Thursday, March 09, 2006

PROCEDURES - FOLLOW THE PLAN

It is generally agreed that plans are helpful and that following procedures is beneficial. An escape plan in case of fire stipulates that certain procedures be followed. If you are flying to the moon, it's a good idea to have a plan, and even a backup plan. The plan establishes the procedures that everyone on the ship follows so they can eat again at their own dining room table, and other things like that when they return. An architect draws up a plan for a new building only by following established architectural procedures in drafting, design and billing large sums of money. There are established procedures for all of these things. Following procedures are important in the family. Everyone, including mom, dad, and the children, have procedures to follow if the house is to function well. There are procedures for everything pertaining to the raising of the children to the regular maintenance of the house. And there are spiritual procedures: bible studies, prayers, acts of benevolence, etc. Procedures are important also for the church to remain faithful to God.

When God's people fail to follow His procedures, trouble is just around the corner. When Israel divided into a northern and southern kingdom in 922 B.C., there became a procedural problem for the northern peoples to worship God. Jerusalem was the place of worship, the place where sacrifices were offered, the place to go for the three great feasts in the year, the place where the temple was which Solomon had built, and the people of the northern ten tribes, being at war against Judah which contained Jerusalem, made it procedurally difficult for the people to continue the worship of God. Jeroboam, the one who revolted against the rule of Rehoboam, Solomon's heir to the throne, understood this problem and resolved it by establishing new procedures for worship. The Scripture records,
"Jeroboam said in his heart, 'Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah. So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt."'" (1 Kgs. 12:26-28).
Did you catch the last part? He told the people he was concerned for them, but he was really only watching out for himself. He was an evil man who cared about nothing but staying in power. He established new procedures that if the people followed them, it would ensure his continued control. And if the people submitted to it, with no revolt, then it would spell their doom as well.

Procedure is important to follow. Moses was told to follow procedure when building the tabernacle. God said to him, "see that you make everything according to the pattern" (Ex. 25:9,40; Acts 7;44; Heb. 8:5). Cain failed to followed procedures and God was displeased. John writes that Cain's "own deeds were evil and his brother's were righteous" (1Jn. 3:12). Uzzah the priest didn't follow God's procedure for transporting the ark of the covenant, and when the cart it was on almost toppled over and Uzzah reached to stabilize it, God struck him dead. It is recorded in 2 Samuel 6,
"6And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God."
This might seem a harsh thing for God to do, but procedure is important. Why so? The reason procedure is important is because failure to adhere to God's instruction is an indication that the heart is not right. In 2 Chronicles 26, the reign of Uzziah king of Judah is recorded. He reigned for 52 years. And it is recorded that he did right in the sight of the Lord. Only at the end of his life, because of his exploits, it says that he became proud. And his pride led him to sin against the Lord so that he ignored God's procedure. It says, "he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on it." Because this was the duty given only to the priests, Uzziah's pride led to his being punished with leprosy by God, and with this he was afflicted for the rest of his life. The failure to follow procedure is a heart problem. It's a heart problem, and pride problem, a self problem that ignores the simple instructions given by God and sets out to do things different.

The New Testament Church follows procedure in the worship of God. The church assembled on the Lord's Day and did a number of things together. The Church sang without accompaniment of instruments (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). The Christians took up a contribution to be used for spreading the Gospel and helping the needy (1 Cor. 16:1,2). The Lord's Supper was partaken of in memory of the sacrifice of Jesus for the remission of sins (Mt. 26:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:23ff). The Word of God was read and expounded upon (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:1,2). The Christians prayed to the Father through Jesus Christ, "for there is only God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus," (1 Tim. 2:5). Given that the Bible is not to be added to or taken from; and given that following the precepts of men makes for vain worship; and given that unity in all things is God's desires; given these things, it is imperative that the Church demonstrate a right heart by following the procedures shown to us in the Bible.

The New Testament Church also followed the procedures for making a Christian. A man was talking to me the other day who said that, in his church, baptism didn't have the same meaning and they baptized only twice a year. That is their procedure, but is it the Biblical procedure? He said that he wanted to know more about the thing they call "the sinner's prayer". Saying such a prayer is the procedure used by many for making Christians, but is it the Biblical procedure? No, it is not. So what is the Bible procedure for making a Christian?

To make a Christian, it has to be observed that only God can make someone to be new by taking away their sins. To God be the glory, as it says, "for by grace are you saved." Without God's unmerited favor, there would be no hope for sinful man. Second, it needs to be stated that works “in and of themself” cannot save, but an obedient faith is what God finds pleasing (James 2:14,24,26). So there is no question here that salvation is possible only by God's grace when the person puts his faith in God (Eph. 2:8,9). But what is the exact procedure for demonstrating that faith? Is it demonstrated by saying "a sinner's prayer"? Obviously not, since that procedure is no where to be found in the Bible. The procedure, if united by faith, is the following:
1. Hear the Gospel of Christ, because "faith comes by hearing" (Rom. 10:17)
2. Believe the Gospel, for this reason God sent His Son into the world (Jn. 3:16; Mark 16:16).
3. Repent because God's grace instructs us to deny ungodliness (Titus 2:11,12).
4. Confess the Gospel, because it is good news (Romans 10:9,10).
5. Be baptized for the remission of your sins, calling on his name (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Colossians 2:12; 1 Pt. 3:21).
If you will do these things with a good heart, and if you will follow Jesus for all of your days, though you can never deserve it, God will save your soul and give you eternal life.

One last cautionary note. By calling attention to "procedures", like Samuel did with Saul (1Sam. 15:21-23), one runs the risk of sounding legalistic. But legalism can happen anywhere if the heart is not right. If the heart is right, then the person will desire to hear what is the will of the Lord and do it. I recommend that we follow the procedures God has given in the New Testament; but let us always guard our hearts so that the procedures do not become our gods.

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