If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Years ago, we at the Berean Call had a board member who also pastored a church not too far from Bend, Oregon, where TBC is located. His name was Bob Zachary, and he was a true shepherd of his flock. He was highly respected in his community, and it seemed as though everyone knew Pastor Zachary. Even here in Bend, when I would go places with him, we would often run into former members of his fellowship who were now living here. His amiable greeting was always charged at some point with these words, “How’s your walk with the Lord going?” What a wonderful question that was, revealing his love and concern for his sheep, former and present, and opening the door for encouragement or conviction or correction. Bob was graciously “old school”—or perhaps I should say old “biblical” school—not influenced by the social correctness of the day or given to small talk. His conversations were concise gems of ministry, as he focused upon Jesus and His Word. He deferred to the Holy Spirit to have His way in the communication, knowing that he was simply a planter of spiritual seeds for thought or sometimes a waterer of seedlings, encouraging their growth (1 Corinthians:3:7), and that any fruitfulness that might come would be produced by God himself.
Churches in our day sorely need pastors like Bob Zachary, who is now home with the Lord, enjoying the rewards of his labor in Christ. In these times, where consumerism reigns in fellowships, where seeker-sensitive/seeker-friendly approaches, marketing surveys and strategies, and self-oriented psychotherapies are implemented for church growth, questions like “How’s your walk with the Lord going?” are anathema. Why? Because they may bring about conviction of sin, which is a turn-off for the “consumer Christian,” one who is led by things that primarily make him or her feel good. When that doesn’t happen, the consumer goes elsewhere.
This is the paradigm of our times. It’s a shift from objective truth to subjective feelings and is apparent in the world and in the church as both unwittingly contribute to the development of the “self is a god” religion of the Antichrist. Joel Osteen didn’t produce the largest church in America by preaching sin and repentance. Quite the contrary! Consumer Christians must hear what makes them happy—or, again, they’re gone. The irony of the Church Growth Movement was that its stated intention to woo the lost or “unchurched” to church didn’t increase their numbers by conversions. They simply enlarged their congregations by offering the most attractive programs! That increase, in fact, was drawn from smaller churches that couldn’t afford “feel good” offerings, such as a video arcade for the youth, a food court, theatrical programs, sports programs (including “Christianized” yoga), etc. Winning souls to Christ through conviction of sin and repentance has no place in church-growth marketing schemes. Neither does a worldly approach solve a believer’s problems that arise from living on this fallen planet.
Asking someone how his walk with the Lord is going has been, in my experience, the basis for a rapid exit in more than a few counseling sessions where I’ve ministered. Over the years, as I’ve had opportunities to help brothers-in-Christ and couples who profess to know the Lord, my initial approach has been to pass over the problems they want solved and focus on the status of their walk with Jesus. That didn’t gratify those who were merely interested in a quick fix. They missed the fact that nearly all of our problems are actually symptoms created by an anemic or worse relationship with our Lord. The basis of that alienation can be summed up in our Savior’s own words: “And why call me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke:6:46). Those seeking help for their marriages most often want the faults of their spouses addressed and corrected ASAP! Even if that were to take place (I’ve yet to see it happen swiftly), it never gets to the root of their problems. And by “root,” I’m not referring to their family history, childhood traumas, economic conditions, low self-esteem, lack of self-love, or the myriad of fabricated psychotherapeutic therapies. No. The root of my concern for them is where they are in their obedience and love for Jesus.
Jesus declared: “If a man love me he will keep my words…” (John:14:23). That’s hardly complex, nor does it demand months and years of “inner” therapy. If they are on track with the Lord’s exhortation, then I can guarantee that problems are going to get solved and things are going to get better for them. How quickly? That depends on the willingness of those involved to do things God’s way. Relationships don’t usually go south overnight and therefore may take time to be restored. The restoration, however, doesn’t come through session after session with a counselor—Christian, biblical, or otherwise. It comes through reading what God’s Word says…and doing it. The good news is that although we may drift away from Jesus, He is always there for us (Hebrews:13:5). Furthermore, the believer has the Holy Spirit resident within to enable him or her to repent and then do things God’s way with His help.
As believers, we need to continually evaluate where we are in terms of doing things according to God’s Word: Scripture exhorts us to “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except [unless] ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians:13:5). We are told that we as followers of Jesus are in the world but not of the world. Our program is not the world’s program. Consequently that difference will create problems for us—problems that may come along for the sake of Christ. As difficult as that may be for us, such conditions are fully covered by God’s grace. In other words, nothing that happens can displace God’s loving kindnesses, tender mercies, compassion, blessings, and even the joy He has for us. James tells us that we are to “…count it all joy” when we undergo trials and tribulations in the testing of one’s faith (James:1:2-3). Without the supernatural help of God’s grace, that joy would be impossible.
On the other hand, grace does not exempt the believer from the repercussions of doing his own thing (i.e., walking his own walk rather than following Jesus). Even so, God’s mercy is always available for His children. Sin does have consequences: “The wages of sin is death...” (Romans:6:23), meaning the resulting separation of a believer in his relationship (not his eternal security) with Jesus as well as reaping what he has sown. Even so, by God’s mercy, the repentant believer is delivered from what he has done in disobedience to God’s Word, at least to some degree. God’s mercy notwithstanding, walking our own disobedient walk will bring nothing but grief to our lives and to our loved ones, directly and/or indirectly.
The prophet Jeremiah underscores what our own sins do to us: “Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, when he led thee by the way?...Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee…. Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart” (Jeremiah:2:17,19; 4:18).
The Word of God gives instructions that must be obeyed if our lives are to bear fruit. As we examine problematic areas in our lives, we need only check to see if what we are doing lines up with the Scriptures. Yes, some things that occur may be out of our control, but for most things, we can discover the answer regarding our problems in what we are doing or not doing. How are we ministering to our children? Why are they creating havoc in our family? Might it have something to do with our own walk, which they are observing? Are we reflecting the light and life of Christ? How are we treating our spouses? That’s one condition that can hinder answers to prayer (see 1 Peter:3:7). Are we self-serving? Has the fruit of the Spirit gone AWOL, either partially or altogether? What of Love? Joy? Peace? Longsuffering? Kindness? Goodness? Faithfulness? Gentleness? Self-control? The simple truth is that doing things man’s way leads to destruction (Proverbs:14:12; 16:25). Doing things according to God’s instructions, and with His help, leads to a fruitful temporal life and eternal rewards.
Referring to those who have received the gospel of salvation, Jesus said that the free gift was made free for us by His paying the full penalty for our sins: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John:10:10). That must include every believer’s life here on earth as well as our future life throughout eternity, or else biblical Christianity is nothing more than powerless moral and ethical platitudes, a self-help program of supposed good works. Scripture speaks continually of God’s rewards in heaven for a believer’s commitment and service to Him on earth. “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter:1:10-11): “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians:1:3). Yet it also tells us of God’s blessings here on earth for those who obey His instructions. John:10:10 makes it clear that Jesus came not only to give us eternal life but life that may be lived “more abundantly.” Reactions to the lies of the so-called prosperity teachers have caused many Christians to either jump aboard their health-and-wealth gospel or disregard what the Scriptures actually teach about prosperity. When John writes in 3 John:1:2 about prosperity, his focus isn’t upon financial blessing for a believer but rather for one’s whole life in Christ—body, soul, and spirit. Wealth may indeed come, but only as it enriches the saint’s overall life in Christ. Moreover, affluence, according to God’s Word, is a more difficult condition in which to submit to the teachings of Christ. The rich young ruler of Matthew:19:16-24 and the seed of the Word being choked out by “the deceitfulness of riches” in Mark:4:19 indicate as much. It’s not impossible, but it’s not a path that many want to pursue in their desire for wealth. What we may be missing here is of what the abundant life in Christ may truly consist.
Do wealthy people have problems? Perhaps not related to finances, but there are many other problems that a more-than-adequate bank account can’t fix. Everyone has problems. Yet they can all be solved in Christ through the abundance of what He has provided for every believer. Consider what was mentioned earlier—the fruit of the Spirit. As those qualities are truly manifested in a believer’s walk with the Lord, think of all the consequences of sin they will remedy: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians:5:22-23). “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians:5:8-11). We need to be reminded of Jeremiah’s words here: “Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you” (Jeremiah:5:25). God indeed has good things for believers that the world can neither prevent nor acquire. Beyond solving our personal problems, He wants us to be fruitful in this world, in our families, in our communities, in our workplaces. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians:2:10).
Good works, as I hope we all know, can’t save anyone. No one is saved by them. We are saved by Jesus. Yet, as His workmanship, He saved us unto good works, enabling us to live a life that is fruitful, productive, a blessing to others, and most of all—pleasing to God. All of those things are contingent upon our relationship with Jesus, our walk with Him. So….
How’s your walk with the Lord going? As we’ve indicated, that question is definitely not rhetorical. It demands self-examination. It demands a soul-searching answer, and your answer will reveal those things that you need to maintain, obtain, restrain, and, in some cases, from which you must abstain. Paul’s prayer for those in the church at Colosse is a prayer that we should pray continually for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for all who claim to follow Jesus. “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Colossians:1:9-11).