Marks of True Believers

At West Loop, I’ve been preaching on Isaiah every Sunday since the end of June 2015, beginning with How Stupid Can You Be (Isa 1:1-9). This coming Sunday will be my 18th sermon: True Believers (Isaiah 19-20). In this post, I’ll share what the marks of true believers are.

Historically, Egypt has been the enslavers of God’s people and their most memorable adversary. But one day they will be converted, transformed, saved and become the people of God together with Israel. They will display evidences of true believers, such as:

  • the fear of God (Isa 19:16-17),
  • pledging allegiance to God (Isa 19:18),
  • relating all of life to God (Isa 19:19-22),
  • being united with those who are unlike them (Isa 19:23), and
  • regarding all others as equals (Isa 19:24-25).

Fear God (Isa 19:16-17). The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7). The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10). People might generally prefer the love of God to the fear of God. I probably do as well. But I contend that to fear God is not to live in fear as commonly understood, but to live in awe and respect for what the Almighty will do (Isa 19:16-17). Also, I’ve found that when I fear God, I do not fear anyone else (Prov 29:25). Not fearing people does not mean that I become belligerent or disrespectful. It simply means that I acknowledge that my life is entirely in God’s hands, and in not the hands of other people. During Isaiah’s time, everyone lived and behaved as though the world was in the hands of Assyria, the superpower nation of the day (Isa 10:12-14). It is also why an important major theme of Isaiah is to not to trust mere humans (your leaders and shepherds!), but to calmly and confidently trust God alone (Isa 7:4a, 9b). Jesus practiced what Isaiah taught (Jn 2:24-25).

Pledge allegiance to the God of Israel and learn their language (Isa 19:18). To put this in contemporary context, it is like Americans submitting to Koreans and speaking “Konglish,” or Koreans submitting to Filipinos and speaking Tagalog instead of Korean. Some might prefer death to such subjugation and humiliation. But in that day the Egyptians swear allegiance to the God of Israel and learn their language (Isa 19:18).

Relate all of life to God (Isa 19:19-22). They build an altar (Isa 19:19), which signifies reconciliation with God. They cry out to God for help (Isa 19:20b), instead of seeking human and political solutions. They know God as God reveals himself (Isa 19:21a). They understand that to know God is to respond to God’s revelation of himself, and not just them seeking to know God by their own efforts or good intentions. They make sacrifices and vows in response to God’s revelation (Isa 19:21b). They walk the walk. They turn to God and experience healing in times of divine discipline (Isa 19:22), rather than becoming bitter. A true believer relates every aspect of their life–both good times and hard times–to God.

Unite with those unlike themselves (Isa 19:23). Egypt and Assyria were enemies. But in that day, they will worship together. There will be a highway connecting these unlikely bedfellows. The highway–a favorite metaphor in Isaiah–connotes the removal of alienation and separation. We human beings understandably prefer like-minded people. We prefer our own ethnicities and culture, which explains why there are ethnic communities in virtually every city. Even churches tend to be sharply segregated along racial, ethnic and denominational lines. But true believers welcome and unite with those they might not generally welcome or prefer. For virtually all of my 35 years of Christian life since 1980, I have done ministry virtually primarily and exclusively with UBF people, such that I do not really know how to relate well to or interact with non-UBF Christians. I hope to learn the spirit of inclusivity and ecuminism, which John Armstrong introduced to me over the past decade. Reading books by contemplatives such as Richard Rohr has been quite helpful to help me overcome my unique sense of exclusivity. UBFriends, comprising of many ex-UBFers, is also a great place of interaction and unity for me, since in the past I would never have maintained any relationship or interaction with anyone who has left UBF.

Regard all others as equals (Isa 19:24-25). Egypt, Assyria and Israel lived in enmity and animosity for hundreds of years. But in that day they will first acknowledge and submit to the God of Israel (Isa 19:16-17), even humbly learning their language which was foreign to them (Isa 19:18). But they do not remain in a subordinate position indefinitely. Rather, God declares that they are all equally God’s people, God’s handiwork and God’s inheritance (Isa 19:25). This is how God’s people from different ethnicities and cultures become a blessing on the earth (Isa 19:24). This exposes the repeated failure of missionaries over the centuries to this day. Unlike Paul who turned the ministry over to his indigenous converts within a few years during his four missionary journeys (Ac 14:23), Christian missionaries have generally acted as the leaders who continued to lord over their converted indigenous peoples for years and decades. This is well explained in Roland Allen’s classic book, Missionary Methods. I wrote about this in 2012: Let Local Leaders Lead. I sense that many are coming to a gradual realization that each country’s indigenous UBF leader should be leading the ministry, and not the original missionary pioneer nor a foreign overseas director.

I don’t preach what I write because I preach extemporaneously. This write up is part of my preparation and reflection which I may or may not share on Sunday. Please feel free to critique it both as a sermon, as well as for content and substance.


  1. Joe Schafer

    Ben wrote:

    To put this in contemporary context, it is like Americans submitting to Koreans and speaking “Konglish,” – See more at:

    If you want to learn how to speak Konglish, this video is highly recommended. Speaking good Konglish is an excellent way to get promoted to become a UBF fellowship leader or conference messenger.

    • There was a time when Christy was very angry and upset with me because I would subconsciously and unintentionally switch back and forth from speaking Konglish to English, depending on whether or not I was speaking to a missionary or to an American.

  2. Gajanan Nial
    Gajanan Nial

    You Sir, Ben, have pulled legs, terrorised and brought to their knees many young people in the name of message training. Surely you have struck off large portion of important facts, that took so much of prayerful recollection to mention in my testimony, because it did not glorify UBF enough. Also you replaced the title with an outrageous one, “My hindu sheep ask, ‘Where is the beef?” Now under an ultra right Hindu-wing government, states after states are delcaring beef-ban, and had that document been published here, sleuths would have kept watch over my activities and perhaps I would be behind the bars by now! Do you realize sir potentially dagnerous consequences of your thoughts and actions? Now it is my turn to raise fingers against your message. Brace yourself! Jokes apart, here are some of my thoughts about your sermon outline…

    First of all, it is not clear why you wanted to focus on marks of true believers. In fact reading your manuscript took me back in time to the very last ubf conference I attended. The conference attempted to study the book of Daniel. Any serious reader of Daniel would have known that book of Daniel is prophetic, speaking about world history through rise and fall of empires until the second coming of Jesus and the millenial kingdom. But… messages of that conference completely overlooked the message Daniel wanted to convey and focused on character building from the life examples of Daniel and his friends, such as a resolute faith, spiritual purity, a committed life of prayer(especially the early morning gathering), not bowing down to life threatening pressure and above all to be bible teachers for kings (campus students who are the future leaders). I am quite sure that only these same emphases of character building and commitment to a cause continues in ubf in the name of studying Daniel. I felt the same after reading your meditation on Isaiah 19-20.

    The introductory verse itself makes it clear that these two chapters are prophecy, especially when the Lord comes to Egypt riding on swift cloud. You have alluded to this event as “in that day,” but what realy this day is about? It is neither the plans nor desires of the people of Egypt to be true believers by learning to fear God, nor by their allegiance, nor by speaking Hebrew, nor by making altar for the Jewish God. It is the Lord’s coming with an uplifted hand agaist the Egyptians (Isa 19:1;16-17) that they will perhaps know him and become believers as a nation.

    Your complete ignoring of verse 2 through 15 in ch 19 looks more like an attempt to avoid contorversy and maintain political correctness. But perhaps if you reflect these verses in the light of the large scale protest in Egypt against the Morsi government at Tahrir Square ( ) it makes sense as to how God is in control of not only the distant past but of the present and this makes us to trust him for our future and the future of the world — a much needed mark to be true believer. Not saying that the prophecy is already fulfilled, but perhaps it is being fulfilled or it is a foreshadowing about the future of Egypt that will find ultimate fulfillment at the return of Jesus. Otherwise, your manuscript looks like what most ubf Bible teachers and messengers do — avoiding what they dont understand and what sees to be controversial and prematurely jump to make some application.

    Perhaps we can also think about the present situation of the Nile river here ( ) in the light of this prophecy.

    Regarding, Egyptian learning Hebrew, it can also be said that they will agree on many accounts. In fact, in spite of some ups and downs, Egypt is the only nation around Israel’s border with which Israel has a lasting peace treaty. ( )

    True believers will rise in Egypt “in that day” but some of the greatest revival in that part of the world is alredy happening in Egypt in our days. ( ). I think there is no better example of allegiance then 21 Egyptian christians choosing to be beheaded at the hand of ISIS for their faith in Jesus rather than surrendering to Allah and the Sharia law at gun point. (
    I feel that without making the context clear it will be hard to make any lasting impact in the hearts of your adudience. Sorry, if my comment is longer than your article.

    • Thanks, Gajanan, for reading. More than that, thanks so much for sharing your detailed, knowledgeable and very insightful comments. Give me some time to process other comments, if there are any, and I am quite excited to respond to your very helpful comments soon.

      Thanks again for taking the time to communicate, dialogue and have this conversation with me and with our ubfriends community!

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      Ben or anyone else reading this, to set the facts right, the conference I mentioned above that focused in studying Daniel was not the very last conf I attended. The very last ubf conf that I served was the Autumn conf where I was threatened by the present Korean GD not to talk about the Holy Spirit as an alternative explanation for the living water Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman. My defiance was interpreted as my refusal to absolutely submit to leadres and became one of the trigger point for the exit.

  3. This is sad and painful beyond any words to express: “I was threatened by the present Korean GD not to talk about the Holy Spirit as an alternative explanation for the living water Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman. My defiance was interpreted as my refusal to absolutely submit to leaders…” – See more at:

    This is NOT cute!

    • I’m so out of the loop these days, but what is the official and accepted given explanation as to what exactly is the living water Jesus offered?

    • Joe Schafer

      The living water is whatever a messenger says it is, and as long as that person says it “with spirit” and is sufficiently loyal to the ubf leaders and heritage (not seen as a troublemaker), the explanation is fine.

    • What is the living water? This was actually a source of great confusion for me as well. I asked my Bible teacher once, and after about ten minutes of tangent the conclusion was that it is the sum of everything to do with living the Christian life (i.e., it can technically be anything as long as it supports 1-to-1s). Also, this is where we are supposed to find entertainment, rest, fun, etc., and people indulge in things like movies, hobbies, and other non-spiritual leisure activities because they don’t rely on the living water.

      In other words, the living water is the “new life” in Christ. In other, other words, the living water is dropping all forms of worldly enjoyment and living ascetically for the UBF mission, only allowing yourself to find enjoyment in UBF activities. At least, that’s what it is in application. In explanation, it is almost too complicated to pin down.

    • ubf Bible teachers have no freaking clue as to what any Christian term really means…

      What is the gospel? UBFism
      What is the Living Water? UBFism
      What is the church? UBFism
      What is a disciple? UBFism


      I turn to Spurgeon for my starting point now:

      “The Grace of God is like water in no less than eight senses.”

      Living water is grace. So simple. And yet so powerful. Surrender to grace, 100%.

      “It will soon be your turn to die. You, too, must gather up your feet in the bed, and meet your father’s God; God grant that you may then be found right with Him. Little do I know for whom these sentences may have a special bearing, but they may have a bearing, dear Friend, upon you. I see some of you dressed in black; you have had to go to the grave mourning because of others. That black will be worn by others soon for you, and the place that now knows you shall know you no more forever. Oh, by the frailty of life, by the near approach of the Master, or by the certainty of death, I pray you see to it that you breathe the prayer, “Lord give me of Your Grace.” The Lord help you to pray it. Amen.”

      The Water of Life – Charles H. Spurgeon

  4. “In other words, the living water is the “new life” in Christ. – See more at:

    Just have to point this out… that definition is the exact opposite of Living Water. Modification of your daily life, however spiritualized it may be, cannot quench your thirst for grace and mercy. That is salvation by works and falls apart every few years.

    God desires mercy, not sacrifice. The Law is no longer your supervisor. The only way to have new life in Christ is to drink of the grace He offers.

  5. Gajanan writes:

    “Otherwise, your manuscript looks like what most ubf Bible teachers and messengers do — avoiding what they dont understand and what seems to be controversial and prematurely jumping to make some application.”

    Thank you for pointing this out, Gajanan. Thank you for mentioning the genre of this particular Isaiah passage: it is prophesy.

    Superficial exegesis reads the whole Bible the same way, as if it’s all didactic letters, but it’s not. There are narrative parts of the Bible; there is poetry, exposition, and of course, there are the epistles. The epistles are the easiest to read and apply because they’re straightforward. But when one reads the OT, one understands that it is not an explicit instruction manual for everyday life. Looks at the story of Judah and Tamar or Naomi and Ruth. (Naomi told Ruth to go to the harvest floor after everyone was drinking and there were only men). This is not protocol action for engagement in any culture.

    You also bring up the context and talk about Egypt currently,

    “it makes sense as to how God is in control of not only the distant past but of the present and this makes us to trust him for our future and the future of the world — a much needed mark to be true believer. Not saying that the prophecy is already fulfilled, but perhaps it is being fulfilled or it is a foreshadowing about the future of Egypt that will find ultimate fulfillment at the return of Jesus.”

    Prophecies are interesting because they can be literal, but they are also being fulfilled right now. The sense of time in Hebrew is very different. And often times when one reads the OT, one gets a sense that time is different. It’s not always a chronological retelling of history. Thank you for making the context clearer. Dr. B has more reading to do:) And us at WL are going to benefit from it on Sunday.

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      Thank you, MJ. I have spent some significant time and have been a student of prophecy. What I have found is Biblical prophecies are very different from what our western mind thinks about them. I include me as well in the western way of thinking, because the Greek/western thinking is prevalent in every culture and country through the educational system.
      To the western mind, prophecies are “prediction” and “fulfillment”. But to the eastern mind, more specifically Hebrews, prophecies are “patterns”. These patterns were fulfilled in history, they are sometime being fulfilled now, and yet might find a grand fulfillment in the future. For example, the Tabernacle and Tent of Meeting that Moses built and people had to carry them around in the desert, was a pattern for the grand Temple to be built later by Solomon. And yet the same or similar pattern is about the Temple in Heaven and the New Jerusalem that is comes down to earth from heaven yet in the future, mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Because of this nature of multiple fulfillment of Biblical prophesies, theologians who take things to the extreme, such as everything already got fulffilled in the past, or everything will be fulfilled only in the future, have cause much division, and disservice to this particular genre of Biblical literature.
      Thanks for listening.

  6. Thanks Gajanan and MJ for your very helpful and corrective comments, which I actually do agree with, and failed to realize when I posted this.

    Yes, it is true that my 35 years in UBF has caused me to “jump to application” (and perhaps to homiletics) BEFORE adequate and appropriate hermeneutics and exegesis.

    My favorite quote about studying the Bible (out of context) is “a text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text.” And yet, I clearly violated this quote in this post!

    That’s why I love it when people critique my sermons and preaching. The most scary critique of my sermons comes from my wife, before whom I tremble every Sunday after preaching, waiting to see if she gives me a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.”

    Hopefully, MJ, if she’s at the service, would give and share her honest comments after my preaching. Yes, Gajanan, it would be on all of Isaiah 19-20 (entitled True Believers), beginning with the judgment, ruin and fall of Egypt (Isa 19:1-15), and not just on the “good part” of Egypt’s restoration, redemption, healing and salvation (Isa 19:16-25).

    Here are some overall themes of Isaiah, which is virtually repeated in almost every sermon (chapter) on Isaiah:

    Thanks again for taking the time to reading my post and giving me your feedback. It is truly appreciated.

  7. I should add that eschatology is not a particular interest or inclination of mine. Incidentally I view Revelation primarily through the idealist lens and the ammelinial perspective.

    My main focus regarding prophetic passages would not be how these passages are being fulfilled today or will be fulfilled in the future, or how they have been fulfilled in the past?

    Rather, with prophetic passages, including Revelation, and the prophetic passages in the OT (such as in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, Daniel), my primary question is “what did it mean to their contemporary audience when they first heard it?”

    With the prophecy about Egypt, Isaiah was telling the people of Judah to not trust and rely on Egypt because Egypt will be judged by God and ruined (Isa 19:1-15). Also, why would you trust Egypt when one day Egypt will worship Yahweh (Isa 19:16-25)?

    So our contemporary application today is “Don’t trust the world but trust God alone, who rules history.”

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      Ben, I hope that you enjoyed delivering your message and apologise if my comment put any pressure whatsoever on your sermon preparation. I respect your idealistic and amillennial eschatological position. Frankly such theological jargons scare me to death! It is definitely necessary to think of what it meant to their contemporary audience when meditating on some of the Biblical literature. However, Jesus did not think of the “abomination that causes desolation” having been fulfilled at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes putting an idol of Zeus on the Temple of Jerusalem, which is what many scholar might have thought till Jesus’ time, but he reapplied it to a time yet in the future. That is what I meant by some Bible prophecies having multiple fulfillment.

      Like you, I also do not think that the double edged sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth in Revelation is literal but symbolic, which is what idealist think about prophecy in general and eschatology in particular to be symbolic and/or allegorical. But I do think that Jesus’ return in the cloud is literal. For me to believe that there is no such thing as a millenial kingdom or the kingdom of Jesus is already fully established on earth would require much greater faith on my part, considering that the world plunges from bad to worse each second of the day. We can definitely attribute the pathetic condition of our world to bad people doing bad stuff and wish that once people start doing good stuff, the lion and the lamb will start playing together. But it is hard to think that things should be such bad under the rule of Jesus. Frankly, while trying not to ignore being a good follower of Jesus Christ, I would prefer a world where there is no injustice, no suffering and separation, no disease and death, if not now yet in the futue. Leaving hinduism would have been a loss had there been no such hope, and endless cycle of birth and death would be preferable depending on my karma.

      I still am open to better doctrines and better hope. As I have stated earlier, I left ubf primarily because of its poor theology. And I believe that situations of abuse and authoritarianism are result of poor understanding about God and a poor hope. I have come to believe that people do not change (repent) becuase of repeated hammering of their past or present wrongdoings, but by seeing and experiencing God and his love and plans for them in new light. And this is something to do with practice of good theology and doctrines.

      Thank you for your last response. Because of the opposite time zone of the globe we live in, it is hard to keep up with the to and fro process of reading and commenting on ubfriends.

  8. After the service, I was talking to my sister and we both decided the message was a little to “extemporaneous.” We felt like it was all over the place. The one thing we got is that “love does not control,” but we prefer if there was more structure to the message. I like the points that Gajanan mentioned about Egypt currently, (the state of the Nile/protests/Egyptian believers) that would have been interesting to have mentioned. The text is so distant from us because we like in the 21st century in the US; it would’ve been better if you made us more familiar with the context of Egypt. Just my suggestions.