By Ron Halbrook
From the time of the Garden of Eden until now, a great battle has been raging between God and Satan for the souls of men. God has his people, Satan has his people, and there is no middle ground (Matt. 12:30). Each of us is in this battle on one side or the other. God calls on us to take a stand for truth and right, and to fight to the end.
Ephesians 6:10-18 describes this spiritual warfare and teaches us we must arm ourselves with the Word of God to win the victory. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore.” If we take our stand for God’s truth and stand with that truth in the battle, we will finally stand in victory. 2 Timothy 4:1-8 is a stirring call from an old soldier of the cross about to lay down his life as he urges a younger preacher to faithfully proclaim God’s Word. Paul said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” Let us consider some steps and stages in that great warfare for the hearts, minds, and souls of people.
1. We Must Obey the Gospel. When we obey the gospel of Christ, God removes us from Satan’s army and enrolls us in his own. We must know that we are lost in our sins and that God gave his Son as the perfect sacrifice for sin. This genuine faith in Christ includes repentance and water baptism, i.e., a spiritual birth resulting from the power of the gospel as revealed by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-5, 16). When we come to God by faith, repentance, and baptism, the blood of Christ washes away our sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16). Thus we pass from spiritual darkness to light, from death to life.
2. We Must Rise to Walk in Newness of Life. To be “baptized into Jesus Christ” is no mere ritual but means to be “buried with him by baptism” into his death. We are saved by his blood when baptized; then, just as he arose, “even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4, 21-23). The rest of our lives are spent serving God and truth, not Satan and sin.
Sprinkling is not Bible baptism because the burial is missing. Imagine burying a dead man by sprinkling a little dust on him! Denominationalism teaches that men are saved and then baptized, but that means a man is already alive unto God when buried in the water. To bury a live man is to kill him. That cannot be the picture of Bible baptism!
3. We Must Draw Close to God Each Day. The battle for souls puts us in a spiritual relationship with God or Satan. Each day we fill our hearts with God’s will or Satan’s will by listening to God’s Word or to the sinful world. Satan’s servants delight “in the counsel of the ungodly, . . . in the way of sinners, (and) . . . in the seat of the scornful.” God’s servant delights “in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Ps. 1:1-2). We pay daily homage to God by prayer and worship, or to Satan by worldly, sinful, ungodly talk. David said, “I will call upon God. . . . Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (Ps. 55:16-17).
4. We Must Take God’s Word as the Final Authority. God told Noah exactly how to build the ark. Noah respected God’s Word as final: “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he” (Gen. 6:22). God gave Moses “the pattern of the tabernacle” and told him to make all things according to that pattern (Exod. 25:8-9). When Naaman accepted God’s instruction “and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God,” his leprosy was healed (2 Kings 5).
We today must respect God’s Word as the final authority. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). We must speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where it is silent, call Bible things by Bible names, and do Bible things in Bible ways. God’s Word is the only authority, not preachers, friends, or the majority.
5. We Must Be Members of the Church of Christ. Jesus promised, “I will build my church,” only one church, his own (Matt. 16:18). All who obey the gospel are added to it by God himself (Acts 2:47). “Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:23). If Christ is to be our Head and Savior, we must obey the gospel and be added to his spiritual body, the church. He teaches his people to meet in each community to worship him and to spread the gospel. These local assemblies are called “churches of Christ” because they belong to him (Rom. 16:16). Each follower of Christ wears his name and no other: “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:27).
The church of Christ is not a modern denomination but is the church we read about in the Bible. This church is scriptural in origin, name, doctrine, and practice, but denominational bodies are not. Christ did not authorize such names as Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon. He authorized singing in worship but not instrumental music (Eph. 5:19). Women are not to exercise “authority over the man” in the church by preaching, by leading prayers and songs, or in any other way (1 Tim. 2:12). Such things occur in churches made by men, not in Christ’s true church.
6. We Must Resist Every Step of Apostasy. Apostasy means departure from the truth, which God warned would come when “grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (1 Tim. 4:1; Acts 20:28-29). Many steps of apostasy taken after the Apostles died ultimately produced Roman Catholicism with its many false doctrines and practices. The Protestant Reformation repudiated many of these errors but retained others.
Those who restored the original gospel and church of Christ have suffered new cycles of apostasy. God’s people often have fallen back into the errors out of which we have come, like “the dog . . . turned to his own vomit again” (2 Pet. 2:22). Brethren have perverted the worship with instrumental music, entertaining quartets, and chorus performances. Some have accepted premillennial error. Others have embraced church support of human institutions (missionary societies, colleges, camps, child care agencies, retirement centers, etc.). Some churches now sponsor social meals, build kitchens, and organize ball teams. We must be reminded the church is not a social welfare institution or a recreational club (1 Cor. 11:34; 1 Tim. 5:16). Dangerous trends now developing include divorce-remarriage error, the influence of sectarian and liberal concepts, loose ideas on grace and unity, the positive-mental-attitude philosophy (avoid controversy, debate, calling names), misusing Romans 14 to promote unity-in-doctrinal-diversity, and the demand for softer preaching in general.
7. We Must Keep Unspotted from the World. “Pure religion” requires each Christian to “keep himself unspotted from the world. . . . Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 1:27; 4:4). Souls will be lost when worldliness enters the hearts and lives of Christians. This danger comes when we are more interested in material than spiritual things. Worldliness comes through sexual immorality, social drinking, profanity, dancing, gambling (yes, including the lottery), and immodest dress (shorts, short skirts, swim suits, tank and tube tops, tight clothes, etc. in mixed company).
8. We Must Love God and Our Fellowman. All God teaches us hinges on loving God first and then “thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:37-40). Love for God involves obeying his commands no matter what the cost. Love for our neighbor means seeking his true welfare. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor” (Rom. 13:9-10). By teaching people the gospel in its purity and simplicity, we show the greatest love that can be shown. That is why Christ commanded, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16; 1 Tim. 4:1).
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