`When Weakness Becomes Sinfulness’ by Michael Goldsmith

I’m at a conference for Assemblies of God district leaders. I just heard Michael Goldsmith talk about how God deals with our weakness and sinfulness. He had a lot of good things to say, especially to ministers, so I thought I’d share what he said. Here are my notes:


Proverbs 4:23, 1 Timothy 4:16, 1 Corinthians 10:12

Pastors often operate on the principle of never let them see you sweat, but everybody sees you when you fall.


1. We all have weaknesses that can become sinful.

Matthew 26:41, Acts 10:26, Genesis 4:7, Luke 4:13

See Jack Hayford, The Anatomy of Seduction: Defending Your Heart for God

Areas to Guard with the Opposite Sex

a. Attractiveness
b. Familiarity
c. Ego strokes
d. Emotional attachment
e. Personality congruence

2. Our weaknesses are controlled by our best self, but our sinfulness is vulnerable to our worst self.

James 1:14, Daniel 7:25, Revelation 12:12, Romans 13:14

3. God will strengthen weaknesses, but He will expose sinfulness.

Romans 8:26, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Numbers 32:33, Psalm 90:8

Accountability works if it is asked for and offered.

Secrecy is a warning sign that weakness is on the verge of sinfulness.

4. Our strengthened weaknesses become useful ministry while our ignored weaknesses will become our downfall.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Relationally, when we share our ministry weaknesses, competition with other ministers decreases and cooperation with them increases.

Nobody can help somebody like somebody who’s been there.

5. God will send warnings when weakness is on the verge of sinfulness.

6. In our weaknesses God works for us; in sinfulness God works against us.

This does not mean that God is out to get us. It means that God is “against you” to the degree that he must oppose your sin to get you back into fellowship with him. His judgment is rehabilitative.

Difference between Relationship and Fellowship

a. Relationship = defines your connection to another person
b. Fellowship = defines the quality of the relationship

Fellowship always falls apart before relationship does. That’s true whether we’re talking about our relationship with God or other people.

7. The cost of unconfessed sinfulness is enormous.

Consider the costs in your relationship with God, your spouse, your children, your friends, your congregation.

It costs in terms of self-respect, an accusing conscience, etc.

It costs money as your are moved out of ministry in the disciplinary process.

The costs of sinfulness and its effects on your life and ministry are too high.

When you know a minister who has failed morally, don’t withdraw from them. People who have caught in sin need encouragement. They need to know they’re valued as a human being, not merely as a producer of ministry.

8. The grace of confessed and forgiven sinfulness is greater still.

Job 8:6

Competing Spiritualities (1 John 2:26-27)

Is there any way to judge between competing spiritualities?

Since the 1960s, there has been a significant growth of “alternative spiritualities” in America, including traditional eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as nontraditional New Age and metaphysical practices.

These alternative spiritualities have not been silent about Jesus. Traditional Christianity teaches that Jesus is God’s unique Son (John 1:14, 18); alternative spiritualities that we can become God’s sons and daughters in the same sense as Jesus is. Christianity teaches that Jesus is the exclusive means by which God saves the world (John 14:6); alternative spiritualities that he is one path among many. Christianity teaches that the Holy Spirit is poured out by the resurrected Jesus (Acts 2:33); alternative spiritualities that the Spirit can be accessed through religious practices in which Jesus plays absolutely no role.

In the first century, John faced a similar situation, where rival camps made competing claims about Jesus. The orthodox camp, represented by John and his churches, taught traditional Christianity. The heretical camp, represented by the secessionists from John’s church, taught something similar to our modern alternative spiritualities. They too denied that Jesus was the Christ through whom God exclusively saved the world. And they invited people in the orthodox camp to trespass the boundaries and join their own camp.

John warned his churches about these people with these words:

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him (1 John 2:26-27).

For John, not all spiritualities are equal. Some will “lead you astray.” One is “real, not counterfeit.” This stands to reason, of course, for competing spiritualities make contradictory truth claims, of which only one can be true. If, for example, Jesus is the Son of God in a unique sense, then we cannot be divine sons and daughters in that same sense too. If he is the exclusive means by which God saves the world, then there cannot be many paths to heaven. And if the Holy Spirit is poured out by the resurrected Jesus Christ, then he cannot also be accessed by other means. Just as the Law of Contradiction applies in philosophy, politics, and physics, so it also applies in the realm of spirituality and religion.

But the Law of Contradiction is not the only way to judge between spiritualities. There is also the Law of Fact and the Law of Experience. John’s churches knew the facts about Jesus based on eyewitness testimony (1 John 1:1-3). And belief in the Jesus of eyewitness testimony had resulted in the experience (or “anointing”) of the Holy Spirit. If believing in the factual Jesus resulted in a powerful spiritual experience, then the early Christians were right to reject contradictory truth claims about Jesus—for contradictory truth claims cannot produce the same spiritual experience—and in the face of alternative spiritualities, so are we.

Keep the Faith! (1 John 2:24-25)

Is faith in Jesus a one-time event or an ongoing commitment?

In my ministry as a pastor, I have seen people’s faith wax and wane. I know of one young man, for example, who gave his heart to Jesus, became actively involved in church, and even participated in summer-long missions projects, only to reject Christianity in his college years. I could multiply stories like his, but I think you get the point. You also probably know people who at one point in their lives professed faith in Christ but now do not. Their faith, which once waxed, has now waned to the point of nonexistence.

Are such people saved? Charles Stanley thinks they may be. In his book, Eternal Security, he writes, “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand.” Also, “Even if a believer for all purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy.”[1] For Charles Stanley, faith in Christ for salvation is a one-time event: “Once saved, always saved”—even, evidently, if you renounce Christ.

In light of our studies of 1 John, I hope you see what is wrong with Charles Stanley’s reasoning. Remember the context of this letter. Former members of the church had embraced heresy and seceded from the church, attempting to drag others along with them. If Charles Stanley is right, those people—whom John refers to as “antichrists” in 2:18—are still saved, as long as they gave their hearts to Jesus sometime prior to their heresy and secessionism. Once saved, always saved, regardless of whether you currently have faith.

Notice how different from Charles Stanley’s position is John’s position as he states it in 1 John 2:24-25:

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.

Here faith is not a one-time event, it is an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ. It is something that “remains in you,” and if it does, “you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.” The result of all this remaining is “eternal life.” Faith abides.

Now, before anyone sends me nasty emails because I have criticized Charles Stanley or the doctrine of eternal security, let me point something out. Abiding faith is consistent with both traditional Calvinism and traditional Arminianism. Like Charles Stanley, traditional Calvinism also teaches “Once saved, always saved.” Unlike Charles Stanley, however, traditional Calvinism teaches that backsliding or apostasy from the faith is proof that a person was never saved in the first place. Why? Because true faith abides. Unlike either Charles Stanley or traditional Calvinism, traditional Arminianism denies “Once saved, always saved.” Like traditional Calvinism, however, traditional Arminianism teaches that faith abides. If a person enters eternal life, it is because of an abiding faith in Jesus Christ, who graciously gives us eternal life.

So, either way, keep the faith!

[1] Quoted in Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 27.

Improving Your Church’s Ministry System: A Review of ‘Connect’ by Nelson Searcy

Connect Searcy, Nelson, and Jennifer Dykes Henson. 2012. Connect: How to Double Your Number of Volunteers. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

When it comes to a church’s volunteer ministries, the Pareto Principle seems to apply: 20 percent of church members do 80 percent of the work. This unbalanced ratio is both unbiblical, because all church members should be ministers, and inefficient, fostering burnout among the few and passivity and consumerism among the many.

Pastors and other church leaders who teach every-member ministry have solved the first problem, but the second problem often goes unsolved (or badly solved) because they don’t have a system in place to move members into ministry.

Nelson Searcy’s new book, Connect, outlines just such a system to “mobilize people for significant ministry” (30). Searcy is founding pastor of The Journey, a multisite church with locations in New York City and Boca Raton, Florida. He is also a prolific author and church consultant whose advice for pastors and church leaders can be accessed at ChurchLeaderInsights.com.

Searcy structures his advice for mobilizing people around four steps:

  1. Clarify your theology of ministry (chs. 1, 2).
  2. Create first-serve opportunities (chs. 3–5).
  3. Cultivate a ministry ladder (chs. 6–8).
  4. Celebrate and reproduce servants (chs. 9, 10).

His advice is empirically grounded, eminently practical, and systematic. The appendices include 40 pages of volunteer-related resources from The Journey. Readers can also register on his website for additional free resources.

The strength of this book is its presentation of a system for teaching voluntarism and recruiting, resourcing, and rewarding volunteers. The book’s most controversial recommendation is letting non-believers volunteer at certain levels in your church’s ministries.

I recommend Connect for pastors, church planters, and other ministry leaders who exercise significant oversight of a church’s volunteers. Whether or not they adapt all of Searcy’s recommendations, they will appreciate his insights into moving their church closer to the ideal of every-member ministry.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Real Jesus (1 John 2:20-23)

Who is the real Jesus?

Last year [this was written in 2007], just in time for Easter, the National Geographic Society published its translation of The Gospel of Judas, a second century Gnostic writing that makes a hero out of Judas Iscariot. According to this so-called gospel, Judas betrayed Jesus at Jesus’ behest, in order to liberate the divine spark of Jesus’ soul from its imprisonment in Jesus’ body.

No reputable scholar that I know of thinks The Gospel of Judas is historically accurate.[1] But some scholars—not to mention many ordinary readers—think that historically accurate information about Jesus is hard to come by, if it can be come by at all. They are what I would call “historical Jesus relativists.” The canonical Gospels draw one portrait of Jesus, so their argument goes, Gnostic gospels (such as Judas) draw another, and who’s to say which is more accurate?

Throughout 1 John, John is responding to erstwhile Christians who have seceded from the church because of their denial of the truth about Jesus. What’s worse, they are trying to convince the remaining church members to follow their heretical lead. By way of reply, John writes this in 1 John 2:20-23:

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

These verses contain three criteria for determining the real Jesus:

First, the test of spiritual experience: John writes of “an anointing from the Holy One.” Most likely, this refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit that was the characteristic experience of Christians in the New Testament. As various passages in Acts make clear, this experience of the Holy Spirit united Christians despite their religious backgrounds, ethnicity, and geographical location (Acts 2:1-4, 8:14-17, 10:44-48, 11:15-18, 15:6-11, 19:1-7). And, as various passages in the Gospels make clear, baptism in the Spirit was the work of the resurrected Jesus (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, Acts 1:5).

Second, the test of tradition: John writes, “all of you know the truth.” They learned the truth when they first believed the gospel. It was the heretical secessionists who were promoting novel ideas, not John. For John, the truth about Jesus had been handed down from Jesus through apostles such as himself. Faith involved receiving this tradition with grateful affirmation.

Third, the test of doctrine: For John, neither experience nor tradition alone guarantees access to the real Jesus. Experiences can be faked, and given enough time, traditions can become deformed. What is necessary are truth claims. According to John, the truth about Jesus is that he is “the Christ,” that is, the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. Deny that truth, and you have cut yourself off from access to the real Jesus.

So, who is the real Jesus? The One known for centuries through the common experience, unbroken tradition, and faithful doctrine of the church.

[1] Darrell L. Bock, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Gospels (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 2006); Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006); and N. T. Wright, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006).

Time, Talent, Treasure, Talk, and Testimony for the Benefit of Others: A Review of ‘The Greatness Principle’ by Nelson Searcy

The Greatness Principle Searcy, Nelson. 2012. The Greatness Principle: Finding Singificance and Joy by Serving Others. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

“When you bless others, God blesses you.”

That is how Nelson Searcy defines “The Greatness Principle.” At first glance, I worried that he was entering prosperity gospel territory, where our financial generosity becomes a quasi-legal obligation on God’s part to make us rich. But that is not Searcy’s point. Instead, building on Mark 9:33–35 and other New Testament passages, he encourages us to use our time, talent, treasure, talk, and testimony to benefit others.

As we live out this multiform love for neighbors, we begin to experience God’s blessings on us. Those blessings take tangible and intangible forms, and they include greater influence as well as visible miracles. Proverbs 11:25 puts it this way: “those who refresh others will be refreshed.”

The crucial question is this: Do we see both the multiple opportunities to bless others that cross our pass every day and the manifold ways God is in fact blessing us?

The Greatness Principle is short (95 pages), easy to read, and inexpensive ($6.99). Each chapter includes questions, making it desirable for use in personal study or small-group discussion. And if you register at TheGreatnessPrinciple.com, you will receive additional resources to use with the book.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Love Jesus, Love His Church (1 John 2:19)

Is it ever okay to leave your church?

When my father pastored a church in the 1970s and 80s, he calculated that 25-30% of the church left it every year. It had nothing to do with his preaching, which was excellent. Instead, the area in which he ministered was full of young, upwardly mobile families, whose jobs moved them around quite a bit. The other churches in the area had a similar rate of turnover.

Recently, an email correspondent of mine shared the story of why she left her mainline Protestant church. Although she had a long history in the church and loved the people there, its pastor had begun to teach doctrinal and ethical positions that contradicted the plain meaning of the Bible. She simply reached a point where she could no longer support the church’s ministry with her time, talent, and treasure.

One final story about leaving church: In the early 1990s, I enrolled in an evangelical theological seminary just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. While there, I began attending a church with a fantastic pulpit ministry, wonderful fellowship, and strong commitment to the community. Unfortunately, the choir attempted to bite off more Bach than it could chew every week, especially one male member whose pitch-challenged voice could be heard above all the others. After a few weeks of enduring this weekly musical train wreck, I left the church.

There are, it seems to me, legitimate and illegitimate reasons for leaving a church. Leaving a church because your job is moving you across the country is legitimate. Leaving for principled doctrinal and ethical reasons is (or at least can be) legitimate. But what about leaving due to matters of taste? I don’t know. I’ve always felt guilty about leaving that church in Massachusetts. So what that the choir—that one guy in particular—didn’t sing well! I’m sure the guy in the pew in front of me thought exactly the same about my weekly rendition of the hymns. (I too sing loud and not always in key.)

First John 2:19 talks about a group of people who left the church.

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

In verse 18, John refers to these people as “antichrists.” That sounds uncharitable, but it was an accurate label, for as verse 22 makes clear, they denied that Jesus is the Christ. They weren’t really Christians at all. After all, it’s pretty hard—downright impossible, really—to be a Christian without Christ. Unfortunately, they still considered themselves Christians in some weirdly attenuated sense. Even more unfortunately, they were trying to convert the real Christians to their errant religion.

For John, however, belonging is a key aspect of believing. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you’ll stick with his church. So, is it ever okay to leave your church? Yes, in certain circumstances, but here’s the basic rule of thumb: if you love Jesus, you’ll love the people he loves too.

Pentecostals Making Sense of the Workaday World: A Review of ‘Flourishing Churches and Communities’ by Charlie Self

Flourishing Churches and CommunitiesSelf, Charlie. 2013. Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work, and Economics for Spirit-Empowered People. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press.

For two years in the late 1990s, I left full-time ministry and went to work in the human resources department of an international automobile manufacturer. There, I saw trained professionals doing their jobs well and enjoying them in the process. When I returned to full-time ministry in 1999, I took a second look at my own profession and asked myself: How am I spiritually preparing my church’s members for their work in the world?

This question has not always been asked in Pentecostal circles. In our circles, the work of pastors, evangelists, and missionaries has been interpreted as having inherent value because it saves and sanctifies souls. To the extent that the workaday world has any value, it is merely instrumental in character. It supports the work of the church and its ministers. This interpretation has three unfortunate side effects:  It cleaves the sacred from the secular, it privileges the work of the clergy over that of the laity, and it fails to make spiritual sense of what most church members did with most of their time, namely, work outside the church.

In Flourishing Churches and Communities, Charlie Self sees this interpretation and its side effects as a failure of discipleship. Just before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, he commissioned his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), a task that requires his empowering presence, the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:20; Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). It is Self’s contention that this Spirit-empowered discipleship must address the whole of life. Disciples who follow Jesus in their churches but not in their homes, at their workplaces, or in their communities fail to follow Jesus fully and thus allow worldly values to guide their workaday behavior.

To correct this errant view of discipleship, Self—associate professor of church history at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary—takes his readers on a refresher course through Scripture. The Father creates, the Son Redeems, and the Spirit empowers human beings for godly living in every aspect of their lives, including their Monday-through-Friday jobs. Legitimate work done well glorifies God, contributes to the flourishing of communities, and dignifies the individual worker. In other words, it fulfills the Great Commandment to love God, neighbor, and self (Matt. 22:37–40).

Whole-life discipleship doesn’t do away with either evangelism or full-time ministry. It assumes that people are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. (How else will they begin to follow him?) And it helps ordinary Christians understand that they must be witnesses to Jesus Christ wherever they are: church, home, workplace, or public square. Moreover, the vocation of full-time ministers takes on a new clarity. We are called to prepare our church members spiritually for the work God has called them to do (Eph. 4:11–13), both inside and outside the church.

I recommend Flourishing Churches and Communities to pastors who, like the 1990s version of me, want to know how to prepare their church members for work in the world. I also recommend this book to those church members seeking to make spiritual sense of what they do with most of their time. The book includes discussion questions, so it’s perfect for use in a Sunday-school or small-group setting.

P.S. Full disclosure: I am a personal friend of Charlie Self, though I would still recommend this book even if he weren’t the author.

P.P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Under an Eternal Deadline (1 John 2:18)

As a writer, I am asked occasionally to submit an article for publication. Attached to these requests is a deadline, usually not far off. Having a deadline helps me focus my research and writing so that I can turn out a good article in a short time.

According to 1 John 2:18, we all live under the deadline of eternity.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know that it is the last hour.

Let’s interpret this verse one phrase at a time.

First, dear children: John is the spiritual father of the people he is writing to. He is not a boss giving an assignment, a doomsday alarmist scaring the masses, or an end-times novelist selling books. He is, instead, a parent concerned about the wellbeing of his spiritual children. He has a parental sense of urgency about the eternal deadline under which they live.

Second, this is the last hour: First John 2:18 is the only place in the New Testament where the phrase the last hour appears. However, it is similar in meaning to the phrases the last days or the last times. According to Colin G. Kruse, “In some cases these [phrases] refer to the whole period begun by the first coming of Jesus and running through to his final parousia [i.e., second coming] (cf. Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20). In other cases they refer to the last part of that period, just prior to the final parousia (cf. 2 Tim 3:1; Jas 5:3; 2 Pet 3:3; Jude 18). The last part of the period, it is said, will be marked by various difficulties and tribulations (2 Tim 3:1; 2 Peter 3:3; Jude 18).”[1] Whatever the specific reference is to in 1 John 2:18, it is clear that we are drawing closer to our eternal deadline.

Third, as you have heard: Evidently, teaching about the end times generally and the antichrist specifically was part of John’s apostolic teaching. It is part of the warp and woof of authentic Christianity.

Fourth, the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. The antichrist is the great opponent of God, Christ, and the church who will arise at the end of the last days. Elsewhere, the New Testament refers to him as the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), the [false] “Christ” (Matthew 24:26, Mark 13:21), and the “beast” (Revelation 13:1). But John adds that the antichrist has many forerunners, who are also “antichrists” because they deny that “Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22).

Fifth, this is how we know that it is the last hour: We know we live in the last days because every advance of the gospel is met by a determined spiritual counteroffensive. As people who live under an eternal deadline, we need to keep our guard up. Nobody said that keeping our eternal deadline would be easy, only that it would be worth it.

[1] Colin G. Kruse, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 98.

If God Loves the World, Why Can’t We? (1 John 2:15-17)

According to John 3:16, God “loved the world” enough to give his Son for its salvation. But according to 1 John 2:15, Christians are forbidden to “love the world or anything in the world.” If God loves the world, why can’t we?

In his commentary on 1 John, Colin G. Kruse helps us answer this question by teasing out four different senses of the word world in 1 John:

The word kosmos occurs 23 times in 1 John, and its meaning varies according to context. In one place it means the natural world (3:17), in several places it bears a locative sense—the place into which various ones go or in which they live (4:1, 4, 9, 14, 17; cf. 2 John 7), in other places it denotes ‘worldly’ values or attitudes that are opposed to God (2:15-17 [6x]; 5:4 [2x], 5), and in yet other places it denotes the unbelieving world—people who are opposed to God and believers, and who are under the power of the evil one (3:1, 13; 4:5 [3x]; 5:19).[1]

God loves the world in the first sense; the natural world is his creation. The world in the second sense—as a description of the place to which one goes or in which one lives—is morally neutral. God opposes the world in the third sense; he can hardly be expected to tolerate “values or attitudes that are opposed to [him].” But God loves the world in the fourth sense; he desires to save those who are under the power of the evil one.

First John 2:15 uses the word world in the third sense, and John 3:16 uses it in the fourth sense. There is no contradiction between God loving the world and our not loving the world because the word world means different things in these verses.

With this distinction in mind, let’s read 1 John 2:15-17 in its entirety:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

We are mistaken if we interpret these verses as a commandment to hate the natural world, which God made, or the world of unbelievers, whom Christ died to save. Rather, they clearly have anti-God values and attitudes in mind: “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.” The problem with such values and attitudes is twofold: They do not come from God, and they do not lead to eternal life.

If, then, we love God and love life, we will do well to avoid them.

[1] Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 74.

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