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Volume 7, Issue 3: Stauron

The Agenda of the Cross

Jim Nance

Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but do not do them Ezekiel 33:32.

We are all aware of the many warnings in scripture to avoid false teaching which sounds good to our itching ears. God rebukes those who ask the seers to "speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isa. 30:10) and scorns those who listen to the false prophet promising to "prophesy to you of wine and drink," by responding, "Even he would be the prattler of this people" (Mic. 2:11). And so we seek to imitate the Bereans who received Paul's words willingly and then searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether the things he spoke were so. Sunday afternoon we check our most trusted commentaries so that we can sharpen one another Sunday evening. We work our way through the meaty theological tomes of Edwards, Owen, and Calvin, preferring doctrinal beef jerky to devotional broth.
Well and good. But do we escape into the house and lean against the wall, only to be bitten by a snake? Do we surround ourselves with orthodox teaching of the cross that puffs our spiritual pride because we agree with it and can defend it, but neglect to practice what is preached? Do we delight in logic but disregard love?
In the passage quoted above, the Israelites were enthusiastic about good teaching. They would "speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, 'Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord,' " then they would eagerly seat themselves in front of the prophet to listen. How encouraged we would be by this earnest response if we were Ezekiel. But God told him, "They hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouths they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain" (Ezek. 33:31).
People who fall into our particular stripe can find heavy doctrine enjoyable and even entertaining. They gobble up the first eleven chapters of Romans and the first half of Ephesians, only to glide through the remaining chapters where Paul puts those truths to work. But if they neglect to take what goes into their brains and work it out through their hands, it is worse than useless.
How easy it is to think that hearing is obeying, that knowing what to do is the same as doing it. Jesus warned His hearers of this at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. He who hears Christ's sayings and does them builds his house on the rock, but he who hears and does not do them builds his house on the sand. Both men hear Christ; both build their houses and for a time believe themselves to be secureuntil the storm comes or until the trials which test our learning come upon us.
So you affirm total depravity and unconditional election? You believe that God the Father loved those who hated Him and that while they were still sinners Christ died for them? Then you do good to those who hate you and bless those who slander you. Go out of your way to love the unlovely. The Father planned to love you from eternity past. Plan to love your children tomorrow and start making plans for your grandchildren!
You profess limited atonement? You say that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her alone? Then give yourself to your wife and to her alone. Stop taking sidelong glances at the magazine racks and coveting other men's wives! Love your wife as Christ loved the church. Care for her and keep her warm. Wash the dishes, and help change the kids' diapers. Jesus laid down His life for His friends. Then lay down your life for your friends, considering their interests above your own.
Do you believe in irresistible grace? Did God take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh to respond to His love? Then love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Is your faith a gift from God? God describes the faith that He gives in this way: "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warm and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
You affirm the perseverance of the saints? Then persevere in sanctification. Will God carry out to completion the good work that He began in you? Then "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do according to His good pleasure." The cross of Jesus is a cross at work. You also should persevere in the work that God has prepared beforehand for you to walk in.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The love by which we build one another up is a good indicator of how well we are truly learning what God would have us learn. Have you put into practice the last book you read? If not, then perhaps you should wait awhile before you look through the Fat Book catalogue for a new one. It is usually better to do a good thing than to hear a new thing. Think about that the next time you pull another book off your shelf.

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