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Searching for the Impossible #2

In a previous article, we noticed several impossible things to search for. Just as Ponce de Leon searched in vain for the fountain of youth, there are people today searching for things in religion that are equally foolish. However, these people often believe they have found what they are searching for even though they have no credible proof that this is so. Some are searching for salvation without Christ and without the sacrifice that He made at Calvary. Some are searching for salvation without repentance and baptism, and others are searching for salvation without the church that Jesus built and purchased with His own blood. As we saw in the article, these searches are all futile; they are impossible searches for the things they are searching for do not exist. In this article, we want to continue our theme of searching for the impossible.

Salvation without faithful service. There are several different ways Christians can be unfaithful and all are wrong. Some Christians quit and return to the world. Some are lukewarm like the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:14-22). They think they are saved, but they are blinded and need to repent. Others are hypocrites. They attend some of the services; speak about the need for strong preaching; praise sermons on modesty, dancing, and otherworldly vices, but are not faithful in their service to the Lord.

It is impossible to be saved without faithfully serving the Lord. Christianity involves a lifelong commitment. Jesus says, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Paul writes, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). To the Corinthians Paul said, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). These statements emphasize the need for faithful service.

It appears that James was writing to some Christians who had the idea that once they had obeyed the gospel they could retire from the service of the Lord. He teaches that we are to look into the mirror of God’s word and correct the flaws in our life (James 1:21-27). This is a job that never ceases. In the second chapter James teaches that saving faith is a working faith, and a faith that does not work is dead (James 2:14-26). These were Christians who needed to get up and go to work for the Lord.

The Hebrew writer rebuked some Christians who had developed the custom of forsaking the assembly (Hebrews 10:25). Today, there are some in the church that forsakes the assembly at least once a week and still consider themselves faithful. These people are self-deceived and cannot be saved without genuine repentance. If we are searching for salvation with this kind of half-hearted effort, we are searching for the impossible. Only the faithful servant will receive the heavenly reward. The parable of the talents plainly illustrates that only the good and faithful servant enters into the joy of the Lord (Matthew 25:21-23). Would it not be wonderful if we could say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7)?

Salvation without personal sacrifice. Another impossible search that some Christians seem to be searching for is salvation without personal sacrifice. Jesus teaches that we cannot reach heaven unless we are willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

There is a personal cost to discipleship and Jesus urges us to count that cost (Luke 14:26-33). If we decide to follow Jesus, we should know that trials lay ahead. The devil will make sure of this. Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 3:11-17 that Christians will be tested and some will prove to be gold, silver, or precious stones, while others will be wood, hay, and straw. The wood, hay, and straw will not stand the test of fire. The gold, silver, and precious stones may be altered in some way because of the fire, but they will pass the test. It requires a personal sacrifice to endure trials and tribulations. Others may help and encourage us, but ultimately we must each bear our own burden, and make whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to maintain our allegiance to Christ (Galatians 6:2-5).

Paul teaches, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). This means we must deny temptations; say “no” to them and to those who would lead us into sin. There are movies we might like to see, but we deny ourselves this pleasure because of the filth that is contained in them. There are places we might wish to go, but again we say “no” knowing that a Christian has to watch out for his influence and abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11-12).

We may have to sacrifice friends and family because of our decision to follow Jesus (Matthew 10:34-38). Jesus will not take second place to our family. We may also have to sacrifice the clothes we would like to wear because of our desire to reach heaven. Immodest clothes may be more comfortable in the summertime and everybody else may be wearing them, but if our aim is heaven, then we will have to sacrifice these pleasures in order to reach our goal. God expects our best and He will not accept less (Romans 12:1-2; Malachi 1:6-14).

False teaching without a false teacher. Some brethren are searching for false teaching without a false teacher. This too is an impossible search. False doctrines do not appear out of thin air. False doctrines do not promote themselves, someone has to invent them and teach them first. The word of God commands that truth teachers expose false teachers and their false doctrines (Ephesians 5:11; Romans 16:17).

The apostle Paul taught the truth and established churches in the Galatian region. Somebody followed him and taught errors concerning circumcision and the Old Law. This error did not just appear by itself. Someone taught and promoted it. Those who did this were false teachers. These false teachers perverted the gospel and hindered the work of God (Galatians 1:6-7; 5:7).

Discipline without pain. Another vain effort some brethren make is a search for a way to administer discipline without pain. Self-discipline requires sacrifice and is often painful.

In the book of 1 Corinthians Paul draws an analogy between an athlete preparing for a race and the Christian seeking to go to heaven (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The training process requires self-control and exercise. Anyone who has trained physically knows that pain is involved in this process. The athlete is disciplining himself or herself in hopes of obtaining a perishable prize. The same is true when striving for the imperishable prize of heaven. Christians must exercise self-control and maintain a regular regiment of spiritual exercise in order to reach the goal.

The discipline of unruly children will be fruitless unless pain is involved in the process. God’s word teaches, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). The book of Proverbs is filled with admonitions to use the rod on unruly children for the purpose of training them by driving out childhood foolishness and rebellion (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13).

There is no difference when we come to church discipline. It is meant to be painful. We do not use the rod as described in the book of Proverbs. We use the means described by God in the New Testament. “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner–not even to eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:11). Paul also wrote the Thessalonians about discipline of unruly members: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us … And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14).

These instructions are not difficult to understand, but they can be difficult to apply, especially when we are close to those who are being disciplined. It is painful for those who have to administer the discipline because of our love for the lost soul, and it is designed to be painful for those who are being disciplined. When we fail to exercise this discipline that is commanded by the Lord, we are not helping to save the soul of the lost and committing sin as well. We must obey the will of God and work His plan if we expect discipline to have its desired effect. If you have been searching for a way to administer church discipline without pain, then you are guilty of searching for the impossible. In order to have its desired effect, discipline must be painful.

There are more impossible searches we hope to examine in another article. Think about these things. If you are searching for the impossible, stop the vain search and search for that which can be found. God’s word is truth and when God promises something, we can trust it to be true. Heaven is real and those who humbly seek the Lord will find Him: “I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me” (Proverbs 8:17).

Andy Alexander

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