by M. H. Reynolds Jr.
The first psalm is a familiar and well-loved portion of God’s Holy Word. Those who have not already memorized it would do well to hide it in their hearts now and repeat it often. The old saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” must never become true of any portion of God’s Word. This precious Scripture is filled with important instructions, promises, and warnings that are vital to the spiritual welfare of every believer.
Consider the first phrase of verse one: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.” No Christian can be truly happy who ignores this precept. Believers who walk in the counsel of the ungodly cannot please the Lord, nor can they edify the body of Christ. It is therefore essential to recognize the counsel of the ungodly and to reject it completely no matter how good it might initially sound or how attractively it may be presented.
First, it is imperative to understand just what “the counsel of the ungodly” is according to the Bible. Many Christians mistakenly believe that “the counsel of the ungodly” refers only to counsel given by the ungodly, that is, the unsaved. The truth, however, is that the counsel of the ungodly actually encompasses any counsel given by anyone (whether a believer or an unbeliever) that is contrary to the counsel of God—contrary to the Word of God.
Today, theologians and other religious leaders, even those who might be identified as evangelical or conservative, delight in making things appear to be so complicated that the ordinary believer is bewildered and confused. But a personal study of God’s Word will bring us to the very simple but precise conclusion that anyone who gives counsel contrary to that given in the Bible is giving ungodly counsel and that such counsel should be rejected even when it comes from the lips or pens of Christian leaders or other fellow believers.
The only test for whether advice is godly or ungodly is whether or not it is scriptural. The great danger today is that so many highly respected religious leaders are giving counsel contrary to the Word of God, leading undiscerning believers to walk in the counsel of the ungodly. Without doubt, this is a master stroke of satanic deception, and this brief study will note specific examples of the way in which many popular preachers and teachers are leading believers astray.
Identifying the Counsel of the Ungodly
Read and meditate upon this wonderful psalm over and over again. Memorize it if you have not already done so. It is filled with good and helpful instruction and important warnings for every child of God. Notice the warning in verse one about not walking in the counsel of the ungodly. Believers who want to enjoy true blessing and true happiness must recognize the counsel of the ungodly when they hear or read it. So how can we successfully identify the counsel of the ungodly?
First, we must recognize that we live in days when godly counsel is a rare commodity. Why? Because it runs contrary to the prevailing mood of most professing Christians who seek happiness apart from obedience to the Word. A lukewarm, Laodicean spirit prevails, which produces a tragically perverted view of the church as God sees it (Rev. 3:14-19). Too many believers are seeking satisfaction in “things” rather than in Christ, and too many leaders are measuring their success on the basis of their popularity rather than on fidelity to God’s Word.
The Bible teaches that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6), but too many believers are seeking contentment apart from godliness. The godly person in our day is in the minority—not an easy place to be as far as the flesh is concerned. Of course, as we study the Scriptures, it becomes clear that it has long been this way, for the psalmist cried out to God, “Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth” (Psa. 12:1).
The problem is that when the godly believer finds himself in the “lonely” minority, Satan does his best to convince the child of God that he is too strict, too straight, too narrow. And, Satan usually attacks in this way through fellow believers who are too lax, too careless, and too broad in their position and fellowships. However, if we are students of the Word, we will not be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11), and we will firmly but lovingly reject the counsel of the ungodly even though it may be given by preachers and teachers whose ministries have been helpful in other ways or by fellow believers whom we love dearly.
Believers who walk godly in Christ Jesus know that they will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12), but may we never forget the glorious truth of Psalm 4:3: “But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself.”
The Counsel of God vs. The Counsel of the Ungodly
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.… But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night.” As we study this precious psalm, we are reminded of another important principle that God continually sets forth in His Word: Unlike the popular but unscriptural counsel of the ungodly in our day—to be positive-only—God uses both positive and negative counsel. He not only tells His children what to do but also what not to do.
If we are to avoid walking in the counsel of the ungodly, we must learn that we can never trust our own thoughts or the thoughts of any other person. In Isaiah 55:8 God plainly tells us that His thoughts are not our thoughts. In Psalm 94:11 we read, “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.” Even Christians often forget this truth, and we hear believers say, “Well, I think this….” Every child of God must continually correct his own thoughts on the basis of comparison with God’s thoughts as given in His Word—and this includes pastors, teachers, and other Christian leaders. In fact, those to whom God has given leadership responsibilities have a special obligation, not only to positively teach the counsel of God but also to negatively warn about and specifically identify the counsel of the ungodly. Positivism may indeed please the majority of believers today, but positivism without warnings and admonitions cannot provide God’s people with the protection necessary to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11).
Fundamental, Bible-believing Christians must understand the absolute necessity of God’s continuous dealings with us about our own thinking. God is omniscient; He knows all things; He knows our “thought(s) afar off” (Psa. 139:2). He knows if we are slipping even before we recognize it or anyone else sees it. Therefore, our continual prayer should be: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psa. 139:23-24). Daily prayer coupled with meditation in God’s Word day and night will provide divine correction for our vain thoughts and keep us from walking in the counsel of the ungodly that displeases God and brings great harm to ourselves and others.
The Counsel of the Ungodly Concerning Doctrine
The counsel of the ungodly has been the basis of the apostate ecumenical movement since its inception nearly eighty years ago. One major plank in the unscriptural program of the ecumenical, “one-world” church movement is summed up in their oft-repeated statement: “We must treat fellowship as primary, and doctrinal consensus will follow.” It is important to note, however, that by following this “counsel of the ungodly,” the ecumenical movement has now expanded its goal to include not just “Christian unity” but also the unity of all religions.
Of course, it is understandable how apostate religious leaders could advocate and follow such ungodly counsel since they are Christian in name only, never having been born again by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. But in recent years, those who claim to be evangelical have embraced and propagated this same ungodly counsel. Years ago, Billy Graham, the world’s leading evangelical spokesman, made a statement to a meeting of the National Council of Churches to the effect that he had made a study of the Bible on the question of fellowship and discovered that the Bible had more to say about fellowship than negative separation. What Graham failed to point out was that most of the instances in which fellowship is mentioned also involve a warning about unscriptural relationships!
Today, a major thrust of the evangelical and charismatic movements is: “Let’s forget our differences and work together, evangelize together, pray together, study together, and worship together.” Billy Graham and other major evangelical leaders repeatedly say they can and will join hands with anyone who preaches Jesus or who calls Jesus “Lord.” But such a policy is clearly based on the counsel of the ungodly. It ignores the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:21—“Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.” Roman Catholics call Jesus “Lord” but preach a false gospel, bringing them under God’s curse (Gal. 1:6-10). Apostate Protestants call Jesus “Lord” even while they reject His Word. Any unity that ignores sound doctrine (correct, healthy teaching) is a curse, not a blessing. Elevating fellowship or evangelism above doctrinal purity amounts to walking in the counsel of the ungodly.
The Counsel of the Ungodly Concerning Evangelism
Evangelism should be dear to the heart of every true believer. Our Lord instructs us to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Our responsibility to be witnesses for Christ cannot be overemphasized, and we must recognize the wonderful privilege we have of bringing “good news” to a lost and dying world.
God’s Word clearly states that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16), and that gospel is as powerful today as when it was first given. We should not be ashamed of this gospel, nor should we alter its content in the mistaken belief that we can make it more acceptable today. The power of the gospel depends upon its absolute purity.
Sadly, however, most of the major evangelistic programs of our day are clearly following the counsel of the ungodly rather than the Word of God. Not only are many of these programs relying heavily on worldly means and methods to gain a hearing for the gospel, but every effort is made to make the message of the gospel less offensive and more attractive to the ungodly. The Scriptures give no license for any departure from the biblical principles of evangelism.
Even more serious is the fact that most of today’s evangelistic efforts are ecumenical in nature: “Let’s forget our doctrinal differences and just preach Christ, just preach the gospel.” It sounds good, does it not? Is not the task of evangelism more important than emphasis upon our doctrinal differences? But wait a minute! Supposed “minor doctrinal differences” are really not minor at all, and no teaching of the Scriptures can be set aside as “unimportant” in order to accomplish any end. And yet, many who claim to be true believers advocate joining hands with those who preach a false gospel in order to “reach the world for Christ.” We now have many evangelicals and charismatics advocating joining hands with the Roman Catholic Church in evangelistic efforts. We see the sad spectacle of the world’s best known evangelist, Dr. Billy Graham, sending those who have professed to receive Christ at his meetings back into the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and apostate Protestant churches from which they initially came.
Evangelism today appears more successful than ever before, based upon the number of professed conversions. But today’s perverted, polluted, ecumenical evangelism is following the counsel of the ungodly and helping build the one-world harlot church comprised of the unregenerate who are religious but unsaved.
The Counsel of the Ungodly and Judgmentalism
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” How often we hear those words of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 7:1) twisted and then used in an attempt to discredit Bible-taught believers who seek to obey Christ’s command in John 7:24: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” Those who twist the words of our Lord in Matthew 7:1 so as to make it appear wrong to identify any error or unmask any wolf in sheep’s clothing should read the rest of Matthew 7, especially verse 15, where Christ warns about false prophets and calls them “ravening wolves.” They should read Matthew 7:21-25 where Christ repudiates those who hypocritically claimed to minister in His name and do His work.
What the Lord forbids in Matthew 7:1 is hypocritical judgment based on any standard other than the Word of God. No believer is authorized to judge anyone, saved or unsaved, on the basis of personal opinions or considerations. But those believers who fail to judge righteous judgment based solely upon the Word of God are clearly following the counsel of the ungodly. Jesus Christ, the Righteous Judge, will pass final judgment, but the judgment spoken of in John 7:24 refers to the act of distinguishing between good and evil, right and wrong, servants of Christ and false teachers! Unwillingness to make such judgments is devastating the church.
Non-judgmentalism is the term frequently used by religious leaders today in an attempt to silence the voices of God’s watchmen and negate their warnings. Ecumenical apostates used this term for years whenever godly fundamentalists sought to expose their evil words and deeds. More recently, non-judgmentalism is being used by evangelicals, charismatics, and even some professed fundamentalists in an effort to malign those who expose their increasing compromises with the enemies of Christ and the gospel.
Prominent evangelical leaders give the counsel of the ungodly by espousing non-judgmentalism as a Christian virtue. Many evangelical schools teach their students never to speak out against anyone, thus effectively preventing those who follow this ungodly advice from protecting themselves and others against the many false teachers of our day who deceptively masquerade as angels of light. Do not be deceived. God commands all believers to “judge righteous judgment”—to discern between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error. We must obey God, not men!
The Counsel of the Ungodly and Spiritual Pacifism
Today the tendency is growing on the part of many believers to accept a deceptive, unscriptural philosophy that could be termed “spiritual pacifism.” With increasing frequency statements such as the following come from the lips of professing Christians: “The Christian faith needs no defense”; or, “Conflict has no place in the believer’s life”; or, “God will take care of all our enemies—the believer must never become involved in any controversy with them.” While such statements may have an appeal to many, they definitely represent the counsel of the ungodly, not the counsel of God.
God is not a spiritual pacifist, nor does He teach His children to be such. The Bible says, “Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?” (Psa. 94:16). In the New Testament, the Lord speaks plainly to His own: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Jude 3 exhorts the believer to “earnestly contend for the faith.” We find that those who truly love the Lord are to “hate evil” (Psa. 97:10). These and many other Scriptures provide conclusive proof that those who advocate spiritual pacifism are walking in the counsel of the ungodly.
The mood of spiritual pacifism exists mainly within new evangelical groups, though an increasing number of those who identify themselves as fundamentalists are moving in the same unscriptural direction. Of course, the attraction to the philosophy of spiritual pacifism is understandable if for no other reason than the fact that continual conflict is tiresome to both soul and body. What faithful believer has not desired relief from the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil?
However, believers who opt for the ungodly counsel of spiritual pacifism only make it easier for Satan to further deceive themselves and others. Faithful undershepherds of the flock cannot be spiritual pacifists, for such an ungodly policy leaves the sheep at the mercy of the wolves. The spirit of religious pacifism only sounds spiritual. Actually, it is carnal.
God calls His children to be soldiers, not pacifists, and He equips them with both offensive and defensive weapons (Eph. 6:10-18). We must strive to be good soldiers of Christ and fight the good fight of faith if we want His approval.
The Counsel of the Ungodly Concerning Pride
God says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). In James 4:6 we learn that “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” The Bible-taught, spiritually-minded believer will obey God’s Word, which says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).
Today, however, Satan is trying to dupe God’s children into believing the counsel of the ungodly with regard to pride. The world tells people that their basic problems stem from a lack of self-esteem and from a low view of their own self-worth. Of course, this is a direct contradiction to the Word of God.
Originally, this ungodly counsel came mainly from psychiatrists and psychologists who flooded the world with a philosophy based upon a now popular (albeit false) thesis: “You can’t love others until you learn to love yourself.” What a liar Satan is! What ungodly counsel he proliferates!
In recent years, however, this ungodly counsel concerning pride has become doubly deceptive since it is receiving its greatest promotion and publicity ever—not by godless, secular psychologists but by professing Christian leaders who proclaim and promote “self-esteem,” “self-worth,” “self-assertiveness,” “positive-only” messages, and other ungodly counsel based upon humanistic psychology. Under the guise of “Christian psychology,” it is much easier for undiscerning believers to be misled.
The consistent teaching of the Word of God destroys the ungodly counsel given by those who espouse such heretical teachings. The Bible teaches us that as believers we must “have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3b). The dear apostle Paul, one of the greatest pastors, teachers, evangelists, and missionaries in the history of the church, testified, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18a).
Sinners saved by grace will one day have glorified bodies like Jesus Christ! Yet until that glorious day, all believers must recognize pride as sin. We must live and walk humbly before God and resolutely reject all the counsel of the ungodly.
— M. H. Reynolds Jr. (1919-1997). Reproduced from Foundation magazine, Issue 2, 2016.