1. We are told by Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, that there is nothing new under the sun. We are told by the apostle Paul, in First Corinthians, that there hath nothing taken you but such as is common to man.
2. So, we understand that the conditions of man and the experiences of man are common, are usual, are ordinary; that while something may be new to you, may be unique to your experience, it is certainly not new to mankind or unique in the experiences of other men.
3. Turn in your Bible to Hebrews 12.15, while I assert that the same things that I have said about individuals having no new or uncommon experiences apply to Churches, as well. There is nothing that is a danger to this Church that hasnít been a danger to Churches long before our time. And there is nothing about the blessings that we crave and hunger for and expect to receive that have not already been experienced by many congregations just like ours down through the centuries.
4. Despite the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, despite the fact that there hath no temptation taken any of us but such as is common to man, despite the fact that Godís dealings with this Church certainly must be similar in fashion to His dealings with Churches before our time, it is all too often the case that men, that Christians, that congregations, that pastors, that we, do not learn from what has gone on before.
5. I remember some years back, that the pastor of the Church where I had gotten baptized began an adulterous affair with the wife of a missionary originally from that Church. I remember that some years later the song leader (the pastor is the worship leader, so I reserve such terminology for the pastor) of another Church began an adulterous affair with one of the women in the choir.
6. In our own Church before my arrival as the pastor, one of the wives of a staff member was engaged in an adulterous affair with a high school student. And again in our own Church, many of us saw a fellowís wife run off with his best friend, only to see the fellow whose wife ran off make a baby with a woman he was not married to. And was it then any surprise that the manís second son and only daughter each made babies with people they were not married to?
7. In another Church the associate pastor leads a move against the pastor, which results in a Church split. In yet another Church the Sunday School teachers decide on their own to teach lessons the pastor has not given them and does not approve of. And there are Churches in which the members decide which services they will and will not attend, depending on how they think the service will apply to them.
8. Let me tell you something, folks. These kinds of experiences donít have to happen in a Church that I pastor very often before I start trying to figure out how to put a stop to it. I donít have to observe too many families blow sky high before my concern for the kids in the families, and my concern for the well-being of the entire congregation, forces me to start looking for preventative medicine.
9. I mean, how many destroyed lives must you observe, and how many betrayed spouses and children must I counsel, whose wounds are deep and festering and in need of oil and wine, before I start looking for a way to move from emergency room meatball surgery to preventative medicine to do my best to stop things like this from happening in the first place?
10. I could go on and on and on with examples. But my point is that there will always be unsaved Church members who have the potential of blowing a Churchís ministry sky high. "Oh, but you listen carefully to sinners, pastor. That could never happen here, because you are so careful when you deal with people." Folks, there will always be unconverted Church members.
11. Remember my sermon titled "Spurious Conversions"? Just a simple sermon showing four examples of unconverted Church members: Judas Iscariot, Simon Magus, the Corinthian fornicator (First Corinthians chapter 5), and Demas.
12. Several weeks ago I preached a sermon entitled "Sheep Stealers And Church Tramps." In that sermon we looked at First John 2.19 and took great delight in the fact that itís the lost who leave, not the saved, as evidenced by their leaving. But not all lost folks who get into a Church leave, friends. Too many lost folks in a Church stay.
13. Whatís to be done with those who stay? Now, I am not speaking of those unsaved Church members who are so unsubtle and so obvious that they invite Church discipline. I am asking, What is to be done about those lost people in the Church who may cause great harm some day? Or, What is to be done about those lost people in the Church who never lead a revolt, but who are in danger of dying and going to Hell? What is to be done about Hell-bound Church members?
14. You have already found Hebrews 12.15, so letís stand and read just the first portion of the verse, which will be my text for this morning: "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God." This sentence speaks directly to the matter of unconverted Church members and what to do about them.
15. Two brief observations before brother Isenberger comes to lead us in our congregational song and I come back to bring this morningís sermon.
1A. First, THERE IS PASTORAL OVERSIGHT
Yesterday, at the funeral of Ron Farrarís dad, the pastor of Second Baptist Church used an interesting phrase a number of times. Itís a Scriptural description of a pastorís responsibility. He referred to himself as a "soul watcher," a direct reference, no doubt, to Hebrews 13.17, which declares, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." So, a pastor is, indeed, a soul watcher. But our text is Hebrews 12.15, where watching over souls is alluded to.
1B. Please Take Note In Our Text Of The Word "Watching Diligently"
1C. I said "word" because "watching diligently" does translate a single Greek word, "episkopountes," which is used only one other place in the New Testament in that form, First Peter 5.2: "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind."
2C. The word, in both verses, is a participle. A participle is kind of a half noun and half verb which serves to describe the participant in the action of the verb. So, though Hebrews is addressed to a group of Jewish people, some of whom are converted, some of whom think they are converted, and some of whom make no pretense of being converted, the writer does speak of duties and responsibilities in this letter that are not equally shared by everyone this letter is addressed to.
2B. To Better Help You Understand What Is Meant Here, Letís Look At The Root Word
1C. This word translated "watching diligently" is derived from the Greek word "episkopos." And this word is prominent in our Bible.
2C. You see, the word "episkopos" is translated in First Timothy 3.1-2 by the word "bishop," and means "overseer" or "the one to whom is given oversight."
3C. Going back to our text, Hebrews 12.15, we see that the writer to Hebrews is urging to his readers that oversight be exercised over them. But understand, folks, that a man does not oversee himself. And a group of people do not oversee themselves.
4C. Though he is directing his remarks to all of those to whom he writes, he does so only so those to whom oversight has been given will find among the Hebrews people who will comply with their oversight responsibilities.
5C. To put it more plainly for us this morning, the writer of Hebrews is urging the people to "be pastored," knowing full well that only the pastor pastors, while the people are being exhorted to let the pastor pastor them.
2A. Then, THERE IS PASTORAL CONCERN
"Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God"
Exercising oversight lest any man fail of the grace of God.
Pastoring the people lest any man fail of the grace of God.
Three brief comments before brother Isenberger comes.
1B. First, A Comment Related To The Word "Lest"
This is a word that is related to a hypothetical negative. In other words, oversight is to be exercised, pastoring is to be done, so that something will not happen that might happen if pastoring isnít done. My friends, part of a pastorís ministry is to keep certain bad things from happening. Why is it, then, that some of you simply do not listen when your pastor speaks?
2B. Second, A Comment Related To The Word "Fail"
This word translated "fail" means to "fall short, to come behind, to be destitute." Because of slothfulness or lack of diligence someone simply falls behind. John Chrysostom, the ancient preacher known as "Golden Mouth," comments: "The image is taken from a company of travellers, one of whom lags behind, and so never reaches the end of the long and laborious journey." Sad.
3B. Third, A Comment Related To The Phrase "Grace Of God"
Folks, the idea here is not of someone who loses his salvation. Rather, the idea is of someone who has all along followed along closely enough to reach out and grasp the truth, but for someone reason hasnít. And now he falters, he lags behind. The danger is that he will be left completely behind.
1. We Baptists claim that we believe in baptizing only converted people, and that unsaved people are not fit candidates for believerís baptism. Yet how many Baptist preachers baptize folks on the basis of a simple profession of faith, unverified and unchecked? It happens all the time.
2. The result, of course, are congregations full of unsaved Church members. And itís these unconverted members whose fervency cools over time, until eventually they are do-nothings in the Church who retire and move to Arizona, where they will recollect when they "served God as young Christians."
3. Even in our own Church, where I, as carefully and as cautiously as I know how, listen to sinners and scrutinize hopeful convertís testimonies, there are unconverted Church members. My friends, there will always be unconverted Church members. No pastor is discerning enough to detect all the false conversions.
4. So, there will always be unconverted Church members, even in the best of Churches. And where there are unconverted Church members there are potential troublemakers. The kind of trouble they make we will see, Lord willing, next week.
5. So, whatís to be done? Are we to just sit back and wait for problems to flare up? Are we to stand by with our hands in our pockets? No. You are to let me pastor you, and I am to pastor you.
6. If you will allow me to be your pastor, to provide spiritual leadership and direction for your life, then I can much more effectively deal with these folks who fail of the grace of God. "But what is that, pastor?"
7. Iíll answer that question after brother Isenberger comes to lead us in a song. Letís stand as he comes.
1. "What is it to fail of the grace of God?" To fail of the grace of God is when someone starts coming to the Church who isnít saved, or even to profess Christ and become a Church member who isnít really saved, and to finally and forever fall away.
2. You see, even in the best of Churches there are unsaved people who become Church members. And itís not unusual for such a person to actually get converted sometime later. It happens in virtually every Church that such members actually get converted sometime after they were first thought to have gotten converted.
3. But itís also happened in Churches that such a member, after thinking he was a Christian for so long, and after trying to live the Christian life for so long, had something happen to discourage him, or faced an insurmountable obstacle in his attempts to live a life he really didnít have, that proved too much for him to handle. So he just quit.
4. That person failed of the grace of God. He finally gave up and fell so far behind those of us who are running the race, that he separated himself completely from having any access to Godís grace. So, while he didnít lose his salvation, since he was never saved in the first place, by falling out of Church completely he has likely removed himself forever from any likelihood of getting saved.
5. Let me retrace the steps some of you have taken. And also some of the steps I hope you will take, to really come to Christ.
1A. First, YOUR CONVICTION OF SIN
1B. Somehow And In Some Way You Got Under Bible Preaching Or Under A Presentation Of The Gospel. The Result Was That You Were Convicted Of Your Sin, Powerfully Convicted, Persuasively Convicted.
2B. You Became Utterly Convinced By The Holy Spirit Of God, Who Used Both The Word Of God And Some Man, Or Some Preacher, To Drive The Point Home That You Needed Christ, That You Needed To Be Saved, That The Blood Of Christ Was The Only Solution To Your Sin Problem.
3B. I Am Strongly Convinced That When A Person Tells Me He Got Convicted That He Is Telling Me The Godís Honest Truth. But I Must Also Point Out That Conviction Is Not Conversion, And That Many Sinners Who Got Powerfully Convicted Of Their Sins Never Got Converted.
4B. My Friend, Itís A Wonderful And Life Changing Thing To Get Convicted. Many Who Have Been Convicted Of Their Sins By The Holy Spirit Of God Have Never Gone Back To The Sins They Were Convicted Of. But Conviction Is Not Conversion, And Many Who Were Once Convicted Are Now In Hell.
5B. So, You Got Convicted.
2A. Second, YOUR "CONVERSION"
1B. Being Powerfully Convicted By The Holy Spirit Of God, You Then Did Something That You Were Told Was A Conversion Experience. You Prayed A Prayer. You Made A Decision. There Was A Sincere Commitment. Itís Even Possible That You Believed.
2B. But Without Knowing It, You Are Actually One Of Those Paul Writes About In First Corinthians 15.2, Who Have Believed In Vain. You Believed All Right, But Nothing Came Of It. There Was Faith, But It Wasnít Saving Faith, It Wasnít Soul Regenerating Faith, It Wasnít New Life In Christ Faith.
3B. But You Didnít Know That At The Time, And Neither Did The Pastor. You Were Happy. He Was Happy. You Felt Thrilled And Everything Seemed So Right. So You Got Baptized And Became A Church Member. Only . . . Your Name Wasnít Written Down In The Lambís Book Of Life Because Jesus Never Knew You.
3A. Third, YOUR "CONSECRATION"
1B. Time Goes On And You Attend Church Regularly. You Even Begin To Tithe After A While, And Begin Something Of A Devotional Life. There Are Occasions Where You Witness To Folks.
2B. Your Language Improves. Your Style Of Dress Changes. Your Recreational Activities Begin To Change To Accommodate Your Faithfulness To Church. You Even Get Involved In A Ministry.
3B. All Of These Things Are Thought To Be Consecration, Becoming More Godly, Being More Christ-Like. But This Isnít Consecration At All. These Are The Normal And Typical Adjustments That Anyone Would Make Who Associates With A New Group Of People, Who Has A Subconscious Desire To Fit In With The Group.
4B. Business School Graduates Do This Same Thing, As Do Doctors, As Do Police Officers, As Do Steel Workers, As Do Firemen. You Begin To Conform To The Outward Appearance And Conduct And Speech Of The Group You Are Identifying With. And If Itís Church Itís Mistaken For Consecration.
5B. With A Converted Person It Really Is Consecration, Because There Is An Inside Work Being Done By The Indwelling Spirit Of God. But Not With You, Because You Are Not Really Converted, And There Is No Real Indwelling Presence Of The Holy Spirit. With You Itís Not Consecration, But Camouflage.
6B. This Is The Situation To Which Our Text Speaks. But At This Point, Typically, The Pastor Does Nothing Unusual. Why Not? Because He Is Unaware That Anything Is Amiss.
4A. Fourth, YOUR CRISIS
1B. Hopefully For You, At Some Point In Your Life You Face A Crisis That Shakes Your Confidence That You Are A Christian. And This Is Good, Since You Are Not A Christian. You Are One Of The Spurious Converts Like Judas Iscariot, Or Like Simon Magus, Or Like The Corinthian Fornicator, Or Like Demas. If You Die Right Now You Will Certainly Go To Hell.
2B. I Hope Your Crisis Is Not A Failed Marriage, Or Adultery, Or Being Sucked Into Leading A Church Split, Or Leaving The Church, First John 2.19. Those Would Be Truly Catastrophic Crises That Would Result In Long Term Damage In Many Peopleís Lives Besides Your Own. No, I Hope Your Crisis Is More Private, More Inwardly Personal, With A Minimal Amount Of Damage To You Or Other People. You See, I Donít Want Anyone Hurt. I Want You To Get Saved.
3B. What Is This Crisis? It Could Be The Realization That One Is Not Saved Who Practices The Secret Sins You Engage In. It Could Be The Sudden Realization That Youíve Not Ever Truly Cast Yourself Upon Jesus. Or It Could Be The Gradual Awareness That You Donít Really Have Life In Christ, That You Are Not A Partaker Of The Divine Nature, That There Is Absolutely Nothing Of The Truly Supernatural In The Life You Live.
4B. Whatever Your Crisis Is, I Hope It Comes. I Hope It Shakes You. I Hope It Startles You. You See, Something Needs To Awaken You.
5A. Fifth, YOUR CONFUSION
1B. The Confusion You Would Experience Is The Direct Result Of Things Not Fitting Properly Together. You Must Be A Christian, You Think, But There Is No Christ In Your Life. You Must Be Converted, You Believe, But There Is The Nagging Doubt That Your Conversion Testimony Matches Up With What Is Found In Godís Word.
2B. Confusion Comes When You Are Disoriented, When You Become Uncertain About Your Identity And About How You Relate To God And His Son Jesus. Youíve Always Thought You Were A Christian, At Least Since Your "Conversion." But Since The Crisis Youíre Not So Sure.
3B. The Crisis Will Show You That The "Consecration" Isnít Real, That Your Spirituality Isnít Genuine, That You Havenít Really Been Delivered By Christ From Your Sins. Now, Iím Not Talking About Sinless Perfectionism, But Growth In Grace And In The Knowledge Of Jesus Christ. And The Crisis Shows That There Is No Growth. Thatís Why Youíll Be Confused, Shaken, In A Turmoil.
6A. Sixth, YOUR CONVICTION
1B. If You Are In A Decisionist Ministry You Will Be Constantly And Forever Reassured That You Are Converted And That There Is Nothing To Worry About. "Everything Will Be All Right. This Is Just A Phase You Are Going Through."
2B. But Decisionists Are Not Careful To Guide Sinners To Christ. Decisionists Are Too Often Satisfied With Prayers And Vague Resolutions, And Are Not At All Careful To Try And Discern If Someone Is Really Converted. And Decisionists Are Never Willing To Admit That A So-Called Christian May Not Be Converted After All.
3B. Not Even A Careful Pastor Will Be Correct In All His Dealings With The Lost. After All, The Most Cautious Pastor Can Be Tricked Into Thinking A Sinner Is Saved When She Is Not Saved.
4B. But If God Is So Gracious As To Convict You By His Holy Spirit, And You Become Convinced That You Are Truly Lost And That Your Former Profession Was Entirely Erroneous, And If You Donít Have A Foolish Pastor Who Refuses To Believe That Even The Best "So-Called" Christian Might Actually Be Lost, Then You May Not Grieve The Holy Spirit As He Seeks To Convict You.
5B. You See, Itís At This Point That Hebrews 12.15 Applies. The Pastor Is Overseeing His Flock. He Surveys His Congregation. And Then He Becomes Aware Of A Crisis In A Memberís Life, Either By Observation Or Because He Has Been Informed. As He Watches And Prays And Ministers, If He Is Allowed To Get Close Enough, He Sees That The Crisis Isnít Being Handled Well By The Member. There Is A Struggle And There Is Difficulty. And Now There Is Confusion.
6B. When The Member Asks Questions The Answers From Godís Word Donít Seem To Comfort This Poor Soul, But Rather To Trouble Him. He Seems To Grope For Assurance From The Pastor, Who Wisely Refuses To Assure Him, Since Assurance Of Salvation Is Solely The Holy Spiritís Ministry.
7B. Sometimes Rapidly, Sometimes Gradually, Sometimes Not At All, But In This Case Confusion Does Give Way To Real Conviction. You Now Realize How Terribly Wrong You Have Been All This Time, How Lost You Are, How Deceitful Your Heart Has Been, What A Game You Have Been Playing.
8B. You Are Lost And Undone. Lost, Terribly Lost. Hopeless And Helplessly Lost, Just Like Any Sinner Without Christ Is.
7A. Finally, YOUR CONVERSION
1B. At Least, This Is How I Hope It Turns Out In The End. I Hope You Give Up Your False Profession And Turn Your Back On Your False Hopes, And Come To Christ.
2B. But This Will Never Happen Unless You Are Brutally Honest With Yourself, Brutally Honest With God, And Honest Enough With Those Around You To Admit That You Do Not Know Jesus.
1. You see, if it doesnít happen something like this then you will fail of the grace of God.
2. Thinking you are a Christian, you will someday conclude that all attempts to live the Christian life are futile and you will give up.
3. You may give up by apostatizing the Christian faith and turning antichrist. Or you may give up by dialing back to attending one service a week and living a life of disappointment and defeat, with no service to God and no ministry to speak of.
4. Or you may be one of the millions of so-called Christians who gives up by retiring and moving to some retirement village, and then spending the rest of your life remembering the days when.
5. Call it what you will, itís a failure to finish. And failing to finish the course means youíve not persevered. Failing to finish the course means you were never converted in the first place.
6. But at least until you give up and called it quits there is some likelihood that youíll get converted someday. It isnít until you fail of the grace of God that reasonable hope is lost.
7. You see, itís when you pack it in, itís when you fail of the grace of God, that you put yourself out of the reach of Godís man, out of the reach of the Churchís ministry, and beyond normal exposure to the Gospel of Godís grace.
8. So do not, my friend, absent yourself from a single Church service. Do not, my friend, resist the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit of God. And do not remove yourself from the oversight ministry of the God-called preacher.