Ready to Discriminate?

John MacArthur – Grace to You

(9min Audio)

The issue of who is truly a Christian is at the very center of the church’s life and ministry. This has to be protected. There isn’t any fellowship between light and darkness, is there, 2 Corinthians 6? There isn’t any concord between Christ and Satan. Two can’t walk together unless they be…what?…agreed. You have to come out from among them and be ye separate and touch not the unclean thing.

And here is the church absorbing all of this. And now it’s so confusing that the church itself doesn’t even know who’s a Christian and frankly I don’t think they particularly care as long as you say you believe in Jesus. A friend, Iain Murray who is a gifted theologian and a great biographer, wrote the massive two-volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones has also written on Jonathan Edwards and many others, he is a very esteemed Englishman and has been here many times, we’ve spent many hours together, has written a new book called Evangelicalism Divided in which I read it, just devoured it over the last few weeks while I was in Italy in the plain, in the back of the bus, in the room, everywhere because it just consumed me. Murray is tracking the twentieth century decline of evangelicalism and it’s a book of history that is very, very revealing. And Murray says, and I think he’s absolutely right, he says, the inability of the evangelical church to distinguish between a Christian and a non-Christian is quote: “The greatest failure of professing Christianity in the English-speaking world in the twentieth century,” end quote.

He understands the implications. If you redefine non-Christians as Christians you obliterate the distinctiveness of the church and you therefore create an environment in which you have to tolerate error because these people represent error. He further writes, this is very important and insightful, “The health of the church,” and he’s speaking as a historian here, having tracked it very carefully, “the health of the church has always been in proportion to the extent to which the difference between Christian and non-Christian has been kept sharp and clear.” Absolutely right. The starting point for the church is to be absolutely clear about who is saved and who is not. If we’re not clear about that, then we don’t know who’s on our side and we don’t know who we really need to reach.

From the time that God began to form a people for Himself, Satan endeavored to intrude. From the time that the demons cohabitated with the…with the daughters of men in Genesis 6, Satan has been trying to pollute and mix…all the way down to sowing tares among the wheat. And it’s really true. Murray says, “The most insidious opposition to the gospel has come from within worldly churches.”

I’ll say this as simply as I can. The gospel is more often attacked on TBN than it is on NBC. This has been the legacy of liberalism which has been embraced by quote/unquote “evangelicals.” This has been the legacy of Charismaticism where theology and…I’m not speaking about all the people but for the most part where the Movement tolerates anybody’s view. This has been the legacy of the seeker-friendly pragmatic movement. This has been the legacy of evangelical ecumenism which wants to re-embrace orthodoxy and Catholicism and everybody else. And the confusion goes from the grass roots right on up to the top. I’ve talked to the evangelical brain trust, if you will, and they aren’t even willing to commit to who’s a Christian. Even my conversation with J.I. Packer, so capable and gifted a theologian and writer, when I asked him…what is the line by which you determine a true Christian? All he could say was, “That’s a good question.”

For most of the last part of the twentieth century, the last 50 years, there has been a sustained effort to invent and promote a popular definition of Christianity, which is neither biblical nor legitimate and to fill the church with non-Christians. And we have to recover the identification of a true Christian and that means we have to get back to the doctrine of deliverance. That’s the connection. Because if you understand the doctrine of deliverance, then you have a criteria by which to understand who’s a Christian. And we can’t obviously know the heart. We can’t be sure about everyone. That’s not within our capability. We can’t always distinguish between the true…the wheat and the tares. But it is true that even Jesus said, “By their fruit you can…what?…you can know them.”

So there is…there is marked demonstration in the life of a person as to whether or not they have in fact been delivered. And such deliverance, listen, is the common experience for all believers in Christ. There is a dramatic change in their personal life. We’re not talking again about forensic things, we’re talking about actual transformation. There is a dramatic change in their personal life, their personal nature, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. They are new creations and they have been delivered from some very specific dangers into some very specific new patterns of behavior.

Now by the way, this isn’t anything new. Go back to Thomas Scott who wrote this in 1820’s, 200 years ago. “This I will say that whatever darkness there may be in a man’s understanding, unless he feels and behaves as a sinner, justly condemned for breaking a righteous law…that is, unless you see in him penitence and brokenness…and unless he expects salvation of mere grace…that is he seems himself as a sinner and grace his only hope…and…he says…as reconciled to God, loving God’s service, longing after holiness, that holiness which the Law requires and so living holy in sincerity and truth, he cannot be saved, according to the Bible.”

What was Thomas Scott saying? He was saying if his life isn’t changed, he’s not saved. If he’s saved, he’s been delivered and he will love God, he will love God’s service, he will long after holiness. He will live in a holy way in sincerity and truth or he’s not saved. He was dealing with the same issues 200 years ago. Why? Because Satan always wants to get the church confused about who’s saved, then he can infiltrate and take over, as he’s done in so many institutions and denominations.

Ian Murray again writes, “When churches have recovered from apostasy, historically, such as at the time of the Reformation and the eighteenth century evangelical revival…that’s from Wesley through to Jonathan Edwards…when churches have recovered, it has always been…I love this…by a return to such discriminating preaching and practice.” What he means is when there’s ever a recovery from a time of apostasy, it has come when preaching has become discriminating.

What does it mean to discriminate? If you say you discriminate, what does it mean? If you say…you hear people say, be a discriminating buyer, what does that mean? It means that you can choose the best out of the lot, right? You know how to discriminate. It means to discern. The only hope for the church is discriminating, discerning preaching. I don’t think there’s any organizational answer. I don’t think we need more meetings, more seminars. We need preachers who will stand up and preach discriminating messages.

And Murray says, “Given the great decline in the English-speaking churches of the twentieth century, the chief need again was the reassertion of the meaning of being a Christian.” Wow! The chief hope for the church is discriminating preaching primarily directed at the issue of who is a Christian.

I don’t care how widely known you are as an evangelical leader, to say that Roman Catholics and the Pope are wonderful Christians is not discriminating, he questions somebody’s faculties of discernment. And sometimes I wonder if those who can’t discern the true church can’t discern it because they’re not part of it. I know people who aren’t a part of it can’t discern it because the natural man understands not the things of God. I don’t expect non-Christians to be discerning about the church, but I do expect Christians to be discerning about the church. And yet you have people who have risen to prominence in evangelicalism who have defined evangelicalism on a large scale who lack that discernment. And what we need is exactly what Murray says, we have to have some discriminating preaching. It’s time…it’s time to draw the line again and that means to be unpopular, I hate to say.

And people ask me…why do people do this? Why do they compromise? Why aren’t they discriminating? Why don’t they say what needs to be said? Why don’t they say this is not a Christian institution, these people are not Christians? Why don’t they make a clear-cut line? Why don’t do they do that?

And the only answer I can come up with and I think it’s a general one and Murray in his book agrees with me on this, the fear of being alienated. It’s the fear of man, it’s the desire for popularity. It’s the desire for the widest possible acceptance. It’s the desire for a reputation. It’s the desire not to be marginalized and pushed off into a corner. It’s a desire to be tolerable and tolerant because it affords you some level of popularity. Because it lets you move up the social strata in the world of Christianity. And so they seek the approval of man. And it’s amazing how they can seek the approval of man at the expense of the approval of the Lord of the church.

In fact, if you try to be the discriminating preacher, if you try to bring the truth into the situation, you’re a problem. But this is not new either. John Wesley in Volume 8 of Wesley’s Works said this, “In our days, to be a true Christian is really to become a scandal.” There was Wesley in the midst of apostate, the church…apostate church in England in the eighteenth century, a true Christian preaching a true gospel and being so scandalized that it ultimately led to persecution of the true Christians. May have to be that way. But isn’t it interesting that the church that persecuted the true believers?

You know, when the people came and founded America, they were coming here for religious freedom, did you know that? Because they were being persecuted, not by the secular world, they were being persecuted by whom? The church, the apostate church.

So how are we going to draw this line about who’s a true Christian? Well, the simplest way I know how to do it and the biblical way to do it is to realize that the true church is the living society of the delivered. I don’t think that’s necessarily a great name for a church, The First Church of the Delivered, but that…that’s the idea. The true church is the living society of the delivered.

Now how do you know if someone is delivered? Well, I’m going to tell you that next time. But I’m going to give you the outline this time, cause I want you to have this. First of all, I’ll start with five categories of deliverance. True Christians have been delivered from lies to the truth, from error to the truth. I think that’s pretty obvious. Secondly, they have been delivered from sin to virtue, or from ungodliness to godliness. Thirdly, they have been delivered from fear to joy, they have been delivered from fear to joy, from wrath to blessing. Fourthly, they have been delivered from the love of the world to the love of the church. And fifthly, they have been delivered from Satan to God.

All of these things are manifestly noticeable in the life of a true Christian. But see, it’s not the issue of when and where you make some decision. It’s not that you belong, or that you believe in Jesus somehow. The church is the living society of the delivered.

You know, this gets us back to the gospel. And this is really a battleground. You know, it’s been many years I wrote The Gospel According to Jesus. And I wrote what I thought would be just a nice book to state that Jesus is Lord. If you confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you’re saved, Romans 10, right? That’s safe enough. Confess Jesus as Lord. I wrote that book and it started a fire storm and it hasn’t stopped nearly 15 years later because there are so many people in the church who think you can be saved without confessing Jesus as Lord. And that’s rising again.

So, I have been sort of banned in certain places because of that very divisive view that to be saved you have to confess Jesus as Lord. That’s just one of a myriad of things. When you try to be discriminating or discerning or biblical or clear, theologically precise, you really do expose the vulnerability of those in error. But you must do it for the sake of the truth and the sake of the souls of men and the sake of the purity of the church. It’s been a long siege, you know, for the truth but we continue to proclaim it and shall continue. And I think I determined after this last trip that we need to crank it up a bit because the confusion not only is characteristic here, but it’s getting exported everywhere. So we will help you next week by talking about what the delivered people are like so that you can be able to tell who’s a true Christian.

Source :

Copyright 2010, Grace to You. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

3 thoughts on “Ready to Discriminate?

  1. Very interesting. It is true that , as long as you say that you believe in Jesus and invited Him into your life, I have never known a preacher to ever question the truth of wether the person was truly born from above. Even when there was not manifest change in the individual.

    What makes this somewhat confusing is this — How do we tell the difference between a unregenerate and a Christian that is immature or fleshly? Is it a matter of watching over a period of time? Sometimes it can be challenging to see immediatly who is who. However , i have known ‘religious’ people with all the outward trappings of being a Christian, they do not live in open sin at all , but at the same time they have little to no spiritual understanding of the scriptures and do not at all even think about life in terms of scripture.They talk ABOUT scripture, but when they are gossipping or pulling a financial scam, they seem completly free from the terrible guilt that it seems that they should feel in light of the fact that they are reading the same bible as me.I actually know somebody like this and they have been a friend of mine for many years. I have tried to talk to her little bits here and there over the years , but somehow she just deflects it or agrees with me in what i am saying but never applies it to her own case. This person has always kind of confused me. She is twenty years older than me so i have to be careful how i approach her. Deep in my heart, i do not believe that she is saved.I know a couple people like this that are not personal friends. They are very active in the churches that they go to and it seems that many pastors are more interested in getting people to ” pray the sinners prayer” then get busy in ministry in the church. Sometimes i have a suspicion that many pastors are more interested in helping them manage their ministries than wether or not you are really saved.
    Just an observation. I could be missing something.


    • Sylesa you ask :

      How do we tell the difference between a unregenerate and a Christian that is immature or fleshly? Is it a matter of watching over a period of time? Sometimes it can be challenging to see immediatly who is who. However , i have known ‘religious’ people with all the outward trappings of being a Christian, they do not live in open sin at all , but at the same time they have little to no spiritual understanding of the scriptures and do not at all even think about life in terms of scripture.

      This post is part of an 8 part sermon series. maybe if you listen /read trough you will come to full understanding. I will post the follow up today meaning part 2. I think part of the answer lies herein what JMA says:

      True Christians have been delivered from error to truth–from error to truth. Now this is not an easy message for me to preach to you for a number of reasons. One, I have too much material in my head…too much to try to sort out so that it takes a tremendous amount of effort mentality and a confidence in the Spirit of God to help the filtering process. Secondly, you’re going to have to think with me because there are going to be some subtleties, as well as some not so subtle things that you’re going to have to comprehend as we go through. But this is very, very important. Nothing is worse than a person thinking they’re a Christian when they’re not. Nothing is more deadly to the impact of the church than embracing non-Christians as if they were Christians. So we’re dealing with an issue that is at the very center at what the church really is and it applies in all the lives of folks who come near the church.

      So the first thing we want to know about the doctrine of deliverance, or the theology of deliverance, is that true Christians have been delivered from error to truth. Turn with me in your Bible to Colossians chapter 1 and let’s start there and we’re going to try to go through this as rapidly as we can. And I will have to leave some things out. But in Colossians chapter 1 I think we can get a good start. Here is a passage that expresses the great miracle of deliverance. And verse 13 is the notable verse, verse 13, Colossians 1:13, “For He…that is the Father mentioned in verse 12 to whom we give thanks…He the Father delivered us, rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son.”

      Back in verse 12 Paul says, “We therefore give Him thanks because He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Now here you have that very familiar biblical contrast between darkness and light. We have been delivered out of the domain of darkness. We have been delivered into the Kingdom of the Son of His love, as the Greek literally says, which is a Kingdom made up of saints in light. Darkness is synonymous with ignorance, darkness is synonymous with error. Light is synonymous with truth. We have been taken out of error, out of darkness and delivered into a Kingdom of light ruled by the beloved Son of God, Jesus Christ. That’s the first category of deliverance.

      True Christians understand the truth. They have come from darkness to light. They have come from error to truth. Psalm 119:130, “The entrance of Thy Word gives light.” “Thy Word,” we read in Psalm 119:105, “is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path.” That is the first great area of deliverance. Out of the darkness of error, into the bright light of truth.

      The Apostle Paul when he was commissioned to preach, according to Acts 26:18, was sent to sinners to open their eyes that they might turn from darkness to light so that darkness and light are really symbols or metaphors of error and truth. And notice please, in verse 13, that truth is synonymous with Jesus Christ. We are delivered from the domain of darkness which is the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of His beloved Son and He is the light of the world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world and whoever comes to Me will never walk in darkness.” The light is synonymous with Jesus Christ. It is synonymous with entering into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

      So the first thing that is true about the delivered, the true Christians, is that they do not believe error because they have come to the light. They have come to the truth. To borrow the language of Ephesians chapter 6, they are engaged in a battle against the spiritual forces of darkness but they are triumphant because they have put on the armor of God and the first piece of armor is the belt or the girdle of truth.

      I will place the post asap.



  2. Elmarie,
    Great , i am really looking forward to this series. I don’t think i’ve heard this one before. Thank you. 🙂


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