“Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3)
But perhaps in our generation more than ever before we see people selling their souls to the pleasures of this life, things that don’t matter. They think about them all the time every minute of every day. It’s always about chasing whatever seems to make them happy, whether it is the newest thing or perhaps some recreational activity. They spend their days on things that have no lasting value. They have no regard for the things of God, to live for Him. Such will not stand in the holy place of the Lord.
“The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” (Psalm 10:4)
That’s a pretty serious statement. Even to Christians, these two verses ought to start getting us doing some self-examination. Do you think about God and His precepts all throughout your day? Do you pray without ceasing? It really takes effort. So many other things, especially in this culture of constant bombardment, are always trying to vie for our thoughts, crowding out any heavenly ones. Thus the slippery slope to carnality begins.
“And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19)
Unfruitfulness happens when our love for the word and our Lord turns to things of this life. “Cares of this world” can be anything from worries and stress about your health, your family, what other people think of you, to running after this or that pleasure or pursuit. The “deceitfulness of riches” is a temptation to be ensnared by. We think if we just had more money, we would be happy. Or if we could just afford fill-in-the-blank, life would be complete. Riches make fair promises of security. You will always have enough to eat if you have money, you won’t have to do things you don’t want to do, you can live comfortably and deliciously. Wouldn’t it be nice to have such-and-such? It promises happiness and joy and a better quality of life. So the ear of the backsliding Christian is turned from hearing the word of the Lord to the whispers of temporal elements. Working hard to get rich will consume your time and your mind. The “lusts of other things” are all the other shiny things the world has to offer us, the wares of Vanity Fair. How Satan loves to distort the pure, unfeigned love of a believer for the eternal things of heaven into an insidious lust for the perishable things of earth. How many countless lusts there are to be had here. There is always something for everyone, something to turn them off the upright way. Satan knows the weaknesses of men very well. He knows what excites their fleshly passions, giving them a cheap, intense thrill for the moment, but like a drug it always ends in disappointment and a desire for more. They don’t fulfill. And they always end in death.
These three things in this verse are the distractions that stop us from doing anything for God or gaining ground for the kingdom. Choking gives the mental picture of one grabbing another’s throat and violently strangling him so he can’t get enough air to live. It results in death by suffocation as the brain, lungs and other organs do not get enough oxygen to function. The same is true of plants, which is the allegory in the parable to the Christian’s life. If you pinch a stem long enough, the other end will turn brown or fall off. Specifically, thorns are those spiky plants that compete with the young plant for nutrients and space of the soil. I found it interesting to learn that sometimes thorns will intertwine their root systems around the roots of the good plants, making them almost impossible to get rid of without destroying the delicate shoots along with them. How does choking eventually end, if no intervention occurs? if there is none to remove the vice grip? Death! Choking cuts off life. It cuts off the activity of the Holy Ghost in our lives. It stops us from doing anything for God.
And these things can provide some superficial pleasures or feelings of accomplishment. But they can never give you deep fulfillment or peace. They can never give you what God can, which is why everyone is always searching for more. It’s never enough.
The devil knows the children of God have within themselves the abilities to bestow love and devotion. Those things were given to us. He must exploit them by turning our hearts to other things.
It is all too easy to get caught up in the things of this life and make those things the center of our attention. Sometimes those things aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, but it is us causing things to be out of proportion. But God does not want us living for anything other than His glory, does He? He does not want our primary source of happiness and joy to come from anyone or anything other than Himself. So let me ask you, dear reader, a personal question: if everything you enjoy in your life right now was suddenly taken from you – perhaps your family, your income, your house, or something else you hold dear, would you still have peace? Could you let all go for the cause of Christ? Maybe there is something you hold onto tighter than the will of the Lord. Maybe spiritual things do not captivate your interest as much as something else. It’s really important for us to have our priorities in the right place, and be completely in submission to God. God wants us to be willing to obey Him, regardless of what He asks of us, with a heart of submission. Would you want to try to fight God if He told you to do something that didn’t fit your agenda or goes against your desires? Sometimes I feel these things too. But then I think about those who have died horrible deaths for the cause of the gospel, those who have been persecuted and beaten and had everything stripped from them all for Christ’s sake. I think of the trials and tribulations of the apostles and early Christians at the hands of brutal men for their faith. Their lives were spent suffering and despised of men. So if I’m not willing now to give up some trivial thing I want here and now, how could I be willing to take up such a cross like they did, should the Lord ever ask it of me? Perhaps the spoiled, western “churchianity,” name-it-claim-it-best-life-now mentality has affected us, making us soft, spineless and motivated by selfishness rather than by the love of our Heavenly King. Is anything really more important than following Christ?
Why does it seem so hard to have a true desire for the things of the Lord? to lay it all down? to count all things but loss? It may be because of the lifting up of the soul to vanity. I’m talking about living your life for the things of this world, things that give temporary pleasure, but never lasting, deep fulfillment. They will always leave you chasing. Once you have it, it doesn’t truly fulfill. For a little while you may be satisfied, but your hunger will always stir up again for something else… something more… something different.
Sell out to Jesus. A more biblical term would be sacrifice yourself. You really don’t have anything to sell because you were already bought by Him. But it is a figurative way of saying to give it all up – the things you appear to have – willingly.
Why should I leave these things I enjoy so much, you may ask? It sounds so hard to do. It seems absurd to sacrifice yourself rather than love yourself. “Sacrifice” may sound like an archaic concept. But it is commanded of us.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)
It is only reasonable that you should sacrifice yourself to God. You were bought and paid for with the blood of the Lamb. The redeemed Christian does not belong to himself. In fact, he never did even before he was saved. You were not your own master; sin was your master. (John 8:34, 35, Romans 6:17) One is either a servant of sin, or a servant of Christ. There is no question of “to serve or not to serve?” The question is WHO will you serve? Why go back to your old, cruel master of sin, when you could serve a loving master who cared enough for you to lay down His life for you? It is only reasonable. When you choose to live for the pleasures of this world you are actually being unreasonable. It was God’s mercy that set you free from sin so you could serve the living and true God. Take a firm stand, don’t try to please your flesh and God, halfway in the world, halfway into heaven!
“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
He will never deceive, but the wares of this world will. As Bible believers who love the Lord or claim to, we should always keep our priorities straight. It’s easy to get distracted, to get caught up in the affairs of this life. But God wants us to always remember that the things of this life don’t last.
“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” (2 Peter 3:12, 13)
Is your heart set on the treasures of this life, or things that shall be dissolved? If so, those treasures are going to be burnt up and destroyed sooner or later.
Jesus warned us:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
And we are admonished to
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:2)
If your heart and its affections are set on the things in heaven, where our Lord is, and especially on Him, a beautiful promise is that you won’t ever suffer true loss. Men can take away everything you have, strip you of your home and family and possessions – even kill your body. But that is the end of what they can take. Your heart and soul is with the Lord forever, in this life and after.
This leads into the next point I want to touch on: loving something – that is a good thing in and of itself – for the wrong reasons. When you are in a position of obedience to God’s will for your life, many times there is so much blessing and joy to be found there because you are following His Word. But we have to get careful not to forget that God gave us that blessing and we should be thankful for it, not prideful (1 Corinthians 4:7). There is also the danger of loving it because it brings us pleasure when we are being blessed, not because we are determined to please the Lord regardless of whether or not it makes us happy. The reason for our joy and pleasure should be because we are doing what God wants us to do, pleasing Him. Other pleasures must all be secondary or the focus is carnal. I have to be especially mindful of this (and woefully fail at times) because pleasing my earthly father and the accomplishments the Lord helps me to make for him is so rewarding – and simultaneously stimulating. But I have to remember constantly that really any accomplishments that happen are only received because of the Lord’s mercy, and not because of how great or smart I am in my own strength. The Lord is faithful to answer the prayers of His children and very gracious. But my affections must not be set on the earthly blessings themselves, but on Him who provided them. They are yet one more reason to praise Him.
And it isn’t just earthly things we must be careful about setting our hearts on. Things like money or riches are warned about, but so is trusting men. We can put too much affection into men. It could be your husband or your children or your parents. If you set your affection on another person more than the Lord, you are setting yourself up for trouble. It is good to love your family, don’t get me wrong, but if you depend on them overmuch for your fulfillment and happiness, then that crosses into selfishness and displacing the love for God in your heart. God must come first before family. (Matthew 10:37) Actually, our love for our family should seem like hatred in comparison for our love for the Lord. (Luke 14:26)
“As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” (Psalm 103:15, 16)
Man is not like God. God is steadfast forever; man is fickle and unsubstantial.
“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” (Psalm 146:3, 4)
I’ll leave you with a final serious warning:
“He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (John 12:25)
If you love your life right now, check yourself. You are in a state of deep spiritual trouble because it is all going to go. Even your love for your own life and the things of it should not compare to your love for God.
We live in a country where comfort is an idol for many. We never want to go through any pain, at all costs. We want everything to be just so (how many arguments start because everything isn’t “just so?”). When any little thing inconveniences us or makes us uncomfortable, we can’t take it. I speak of we here as the collective American country.
Besides putting self first, this mentality stops you from doing anything for God! If you don’t want to be uncomfortable, you won’t be different from the comfortable world as we know it. This mentality stems out of fear. You will be AFRAID to go through anything that isn’t easy-peasy, rainbows and puppies for you, even if God wants you to step out from your comfort zone. Persecution or bearing reproach for Christ’s sake is out of the question. Suffering without the camp? Oh, unthinkable. Yet we should consider it an honor, not a curse, to suffer for Christ, who suffered far more for our sakes. It’s all about perspective. God gives His saints the ability to do whatever it is He requires of them; He does not lade them with more than is possible to bear, in His strength. Has been done, can be done and will be done until His work is finished. Trust God! Don’t be afraid, no matter what. Don’t ever put love of comfort before love of your Lord – if Christ did that when it came to redeeming your soul, you would be damned forever in way more discomfort than whatever this short life could offer.
Let’s remember how short this life is. When you are living it, it might seem forever. But man’s days are as grass. The hour grows later, and soon it will be said, thy soul is required of thee. Like the rich man increased with goods who forgot God, a fool only is concerned with seeking his own benefit in matters of this life. But eternity is a long time. Rather than get caught up in “the now” or on the opposite side, worry about death coming soon, see it for the opportunity it is to be found a faithful and wise servant.
We have a deep spiritual problem in America, with this prevalent luke-warm attitude about Bible truth and Christian living. The broad church wants to have it both ways. They want to live a life of worldliness and sin, living how they please, and then have heaven awaiting them at the end of their carnal life. They don’t want to leave Egypt. They want to keep their dress, music, talk and be “likeable” by the world. They don’t want the world to look at them strangely; they want to fit in. Oh, we don’t want to be extremists. Even coming across as religious causes us to shudder. Even their bibles are written to sound like gang slang and trash talk.
Consequently, we have a nation with no spiritual discernment and true teaching or evangelizing is almost impossible to come across. Well, you won’t get persecuted living that half-way so-called Christian life. You’ll be able to pal around with the world and fit in alright. But it is a victory for Satan, because you aren’t 100% dedicated to the Lord. Worldlings laugh at those who are pretending to be all cool and then use their styles in semi-religious contexts. It is such a contradiction! Go one way or the other. Don’t try to drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils at once because it is extremely confusing to the lost. That is what being lukewarm is. It is the attempt to blend the flesh and the spirit, two warring opposites, which will only result in loss.
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16)
But to the ecumenical/charismatic broad church, their idea of being “on fire for God” is not surrendering every aspect of your life to Him, but rather to be emotionally enthusiastic in a variety of seemingly spiritual activities. I’ve observed this firsthand where these folks think you should scream and jump up and down like you are at a football game during a baptism, give yourself over to the spirit of their “worship” concerts waving your arms around like you’re at a rock concert, or get involved in some kind of humanitarian field-trip labeled “ministry outreach.” Look, those things have the appearance of being godly, but it isn’t following the Bible or rooted in the truth thereof. Just try showing these people a verse about abstaining from evil like participating in satanic Halloween rituals or watching wickedness from Hollywood. Try showing them verses about submission and modesty or give up something they are involved in that is fleshly. What do they say? “You’re a legalist. You have no right to tell me what to do because I’m under grace, not law. Those verses were for some cultural issue and don’t apply to us now.”
“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (2 Timothy 3:5)
The proof is in the pudding. Or the more biblical idiom: every tree is known by his own fruit. If you are pretending to be spiritual and name the name of Christ but deny the authority of Scripture in your life, you are a hypocrite and cannot possibly be laying it all down for the Lord or living a life of self-sacrifice. They show they do not serve the God of the Bible but the god they’ve created from their own imaginations; whose god is ultimately their belly.
“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)
But this goes for you too, you sisters who truly desire to walk the narrow path that leads to eternal glory. Do you devote yourself to the obedience of Christ in all areas of your life? Are you holding back something that should be laid down, perhaps something seemingly small? Those seemingly small issues in our lives can have some of the biggest implications depending on whether or not they are addressed. Are you actively seeking to submit yourself to the will of the Lord completely? Are you counting all things but loss, or only some things, the ones you don’t care about as much? If not, it is not totally honest to call Jesus your Lord if you aren’t allowing Him to have complete authority over you. You are doing on a smaller scale what the apostate church is doing. Then what right do you have to expose their hypocrisy? Maybe nobody would ever know, maybe it’s something that can’t be easily observed. Remember that the Lord pondereth the hearts (Proverbs 21:2). Something to think about.