to spend their last days: they’d return to that African country to continue their outreach.

“This time we will tell stories of Jesus,” the man explained with a gleam of joy in his eye. “That will be quicker and more effective. The people will pass these stories along to later generations who will never be able to read.”

I asked, as the old missionary rose from the table, when they’d return home to the States.

“Actually,” he quickly replied, “we are going home. We will never return to America. We plan on dying there, in Africa, with our tribe. We have the good news to spread and little time remaining to do so. We have a King to serve and a kingdom to share.”

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-eight – Radical Transformation Required  

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:21-27).

Central to Christ’s sermon stands the concept of radical transformation. Throughout His discourse Jesus encourages listeners not to just hear the Word of God but to practice it. Repeatedly He states the importance of not just right living, but of living right for the right reasons. When people truly surrender to Christ and allow Him to take ownership, their entire approach to life changes. They exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, value others more than self, and seek to spread Christ’s love. Even when difficulties arise believers can thrive, overcoming life’s storms through the strength He provides.

In Matthew 7:21-27 Christ makes an important distinction between those who check the Christian box on a census form with those who truly accept Him. Our King calls followers to unconditional surrender of our lives, wills, and minds. He confronts us with two truths: neither a verbal profession of His deity nor an intellectual understanding of what He came to accomplish prove sufficient in securing our entry into the kingdom. Neither proves an acceptable substitute for the faith and deep-seated obedience required. Jesus debunks the myth that our relationship with Him can rest solely on what we say about Him or to Him. No creed, formulaic “sinner’s prayer,” or verbal affirmation of Christ’s divine role can save us. God demands absolute capitulation to Christ as Lord. Confession proves a real and necessary part of our conversion, but it must be sincere (see Romans 10:9-11).

Interestingly, the verbal profession “Lord, Lord” made by those Christ rejects proves quite orthodox. But while the designation is accurate and respectful, the Lord hears it as empty words when coming from the mouths of those who claim to know Him without evidencing heart transformation. Although they called Him Lord, these “evildoers” did not fully submit in servitude to His lordship. When to their praise Jesus replies that He never knew them and that they should depart from Him, He reveals that radical transformation is required of those who live as part of His kingdom. This serves as a warning to those who “play Christian.” Claiming we know Christ without allowing Him to transform us proves dangerous and utterly destructive.

Luke’s account of the Sermon provides further insight. In Luke 6:46 Christ asks, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” The critical distinction between an acceptable profession of faith in Christ as opposed to an unacceptable one is this: true followers of Jesus demonstrate heart change through doing Spirit-empowered good works and aiming toward God’s righteous standards. Jesus expects to see Holy Spirit inspired obedience and good works as evidence of our sincerity.

Understanding the gospel message without doing anything to spread it shows a lack of spiritual foundation. Likewise, doing good works in our own efforts or out of a desire to be seen, fails to please God. Jesus refers to a home’s foundation to reveal that the substance of one’s belief is rooted deep within. Should our foundation stand strong, our efforts will follow. Unless we allow the knowledge of Christ’s truth to form a root to nurture transformational obedience, however, we’ll eventually find devastation and destruction.

Chris grew up in the church, was baptized at an early age, and even memorized significant portions of Scripture. But once at college and away from her Christian home and church, she felt overwhelmed by the temptations offered by her new-found freedom and worldly friends. It wasn’t long before Chris dove headlong into parties, drugs, and a promiscuous lifestyle. Her evangelical upbringing no longer influenced her choices. In retrospect she commented, “That was because I was a ‘believer’ but had never really bowed to Christ.” Thankfully, God intervened and made her aware that despite her religious background she was lost. Chris needed to submit totally to Jesus in order to experience His radically transforming presence.

Understand that Jesus never taught salvation by works. We cannot earn our way into Heaven. The Apostle Paul clarified this in explaining that we are saved by grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). As we humbly accept the undeserved grace God bestows and allow our faith in Him to change us from the inside out, we begin to realize the truth of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We realize that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”; therefore, we set out to serve the Lord in tangible, meaningful ways (see James 2:17).

The Lord desires that we approach Him with hearts brimming with love for Him and genuinely grateful for who He is and all He provides. Acknowledging His existence with shallow words, fleshly deeds, and mere intellectual assent fails to glorify God. We must instead live out His lordship with the heart-righteousness that comes only from the Holy Spirit. As we do, we will view everything in a new light, His light. Our paradigm will change: we will see life as a ministry that images forth the beauty of Jesus. We will look through the lens of Christ-exalting love and find ourselves moved to God-honoring obedience. Once we truly meet Jesus, everything changes.

Apply It.

Read and absorb Second Corinthians 6:3-10. Here Paul mentions that our service should be “in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love.” In what ways do you demonstrate love for the Lord? Does gratitude compel you to live a life that says “thank you” to Him? Commit to let this attitude transform every aspect of your life.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-seven– Beware of False Teachers

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Interesting that Christ included this warning in His best remembered sermon: “Watch out for false prophets.” The statement encourages people to remain wary of those claiming to speak on God’s behalf: testimonies should be tested and weighed against Christ’s teachings. Jesus’ words to the crowd gathered by the mountain presume that false teachers were present that day; and since He labels the Pharisees as hypocrites and blind guides, we can assume that His warning included them. Later, Jesus cautioned about the end of the age when “many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Matthew 24:11). The Apostle John indicates this increase of such teachers predicates the end (1 John 2:18). Christ-followers, then, should constantly compare the sermons they hear and the devotional studies they read against God’s written Word.

Before we regard all Sunday school teachers and pastors with suspicion, we must recognize that true, godly teaching does exist. God’s Word contains objective truth, and a remnant of teachers who know, study, and proclaim the true message of our King share His teachings accurately. Sadly, their number diminishes as the contemporary western church trends toward Timothy’s prophecy: “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). How important that we learn to measure what we hear at church against the standard of God’s Word!

Recently I heard a professor of theology with a universalistic philosophy (the belief that all people are saved and go to Heaven) echo a common sentiment in describing humanity. With great passion he claimed, “Everyone is a child of God!” Unfortunately, many folks accept and believe this false teaching. Although this idea sounds good and appeals to our flesh, the Book of John clearly teaches, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). In other words, the truth of God’s revelation is that only those who “receive and believe” Jesus are born again and adopted into God’s family—no matter how “unfair” that may seem

Understand that not everyone who misquotes a Bible passage or misinterprets a verse is a false prophet; everyone makes mistakes and can benefit from gentle, private correction in those instances. In Matthew 7:15-20, on the other hand, Jesus focuses on habitually false teachers who look as innocent as sheep but are as destructive as ferocious wolves. While the teachings of such instructors may sound good, their motives are impure; they may have a form of godliness, but they lack heart-righteousness. They may look polished and sincere, but they worry more about draining listeners’ pockets than helping to guide hearts to God. Scripture indicates that false teachers will enjoy popularity as “many follow their ways,” so we must prove discerning as we seek spiritual advisors.

Sincere, righteous teachers of Christ are not identified by the number of followers, adherents, book-buyers, or church members who sing their praises. The size of their operation, their ministry budget, and the number of “healings” or baptisms they perform do not testify to their authenticity. Jesus taught that evaluating the fruit of a person’s character and life provided the best means of weighing their validity. And the fruits that evidence authenticity are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money,boastful, proud …without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous,rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” should be avoided (see 2 Timothy 3:2-5). Such people fail to teach the Word of God with integrity. They take license with it, twisting Scripture to say what they want to hear. Any teacher who handles the Bible lightly usually carries a basketful of rotten spiritual fruit.

Jesus warns of the eventual destruction awaiting false teachers. In a frightening and graphic description He says false teachers will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Second Peter 2:1-3 elaborates:

“[These] false prophets … [and] false teachers among you … will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”

I can’t overstate the consequences of following shepherds who fail to honor God. We must take care to follow those headed not to eternal destruction but to eternal reward.

The kingdom of Heaven requires that we center our lives on the truth of Jesus and His teachings. We must test what we hear and read against God’s Word, regularly checking the quality of fruit produced in the lives of our instructors. The Bereans who “were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true,” were vigilant in protecting their hearts from ungodly teachings (see Acts 17:11). In following their example, we show seriousness and genuineness in serving Christ.

Apply It.

Contemplate Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:33. Do a “fruit” check. Does your life evidence the production of good fruit due to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in you? Ask God to make you a bearer of God-honoring fruit as you daily live for Him.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-six – Two Paths: One Choice

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Throughout His sermon on the kingdom of Heaven, Jesus contrasts two kinds of righteousness, two types of devotion, two treasures, two masters, and two ambitions. Each comparison points to the question that every person must ask: Will I choose to follow Christ or the world? Matthew 7:13-14 begins to wrap up the sermon, leaving us to choose between two paths. Psalm 1 defines these paths as “the way of righteousness” and “the way of the wicked.” Each individual must choose to live as a citizen of the kingdom of this world or to live in and in anticipation of the ongoing kingdom of God—a decision which necessitates living a godly life. God allowed only one way to enter Heaven: relationship with Jesus (see John 14:6). Humanity cannot create a valid alternative.

In ancient times people felt that doing good works and appeasing the gods led to a peaceful eternity. The Egyptians, for example, believed that a deceased person’s heart would be weighed against a feather.[i] “If the heart was free of the impurities of sin, and therefore lighter than the feather, then the dead person could enter the eternal afterlife.” If not, eternity looked bleak. Many cultures today spread similar ideas, suggesting that an individual can earn his or her way into Heaven or miss out on it should they commit too many wrongs. But Jesus left very different and very specific directions on how one might enter into eternity with God.

First, we must understand that the burden of sin weighs heavily on every heart. This sin separates us from holy God and makes us worthy of condemnation and eternal death. Only when our sin debt gets paid and His wrath against our unrighteousness is satisfied is there forgiveness of sins and restored relationship with God. This happened at Calvary through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus and the required shedding of His blood (see Hebrews 9:22). And how do we receive this forgiveness, the free offer of the salvation that Christ purchased? By faith, believing His Word, and trusting wholly in Him and His redemptive work instead of in ourselves or our self-righteousness (see 2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 1:9). In other words, we must see Jesus as our only hope, the only way that we can have a relationship with God, forgiveness of sin (justification), and eternal life.

Make no mistake; entering into a relationship with Jesus provides the only way to bridge the sin gap that separates man from God. While many take offense to the idea that God does not allow people to approach Him through religion, spirituality, or good works, Scripture clearly teaches that Christ is the “narrow gate”: the only way to enter Heaven. In order to follow Jesus, we’ve got to let go of the self-righteousness, pride, and self-sufficiency that will hold us back as we step through the door. His road—one requiring self-sacrifice and loving service—leads to abundant and eternal life (John 10:10, 3:16).

The easy, broad way Christ mentions describes the path followed by the majority. It appeals to the crowd because it has no boundaries or restraints, allowing people to live as inclined. The road offers a diversity of options to achieve earthly happiness and to gain “Heaven.” Because the broad path is literally of the world, its travelers find little resistance. The broad way proves comfortable; it appeals to pride and the natural bent toward self-determination and self-will. Those who follow the path believe that a happy afterlife (should one exist) requires no sacrifice, no surrender to the will and purpose of the Master, and absolutely no dependence on holy God. The broad path allows people to carry all their baggage—sins, arrogance, selfishness, and self-righteousness—down the road to destruction. Sadly, separation from God now and forever awaits those who choose it.

In His wisdom God designated acceptance of His Son’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection as the toll to the narrow path. Anyone who sincerely confesses with his mouth and life that Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart that God raised Him from the dead, experiences His eternal life (Romans 10:9). Through the mystery of grace and the gift of simple faith, God allows those who come to follow the way of the kingdom of Heaven.

Receiving Jesus allows us to experience God’s presence now and look forward to the fullness of His presence in Heaven. As we surrender completely to Him, denying ourselves and taking up our crosses to follow Him, we’ll find the kingdom of God and all of the glory it comprises (see Matthew 16:24, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). As we yield, submit, live selflessly, and love God “with all [our] heart[s] and with all [our] soul[s] and with all [our] mind[s] and with all [our] strength” (Mark 12:30), we acknowledge God’s rightful rule in our lives. And those who do enter through the narrow gate that leads to His life. 

Apply It.

Revisit John 3:14-18. In First John 5:13 John shares that he wrote so that we might know we have eternal life. Are you certain that you do? If so, do you have a burden for those outside of Christ and on the track to hell? Ask God to give you a passion for sharing His words of eternal life to the lost in your circle.

[i] McDevitt, April. “The Feather” Ancient Egypt: The Mythology last updated April 8, 2010. (May 8,2010).

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

 Twenty-ThreeSlow to Judge, Quick to Discern

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

Having already addressed His followers’ character, influence, righteousness, and aspirations, Christ turns His focus to a believer’s interactions and relationships. Jesus knew that a loving community serves a critical role in helping bring the lost home to God. Further, community drives Christ’s kingdom as His people help one another to reach their full potential in the Lord. Maintaining the health of relationships and extending godly love requires that we overcome the tendency to act judgmentally toward others.

One local church was virtually destroyed by judgmentalism. A small faction targeted one of the church’s outreach programs—the bus ministry—and in the process began to attack the pastor behind it. Through the ministry the pastor sought to reach inner city families with young children who had no other encouragement or transportation to attend church. He hoped the program would allow caring followers of Jesus and the teaching of God’s Word to reach those without access to either. The dissenters, however, accused him of “trying to pad the church’s numbers by shuttling in the dirty, unruly, and disadvantaged.” Their complaints caused such a congregational rift that the ministry was eventually shut down, the scorned pastor resigned in embarrassment and frustration, and the fractured church has yet to fully recover from the subsequent fall-out.

Jesus understands the sinfulness of humanity; He knows that followers will not live perfectly. He also recognizes that we often deal with the sin, poor decisions, flaws, and misbehavior of others. This passage does not prohibit the use of discernment, insight, wisdom, or criticism. Parents, for example, must pass certain judgments on misbehavior in order to discipline. But what Christ condemns in the passage is a condescending, harsh, destructive, and censorious attitude that passes judgment against a brother’s faults, rather real or perceived. The Lord speaks strongly against those who take a “holier than thou” approach.

Most often those guilty of condemning others themselves conceal the biggest issues. Often we find it easy to exaggerate another’s faults while minimizing our own. In doing so, we rest in a false sense of self-righteousness that’s better understood as hypocrisy (see Luke 18:9-14). This builds a major stumbling block in our relationship with others and intimacy with our King. Each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. What proves tempting to one may not affect another, but each person fights his own spiritual battles. Although our sins may vary in type, they do not vary in degree: all sin offends God. Therefore when we, despite our best efforts, fail in keeping any of God’s commands and then judge others, we essentially condemn ourselves (see Romans 2:1). We need to compare our own lives to the standards of holy God before we begin nitpicking the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Intentionally finding fault, while ignoring our own problems and spiritual issues, is wrong.

We tend to forget that in God we have a higher judge who fairly judges us all. He provides the ultimate measuring stick, the perfect standard. How differently would we treat fellow Christ-followers and humanity in general if we remembered that we will be measured against the same standards to which we hold others? In First Corinthians 11:31 Paul writes, “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” Those who forego a hypocritical attitude and choose transparency before a holy and omniscient God will avoid His wrath (see Romans 2:3).

At times we must speak the truth with God’s Word as our guide, correcting misbehavior and helping people to strengthen their walk in the Lord. However, this must be done with grace and love. Paul encourages us to speak the truth but to do it with a heartfelt compassion for the audience (Ephesians 4:15). In every case, our attitudes and motives must prove pleasing to God.

Interestingly, Christ concludes His warning against a judgmental attitude with a call to discernment. This serves to remind believers: don’t turn a blind eye to sin; instead, approach all situations with wisdom. Jesus used two dirty animals—the dog and the pig—to portray those who live such filthy lives that sacred things and the notion of eternal life are wasted on them. Sadly, some who hear the precious gospel of the kingdom and enjoy ample opportunity to receive that truth, steadfastly and belligerently refuse God’s free offer of grace. Perhaps they live in a place of such incurable godlessness that God’s spirit no longer pursues them. Christ’s words remind believers that while we should try to reach all with the good news message, we must act prudently in how we spend our time. When people constantly refuse to receive Jesus’ truth, we should direct our efforts elsewhere. I believe Christ provided an example of this in His interaction with the two criminals crucified beside of Him (see Luke 23:32-43). The one who sneered at him with scathing cynicism, Christ ignored: the one who defended Him with a receptive heart, Christ embraced.

God’s Word clearly instructs us to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Matthew 7:6 highlights the approach we should use, suggesting that we need not allow the wicked to trample the truth of Jesus and His grace. Therefore, after doing our best to exalt the King and His kingdom, we should release mean and unresponsive types to the hands of sovereign God. We must keep them in our prayers, but we should not expend all our energies on them.

This concept is reinforced in Jesus’ call for His disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus knew that He sent the apostles into a hostile environment that required both discernment and a peaceful, purposeful spirit that sought to point a lost world to His beauty. Since we too are sent as messengers of the kingdom’s good news, we must go with His wisdom, daily discerning without being judgmental.

Apply It.

Paul was keenly cognizant of his own sin (read Romans 7:19-25). Identify the “specks” in your own eye. Ask God to reveal things that need to be surrendered to Him. Then, as Paul did in Romans 7:25, thank the Lord for the forgiveness that comes only through Christ Jesus.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Due to popular demand, this week I will repost this 2-part series. I pray that you are blessed by these thoughts.

”After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid,Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. “But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me…” (Genesis 15:1-2, NIV).

“…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles [us], so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14, ESV).

Last time we saw that Abraham’s life had been radically transformed by the understanding that God Himself, not His promises or provisions, was his greatest reward. He so treasured God above all other things that he was willing to sacrifice God’s gift of Isaac, the very thing that would allow God’s promise of Abraham being the father of a great nation to become a reality. As we mentioned, God intervened, spared Isaac’s life, and set into motion the beginning of that great nation and the eventual habitation of the land by Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 22:15-18). God did so by providing another sacrifice (in God’s economy there must always be a sacrifice to restore relationship with Him and the inheritance of covenant blessing). This provision was a ram (Genesis 22:13).

But this was no ordinary ram; for it prefigured Jesus. Notice in Genesis 22:13 that the ram was caught by its horns in a thicket (the thicket always reminds me of the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus brow as he was being mocked just before His crucifixion). Because of the way he was trapped, this ram was unmarred or unblemished, which made him an appropriate sacrifice. If his body had been cut or injured he would not have been the “spotless” sacrifice that God required. Here we see the picture of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins (see John 1:29). Just as Abraham believed, “God Himself will provide the lamb” (Genesis 22:8) we see this sacrifice taking the place of Isaac – the ram was offered so that Isaac would live. Likewise, Jesus died in our place so that we might have eternal life.

So this is why we are to love God as the greatest thing, our ultimate reward. We are to admire, cherish, value, and adore Him above all else. Again, why? Because He is infinitely worthy: He has provided the sacrifice that extends to us eternal life (John 3:16) and life more abundant (John 10:10). And for this reason Jesus, our sacrificed Savior, calls us to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). But, again, what does seeing God as our great reward (to love Him with all that we are) have to do with Jesus? Well, we can’t know God apart from knowing Jesus. And we can’t love God without loving Jesus. We can’t experience God as our great reward and treasure without knowing Jesus in that same way. So, in a very real sense, we love God by adoring Jesus as our greatest reward and treasure.

Why is this? Because the person of Jesus is the promise and provision of God that makes even knowing Him a reality. Actually, in a most amazing passage, we see Paul write to the Galatian church that really Jesus, the Seed, is Himself the promise made to Abraham (see Galatians 3:15-25)! This is because Christ is the fullest revelation of God (John 14:9). He is the one who interprets, or “exegetes,” God to and for us (John 1:17). Jesus is the only way to come to God (John 14:6). This is why He says, “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me” (John 5:42-43) and, “the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Therefore, if Jesus is not worshipped and adored as our ultimate treasure then God is not our great reward. And when Jesus is cherished, valued, and admired above all else then God is our great reward.

I can think of no better way to tie all of this together than to ponder and model the priority of Paul, a man who discovered the rich reward of knowing Jesus (and therefore God) as His greatest treasure:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:7-10).

*Due to popular demand, this week I will repost this 2-part series. I pray that you are blessed by these thoughts.

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me…” (Genesis 15:1-2, NIV).

Although one of the heroes of the Christian faith, Abraham was by no means perfect. But God came to him (not the other way around), chose him (not the other way around), and, in a unique demonstration of His sovereign grace, promised to make him the father of a great nation. Since Abraham and his wife Sarah were childless, the pivotal blessing would be the giving of a son. Without a son there would be no one to carry on Abraham’s lineage and, therefore, no “nation.” But Abraham had to wait on God’s timing and, much like us, he failed “God’s waiting room” test abysmally.

Abraham showed flashes of faith by moving to Canaan. But, in just one example of his impatience and doubt, he fled to Egypt to seek provision in the midst of a famine (Genesis 12:10-20). I’m confident he didn’t fully believe God would provide and bless because he took matters into his own hands (sound familiar?) and moved to a land that God had not led him to (Egypt – which, providentially, God would lead Abraham’s descendants out of many years later). There he lied – and had Sarah lie as well – about the nature of their relationship in order to protect his own skin (as if God was not willing or capable of protecting him). Once Abraham did return to the place God had told him to go and stay, Canaan, he was wondering when all of these promises were going to happen. Especially the promise of Isaac, the son.

That’s where we pick up in Genesis 15. God now explains to Him the greatest blessing and gift that He had for Abraham. That blessing and gift was Himself. God was the ultimate provision, promise, and reward He had for Abraham. Even though Abraham’s reponse to the Lord (Genesis 15:2-3) indicates the significance of God’s statement hadn’t sunk in, I believe we see evidence later in his life that he finally understood what God was really saying. It is 7 chapters later that we see the person of God being more important to Abraham than God as provider and promise-keeper (even though God truly is both of these things). My point is that Abraham learned to treasure God more than His blessings and provision.

It is in Hebrews 11:17-18 that we get the best snapshot of the faith and priority of a more mature Abraham:

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

Wow – what an amazing transformation! Earlier Abraham had doubted God and pestered Him with, “where is my land and where is my promised son?” Now, when God commands him to take His provision and promise (Isaac) and put him to death, Abraham goes without any hint of denial, doubt, or disobedience (Genesis 22:1-10).

Why the radical shift? I believe it is because Abraham finally and fully realized God’s greatest promise and provision is Himself (Genesis 15:2). And when he had come that point, God’s other promises and provisions (like Isaac and land) had become secondary. Abraham eventually began to love, worship, and follow the Giver instead of the gift! He was seeking God’s face and not just His hand. So he was willing, because he had God, life’s greatest treasure, to sacrifice all the rest.

Oh yes, there was a happy ending. God thwarted Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son. Isaac lived, the nation began, and the land was eventually inhabited by his descendants. But these promises did not begin to see their original fulfillment until Abraham knew and lived as if God was his all, his highest treasure, and his great reward. And that, as Abraham’s spiritual descendants (Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:7), is where God expects us to be as well – His people seeing, knowing, and living with God as our ultimate pursuit and great reward.

But, for us, how does Jesus fit into all of this? Abraham’s story does not end with the cessation of Isaac’s sacrifice. There was another offering, another sacrifice, which God provided to make His promises real – literally for Abraham and spiritually for us. Tune in next time and see how Abraham’s story foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus and shows us that treasuring Christ above all things allows us to have God as our great reward.

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