You Really Want to Become Like Christ?

I once heard the following story and found it very interesting.  A man asks the LORD, “What’s a million years to you?”  The LORD answers, “A second.”  The man then asks a follow-up question, “So then, what’s a million dollars to You?”  To which the LORD responded, “A penny.”  With a big smile on his face the man came back with a third question, “LORD, could You please give me a penny?”  The LORD responded “Wait a second!”   Continue reading

Only One Gospel

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).”

In the verses quoted above, the Apostle Paul lays down a very important doctrine regarding the Christian faith and gospel.  He does this to press upon the Galatians a proper sense of guilt in rejecting the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  More specifically, he sharply rebukes them for not embracing the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone (see Galatians 2:15-16, 21; 3:10-14).  The Galatians had fallen prey to the Judaizers who were going around teaching that a false gospel based on good works which totally discounted the grace of God through Jesus Christ.  But as a good pastor, Paul does this with great care and tenderness.  He had only one goal in mind as expressed by himself in Galatians 4:19 where he passionately writes, “my little children, for whom I am in anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”  That was Paul’s goal!  And he teaches us a very important lesson.  As Matthew Henry puts it, “In reproving others, we should be faithful, and yet endeavour to restore them in the spirit of meekness.”  We all need to pay attention to that, especially pastors like me.  We need to make sure that in rebuking and correcting people, we are not stepping over their heads and leaving so many casualties behind us unnecessarily.  We must proclaim Christ and Him alone, “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).  We must therefore speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  But reproving we must especially on matters that have to do with the faithful teaching and communication of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In my Open Letter to the North American Churches, published in the Modern Reformation magazine I wrote, “The pure and unadulterated gospel of God’s grace is a nonnegotiable priority for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ” (March/April 2011, Vol. 20, No. 2, Pages 31-35, emphasis added).  The Apostle Paul sought to drive this truth home to the believers in Galatia without any equivocation, fear or compromise.  He was overwhelmingly fearless and sharply confrontational when it came to gospel matters demonstrated by the fact that he “opposed Peter to his face” for his compromise and hypocrisy with respect to this gospel (Galatians 2:11-14).  He suffered no one (even Peter, a fellow apostle) to tamper with the life saving truth of God’s free and justifying grace based on the merits of Jesus Christ alone.  In all of his life and ministry, Paul consistently maintained and taught the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone (see Romans 1:17; 3:21-22; 9:30-33; 10:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9).

Paul was of course only echoing the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures taught (see Genesis 15:16; Habakkuk 2:4, etc).  Nowhere else do we see the unity and the apex of redemptive revelation more clearly than in the doctrine of justification by faith!   The Old Testament saints were saved by the same gospel as the saints in the New Testament era.  And that gospel is the gospel of God’s grace through His Son Jesus Christ!  Although Abraham and all the other saints lived before the coming of Christ into this world, they believed in the promise of the Messiah which God had made to them beginning with Genesis 3:15, Exodus and Leviticus, all the way to Isaiah 53 and thereafter.  All of the Old Testament sacrifices and rituals, as well as the Law and the prophets pointed to Christ as He Himself makes plain in Luke 24:25-27, 44-48.

There are two important aspects to this gospel which every Christ must know and seek to understand:  1). Christ’s active obedience, and 2). Christ’s passive obedience.  The former has to do with Christ’s perfect righteousness.  The latter has to do with His sacrificial, substitutionary/atoning death on the cross of Calvary.  Both of these were offered to the LORD God by Christ on behalf of His people.  In other words, this gospel necessitates a divine exchange between God and sinners through Christ.  Christ’s perfect record of righteousness, His faithful law-keeping before God, is imputed (transferred) to sinners and the imperfect record of sinners (their unrighteousness before God) is imputed to Him.  The Apostle Paul distils this for us when he writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  This is what the Prophet Isaiah prophesied 500-700 years before Christ came when he wrote, “All we like sheep astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

He was despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as One from Whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions;  He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.  Isaiah 53:3-5

Although this Man was righteous and sinless in every way, He “was numbered among with the transgressors; yet He bore the sins of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).  And thereby, Christ fulfilled His office as the Great High Priest for God’s people (Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:1-10).  This is the gospel that Paul was unwilling to give up.  For this gospel he was willing to die and in this gospel lay his boast (Galatians 6:14).  Let us then see to it that we heed Paul’s warning to the Galatians.  He stresses his point by repeating it in these short verses, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

Any other “gospel” which does not point sinners to the merits of Christ’s righteousness and His atoning death on the cross of Calvary on their behalf must be passionately repudiated and clearly exposed without fear or compromise.  It is of the devil!  It is no gospel at all!  Any “gospel” that tells sinners that they can be saved and reconciled to God by being good or doing good is lethal and must be rejected without question and vehemently opposed.  Furthermore, anyone who preaches that kind of “gospel” must be “accursed” according to the Word of God.

And while we declare that to reject the moral law as a rule of life, tends to dishonour Christ, and destroy true religion, we must also declare, that all dependence for justification on good works, whether real or supposed, is as fatal to those who persist in it.  While we are zealous for good works, let us be careful not to put them in the place of Christ’s righteousness, and not to advance anything which may betray others into so dreadful a delusion (see Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)

I can’t say it any better than that.  On the one hand, that leaves me flat on my face confessing my sins especially my self-righteous tendencies.  And I hear myself singing with Augustus M. Toplady:

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

On the other hand, that puts a spring in my step and I find myself leaping and shouting with Philip P. Bliss:

Man of Sorrows! What a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Indeed it is right for all who are in Christ to shout and sing:  HALLELUJAH!  WHAT A SAVIOR!


O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Psalm 39:4

The New Year is finally here!  I praise the Lord for all His many blessings and look forward to another year of fruitful ministry; another year of learning to glorify God and enjoy Him through Jesus Christ!

I want to reflect with you this week on the ultimate purpose of our lives.  All of us should (with some measure of regularity) take the time to stop and evaluate our lives in light of God’s purpose for us.  This is something that I do with great frequency with God’s help because I do not want to waste my life.

The verse quoted above was engraved on a tombstone in a gravesite that I once visited in the United States of America.  The LORD used that occasion to engrave Psalm 39:4 upon my heart to my own benefit.  I thank the Lord for this constantly pray with David, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” 

There is nothing more sobering to me than thinking about my own death.  One day, I am going to die and so will you!  I don’t want to waste my life!  God doesn’t want any of us to waste the lives that He has given us.  The only thing that will truly matter at the time of our death is whether our lives were dedicated to God’s “ends” (purposes) or not.  The beginning of a new year is a good time to stop and reflect on this all important truth and to seek the LORD’s help in order that we may not waste our lives on vain things.

We all face the great temptation of throwing our lives away on foolish and frivolous pursuits.  We often find ourselves so busy running here and there but going nowhere.  Most of our busy-ness has to do with things that don’t really matter all that much (merely time-wasters at their very best) – i.e., cell phones, the internet, Facebook, twitter and all that kind of stuff.  The world has led us to think that the quality of our lives depends on these things – that the quality of our lives would be second best without them.  Consequently, we feel compelled to have these things.  After all, who wants a second-class quality of life or anything?  So, we spend our days chasing these things.  To make matters worse, we don’t just want to have a phone, but the best of them; the fastest internet, the best of this, that and the other thing and we want it RIGHT NOW!  Before we know it, we find ourselves held hostage by these things.  The focus of our lives is bent towards earthly pursuits which produce nothing good for our souls.  Instead of laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20), we find ourselves chasing the fleeting pleasures of sin and worldly enjoyments which leave us dejected, empty and defeated in the end.

Is that really how God wants us to live our lives?  Of course NOT!  God wants us to live lives that find their ultimate joy and fulfillment in Him.  This is the “END” for which He made us!  We need to be wise and remind ourselves that God made us for Himself and that our hearts will remain restless until they find their rest in Him (St. Augustine).  Our chief purpose is to glorify the Lord God and to find our joy in Him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism).  God has much better things for us than anything this world can offer us.

To varying degrees, all of us look back over the past year(s) with regret over some of the things we have done – i.e. how we have spent the time and resources entrusted to us by God.  We mourn over lost opportunities to glorify the LORD and be a blessing to others in this world.  Most of all, we mourn over our sins and our inability to shake off the guilt and shame that accompanies them.  We mourn over “wasted” lives.

That’s the bad news.  But there is good news!   The LORD God will abundantly pardon those who seek Him.  Our God is a God of second, third, fourth and yes, endless chances!  He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to Him through the atoning blood of His Son, Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 7:25).  I encourage you to heed God’s call through the prophet Isaiah:  “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake His way, and the unrighteous man His thoughts; let Him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on Him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).  This New Year provides a natural opportunity for us to evaluate our lives, seek the LORD and pursue His will for our lives.

It’s NOT too late!  You can begin now by praying with David, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Psalm 39:4

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,

If the lamp of my life, has been burned out for Thee.

(C.T. Studd)

Bible Reading Plans for 2012

Nathan W. Bingham has done us all a HUGE favor by putting together a helpful collection of Bible reading plans on the blog for Ligonier Ministries (

Each year at around this time, Christians all over the world stop to take stock of how they have done in Bible reading.  These Bible reading plans are helpful in that evaluation but also in setting a new course for how one is going to read the Bible.

As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I would like to encourage you all to choose a plan from the list below which best suits you.  The main point of all this is to get us all in the Word of God for that is where we find true nourishment for our souls.

Here are the various plans:

52 Week Bible Reading Plan

Read through the Bible in a year, with each day of the week dedicated to a different genre: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, and Gospels.

Duration: One year | Download: PDF

5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan

Read through the New Testament in a year, reading Monday to Friday. Weekends are set aside for reflection and other reading. Especially beneficial if you’re new to a daily discipline of Bible reading.

Duration: One year | Download: PDF

A Bible Reading Chart

Read through the Bible at your own pace. Use this minimalistic, yet beautifully designed, chart to track your reading over 2012.

Duration: Flexible | Download: PDF

Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Read through the Bible in the order the events occurred chronologically.

Duration: One year | Download: PDF

The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan

Four daily readings beginning in Genesis, Psalms, Matthew and Acts.

Duration: One year | Download: PDF

ESV Daily Bible Reading Plan

Four daily readings taken from four lists: Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Pentateuch and History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles.

Duration: One year | Download: PDF

Every Word in the Bible

Read through the Bible one chapter at a time. Readings alternate between the Old and New Testaments.

Duration: Three years | Download: PDF

Historical Bible Reading Plan

The Old Testament readings are similar to Israel’s Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament readings are an attempt to follow the order in which the books were authored.

Duration: One year | Download: PDF

Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System

Reading ten chapters a day, in the course of a year you’ll read the Gospels four times, the Pentateuch twice, Paul’s letters four to five times, the Old Testament wisdom literature six times, the Psalms at least twice, Proverbs and Acts a dozen times, and the OT History and Prophetic books about one and a half times.

Duration: Ongoing | Download: PDF | Facebook: The 3650 Challenge

Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan

Read the New Testament and Psalms twice and the Old Testament once.

Duration: One or two years | Download: Website

Straight Through the Bible Reading Plan

Read straight through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.

Duration: One year | Download: PDF

Tabletalk Bible Reading Plan

Two readings each day; one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

Duration: One year | Download: PDF
App: Accessible in the Ligonier App (iPhone / iPad & Android)

The Legacy Reading Plan

This plan does not have set readings for each day. Instead, it has set books for each month, and set number of Proverbs and Psalms to read each week. It aims to give you more flexibility, while grounding you in specific books of the Bible each month.

Duration: One year | Download: PDF

Two-Year Bible Reading Plan

Read the Old and New Testaments once, and Psalms & Proverbs four times.

Duration: Two years | Download: PDF

Christopher Hitchens, The Grace of God and You

On Thursday last week, Christopher Hitchens, a British-American died of esophageal cancer at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.  He was the most aggressive champion of the “New Atheism” movement.  As an avowed atheist he fought against the truth-claims of the Bible throughout his life.  However, Hitchens was a brilliant man, a masterful rhetorician and a celebrated journalist/writer.  It is sobering to think that a man with such genius and prowess lived his entire life rejecting God and that he is now in torment as he waits for God’s final judgment and eternal punishment in hell.  The thought that anyone would deliberately chose to live “without hope and without God in this world” (Ephesians 2:12), terribly frightens me.  I would not want to imagine what it would be like going from day to day with total disregard of the God of the universe, the Holy One of Israel, the One who sustains all things by the “Word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).  Frankly, I would not want to be a part of that experiment.

But as we think of the life (and now the death) of Christopher Hitchens and all the other atheists who are still alive today, it is very easy for us as Christians to do so in a self-righteous and condescending manner.  We can easily forget that the only thing that makes us different from Christopher Hitchens and his company is the sovereign grace of God.  We need to be sobered and humbled by the fact that the Lord in His rich grace and mercy chose to save us through the blood of His One and Only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Each one of us needs to join the Pauline chorus and sing with him, “I am what I am by the grace of God” (1 Corinthians 15:10).  While many of us profess faith in God through Jesus Christ, we live our lives as “practical atheists.”  You know you are a “practical atheist” when:  1. You believe that your righteousness is rooted in your perceived “moral uprightness” and not on Christ’s righteousness and atoning death on the Cross; 2. You believe that your private life does not affect the effectiveness of your public witness/ministry as a Christian; 3. You are more concerned about pleasing people than you are about pleasing God.

As Christians who live our lives under God, we must remember three things:  Firstly, we must remember that our salvation is all of grace.  Therefore, we must take off any masks which lead others to think that we are perfect, well-polished and faultless individuals – and that God couldn’t help but save us because we are such nice individuals.  God does not owe us or anyone His salvation.  All of us are sinners deserving of His eternal wrath as the Bible clearly says in Romans 3:23 (“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”) and in Romans 6:23 (“The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”).  We need to embrace the good news of Christ’s gospel that He came into the world to save sinners (see Luke 19:10 and 1 Timothy 1:15).    We must not nullify the grace of God by thinking that righteousness comes from our good deeds or behavior.  Paul says in Galatians 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Secondly, we must also remember that our private lives matter before God.  What we do in private affects what we do in public.  Our public Christian witness is effectively hindered or enhanced by what happens in our private lives, when no one is looking.  Our public witness must be a reflection of our private devotion to God who sees all things and hates hypocrisy.  In Matthew 23:27-28, Christ vehemently condemned the scribes and Pharisees because of their hypocrisy.  He said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).  In Luke 12, He gives this strong warning against hypocrisy, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.  Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (verse 1-3).  Ecclesiastes 12:14 tells us that “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Finally, we must be more concerned about pleasing God, not other people.  This doesn’t mean that we should deliberately be offensive to other people.  But rather, we must always be committed to doing what pleases God even if it puts us at odds with the world.  The apostles understood this.    They said to the high priest in Acts 5:29, “we must obey God rather than man.”  They could not stop preaching Christ even when their own lives were in danger (Acts 5:33).  Proverbs 29:25 tells us that “the fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trust in the LORD is safe.”  As Christians, we must be comforted and encouraged by the fact that God our Father cares about us and that He will defend and protect us from all harm.  He alone is the One we are to fear as Jesus says in Matthew 10:28-31.  Furthermore, the fear of God should give us boldness to openly acknowledge Christ and identify with Him even when it ends up making us unpopular before the people of this world (Matthew 10:32-33) because we care more about His approval than man’s approval.  The Word of God admonishes us to “fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

I hope that by now, you are absolutely convinced of the fact that the only thing that truly makes us (Christians) different from Christopher Hitchens and his company is the sovereign grace of God.  Nothing about our lives is sufficient to commend us before God.  I am so ashamed to admit that even though I believe in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ, I see the traits of a “practical atheist” to varying degrees in my own life now and again.  I absolutely need the grace of God each day of my life.  I am forever thankful that God in His manifold wisdom and grace has made provision for sinners such as I whereby He imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to all who trust in Him for their salvation.  I need an external righteousness (a righteousness outside of myself), to be given me if I am to stand before God without any condemnation on the judgment day.  You need that too and I call you to come to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and rest in His sovereign grace as the only sure basis for your salvation.

When I think about Hitchens (his life and death), I cannot help but to think of all the other self-professing atheists out there notably Richard Dawkins (in the UK) and George Thindwa (Malawi), just to name a few.  I am sobered to think that these men and all their atheist friends refuse to humble themselves and acknowledge God.  Terrifying is the thought that if they continue in this way, the only thing that they can look forward to is eternal damnation in the lake of fire.  I fear for them.  But I am also greatly terrified (even more so) to think that many who profess to be Christians and yet are in reality “practical atheists” will be surprised one day to “wake up in hell” when this life is over.  To Dawkins, Thindwa and to all of us, my plea is that we would all look to Christ, embrace Him and trust in Him alone for our salvation.  I pray that those who openly defy God and those who defy Him in secret (i.e. in the “practical atheist” way), would seek forgiveness from God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and His atoning death on the Cross on our behalf.

“In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace…Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ephesians 1:7; Psalm 32:1).

Dealing with Demonic Forces as You Follow Christ

This article has come out of a personal desire to understand the demons and the power of Satan in relation to the Christian. I have to say here at the outset that I am writing mainly for Christians (those who have put their faith and trust in God alone for their salvation). I am not addressing exorcism in this article because I do not believe that Christians can be possessed by demons.

My goal is very simple: to encourage Christians to live their lives in freedom which Christ purchased for His people on the cross of Calvary. I don’t intend to provide all the answers on this subject. I have much to learn about this subject, but what I simply intend to do is to put down my thoughts and reflections on this matter in light of what I believe Scripture teaches.

First of all, it is good to remind ourselves that Scripture teaches us that we have “an adversary, the devil” who “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). He is the king of all demons. It is important for us to acknowledge the presence of demons and demonic forces. They operate in a realm that is inherently foreign or unfamiliar to us. Even though man is both a spiritual and a physical being, by God’s divine design, he naturally functions and operates in the physical realm.

Demons are fallen spiritual beings (angels). When Satan (also called Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12) rebelled against God and introduced sin into a universe that was once sinless, he drew with him a great number of lower celestial beings (Mat. 25:41; Rev. 12:4). These demons roam freely in the heavenly (spiritual) realm under the leadership of Beelzebub, the prince of demons (another name for Satan according to Mat. 12:24).

Demons operate as Satan’s subjects (or helpers) carrying out his evil schemes against God and His people.Their great number allows Satan to operate in multiple geographical locations at the same time even though he (Satan) himself is not omnipresent. God is omnipresent but Satan is not. Satan’s army of demons is not only large, but also very strategic in the way it goes about its activities against Christians.

This is why the Bible in Ephesians 6:11 urges Christians to “put on the whole armor of God…” in order that they may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. The Bible goes further to say, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

It is not very clear when Satan was cast out of heaven. However, it seems that Christ’s ascension (Rev. 12:5-13) cast him out of heaven where he had been up to that time as the accuser of the brethren (see Job 1:6-11 and Rev. 12:10). Jesus Christ conquered Satan by His death and resurrection. He now sits at God’s right hand “in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…” (Eph. 1:21). Christ came to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Satan is defeated and there is no reason for you to live in fear of him and demons. .

Why then should we even discuss this subject? Simply because the power of evil is still real and present in this world and is constantly working against the people of God. There is a battle going on between the forces of light and the forces of evil. There is a battle between God (the Source of all good and life itself); and the Devil (the source of all evil).

Tragically, the idea of demons and the spiritual realm is regarded by many in our day (even Christians) as fiction and not reality. This is very common among the elite of society all around the globe. The devil’s cleverest trick is to make men believe that he does not exist. Christians however, need to understand that denying the existence of the devil is in essence denying the very existence of God and our need for Him. Donald Grey Barnhouse put it so well when he wrote in his book entitled, The Invisible War,

“To deny the existence of Satan leads to the denial of the existence of God as He presents Himself in the Word. To deny the existence of the true God is to deny the existence of pardon and to leave the sinner in the midst of his sin. It can readily be seen, therefore, when the enemy does not want men to think he exists. If there is no enemy, there is no preparation for defense. If there is no preparation for defense, the enemy can attack wherever he will. Conversely, of course, the denial of the existence of God carries with it a denial of the existence of Satan. The result is the same by whichever avenue the question is approached.”[1]

Every Christian needs to be well equipped with enough knowledge about this vicious dragon but also of his tactics and thereby prepare to face him when he comes with his tricks and temptations.

Just a word of caution here: I don’t think that Christians should be so obsessed in trying to understand the devil and studying his ways and in order to get an upper hand on him. He is vicious indeed. He is dangerous and will tear down those who do not take him seriously. Nevertheless, Christians should not get too obsessed with him or be too afraid of him. Yes, he is cunning and very deceptive, but he has no victory or claim upon our lives.Barnhouse writes:

“Although he is the wisest of all the creatures that ever came from the creative word of God, Satan is strictly limited in wisdom. It does not appear that Satan has originated any new ideas, plans, or methods since the time the Scripture unveiled his portrait and showed all his lineaments. It was Tertullian who wrote, about the end of the second century, Diabolus est Dei simian – the devil is God’s monkey. Certainly all that Satan can do is to imitate and copy or ape the things which he has seen God do or which he finds in the Bible as a part of the plan of God.”[2]

This reminds me of an illustration that I heard a preacher use in a sermon one time. He said that those who are being trained to detect fake money do not spend a lot of time studying all the different kinds of fake bank notes that are out there. Instead, they spend a lot of time and discipline themselves to know and study all the different features of the real ones.

Once they have all the features of the real bank notes down, it’s very easy for them to detect what is fake and identify what’s real. I think that fits in very well here. In as much as we need to be aware of the devil and arm ourselves accordingly for battle against him, we don’t need to spend too much time trying to figure out what the devil looks like, his tricks, etc. Instead, we need to spend a lot of time with God and discipline ourselves to really get to know Him. Those who know God well and have been trained by the Word to know His ways and acts will not have a hard time detecting Satan and his works when he comes to attack and tempt them.

One of the greatest ways through which the devil has affected the church of Jesus Christ today and led many believers astray is through doctrinal errors. This is a very powerful tool that the devil has used in very vicious ways time and time again in the history of the church. Through the spreading of false doctrine about God, man, salvation, etc, he has advanced and continues to advance his wicked agenda in this world which is “…steal, kill and destroy…” (John 10:10).

Merrill F. Unger, in his book entitled, Demons in the World Today writes,

“Every believer should realize that Satan can use doctrinal errors to his advantage, but he cannot overcome the Christian’s defenses in God’s Holy Word!…In the measure that we neglect or abandon the Word of God, demonism flourishes. Ignorance of biblical truth breeds gullibility. Deception is easy when the Word of God is not taught accurately. We are ready to believe anything when we cannot evaluate it in the light of biblical truth (1 John 4:1-6).”[3]

Thus it is very important that every Christian guards him/herself from false doctrine and that the appointed leaders in the church of Jesus Christ (pastors, elders, etc) be very diligent in making sure that the spirit of the antichrist does not invade the church and spread false doctrine to the detriment of the people of God.

[1] Barnhouse, Donald Grey, The Invisible War, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1965 p. 157

[2] Barnhouse, p. 144

[3] Unger, Merrill F., Demons in the World Today, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL, May 1972, p. 18

Semper Reformanda – “Always Reformed”

The Most Misused Motto in the Church Today

In the recent years, the church in Malawi has seen a number of changes particularly with respect to doctrine(s) in the various churches represented across the country.  An examination of these changes indicates that there is a subtle but radical shift towards liberalism in many of our churches especially the well established mainline denominations.  Instead of being the buttress of truth described in 1 Timothy 3:15, the church has become a proponent of worldly philosophies and doctrines of men (most of which are being imported from liberal denominations in the West).

It is sad to note that the proponents of these changes often claim semper reformanda (“always reformed”) as their motto.  This is a phrase that is commonly heard among Protestant Christians around the world whether conservative or liberal.  The conservative wing of the Protestant Church on one hand uses semper reformanda to encourage the Church towards a more biblical definition and application of what it means to be Reformed.  The liberal wing on the other hand, uses semper reformanda to encourage the Church towards a more “progressive” definition of what it means to be Reformed mainly as a means of justifying their capitulation to the “spirit of the age.”

My plea to all Christians in all the churches across Malawi is to emulate the example of the Berean Christians recorded for us in Acts 17:11.  The Bible tells us that the Jewish Christians in Berea were “…more noble than those in Thessalonica…” because “…they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The Church (Christians) in Berea examined the Scriptures daily checking to make sure that what Paul was teaching them was in agreement with the Word of God.  Every Christian who cares about the glory of God, the honor of His Word and the good of the true Church of Jesus Christ must do the same.

Yes, the church needs to be reformed.  But that reformation must be according to the Word of God.  Semper reformanda speaks of the exhortation given us in Jude 3 “to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”  The essence of it simply stated is that the church always needs to be reformed (passive tense, not “reforming”) by the work of the Holy Spirit according to the Word of God which is unchanging and unchangeable.  Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) was at the very heart of the Reformation that took place in the 16th Century.  The Reformation did not advocate change for its own sake.  Rather, it condemned the Roman Catholic Church for accumulating and bringing into the church so many new doctrines and practices which were unprecedented in the history of the ancient or the New Testament church.  Thus the Reformation advocated for a return to the Root, a return to the Scriptures.  That’s what semper reformanda is all about.  The full sentence goes like this in Latin, Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei translated in English as “The Reformed church, always being reformed according to the Word of God.”  We need to remember that true reformation is a monergistic work of God mediated through His Word by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, in talking about the need to “always be reformed,” we must keep in mind the following:

1.    The Word of God is the primarily instrument of reformation: True reformation begins with a return to the Word of God. It is not the ingenuity of man, but the power of the Word of God.  We are to be transformed by the “renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) by submitting ourselves in every way to the Word of God in which His “good and acceptable and perfect will” has been revealed to us.  This can only happen as we saturate our minds and our hearts with the Word of God and submit to what He says to us as His people (the Church).

I appeal to you therefore, brothers by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

2.    God is the singular agent and initiator of true reformation: The church cannot reform itself.  The Lord God must do the work of reforming the church.  He does not need any help.  He can and does whatever He does according to the counsel of His will.  He does not need to consult with us.  Neither does He seek or need our help even to change us.  He is the Sovereign Lord and He does whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases and with whomever He pleases and however He pleases.  Our response must be one of worship and adoration to Him and all His works.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?”  “Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?”  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen (Romans 8:33-36).

3.    Christianity is a historic Faith: The Christian faith is not a novel religion whose future and relevance is dependent on the innovative gimmicks of the 21st Century men and women.  No!  Christianity is rooted in history.  It is a “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). It cannot be improved upon because it does not need any improvement.  Times and places may change, but the Christian faith and its core doctrines, solidly rooted and anchored in the Word of God, will remain the same.

Beloved, although I was eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 3-4).

We need to pay close attention to the last phrase of this sentence:  “The Reformed church, [being] reformed according to the Word of God.” We must agree with  the Reformers that it is the church that needs to be reformed according to the Word of God and not vice versaAs sinful creatures, we constantly need to be reformed according to God’s Word. The image of God in us which was marred by sin in the Fall must increasingly be restored by the work of the Holy Spirit according to the Word of God “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).  The church is created, sustained and reformed according to the Word of God through and through.  It cannot be the other way round.


NOTE: This article has been adapted from a longer article published in the denominational newsletter of the Associated Presbyterian Church: (pages 8-11).