The state of evangelicalism is deteriorating rapidly. I believe that within our lifetime we will see serious censorship of pastors, biblical ministries, and even the laymen's voice. We're witnessing the beginning of it now. The ability to freely proclaim the gospel will soon be rare. Persecution of true believers in the United States is closer than we think. And what is the current condition of church attenders? Most take the view that we should be tolerant, loving towards those who promote a different, unbiblical doctrine--that unity is more important than truth, and we should allow people to teach what God is personally "speaking" to them without question. Most are not able to identify error because they aren't familiar enough with the truth. Because a lack of discernment has infiltrated our churches, we have allowed wolves into the pack who preach a different gospel, a different Jesus, and the few who are calling them out are being silenced and shamed into climbing down off of the walls they watch from. This is the motivation that has fueled me to write this series.
In the previous three parts (part one, part two and part three), we talked about some crucial characteristics of a Smart Sheep which include:
1- Smart Sheep Read the Word for Themselves.
2- Smart Sheep Ask God for Wisdom.
3- Smart Sheep Compare Everything to Scripture.
4- Smart Sheep Protest Against False Doctrine.
5- Smart Sheep Pray for their Pastor.
6- Smart Sheep Choose Truth Over Unity.
7- Smart Sheep Elevate Scripture, Not Experience.
And here, in our last part of the series, we'll uncover a few more characteristics that I am praying more and more sheep will adopt in order to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.
8. SMART SHEEP Worship Jesus, Not the Pastor
I have been totally guilty of this. Yes. I would put so much faith in what I was hearing that I would forget that pastors are just regular men who are susceptible to the same deception as anybody else. I used to never question what I was taught, believing that pastors did the hard work for me. I became blinded by my devotion. But I have come to realize that I have a responsibility to take what I learn and dig deep into the Bible to compare and confirm before I swallow.
Love these words from JC Ryle:
9. SMART SHEEP trust "The Bible Says" and question "God Told Me"
Smart Sheep are leery of those who claim "God told me," as this subjective claim cannot be proven or exegeted. What God "told" one person could completely contradict what He "told" someone else, and that's just plain impossible. God never contradicts Himself. Someone once said, "If you want to hear God speak, read your Bible. If you want to hear God speak audibly, read your Bible out loud." Wisdom. And since I plan on dealing with this issue in separate blog, I'll move on.
10. SMART SHEEP Don't Waste Time in Frivolous Arguments
So. True. I see it all the time. Good meaning Christians will argue over the littlest things, pouring out their energy to defend minor issues with people who are just baiting them, stringing them along, and wasting their time and emotion. It's actually a pretty smart strategy for Satan to employ–stirring up strife within the ranks to weaken the soldiers so they're useless for real battle.
2 Timothy 2:16 says, "But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness..." Too often we are tempted to engage in fruitless arguments that bring no glory to Christ. Not only do they not honor Christ, they are a put-off to the unregenerate who shake their heads as they witness believers ripping one another to shreds over non-salvific, usually irrelevant issues. "Avoid." Smart Sheep use wisdom to determine what discussions are worth their time. Smart Sheep know when to keep their mouths shut.
Division has poured into the church. When we are more concerned about elevating our own views on non-salvific issues, discernment is lacking and the bottom line has turned into issues of pride and self-promotion rather than the protection of God's truth. There are clear lines in scripture that must not be crossed, and those are the hills where we should stand our ground. Everything else becomes a distraction to the gospel.
Every believer should be armed and equipped to face the raging spiritual battle we are in every day. And every believer should realize how crucial it is for them to be immersed in the best antidote God offers to protect us all from deception–the Bible. We have what we need, yet many believers never study the Word, become anemic, and are effectively "tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14).
"The devil is not fighting religion. He's too smart for that. He is producing a counterfeit Christianity, so much like the real one, that good Christians are afraid to speak out against it. We are plainly told in the Scriptures that in the last days men will not endure sound doctrine and will depart from the faith and heap to themselves teachers to tickle their ears. We live in an epidemic of this itch, and popular preachers have developed 'ear-tickling' into a fine art." -Vance Havner
What is the bottom line for Smart Sheep? They need to regularly read and study God's Word. My prayer is that this series on discernment points each and every reader to an obvious solution to an enormous problem.
I'll end with one of my very favorite quotes from one of my all-time favorite books: Warnings to the Churches, by JC Ryle.