Our Predicament in the Last Days
In his second letter to the young evangelist Timothy, Paul describes the main features of the modern historical period, which he calls the Last Days. What he tells us about the Last Days is ominous and sobering. He says that they will be days of peril.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 Timothy 3:1
Further on, he explains why the Last Days will be perilous. One reason is that they will be days of immorality.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 Without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Timothy 3:2-7
The daily newspaper abounds with stories showing the accuracy of this prophecy.
The Last Days will be perilous for another reason also. They will bring outbreaks of persecution.
8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as their's also was.
10 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,
11 Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.
12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
2 Timothy 3:8-12
With the near collapse of Communism, flagrant persecution has diminished in some parts of the world, but continues unchecked in other parts, such as China and India. In all parts, the cost in being a Christian increases daily, as the world sinks ever deeper into the mire of contempt for God and His righteousness. These last verses imply that opponents of the truth will flourish as the Church Age draws to a close.
Another reason for the peril in the Last Days will be false religion.
But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:13
Agents of the evil one will seek to harm the church by introducing subversive doctrines. Paul describes the preaching that will eventually predominate in the churches.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
We see that this preaching will have two characteristics.
1. The preaching will be permissive. The average churchgoer in the Last Days will desire approval for his self-indulgent and sinful life style, so he will seek out preachers willing to whitewash sin—willing to soothe the itching ears of their hearers. Paul's choice of metaphor encourages us to think of a dog that slobbers affectionately over anyone who scratches its ears. Anyone who takes out a stick and deals with the dog's transgressions confronts a different animal altogether.
The same prediction is expanded upon in 2 Peter.
18 For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.
19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
2 Peter 2:18-19
2. The preaching will offer fables in place of truth. Indeed, in most churches today, the Bible is regarded as a human product. It is not believed or properly interpreted. Instead, all the delusions of the modern world—evolution, higher criticism, social activism and socialism, humanism, cultural relativism, existentialism, women's lib, Gay Rights—are taught as truth.
Law and Grace
Law is the revealed will of God. Grace is the power of God working for our good. According to Scripture, we are saved by grace.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Yet, we are saved so that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us.
3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. . . .
18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
Romans 6:15, 18-19
6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. . . .
12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Romans 7:6, 12
Thus, salvation is by grace, for obedience to the law.
Two contrary forms of doctrinal error wrench law and grace from their proper roles in Christian experience. The error known as legalism emphasizes law at the expense of grace. It recognizes that salvation is for obedience to the law, but denies that salvation is by grace, affirming instead that salvation is by human works. The error known as antinomianism emphasizes grace at the expense of law. It recognizes that salvation is by grace, but denies that conformity to the law is the goal of Christian living.
Because rules and standards supposedly limit grace, antinomians dislike them. Indeed, they may allege that a Christian need not consider anything as sin—that, having no obligation to moral law, he can do whatever he wants. There were antinomians in Paul's day (Rom. 6:1). They have been prominent at other times in history also. In Puritan times, there were antinomians who denounced civil government as too restrictive of Christian liberty. A few extremists even rejected the Bible, saying that because they had the Spirit, they had no need for a book of rules.
Antinomians take refuge in certain teachings of Paul:
1. The teaching that all things are lawful.
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
1 Corinthians 6:12
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
1 Corinthians 10:23
But what does Paul mean here? He means that we are not a party to the covenant which imposed upon Israel the obligation to obey Mosaic law. Rather, our relationship with God is based on the new covenant ratified by the blood of Christ. But we are not free to do as we please. We are bound to do what is expedient, edifying, and nonenslaving to the power of sin.
2. The teaching that all things are pure.
Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
By "all things," Paul does not mean all forms of conduct, however. The previous verse discloses the scope of the phrase.
Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.
These "commandments of men" included a multitude of purification rites, which the Jews thought were necessary to render food fit for eating and objects fit for use. In verse 15, Paul argues that such things are pure already, at least to the pure. "But unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure."
The point is this. In a fallen world, many forms of conduct cannot proceed from pure motives. Imagine a godly man walking through a department store. Along the way he sees a pair of gloves that he sorely needs, but he finds that he has left his wallet at home. If he slips the gloves into his pocket and walks out, is he free of wrongdoing because, for him, all things are pure? No. He did not take the gloves out of a pure motive. He intentionally diminished another man's property to increase his own.
Five Characteristic Teachings of Easy-Believism
Today, when men hate every form of self-restriction, antinomianism has again become a serious threat to sound doctrine. Antinomianism has reemerged in a form that we will label "easy-believism." We can readily spot easy-believism by looking for its characteristic teachings.
- Any upholder of rules and standards is a legalist.
- After a person has been converted and has received the Holy Spirit, he is at liberty to follow his own inner promptings, for the Holy Spirit within him causes him to want and to do only what is good.
- Not every Christian exhibits a godly way of life.
- A conversion experience is proof of genuine salvation. If a person can point to some moment when he accepted Christ, when he was "saved," he is entitled to perfect assurance that heaven is his eternal destiny.
Since there are many people who have accepted Christ and who have, to all appearances, accepted Him sincerely, but who have never amounted to much as Christians, easy-believism ventures yet another fallacious teaching:
- It is possible for a Christian to live out his life as a spiritual babe. A nominal Christian who shows little evidence of spiritual growth is properly called a carnal Christian.
Let us now, in this and succeeding lessons, uncover the error in each of these five teachings.
An upholder of rules and standards is not a legalist. Legalism is the view that a man gets to heaven by keeping the law and doing good works. The legalists in Jesus' day were the Pharisees. Among the many legalists today are the following:
- Cultists like the Jehovah's Witnesses.
- Liberals. Most of the people in mainline churches today believe in heaven. To the question, "If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?" a liberal Methodist or Lutheran or Baptist or Presbyterian is likely to respond: "I think so. I'm a pretty good person." His hope of heaven is a shaky legalistic confidence in his own ability to live a life good enough to please God.
- Catholics. Roman Catholicism teaches its people that they can escape the torments of hell by doing good works and by participating in the rites of the church.
All these groups acknowledge the necessity of faith, but they do not comprehend what faith is. They do not see it as the vital spiritual principle that in itself secures our salvation. Rather, they see it as simply an inner attitude that gives greater validity to works. A Catholic, for example, thinks that he will reach heaven more quickly if he does good works with faith rather than without faith. But he thinks that even if he has little faith, even if in his private convictions he has no strong belief in God or Christ, he will eventually reach heaven, provided he dies a good son of the church. Here is where Catholicism diverges from true Christianity.
A true Christian, trusting in Christ alone for his salvation, cannot also be a legalist. Yet he can give a wrong emphasis to rules.
1. He gives them a wrong emphasis if he thinks God wants no more from us than the keeping of rules. In fact, God chiefly wants us to cultivate our love for Him and for one another. It is true that Jesus said,
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
In other words, whether we keep His commandments is one test of our love for Him. But our love for him should go beyond mere obedience. Our love should swell to a full devotion of the heart.
2. He gives them a wrong emphasis if he imposes unbiblical rules of no value upon himself or others.
To the easy-believist who claims that he can trust his heart because his heart is possessed by the Holy Spirit, we say, nonsense. Salvation does not eradicate worldly lusts or the old sinful nature. A Christian who does what he wants will quickly find that his free-roving feet have become mired in sin. The only policy that will keep him moving ahead is to walk "after the Spirit," for the Spirit will enable him to keep the law of God (Rom. 8:3-4, quoted earlier).
But though we deny that a believer is at liberty to do as he pleases, we do not deny that he is at liberty. Indeed, he has been granted a precious liberty with three glittering facets.
1. He is free from the impossible struggle to save himself by observing the law.
1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. . . .
3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Galatians 5:1, 3-4
This forceful injunction to the believer that he must guard his liberty does not negate his duty to observe good rules. Elsewhere in the same passage, Paul binds him to many rules, both negative (verses 19-21) and positive (verses 22-23).
2. He is no longer a slave to sin.
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
Notice that we escape bondage to sin only by submitting to another bondage, the bondage of righteousness. Thus, liberty from sin is not a liberty to do as we please, but a liberty to do right.
3. He is no longer bound by the ceremonial law, fulfilled in Christ.
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
It is not wrong to observe the Sabbath or other requirements of the Mosaic law, but it is wrong to impose such requirements on others.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.