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Lying Words

Temple in Jerusalem

by Dennis Pollock

The prophets of Israel were typically tough, no-nonsense kind of men. They didn’t see much gray – things were pretty much either black or they were white; they were right or they were wrong. Jeremiah was such a man. Although he had initially been reluctant to take up the prophetic mantle and follow God’s calling, once he jumped in, he preached and wrote with typical prophetic fearlessness.

At one point he addressed what he felt was a major problem for the people of Israel – the folly of overconfidence due to their history as the people of God and the temple where they worshiped, a temple they felt made them both unique and privileged among all the peoples on the earth. But while claiming their religious heritage and boasting in the temple in Jerusalem they somehow never felt a need to adjust their lifestyle to fit their religion. Jeremiah was incensed by their arrogance, and declared:

Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these.’ For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit… (Jeremiah 7:4-8)

Jeremiah repeats the phrase “the temple of the LORD” three times for emphasis, declaring that the Israelites are trusting in “lying words.” It is a strange thought. In what way could these be lying words? In Jeremiah’s mind the lie had to do with a false sense of security that this temple was giving to a rebellious, disobedient, and stiff-necked people. Regardless of how immoral their behavior, regardless of how ungodly their lifestyle, in the minds of these folks they could never be touched by their enemies, because, after all, the temple of the LORD was in their midst. God lived among them and therefore they were forever safe and secure.

Deceptive Trust

Jeremiah declares this trust in “the temple of the LORD” was a lie. It was a total deception to a people who paid little attention to the commands of their God. Temple or no temple, many sacrifices or no sacrifices, lots of religious trappings or none at all, God would not be slow to bring judgment and ruin upon this people whose lives did not at all correspond with their professions of faith.

Jeremiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives them the true means by which judgment might be averted. He tells them to treat people justly, to be kind to strangers, orphans, and widows, to keep themselves from shedding innocent blood, and to refuse to follow any foreign gods. This was no new morality he was preaching. Moses had declared these things to that first congregation of Israelites freed from bondage in Egypt, and other prophets had said the exact same things many times before. But still it had to be said again and again to a people who had become, in the words of Scripture, “dull of hearing.”

This has always been a real problem for the people of God, both from the earliest days until this present generation. It is thrilling to learn that God has chosen us and made us His own special people. Shortly after the exodus, when Moses was on the holy mountain communing with God, he was given a message to relay to the people of Israel:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:4-6)

A Special People

There was no question about it: Israel was a special people, blessed above all people on the face of the earth. They were in a unique covenant relationship with their God, creator and upholder of the universe. But there was a condition to this preferred status: they were to obey God’s voice and keep His covenant. Unlike the peoples of other nations, they were not allowed to live as they pleased. They were under laws determining their diet, their sexual behavior, their attitudes and conduct toward the poor, and nearly everything else in their lives. They were not free to embrace certain religious observances and then go home to live greedy, selfish, sexually immoral lives. There must be a strict relationship between their religious practices and their behavior.

Isaiah had blasted the Israelites for the same thing in his day. He addressed their dutiful adherence to fasting, while living callous, depraved, dissolute lives, writing:

Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:5-7)

Once again the issue is that of a disconnect. Israel was faithfully fasting and attempting to maintain their religious practices, while living uncaring, selfish lives, totally ignoring the poor and downcast. In Jeremiah’s words, we might say that they were trusting in lying words, saying “fasting, fasting, fasting.” Surely God would hear their earnest prayers and respond to all the meals they were forsaking. But Isaiah informs them that the best fast of all would be to start relating to their less fortunate neighbors with compassion and concern.

Worthy Fruits

grapevine

John the Baptist, faithful prophet that he was, took up the exact same theme. He thundered to the Israelites of his and Jesus’ day: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9). In this case the Jews were trusting in the lying words, “Abraham, Abraham, Abraham.” As descendants of Abraham they were assuming all was well between them and God – indeed feeling that they had a unique claim to God, regardless of the nature of their lifestyle, or how many of God’s commandments they were ignoring.

It would seem that throughout the history of the people of Israel, there was a serious problem with a false sense of security based on a false trust. They trusted in God’s religious observances, they trusted in God’s temple, they trusted in their bloodline, being descended from God’s friend, but they didn’t really trust in God Himself. This was evident because had they truly trusted in God, they would have carefully attempted to please Him and follow His revealed will. Ezekiel had warned the captive Jews in Babylon: “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I will profane My sanctuary, your arrogant boast…” (Ezekiel 24:21).

The Christian Version

Is this phenomenon merely a Jewish problem? Or is there a version of this relevant to Christians today? The Scriptures tells us: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). In many ways Christians are not so very different from our Jewish predecessors. If we are not careful, we, too, can end up trusting in lying words instead of the living God.

So what would be some of our “lying words” in which we might falsely trust? One of the most common lyings word is grace. Some Christians love to spout “grace, grace, grace,” while living degenerate, rebellious, and immoral lives. If you dare to confront them for their flagrantly ungodly lifestyle, they will respond that they are just sinners saved by grace, assuming that the very word grace must shut your mouth forever. Paul evidently foresaw just such an abuse of the grace of God, and asked in his letter to the Romans, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” He immediately answers his own question with a forceful: Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

Package Deal

Moving InWhat many fail to recognize is that when Jesus arrives in your life, He comes as a part of a package. When a woman marries a man, she doesn’t just get the man. She also inherits a mother-in-law and a father-in-law. Often she gets brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. And the man does not enter the marriage emptyhanded. He brings his car, his clothes, his music collection, his computer, his attitudes, his history, his expectations, and a great deal more. Every husband (and of course every wife) comes as a part of a “package deal.” And if you are not prepared to live with the full package that your spouse brings to the marriage, you would do well not to marry him or her.

Jesus Christ comes into our lives with a package. The Bible says, “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation…” (Hebrews 6:9). With Jesus and the forgiveness of sins and the gift of justification and eternal life and having God as our Father – also comes a lifestyle. We are expected to live in a particular way. The problem comes when we want to embrace Jesus and heaven, but have no desire or any intention of embracing the lifestyle He brings with Him. In other words, “I want salvation, but not the things that accompany salvation” – things like kindness, marital fidelity, honesty, humility, self-control, and the like.

Sometimes the lying words that people love to trust are, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” or “Lord, Lord, Lord.” They piously proclaim these words while making no effort whatsoever to please Him or follow Him. Jesus knew this would be a danger, and therefore He tells us:

Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:22, 23)

Examine Yourself

The problem for most such people is not that they once walked with Jesus and now have turned away. Probably in most cases they were never born again in the first place. Jesus did not say here, “I knew you for a while and then you turned away.” No, He says, “I never knew you.” They were deceived throughout their entire lives. They trusted in lying words, but were blissfully ignorant of the need for their behavior to match their Christian profession.

The good news is that when Jesus comes into our lives, He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And notice that this wonderful Person is called the Holy Spirit. He is holy and He comes to us with holy desires. We find that we very much want to please our God. Sin becomes distasteful for us, holiness becomes attractive.

We should recognize that salvation is not a matter of determining to change our behavior. The message is always: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” And merely making a few (or many) outward changes does not mean we have been born again. Change by itself does not equal salvation, but salvation will always result in change. And therefore, if we look at our lives and find we are just as sinful as before, just as selfish, just as greedy, just as sexually immoral, just as loud and argumentative, just as angry, just as ready to fight and scream and demand as ever – almost certainly we have not tasted the new birth through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

No, you will not find perfection, but if you are in Christ, you should find that the fruits of the Spirit are growing in you – fruits such as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).


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