There seems to be a continuing misunderstanding of what it means to build a “Brick Wall.” I have tried to define it in these posts, but I am aware that it is not likely that people are reading every word in this lengthy series. The purpose of a Brick Wall is not to separate Christians from the lost! Jesus never separated himself from the lost and we cannot either. We are must engage the sinful world if we hope to show the love of Jesus Christ to them. The Brick Wall of separation is not meant to divide us from those who need Christ.
But we must separate ourselves from the false apostles, false prophets and false teachers whom Jesus promised would be among us. The Brick Wall is not meant to keep the world out, but to keep the wolves out! There will always be those who twist the Word of God to lead God’s people astray. We must always beware of these people, identify them and protect the sheep we serve from them. That is why I am indentifying “Brick Wall” doctrines. These are the fundamental truths on which we cannot compromise.
When someone denies one of these doctrines, we know that they are not true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that they are advocating teachings that will be poison to the sheep of God. So, we refuse fellowship with those people, we identify and rebuke them and their teachings publicly and we refuse to partner with them in “unequally yoked” ministries.
In the last post, I identified the first of these “Brick Wall” doctrines. We must build a Brick Wall around the trustworthiness and authority of God’s Word. In this post, I will continue to identify the doctrines I believe are essential to the faith, around which we must build the Brick Wall of separation.
Brick Wall 2: Our Triune God is Sovereign
“In the beginning, God…” The Bible starts with God and it finishes with his glory being displayed over all the world. No doctrine is more crucial than “Theology Proper” – the doctrine of God. People today have created fictional gods who fit their own ideas. Frankly, the God presented in the Bible is shocking to our modern sensibilities.
But we do not have the option of creating a god to fit our own ideas. The Second Commandment tells us that we must not make our own gods to worship. We have to deal with the One Who Is – the Great I Am – Yahweh, the Creator and Sustainer of this universe. It is not our job to make God who we want him to be, but to figure out who he is as he is revealed in scripture. We must understand the revealed God and deal with him as he is.
The Bible presents God as the Creator and Ruler of the universe. Those two concepts are inextricably linked. It is because God made this world that he is the rightful ruler over it. If he is not the creator, then he is simply a usurper, one who demands what he does not deserve.
As a longtime fan of Tolkien and Lewis, I have tried my hand at fantasy. I let my mother read the book and, of course, she thought it was wonderful. (My mom thinks I can outpreach Chuck Swindoll, too.) But she said, “I don’t like the ending of the book.” At the end, one of the main characters dies and mom wanted a happier ending. My reaction? “If you don’t like the ending of my book, write your own!” No, I wasn’t mean to her (rest your hearts) but that’s the way it is. When I “create” a book, I’m in control of the characters. I write the story as it pleases me and I write the ending I think the book should have.
Ultimately, that is the problem with many today. We want to tell the Creator how to write the story of the world he made. What hubris! Paul addressed this in Romans 9:20-21. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” Of course, there are some heavyweight theological issues here, but put those aside for a moment to see the big picture. The Potter has the rights, not the clay. The Creator is in charge, not the creation.
Ever heard someone say, “The god I worship wouldn’t do that!” Of course he wouldn’t. He is a figment of your imagination and you created him to fit your own whims and desires. When you create your own god, you make him what you want him to be. We do not get to do that. The God of the Bible is big and awesome. He is glorious beyond our knowledge.
The God of the Bible has an intellect and knowledge we simply cannot access.
In Romans 11:33-34, Paul says this, “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?” He has it all under control. His intelligence is beyond our comprehension. Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We must trust his intelligence and sovereign knowledge, not trying to impose ours upon him.
There are few things clearer in scripture than the sovereign control over the world he made. He holds the creator’s right to rule and does so. Human beings often think we are in control, that we are the “captain of our fate” and that our decisions rule the world. But, as the Psalmist (Psalms 2) says that God looks down on those who think they can oppose his governance and “laughs”. Others acts as if Satan is in charge of the earth, but the Bible makes it clear that this is not so. Satan does not run the world, God does. He is the Author; the one who is telling the story!
A Triune God
The Bible also presents God as Triune; one God who exists eternally in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Many have treated this doctrine as insignificant, but it is fundamental to a biblical view of God. The foundation for this doctrine was laid in the Old Testament, and it is fully revealed in the New Testament. It is in the relationships within the Godhead that the plan of salvation was devised. When the doctrine of the Trinity is compromised, other doctrines are sure to follow.
God of Holiness, God of Love
Finally, the Bible presents God with two primary characteristics displayed in his dealings with man. If we ignore either of these, we err. God is holy; perfect and sinless. He cannot excuse or ignore sin. When Adam and Eve chose sin, they separated themselves from God. God does not punish sin because he is mean, but because his holy and righteous character demands it. This is the most commonly ignored characteristic of God. We do not so much have a Father in heaven anymore, but a Grandfather who winks at sin and thinks it is cute. Many nominal Christians cringe in horror at even the suggestion that the God we serve might actually punish sin and evildoers.
But there is another side of God, one that in some ways seems to be in conflict with his holiness. He is love; merciful and gracious in his dealings with mankind. God loves sinners and demonstrated that in a real and tangible way.
Jesus was the solution to this seeming conflict in the character of God. God’s holiness demanded the punishment of sin but God’s love motivated the redemption of sinners. That is the theological root of the work of Jesus on the Cross. He fulfilled the righteousness and holiness of God by living a sinless life. Then, he died on the cross, bearing our sins. He satisfied the holiness of God and his wrath against sin by bearing the full weight of judgment. In doing this, God was able to show his love and to redeem and forgive sinners.
This is no namby-pamby God of Love. His love is not demonstrated by ignoring sin (which he could not do). His love is displayed in the sacrifice of his only Son to pay the wages our sins earned. It cost God the blood of his Son to extend his love to us.
This is the God of scripture, the God who IS! We do not get to make a god whom we like. We have to serve the God who is, who is revealed in the perfect Word. And we must never compromise these truths.
Within modern evangelicalism we are beginning to see the effects of the refusal of many to erect a Brick Wall. Doctrines that undermine the sovereignty of God, the Trinity, and the holiness of God are widespread. We cannot allow the weakened god of modern perception to replace the awesome and powerful God of the Bible in our hearts!
Brick Wall 3: Mankind is Sinful
“I believe people are basically good.” That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it is not only contrary to all evidence, but it is contrary to the clear revelation of Scripture. Few doctrines are as unpopular as utter sinfulness of human beings. Few doctrines are denied or compromised as often either.
The biblical evidence could hardly be more clear. Romans 3:23 says that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The description of the human condition earlier in Romans 3 can hardly be called complimentary. It sounds a lot like the judgment of God on the ancient world in Genesis 6:5. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It is a condition with major effects. Romans 6:23 tells us that “The wages of sin is death.” We have sinned against God and because of that we are separated from him and facing death and judgment.
What Depravity Means
The doctrine is called depravity. It does not mean that everything a human being does is evil, but that the general inclination of our hearts is toward evil, that evil rules our hearts and thoughts. Children may be cute and cuddly, but their instincts are sinful. They do not need to be taught to lie or steal or throw tantrums. That comes naturally to sinful human beings. We have to teach our children to do what is right.
Depravity also means that we are helpless to change our sinful condition or do anything to earn the favor of God. A sinner may work hard to become a better person, to break a bad habit or addiction, to change his behavior. But what he cannot do is become good enough to earn the favor of God. He cannot break the hold of sin on his mind or heart. Being sinful, he is helpless to change himself.
Paul warned Timothy about what would happen in the days ahead. In 2 Timothy 2:3-4, after exhorting Timothy to preach the Word faithfully, he told him,
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound? teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
People do not want to hear the truth about their sinful condition. Many would rather have a preacher tickle theirs ears with positive lies than to tell them the ugly truth about our sinful condition before God.
A pastor in Texas has built an enormous church by avoiding the topics of sin and repentance. He does not so much preach as he does therapy from the pulpit, helping people feel good about themselves. And it is working. The church purchased the stadium that the local NBA franchise used to use. People are eating up his “I’m okay, you’re okay” theology. But the fact that he is drawing a crowd does not mean that he is receiving the “amen” of heaven. I saw him on a national talk show. He waffled on almost every question he was asked. He was reluctant to say that Jesus was the only way or that those who refuse Christ face judgment. People do not want to hear that they are sinners under the wrath of God, and he only wants to say what people want to hear.
But if we would be faithful to God’s Word, we must teach what people do not want to hear. Beware of any church or pastor who grows a big church by downplaying the basic truth of man’s sinfulness. “All have sinned,” and “The wages of sin is death.” These truths we cannot deny or ignore.
And yet, that is what we are doing today. We may believe the doctrine of depravity, but we ignore it. We treat it like a shameful family secret. We work to encourage people instead of calling them to repentance.
It is an interesting paradox. No one wants to hear about sin, but it is only when we acknowledge our sin that we receive the salvation offered in Christ. The positive preachers who ignore sin condemn sinners to the judgment of God. If you do not preach sin, you cannot preach salvation. I heard the pastor of a large church remark, “My people have a hard enough time in their lives without me beating them over the head with the fact that they are sinners.” He had bought into the false positive message. But the problem with that message is that it does not work. It may make someone feel better, but it cannot save the soul. Only when we repent of our sin and turn from it do we receive forgiveness and experience eternal life.
It is the sick who need a doctor. It is those who recognize that they are gravely ill who seek a doctor. It is only when the church preaches sin that sinners will realize their dire condition and seek the healing power of the Great Physician of the soul.