The Tragedy Of Being LEFT BEHIND!
By Raymond D. Sopp
Matthew 7:15-23: "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the WILL of My Father who is in heaven. MANY will say to Me on that day (the day of the Lord), ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice (lifestyle is) lawlessness.'"
From the beginning of my Christian walk I saw the above end-time prophecy to be the most tragic, the most lamentable end-time prophecy in the Bible. Tragic, inasmuch as it's clearly understood that our Lord was speaking to those who profess themselves to be Christians when He said, "And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" They were professing Christians who were deceived into a state of complacency -- deceived into maintaining an affinity with the world's moralities by false prophets, i.e., wolves in sheep's clothing. Lamentable, knowing this worldliness or lawlessness would be the attribute which would permeate the end-time "Christian" Church; inasmuch as Jesus chose to use the word MANY as He described those who say, "Lord, Lord," yet they were LEFT BEHIND!
The Apostle Paul said it this way in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, "Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the APOSTASY comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction."
The Greek word apostasia, which we translate apostasy in the above verse, is a composite word made up of apo (from) and histemi (to place or stand). Although many think the great apostasy the Apostle Paul was talking about indicated a time of great disassociation with Christianity in general, I maintain a better understanding of the word apostasy used by Paul would be a disassociation from sound doctrine, yet maintaining the use of the word Christianity. We can come to this conclusion as Paul goes on to say in 2 Thessalonians 2:10, "Because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." And again, Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths."
In other words, the above verses of Scripture paint a picture of the end-time apostate Church as being filled with signs, wonders, and miracles, yet void of any evidence of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit unto godliness. A Church whose morals are becoming indistinguishable from the secular world. A Church wishing to have their ears tickled by having their own desires validated instead of God's. A church led by wolves in sheep's clothing who are seeking their own glory instead of God's. Loving themselves more than the sheep, they seek to maintain their fame and fortune by tickling ears and avoiding any mention of the offense of the cross. For fame and fortune, they give their flock exactly what they want to hear, which is: How to get their desires fulfilled from God through the tenacity of self-willed prayer, and at the same time, completely avoid the teaching of submissiveness -- the self-denial demeanor of the cross. These self-seekers are always learning, but never coming to understand that having a heart after God's own heart -- a heart passionately panting after God to fulfill His desires -- is the only TRUE portrayal of knowing God, or better yet, God knowing you.
Matthew 16:24-26: "Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?'" Satan tried to tickle Jesus' ears with the same self-indulgent, offence avoiding, cross avoiding spirit in Matthew 16:21-23, "From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and SUFFER many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.' But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's.'"
Tragically as the Church becomes more and more statistically like the world in sin, wants, and desires, the Church also becomes more and more appealing to the world. As the Church becomes more and more appealing to the world, as the offense of the cross is removed, the Church will proportionally begin to increase in number. Puffed up with pride, do we then delude ourselves into thinking we are doing a great work for God, inasmuch as we think an increase in number to be synonymous with revival? Is making God's Church more and more palatable to the world and becoming successful in marketing God's Church to the world, revival? Ironically, rapid church growth can be nothing more than an end-time sign of an apostate Church, the very thing we would expect to see if we were indeed approaching the end-time return of our Lord. Hence, we find ourselves living in a very dangerous time, being seduced by the appearance of revival, yet in reality it's nothing more than the prophesied apostasy.
You might ask, "If the outward display of signs, wonders, miracles, and even saying, ‘Lord, Lord,' will not save us from the wrath to come, what will?" Well, the answer to that dilemma is actually quite apparent, we simply must find another way to examine ourselves to see if God abides in us, and we in Him, before we find out the truly tragic way by being LEFT BEHIND. We begin our alternative self-examination by having a good understanding of the difference between regret and repentance, works and fruit. And finally, we must understand how God's grace not only can coexist with His law, but how grace works to actually establish God's law. Therefore, let's first examine the difference between regret and repentance.
Regret is something the secular world understands very well. Regret is something you feel after the repercussions of your deed are revealed over time. In other words, you begin your deed believing that you are totally justified, because of the circumstances that surrounded you at the time. But afterward -- a day, or perhaps years later -- you discover that the repercussions of your deed left you in a worst state; ergo, you REGRET doing the said deed. Hence, you do not regret the deed itself, but you do regret the very unpleasant repercussions. Therefore, those who are restrained by regret are restrained only by the law of punishment, which is the only way the lawless can be restrained as they loathe only the punishment and not the deed itself. Hence, if regret was the motivation which drove you to Jesus, then you remain lawless and you perceive Jesus as nothing more than fire (hell) insurance. But the Son of God (Jesus) was not crucified to become your fire (hell) insurance, He died to destroy the works of the Evil One. 1 John 3:8: "The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might DESTROY the works (lawlessness or sin) of the devil."
On the other hand, the Greek word for repentance in our Bible is metanoeo which is a composite word made up from noeo (to know), and meta (after). Therefore, the Biblical definition for the word repentance literally means to completely change one's mind after receiving a mind changing revelation. Or you can say it this way: After hearing God's Word you have a moment of spiritual insight – a spiritual unveiling -- so as to become exceedingly aware of the depraved nature and sinfulness of sin itself. Consequently, you no longer embrace the world's view of right and wrong, but thoroughly and completely embrace God's view. No longer are you restrained by the repercussions (punishment) of sin, but you are repulsed by sin itself. You now have such a disdain for the depravity and sinfulness of sin you groan within wishing to be cleansed (forgiven) of its defilement. You groan within for your old spirit, which is dead to God, to be replaced with a new spirit which is alive to God. You earnestly wish to change kingdoms, i.e., you wish to leave the realm of Satan's kingdom and leadership, and be reborn (born-again) into God's kingdom and leadership. This type of true Biblical repentance will prepare the way for Jesus to do His work within you. By His death, He paid the price for your sin, thereby, cleansing (forgiving) you of sin's defilement. Now cleansed by the blood of Jesus, you are prepared to receive God's Holy Spirit. Prepared to be reborn (born-again), causing you to become alive to God, and victoriously ushered into God's kingdom.
Now let's look at the difference between works and fruit. The definition of works is: To apply personal effort in order to achieve a desired personal outcome. God gave us His law to show us the work which must be done in PERFECTION in order to achieve the desired outcome of heaven. But works lost its power to achieve this desired outcome as we lost our PERFECTION with the fall of Adam. Consequently, all that God's law accomplished was to expose the lawlessness which now dwells within us. In essence, God's law made sin come alive, inasmuch as it exposed sin to be sin. God's law also exposed the immense distance we had traveled from God's image, the image we were originally created to reflect. Now the best that the law can hope to accomplish is to act as a restrainer until our PERFECTION could be reclaimed by the blood of God's only Son (Jesus), wiping our account (past, present, and future) clean of sin's defilement. Through His sacrifice, we now have the opportunity to receive His PERFECTION as our own, thereby, delivering us from the hopelessness of our works.
But you might ask, "Did you not start this commentary with a quote from Jesus saying, ‘And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice (lifestyle is) lawlessness.' Therefore, how can you now say works of the law are done away with?" I can say this because of the context of the Scripture where it was taken. The entire Scriptural context was about fruit and not works. I understand on the surface both works and fruit appear to be the same, but in reality they are immeasurably different.
Fruit is an expression of a work already accomplished, ergo, we have the expression, "The fruit of our labor." But the fruit we'll be talking about is the fruit produced by the work of God, Jesus. As we are born-again with God's Holy Spirit through the work (death and resurrection) of God's only Son, is it too difficult to believe that the very natural expression (fruit) of the born-again believer (reborn with God's Holy Spirit) is HOLY fruit!? Therefore, Jesus was saying, "If you identify yourself as a Christian, reborn with God's Holy Spirit, do not deceive yourself; if your lifestyle remains lawless, where then is the evidence (fruit) of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit produce bad fruit!? God forbid!" 1 John 3:8-10: "The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices (a lifestyle of) sin, because His seed (Holy Spirit) abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious."
So then, fruit is an expression of salvation, but NOT the means of salvation. Let me ask you something in regard to works. Before you were born-again, did you lie in bed worrying if you were a bad enough sinner that day to get into hell? Of course not! That would be absurd! The fact is that you were already in Satan's kingdom and the natural fruit you produced was sin (lawlessness), restrained only by society's "CURRENT" set of moralities; a fruit bearing increased lawlessness as God's influence is removed from society. In the same way, neither should Christians lie in bed worrying if they were a good enough saint (holy one) that day to get into heaven. The fact is, if you are born-again, you are already in God's kingdom and the natural fruit produced is righteousness (holiness), restrained only by our still fallen (depraved) flesh; a fruit bearing increased holiness as we crucify the influence in our lives of the depraved nature of our flesh.
And finally, let's talk about God's AMAZING GRACE. Let's discover how God's amazing grace not only can coexist with His law, but how grace works to actually establish God's law. Paul tells us in Titus 2:11-14, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." That's right, it is grace's job to make us zealous for good deeds and purify us from sin. When grace finds us in sin, grace will with great tenacity convict our hearts. Grace is the hound from heaven that will not let go until we relent. Grace will bring upon us discipline, even severe discipline if needed to get us to relent from our sin and say yes to God. Grace is also extremely patient in its work of sanctification. If needed, grace will patiently reprove us several times a day in order to accomplish the work of God's Son within us. Hence, grace will never, never become our apologist for sin!
But brother, are you not painting a very harsh picture of grace? God forbid! I paint a picture of an exceedingly loving grace that REFUSES to allow you and me to be judged and condemned with the world. In fact, if this is the grace you find at work within you, it's proof positive of God's love for you, and it's confirmation of your adoption into God's family. It's proof positive that you have the right – no, the privilege -- to cry out to God using the words Abba (my) Father. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way in Hebrews 12:5-10, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness."
But wait! I'm not done! What makes grace truly amazing is grace's awesome ability to remove the defilement of sin so completely, it's just as if we had never sinned at all. In other words, once we relent and say yes to God and no to our sinful depraved flesh, grace picks us up, embraces us, and empowers us to press on to the finish line. Grace will remove all traces of condemnation and reaffirm our place in God's family. There is a verse in the song "Amazing Grace" which expresses this truth in awesome brevity and beauty. It goes something like this: "It's grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieve." Please allow me to elaborate. Grace teaches us to fear (reverence) and desire God's holiness, while at the same time, relieves our fears of condemnation. Grace will establish a peace within our hearts based on the security of knowing that God will never leave us nor forsake us. It was grace that allowed the Apostle Paul to say in Philippians 3:12-14, "Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
At first, I was going to use this commentary to point out the evidence (fruit) I saw to confirm that we are indeed living in the age that the Apostle Paul called the great APOSTASY. But our Lord stopped me. He reminded me that He called me to heal and restore, not to criticize and condemn. God asked me to simply point out the cause and to forget about the symptoms (evidence), inasmuch as pointing out the symptoms would truly accomplish nothing. However, if I would point out the cause, it would also make known to all the way to be restored. Therefore, I endeavored to place before you a warning to watch out for wolves in sheep's clothing, who see you as nothing more than an asset to devour. Ravenous wolves who will tickle your ears, and even entertain you, in order to maintain their fame, fortune, and church size. I also endeavored to place before you a way to reevaluate your own heart to see if God is in you, and if you are in Him. For it's my heart-felt desire that everyone who identifies himself/herself as a Christian and says "Lord, Lord," would be a Christian indeed. For if you are a Christian in name only, you will most assuredly be LEFT BEHIND!
From my heart to yours,
Raymond D. Sopp
All above Bible references are from The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.
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