Materialism is a very dangerous and powerful sin that entangles and entraps people in a downward spiral that quickly leads them away from God. This sin is easily recognized in the world. Unfortunately it has seeped unnoticed into many churches. Unless it is recognized it will grow like leaven, overtake, and eventually destroy the church. Therefore it is important to know the warning signs that pass unnoticed by those ignorant of the devils devices. We are told in Ephesians 5:15 to "walk circumspectly", that is, we are to be ever watchful and careful not to let evil come in among us. Following this admonition, we will look at one way in which this sin of materialism is manifest in the church.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16).
The gospel is said to be the "power of God to salvation" in Romans 1:16. But the gospels power is being denied by many in the church, even among those who call themselves gospel preachers. How is it being denied? By men straying away from dependence and trust upon Gods word, instead relying upon human wisdom and human means to teach a lost and dying world. It is easy to see in denominations that entertainment has replaced Gods inspired word as the means to draw souls because of their pageants and fairs and various styles of "preaching". But among those who claim to be preachers there are those who seem to be following a similar path. There are those who say that a sermon should not contain more that one or two passages, or that if the sermon exceeds twenty minutes the interest of the audience will be lost. There is a trend to turn the ministering of Gods word into more stories and humor than the viewing of Gods word. My friend, this attitude is very dangerous and will lead, (if not in this generation, in the next), the church closer to the social gospel. To deny Gods power through the gospel is to deny the divine inspiration and authority of the bible and that is blasphemy!
That being said, Please consider in what ways the gospel claims to be the power of God. What purposes has God set for it to serve that it may be said that it is the power of God to salvation?
The Gospel is said to be the power of God because it:
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17).
Paul stated in Romans 1:16 the premise of this study, that the gospel is the power of God to salvation. He continues in verse 17 by saying that in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. The phrasing of this verse confuses some, as it is not structured in a way to which we are accustomed. Perhaps to help solidify the meaning, a more literal translation would read, "The righteousness of God by faith is revealed in it, in order to faith." Paul at the end of verse 17 repeats that the righteousness of God is by faith: "The just shall live by faith." And this righteousness is revealed through the gospel so that we might have faith. Thus, this passage corresponds closely to Romans 10:17, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."
It is only through Gods word that we can know Gods will, that is, how we can be conformed to His righteousness. And in this day and age the gospel is our only authority from God. In times past, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets, but that age has passed and He now speaks by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). But Christ no longer dwells on this earth. How is it that God speaks through His Son? Though Christ has ascended into Heaven, He left behind the Holy Spirit by whom the apostles received all truth; not only the words Christ spoke to them but the entire gospel (John 16:13-15). The apostles, lastly, delivered unto us the written word, by which, when we read, we may understand their knowledge in the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-4).
We have seen that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, that salvation is of faith, and that faith can only come through study of Gods word. Therefore, it only stands to reason that without the revelation of the gospel, man would be completely lost. We would have no instruction on how to bring ourselves back into fellowship with our Creator once we have sinned and separated ourselves from Him. What a perfect expression of the manifold grace of God in that He revealed unto us words by which we may be saved (Acts 11:14)! Nothing man can do could have reconciled us to God (Romans 5:6-11), and even today, man is foolish to assume that he knows what God desires for Him without consulting the Bible. Man is not God and does not think as God thinks (Isaiah 55:8-9). Therefore, we simply cannot know what pleases God unless He tells us.
Fortunately, the deep things of God are revealed through the Spirit by agency of the gospel. This is stated quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. Paul reasons that just as one cannot know what another is thinking unless the other speak or reveal it, even more so we cannot know the mind of God unless He reveals it. But the beauty of the matter is found in the short phrase that closes the chapter: "but we have the mind of Christ." What a wonderful thought to consider that in our possession is the mind of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, and He has given it to us so that we may use it. But many have chosen, rather, to reject this wondrous grace that God has shown to mankind. They have chosen to take matters into their own hands in deciding what is good and evil, based not upon the gospel, but upon their feelings and their traditions. Keep in mind what is written of following the feelings and the traditions of men. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). "And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:22-25).
The word of God, the Bible, has many aspects to it. We have seen one aspect in that the gospel reveals Gods will unto us. Another aspect of the gospel to consider is how it functions as a mirror. How when we look into the bible we see ourselves, either good or bad. In James 1:22-25, James is writing about how we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only. Notice in verse 23 what he compares hearing the word of God to. "He is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror." And then again in verse 25: "he who looks into the perfect law of liberty." When we read the Bible and hear it taught to us, God says that we can see ourselves. We can see, like in a mirror, our faults and our shortcomings, as well as what we are stronger in, just as if we were to see if our hair was parted straight or if our clothes matched. For example, if one in an adulterous marriage were to read Matthew 19, he would see that sin in himself. If one who hated his enemies were to turn over to chapter 5, he too would see that sin in himself even though no one else might know his thoughts. The last part of Hebrews 4:12 says, "the word of God is&ldots;a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
This phrase in James, "perfect law of liberty", helps us to understand another scripture that speaks of the word of God as a mirror. That is 1 Corinthians 13:12. The last part of this chapter deals with the passing away of the age of miracles. The reason being that as long as the word was being revealed, miracles would exist to prove the validity of the message (Mark 16:20). But whenever the word was fully revealed, "when that which is perfect (complete) is come", miracles would not be needed. At that point in time, they did not have the whole mystery revealed to them yet, so they saw the final, revealed word of God as looking in a dim or incomplete mirror. But now that the mystery has been fully revealed, we can see ourselves clearly in the gospel. We can, in a sense, see and know ourselves through Gods eyes.
Now there are two ways that James describes the results of seeing oneself in the mirror of the word of God. First, one could look into the Bible, see what he must do, then do it. If there is something that needs to be corrected, then he will, as Romans 12:2 says, be transformed by the renewing of his mind. James says that this one will be blessed. On the other hand, one could see what he must do in the Bible, then walk away and forget and go on living life as he always had. This is a problem with many Christians today. James says of these in verse 22 that they deceive themselves.
There is one more situation that could, and most assuredly does, occur. That is that people shut their eyes before viewing themselves in the mirror of the word of God and, seeing nothing wrong, change nothing. This is described in 2 Corinthians 3:7-15. The word speaks of how that when Moses came down from the mountain with the law, he had to put a veil over his face for the sake of the frightened Israelites, because his face shone. Then in verse 14, it says that the Jews minds were blinded, even in Pauls time, because they still had that veil over their heart. This would explain why most could not recognize Christ as the Messiah. They had closed their heart to Gods word. Christ said of the Pharisees that they were blind leaders of the blind (Matthew 15:14). Even today, people do the same as they did in Moses time and in Pauls. These are clearly seen in Christs words in Matthew 13:10-17. They see with their eyes the words of the Bible, but their heart is blind to recognize them. They hear the words that are preached, but their heart is dull to understand those words. Now notice, why are their eyes blind? Because they chose to close them! And also notice what the result would have been had they opened their hearts to the truth. They would see with their eyes and hear with their ears. They would understand with their hearts and turn so that Christ could heal them. Now look back at 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, 4:3-6. This is exactly what Paul is saying here. When one decides to turn to Christ, they remove the veil that has so long covered their heart and they can behold, in verse 18, the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, because we are transformed into the same image, as we can read both here and in Romans 12:2.
One point to emphasize is that we can know and be sure of our eternal destiny, whether we are saved or lost, through the gospel. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to "examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves." We find in Romans 8:16 how we can test ourselves and know that we are children of God: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." This is a widely misunderstood passage among many that profess to be Christians. Letting scripture interpret scripture, though, we find in Hebrews 10:15-17 that the Spirit witnesses to us through scripture and not through feelings as many would say. For example, if the Spirit witnesses through the scripture saying "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark16:16) and our spirit witnesses that we have believed and been baptized, then we can be assured that in that aspect we are right with God. So, it is evident from these passages that we test ourselves when we compare our life to the gospel.
"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me'" (Matthew 16:24).
We have read that in the gospel we have the mind of Christ, the revelation of God's will (1 Corinthians 2:16). But God does not reveal this perfect pattern of life by word only, He also reveals it through the perfect example of Christ. Throughout the scriptures we are told to follow Christ and to imitate Him (Matthew 16:24; 1 Corinthians 11:1). God has not left us unprepared, but has sent one ahead of us, that One being the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). He has run before us the race which we are running now, and we need only follow Him and the way in which He has run if we are to complete our race as well.
One specific example that has been given to us to imitate is Christ's humility (Philippians 2:5-8). He put others before Him to the extent that He gave up His place in Heaven for a time and came into subjection to the Father as a man. Not only that, but He was obedient to the Father, even to the point of death, giving His blood for the hope of salvation to those that would believe. So how much would it be if we were to give up a job, a relationship, even our life seeing that Christ gave up so much more for us?
We also have the example of His sinless life, even in the face of temptation (Hebrews 4:14-15). Christ was tempted in all points as we are: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). But He was found without sin. That is proof to us that we can live without sin, despite what many would like to believe. Even though we have sinned in the past, as all of an accountable age have, that does not mean that we have to sin in the future. We could live out the remainder of our life without sin, and this is exactly what God wishes (1 John 2:1). He wants us to be transformed into that same image of His Son and our Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Also, Christ has left us behind an example of the sufferings that we as Christians are sure to face as well as the appropriate attitude towards them (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 2:18-25). When He was reviled, He did not revile in return. When He suffered, He did not threaten. And He did so without sin, even up to and including His death on the cross. We can see His attitude mirrored in the apostles as they rejoiced in their persecution seeing the good that would come of it (Acts 5:41; 8:3-4; Philippians 1:12). And we should mirror that attitude as well seeing that we are His disciples.
Now, had it been all that we were given, the commandments of God would be all that we need. If fact, it would be more than we deserve. The gospel is indeed an aspect of God's wondrous grace. We no more deserve to know how to get to Heaven than we do Heaven itself. But God has given us so much more in that in the mirror of the word, we not only see ourselves, we also see the perfect image that we are ever aspiring to match (Romans 8:29). Therefore, seeing that one has gone before us, we can indeed come boldly to the throne of His grace in times of need!
In closing to the study, we have seen that the gospel is indeed the power of God to salvation, but what applications can we make to our lives? How should this affect our attitude towards the gospel?
First of all, it should be quite clear now that our faith and trust should be put solely in the gospel and not in the wisdom of men (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). It is the wisdom of men that says that the gospel is not sufficient to save souls, that we must lure those lost souls in with food, folks, and fun. I will admit, those who do such will draw in larger numbers. But I say this, those that teach them and win them over will only make them twice as much the sons of hell as themselves! Salvation is found in God's word, not in entertainment! Also, something that hits closer to home than the social gospel is the emphasis and focus that many place on the presentation of the gospel rather than the gospel itself. It is not the attitude of the one preaching that determines whether he is preaching truth or not. Paul says as much in Philippians 1:15-18. Whether Christ was preached in pretense or in sincerity, the truth was spread and Paul rejoiced in it. But how many do we know that would have more problems with someone preaching the truth with a bad attitude than they would with someone sincerely preaching error? Yes, the attitude of the preacher does matter, but only to the preacher himself. If someone has a heart open to the truth of the gospel, he will see that truth no matter how it is preached.
Second, we can also recognize that the gospel is a constant, the variable is man's heart (Matthew 13:18-23). Among the many lessons the parable of the sower teaches us is that the same seed was sown indiscriminately across the ground. It was up to the ground how it would receive the seed. And so applying this, we do not need to tailor the gospel to different groups, teaching one gospel to the young people, another to adults, another to middle income, and so on. The gospel has the power to unite people of all races, backgrounds, and ages into one spiritual body, the church (Galatians 3:26-29).
And then finally, seeing the manifold grace and power that God has extended to us in the gospel, let us strive to be more diligent each and every day to make our calling and election sure. Let us run the race that has been set before us, seeing that Christ has so run. And let us study to show ourselves approved unto God, a people that not only know the word but who are also not afraid to teach it.