Strongholds And Stumblingblocks
In the course of seeking to understand why so many Christians that are seemingly productive citizens of the Kingdom of God can have so many diverse views, some time ago the LORD provided me with an answer. Not wanting to dismiss so many apparently Godly people as brazenly dishonest in their statements concerning the understandings they stated they had received from the LORD, I was bewildered as to how so many ostensibly faithful men could be so far off the mark in crucial matters of the faith.
I could not understand how someone could tell me he intently sought the Lord on an issue of critical importance, and that the LORD showed him thus and thus. In most of these cases, the 'finding' the person received was in direct opposition to what I had learned from the LORD. The issues at stake are enormous as they are related to salvation, our identity and standing in Christ, and the immediate future of all believers.
While I came to the conclusion long ago that the "truth" the LORD showed me was mutually exclusive to the "truth" others had come to, I was having difficulty in seeing how men that I had previously admired could actually be intentionally lying when they said that they sought the LORD, and 'God showed me this...' In seeking my answer, God led me to a wonderful discovery in the writings of the prophet Ezekiel.
In chapter 14, we see that the LORD says to the prophet:
"Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face. Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet, I, the Lord, will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols. That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols." - Ezekiel 14:3,4
This passage was like a ray of bright light shining in my heart, for it provided me with Scriptures that are directly on the point of my question. When God says this applies to "every man of the house of Israel," He is speaking of His people. Ironically, the prophetic perception as to the identity of the party to whom the prophecy is addressed is itself part of the "stumbling block" that is referred to in the passage!
T he New Testament tells us that the "chosen" of the LORD are the Christians - as opposed to the Rapture Cult position that tells us the Jews are God's people, and the Church is a separate entity. Thus, Cult teachers immediately dismiss this prophecy as not being applicable to them because they do not believe they are "of the house of Israel." This tradition of men is a Stumblingblock to their ability to hear and learn what God is telling them in this very passage. The truth is, Jesus Christ plainly taught against the concept of two groups of believers.
So while the Cult teaches that Israel is one group and the Church is another group, the Gospels say otherwise. Before the Gentiles were called into the salvation offered by JESUS CHRIST, He said "And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." (John 10:16)
When Ezekiel says that when the people "cometh to the prophet" to seek the will of the Lord," they are inquiring of God through the authority of "the prophet" - who the New Testament tells us is JESUS CHRIST. For example, in the book of John we learn that when Jesus preached, the people said "Of a truth, this is the prophet." (John 7:40) Peter also said that Jesus fulfilled the prediction of a great prophet that would arise in Israel when he stated "A prophet shall the Lord God raise up unto you...." (Acts 7:37) There are many Scriptural texts proving the Jesus is "the prophet."
Ezekiel is told by the Lord that when "every man" comes to Him to seek His will and they "setteth up idols" in their hearts, God will answer them "according to the multitude of his idols" (Ezekiel 14:3,4) First we need to see that an "idol" that is in the heart can be anything that comes between the believer and God. Because idolatry is a concept (as opposed to a statue that one worships), we must realize that an idol can be any thought, belief, or even doctrine that we want to believe.
When God says He will answer the inquirer "according to" the idol, He is saying He will not tear down the false beliefs that exist in the hearts of the believers. Remember, the text says the believers are the ones that have "set up their idols in their heart" (Ezekiel 14:3) Thus, the Lord plainly states that He will give you the answer you've already decided you want!
This is a gigantic truth, and it is another area concerning God's attributes that is commonly distorted by the false teachers. Pastors and Christian writers commonly tell us that God never deceives people - yet the Scriptures tell us that God allows us to continue in the deceptions that we've ensnared ourselves in. The Bible says "the Lord knoweth how to...reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (II Peter 2:9)
In fact, the Apostle Paul plainly says that God will actually initiate deception when He writes that "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie...because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." (II Thessalonians 2:11,10)
What we're seeing here should be frightening, because it is a scriptural proof text that indicates if we are not completely sold out to hearing the truth - regardless of how unsavory the truth may be - we are subject to be deceived. Furthermore, the very fact that this principle exists is tantamount to a prediction that there will be believers that think they are truly seeking the truth, but in actuality they have placed their idolatrous doctrines in their hearts, and are going before the LORD to ask Him to validate the "idol" that is their false interpretation.
In the passage in Ezekiel, the Lord also refers to "the stumblingblock of their iniquity" as another obstacle to receiving the truth when seeking God. The text indicates that when the believer "putteth the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face" when He seeks the Lord on a matter, this too will cause the Lord to "set my face against that man...." (Ezekiel 14:8)
This aspect of the prophecy informs us that our iniquity produces a "stumblingblock." Although we see variations on the term with the Scriptures sometimes calling it a "stumblingstone," the idiom is not used much in the modern English vernacular. It might be useful to state that if we think of walking forward and tripping over a large stone that we did not see, we have a valid picture of what is being said. For example, I live out in the country where it is completely pitch black at night. If I am walking around in total darkness and can't see a significant stone in my path, I'm likely to fall over it and be injured.
A stumblingblock is not intrinsically evil as the Scriptures state that Christ was to "the Jews a stumblingblock, and a rock of offense...." (I Corinthians 1:23) What we see in this amazing prophecy from Ezekiel is that it is our sin that keeps us from seeing things that we need to see. To put it another way, our iniquity is directly proportional to our spiritual blindness, and God will not just override that sin and force us to hear His truth. In order to get past this vulnerable condition, we must consistently demonstrate our willingness to receive the truth - in short, we must LOVE the TRUTH.
JESUS CHRIST told us that HE is the truth - "I am the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6) If we genuinely love the truth, then we will find it. Indeed, the very fact that there exists a multiplicity of "Christian traditions" is an indicator that something is dreadfully wrong. Thus, the idea that 'we can agree to disagree' is completely unscriptural on any matter concerning the faith. There is only one truth, and everything else is a lie.
This is an extraordinary perspective and it cuts like the proverbial two-edged sword. The idea of stumblingblocks is essentially synonymous with the New Testament concept of Strongholds. This is another way of describing a stumblingblock. A "Stronghold" is a place where someone or something may be defended. This term is commonly used as a military concept in the context of warfare - and the Bible frequently speaks of the war that is continuously occurring in the realm of the Spirit. In I Corinthians, we see,
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing [read idol] that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ...." (II Corinthians 10:3-5)
What this verse is so eloquently teaching us is that we are the ones that pull down the "Strongholds." We are the ones that seek out the "Stumblingblocks" in order achieve the victory in Christ. And we do these things, not in our power, but "through God" as we become "sanctified through the truth" (John 17:19). To be sanctified means to be set apart for glory, but for those that are not sanctified of God, "...the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness...." (Romans 1:18)
To put this into perspective, whenever we fail to fully embrace the truth, we allow the Devil to establish a Spiritual Stronghold that enters into our lives - and this is something that can eventually destroy us. When we refuse to see the truth that God wants us to see, that Stronghold becomes a Stumblingblock that causes us to stumble and fall further and further away from the will of the LORD. As this process continues, we are not abiding in the truth, and we then become subject to the wrath of God which is directed to all that "hold the truth in unrighteousness." (Romans 1:18). Essentially, when we say that we love Him, and do not love the truth, we have become liars because He IS the truth.
Through Ezekiel, God says that He has allowed this situation to progress because "they are all estranged from me through their idols" (Ezekiel 14:5). God desires our fellowship - a fellowship that is true and unfeigned - not simply words, but deeds. God will hold all accountable, and the only way to ensure that we know Him is to be found in Him - in righteousness and in truth. "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? For the time is come that the judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?" (I Peter 4:18,17)
March 31, 2003 - James Lloyd
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