An Appearance of Godliness – The Real Thing (Series Finale)

2Ti 3:5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

We have looked in this series at many real examples of counterfeits. People who, as Paul warns, have an exterior appearance of godliness but who, like the whitewashed Pharisees, do not possess Christ within. We are told to avoid such people. This means:

  • We CAN identify such people (in spite of being told and told by pastors and churches and “experts” that we must not “judge” and that we cannot spot the fakes)
  • We must be wise to evil (Heb 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.)
  • We CAN recognize the real thing (1Jn 2:5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:)
  • We are not to just blindly “go to church” assuming that most everyone there is a Christian. We are to AVOID the counterfeit and in many cases virtually entire church memberships are filled with corrupt, “christian-in-appearance-only” types.

But in addition to these things, we can be encouraged by the biblical truth that we CAN identify real godliness. That we CAN recognize Christ’s true people, even though their numbers are small and in this day of a plague of false gospels in churches, they are widely scattered. We CAN know them:

  • Joh 10:4-5 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (5) A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
  • Joh 10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,
  • 1Jn 2:10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.
  • Mat 7:17-20 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (18) A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Now, this means we must be able to recognize good fruit. Mostly we have been taught that fruit can be judged by its skin, but the real test involves what is inside. And THE key defining fruit of Christ’s people is LOVE. In all of the cases that we have examined in this series of articles, this is the one thing that is always lacking. Love. Love for Christ. Love for Christ’s people. A love that will not let go. A love that is not self-serving. A love that is so great that we will follow Christ wherever He leads. A loyal love – not a blind loyalty, but a loyalty that clings to Christ in truth and stands with His people in good and bad times.

Christ’s real people DO exist! Elijah, you recall, thought he alone was left. But it wasn’t true. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s church and though His flock be scattered and persecuted so that they are found in caves rather than in cathedrals, we can always know that the real church exists. This of course all requires a big paradigm shift in our minds regarding what Christ looks like and what His church looks like.

Heb 11:37-38 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— (38) of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

 

In all of these years that I have been a pastor, there have always been a few. People who genuinely love Christ, love His people, whose love is a persevering, loyal love that is never extinguished. It is a love that is wise. It sees evil. It refuses to walk, stand, or sit with evil. It stands with those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. In other words, the real thing, the genuine article, walks by faith and is willing to pay the price of following Christ. THERE is the church. There is the power of godliness. Embrace such people!

An Appearance of Godliness (Pt 24) -The Lord is Winnowing His Harvest

Mat 3:8-12 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (9) And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (10) Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (11) “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (12) His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John the Baptist is here declaring an often repeated theme in Scripture. Namely, that the Lord Jesus is and ultimately complete will, cast all wicked counterfeits who presently dare to infect His church into unquenchable fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand. Even now He is separating the wheat from the chaff.

In this series we have considered many case studies from real life about people the Apostle Paul warned Timothy about:

2Ti 3:5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Such people obviously are going to be found in the visible, local church. They put on their disguise of godliness, but it is just a sham. They are not born again and have no desire to be. Their “christianity” is a religion of a false gospel, a hypocrisy of the Pharisees who outwardly look white and impressive but inwardly have souls that reak of death.

Here then is a sobering question – why are we not seeing Christ’s winnowing happening in the majority of local churches? In fact, why is this winnowing separation of wheat from chaff being denied? I can assure you that where the gospel is faithfully preached and practices, where Christ’s people gather and love His Word, chaff is going to be separated from the wheat.

1Jn 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

See it? The norm that the Lord presents to us in His Word is that there is going to be separation even now in this present world in the visible church. We should be encouraged when we see it. But why isn’t it happening except rarely? I can tell you. Because a false ear-tickling handling of Scripture is being preached.

Every single one of the cases of an appearance of godliness that I have presented to you in this series ended with – they went out from us. They hated us. The chaff was separated from the wheat. And yet I can confidently tell you that most seminaries, church growth types, pastors and other “christian” organizations would count this as a failure on our part. If the numbers aren’t increasing, you are a failfure.

God’s Word is fire and hammer. It is food for the souls of His people – green pasture beside still water. But it is a stench of death to the counterfeit:

2Co 2:15-17 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, (16) to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (17) For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

This is a fundamental mark of a true church – this winnowing. In Scripture the pattern that we see is more people leave the church than enter it. And yet I heard a typical statement from a rather self-serving pastor once that went like this:

It should be very easy to enter the church and very hard to leave it.

Would you not agree that this is precisely backward from what God’s Word says? The only door is Christ and to enter His kingdom we must be born again. It is a radical door that is entirely of Christ’s making, not ours. It is in that sense, difficult to enter – indeed, it is impossible apart from the miraculous, creative work of Christ in us. And it is NOT hard to leave the church! Many have done so all these years of church history. MOST people leave:

Joh 6:66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

Christ is winnowing His church right now. If you do not see that winnowing process happening in a church, you can be assured that Christ is not there.