Posts Tagged ‘Christian Life’

Inside-Out Theology

“Inside-Out” Theology

© C. O. Bishop 10/25/14 THCF 10/26/14


Galatians 2:1-5; Matthew 23:13-29

Introduction:

We have come a fair way with the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians: we know what his primary concerns were, in his writing to them; namely that his authority came from God, not Man, and that the gift of Eternal Life was just that: a gift, neither earned by any sort of works, nor to be maintained by human effort.

Paul’s Message

As we begin chapter two, keep in mind that Paul’s purpose is to confirm in the reader’s mind that

  1. The authority of his message is the Word of God, not humans, and that
  2. Legalism is not from God.
  3. Those who preach legalism are also not from God.

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.

2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:

4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

Paul’s first major contact with the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, the remaining nine apostles, and whoever else was in Jerusalem, after his own conversion, was fourteen years after the first, minor contact. Barnabas and he had taken along with them Titus, who was a Gentile believer. Paul holds Titus up as proof that the Apostles accepted him as a fellow-heir of God’s Grace, without any outward mark of conversion.

Paul had talked privately with the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, to make sure that they were not at odds with one another. As it turned out, there was no problem. The Judaizers (legalizers) did show up, however, and try to convince the leadership that the Gentile believers needed to become Jewish proselytes to be saved. It is really odd: what they were essentially saying is that it did not matter what God did inside a man—it was what people do on the outside that counted for eternity. Doesn’t that seem monumentally backward? Well it did to Paul, too.

Paul pointed out, using Titus as the example, that he had not subjected himself or Titus to their insistence at all, so that the truth would not be muddled. (Contrast this with Romans 14, 15 where the strong try not to cause the weak to stumble. These were not “weak believers” – they were false teachers…not believers at all.)

One counterpoint that gets mentioned frequently is the fact that Paul did circumcise Timothy. The difference was that Timothy was technically a Jew who had been raised by a Gentile Dad. I was unaware of this until a Jewish believer, a Godly woman, was in a Bible Study I was teaching, and informed me that, from the Jewish perspective, “Jewish-ness” is passed on through the mother, not the father. So Timothy was a Jewish young man, from Jewish perspective, and had been raised in a severely limiting environment. Perhaps Paul felt that embracing his heritage in that way would make him better able to serve. But Titus, who was strictly a Gentile had no such heritage to embrace, and was better off remaining as he was.

In both cases, the physical state had no effect whatever on the Spiritual reality. Both were Godly young men, setting out to serve the Risen Christ. Both honored God in their flesh, and neither was any closer to God because of the physical status of their body. The Legalizers desire to coerce others to conform to their own legalistic values, and claim that those who do not conform to them are also rejected by God. God says that is not how we are saved…and not how we serve.

So, What did Jesus say?

Do you think Jesus was silent on this matter? Think back—from whom did he encounter the most opposition? The Established leaders of the Jewish Religion, right? The Pharisees. The Sadducees hated him too, but they were the liberals of the day, and actually rejected the concept of a literal resurrection, any sort of spiritual reality, and angelic existence, for starters. The Pharisees were the conservatives of the day, and they supposedly believed the whole counsel of God, but were going to interpret it in such a way that they themselves were put firmly in command, and everyone else had to follow their lead. (Sound familiar? It happens a lot today, too, doesn’t it?)

So, when Jesus preached His Gospel of Grace, both sides hated it, but for different reasons. The Sadducees were just wrong about so much that he spent very little time on them: he exposed their error, and left them to stew in their own juice. But the Pharisees, along with their companions the scribes—the intellectually religious of the day—who claimed to believe all of God’s Word, He confronted over and over, as total hypocrites. Think about some of his accusations against them:

Inside-Out Theology

(Matthew 23:13-29) Woe to you scribes, and Pharisees:

  1. Hypocrites (seven times in this passage)…remember that “hypocrite” means an actor—a professional phony; a pretender.
  2. Blind; blind guides (five times)
  3. Fools; (two times)
  4. You close up the kingdom of Heaven against Men; you won’t go in yourselves and won’t let anyone else enter. Remember, we pointed out earlier that anyone teaching a works-earned-salvation was actually serving to keep people out of heaven. Jesus said so, right here. The Pharisees, convinced of their own righteousness, and willfully ignorant of the righteousness of God, were not only satisfied that they really did not need a savior, but refused to let anyone else have one. They were, in fact, partnering with Satan, as we pointed out earlier.
  5. You devour widows’ houses (buying up the land of the poor, leaving them with no way to earn a living) and, for pretense, make long prayers. They were making an outward show of piety, but doing things that are patently self-serving. They looked good on the outside, but their motives were evil.
  6. You practice Proselytism, but not Evangelism. Jesus did not use these words at all: he described the behavior. Even so, that sounds strange—why would one be different than the other?If I am preaching the honest Gospel of Christ, the “good news” of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, along with the truth that all God asks us to do is to believe in his chosen sacrifice for salvation, then the only thing that can happen is that, if they believe it, God makes them over into His That’s Evangelism.If I go out with the “good news” of my particular organization, church, para-church organization, etc., creed, or whatever; the probable outcome is that certain people will join the church, because they see the social advantages, but they will never believe the gospel, because, (a) I didn’t preach it, and (b) they do not see a need for a savior. They are being made over into my image, and a poor copy at that. That is Proselytism.The Jews were practicing what they considered to be “evangelism”. Jesus said they “compass land and sea to make one proselyte” but that the result was people even more confused and lost than the false preachers who led them into Judaism. They did not preach the Grace of the God of Israel. They apparently did preach His holiness, to some degree, but slyly pointed out that we can “get around” the sin issue, by “just” keeping the Law. Then, once someone was snared by this false gospel, they had to do more and more works, trying to please a God who simply was not impressed. They could not keep the law, and were even more devastated by the attempt than were the ones who trained them.Jesus said “you make him twofold more the child of Hell than yourselves” So he labeled the false teachers and those who followed them as “children of Hell.” This is nothing new: he had already called them children of the Devil…John 8:44. God was not impressed with them or their religious works, especially not their brand of “evangelism”.
  7. You diminish the Temple of God by exalting the outward trappings in place of the inward reality. This starts to get close to the real heart issue: They did not see the house of God as being as important as the gold decorations in that house. They did not see the Owner of the home as being as important as his tableware! How incredibly insulting to God, and how clearly revealing as to where their true heart was.They thought the outward trappings were more important than the inward reality. Remember that Solomon’s Temple was relatively small, but incredibly richly ornate. However, the only thing that was important was the fact that God moved in and took up residence. Also, the second temple, though far less glorious, shared that unique difference: God resided there! Even the Renovated second Temple, renovated by an ungodly King, over a period of 46 years, still carried the name of the House of God—Jesus referred to it as “My Father’s House”, but in the same breath accused the Pharisees and their companions of having “made it a den of thieves”. Incidentally, Ezekiel, in three stages, had been burdened with the vision of the Spirit of God leaving that temple, and leaving Israel; so, in the most important sense the temple was already gone, as the “home-owner” had given it up. Historically, of course, we know that 40 years later it was completely destroyed.Think though: in the sense of the Church-age, the Church proper is THE temple of God, in the New Testament, and the physical body of each believer is each individually the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. So, we have to ask: what matters more; the outside, or the inside? Does it matter more that a person wears a certain kind of clothing, drives a certain kind of car, or cuts their hair a certain way, does (or does not) do certain things on certain days, eats or does not eat certain foods, etc., or does it matter most where God is (inside or outside) in relation to that individual? And, finally, whether He is allowed to actually reign in his chosen temple? Think about that one.
  8. You Major in the Minors: You give accurately in areas that matter hardly at all, but not at all in areas that matter deeply. People put a lot of emphasis on whether a person formally and publicly prays before meals. Even that is an outward trapping. Unbelievers can do this as well as believers. People say they “pray all the time”…so do the pagans, and some more than others. Jesus was not impressed with how much of the worlds’ goods were being given back by the Pharisees, but how much of themselves were given back (or not). He said you have left out the things that matter; justice, mercy and faith. A good heart in the major things will dictate a good heart in the minor things, too. The reverse is not true. He said they were blind guides who were fastidiously picking a tiny bug out of their food and yet swallowing something that would make any normal person choke (a camel). A person genuinely concerned about the cleanliness of their food would obviously take out the biggest things first, but not fail to also remove the small things.
  9. You clean and polish the outer man, leaving the inner man unchanged. They were so concerned with the trappings of holiness, the outward symbols, that they had utterly abandoned the reality of holiness in the inner man. He said they “clean the outside of the cup” but that the inside was filled with extortion and excess.There is no way a person can put such things as extortion in a physical cup; the obvious metaphor is the human life. They made the outer man look good, but the inner man was unchanged, or even getting worse. He compared them to whitewashed tombs that looked pretty on the outside because of the whitewash, but they were ignoring the fact of the deadness within. He made it completely clear what he meant, because he bluntly stated, “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
  10. You glorify the tombs of the prophets instead of glorifying the Word of the God who sent them. This one would be easy to miss: what’s wrong with honoring the dead? Well, nothing.But let’s say I made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I lay a wreath on his grave, and I publicly engage in prayer there, shedding a pretentious tear, but in fact I was a raging racist myself? Wouldn’t the people who knew the reality be offended that I was defiling his grave by my pretense? And yet this happens every year. People who are publicly extremely racist and divisive visit the grave of Dr. King, and make a public show of mourning his death, while despising his stand for brotherhood and equality irrespective of race. The only thing they really shared with him is the color of their skin…they despised what he actually stood for.The people Jesus to whom spoke were honoring the dead prophets by building monuments over their graves…but ignoring the words for which those prophets had died. A better tribute would have been to embrace the truth for which they died.

 

Jesus spoke to a group of false teachers, the Pharisees, and condemned them for their hypocrisy, their blindness, their folly, and their evil, unbelieving hearts. Paul echoed that teaching, here in Galatians, as he pointed out the hypocrisy, blindness and folly of the legalizers who attempted to force the Gentile believers to become Jews in order to please God. They too are false teachers, and he has already warned us as to where they stand with God: they are accursed!

Conclusion:

We will constantly be tempted to engage in legalism at one level or another: it pleases our old sin nature to believe that “I can do good things for God on my own!” The fact is we cannot…the old nature is completely opposed to God, and cannot be subjected to Him. The new nature is born again in the image of God, and knows it cannot achieve right standing before God. That right standing is what Jesus supplied at the Cross. There is nothing I can do to improve it.

Think: as your first-born child began to learn to walk, was he or she any less or more your child? Did you love him any more or less because he was learning to walk? Of course not, but you were pleased at his infant efforts, and saw it as evidence of healthy growth. God sees our efforts in a similar vein. I am not more pleasing to God because of my efforts to please him. And, if those efforts became my primary focus, instead of seeking to know him and worship him, then my relationship with Him would be set aside, and my relationship with the Law would be all that was left. This is what Paul warned against.

The Judaizers and legalizers who preyed upon the infant church sought to enslave it, not set it free. Paul was determined that it should remain free. We have to watch our own hearts to stay free from legalism, even today. It is so easy to think, “Well, I know I have a better walk with God than he does, because I (…fill in the blank).” The fact is; if your relationship with God is all about works, you may not even be a believer. If, on the other hand, your works are all about Jesus, and responding to him, then the peace of God should be seen in your life, as well.

If that is not the living, growing reality, in your life, then perhaps you need to re-examine the core issues.

God help us to recognize the difference between zeal for the person of Christ, and zeal for the trappings of orthodoxy. Help us to be ambassadors of Christ, not sales representatives for a church. Help us to feed on your Grace daily, and offer that Grace to the World around us in the Person of the Savior.

Amen


Embrace The Cross

Embracing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013 THCF 6/2/13

Introduction:

Last week we discussed the tendency that we, as humans, have, to avoid discomfort, and circumvent the Cross, in our dealings with God. As sinners we want to approach God as if we were NOT sinners. As created beings, we want to approach God as if he were a fellow creation, instead of the almighty, holy, all-knowing, all-powerful God of all time and space. God reasons with us, giving us time to repent, but ultimately insists that the only way we can approach Him is through the agency of Christ. Jesus, who is in fact God in the flesh, is our only intermediary, bridging between the whole fallen human race and the Holy God who desires to redeem us.

But let’s say that I have finally submitted to God’s directive; I have humbled myself to realize that I am a lost and condemned sinner, and that I need a savior. I have placed my full trust in Jesus’ blood at the Cross as my only hope for salvation. I have become a child of God! My troubles are over, right?

Well–no. When God redeems a sinner it is by means of the new birth. I gained a new nature, and that new nature is righteous and holy, just like God. But I still have my old nature, and it has had fifty-eight years to practice and grow strong in rebellion and pride and foolishness. My new nature is a baby by comparison. I need to feed my new nature on God’s Word, so that it will grow strong, and I can learn to walk with God. I need to learn Discipleship.

What is a Disciple?

Jesus had a fair bit to say about discipleship: He repeatedly stated the need to count the cost of discipleship; the need to make the person of Christ the central issue in one’s life, and to join him in the journey to the cross. In Luke 9:23, he made the statement that a disciple should “…deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Him.”

Many people have misunderstood him to have said that this is the recipe for salvation. It is not. In John 6:28, 29, the people asked him “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” He answered them and said, “This is the work of God; that ye believe on him whom He hath sent.” So, salvation comes by faith in the person and work of Christ. Discipleship is the logical result of salvation.

What does it mean, then, to “Take up the Cross?”

Remember that the Cross is a means of death, and nothing but that. It is not a pretty decoration, or a piece of jewelry, though we frequently see it that way. It was one of the worst, most cruel means of execution used by the Roman Government. We would find it pretty repulsive if someone today had a little gold electric chair as a piece of jewelry, but the electric chair is quite humane, compared to the cross.

A person who had taken up his cross was a walking dead man–he was headed for a cruel execution. Jesus took up his cross for the joy that was set before him, according to Hebrews 12:2. He did not do it because it was a good religious exercise. He was going there to die, knowing that his death, specifically, would be the satisfaction of God’s Holiness, for the sins of the whole human race. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame…”

All the way through the Bible, the concept of Death has to do with separation of one sort or another. Adam and Eve were separated from fellowship with God the moment Adam ate that forbidden fruit. They were spiritually dead, separated from God. Adam experienced physical death 900 years later, as his spirit and soul were separated from his physical body. All of us have experienced spiritual death, as we are born in that state. Virtually all of us will experience physical death, as it is appointed unto us once to die. But there is another kind of death, called “the Second death.” People who experience what is called “the Second death” are permanently separated from God, in the Lake of Fire. Death always implies separation of some sort, not simply cessation of life. So what does the Cross separate us from?

Galatians 6:14 says that “…the World is crucified unto me and I to the World.” I have been separated permanently from the World, whether I like it or not. Galatians 5:24 says that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. In God’s eyes, at least, the old sin nature is no longer part of who I am. It is definitely still there, but I need to recognize that it is dead to me, and learn not to respond to its clamoring demands. God only wants to fellowship with my new nature…he sees the other as dead. I need to learn to see it that way, too.

Galatians 2:19-21 says “I, through the law, am dead to the Law that I might live unto God. I am Crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if Righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

Our crucifixion with Christ is a fact. It is not something for us to try to accomplish. We take up the cross when we accept the fact that we are separated from the World and from our old self, and choose to live that way. So what does it mean when one talks about “having a cross to bear”?

Is all suffering “bearing the cross?”

In a word; No! We hear people talk about something being their “Cross” to bear. Frequently it has nothing to do with suffering at all, much less suffering for Christ. Just because you don’t like some circumstance does not make it a “cross to bear”. Even if it is genuinely “suffering”, there are many kinds of suffering.

Philippians 1:29  states that “unto you it has been given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for his sake.” So we need to know what that means.

Thirteen reasons for suffering:

As far as I can see from God’s Word, there are at least 13 different reasons for suffering. There may be more, of course; my understanding is limited. Let’s look at the ones I do understand:
In the first place, let’s remember that God is Sovereign: He does not require our approval. His ways are just, even when we don’t like them. God defines righteousness. The evil that is in the world came here as a result of Human sin, not Divine caprice. But it is not always “punishment”, and it is not always “suffering for Christ”.

So, we can begin with:

  1. Consequences of Original Sin. There are bad things happening in the world; it is full of tragedy. The world got that way when Adam sinned. Romans 5:12—“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Everyone experiences some of this, in varying degrees, whether or not they are believers. It has nothing to do with “suffering for Christ”.
  2. Consequences of Personal (past) Sin (or simply error, etc).—there can be (and usually are) consequences for sin, folly or error. This is not punishment per se, but simple consequences. Sometimes the natural consequences for an error are seen as punishment—but punishment implies wrongdoing, and some error is not wrongdoing, but just bad judgment, or clumsiness, or ignorance—all can have terrible consequences. I have a cousin who is missing an arm. He lost it because he fell out of a tree as a young boy, and broke it…and the attending physician did not realize the bone had pierced the skin, and plunged into the soil before pulling back into the flesh—thus infecting the flesh with bacteria that nearly killed him. They had to amputate the arm to save his life, and even so, they nearly lost him. Was it Punishment? No—it was partly original sin—there are terrible bacteria out there (remember the ground was cursed…); bacterial infections can disfigure, maim, or kill a person. It was partly error on my cousin’s part—he fell out of a tree; kids do that. It was partly error on the physician’s part—he was not careful enough in his diagnosis. But possibly, even had they known exactly what they were up against, they may have lost that arm anyway. No matter how you look at it, it is not punishment. But it is also not suffering for Christ.
  3. Consequences of (current) Personal Sin. God may institute chastening in a believer’s life to turn us away from error. It is still not the same as punishment. God says the wages of sin is death—eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. That is punishment. Jesus said (John 3:18) “He that believeth in Him is not condemned; He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten son of God.” We who are believers have placed our trust in Jesus’ shed blood at the Cross: where is our Judgment? At the Cross. Where is our sin? At the Cross. Where is our punishment, our condemnation? At the Cross. But God does chasten believers, to straighten them out. (Consider Jonah: do you think his trip back to the beach was fun?) This can go as far as physical death; remember that Annanias and Sapphira were believers who lost their lives because of sin. This is still not punishment, nor, obviously, is it suffering for Christ.
  4. Training, or testing, in the sense of an athlete, or soldier, or student. God still refers to this as “chastening”, but it is not punishment, nor even as a result of wrongdoing. It is a “workout” given so that we may profit thereby. Sometimes God allows us to go through hard times to develop our faith. James 1:2-4 says “Count it all Joy, my beloved Brethren when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this; that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” God loves us and subjects us to stresses to make us better able to serve, and better able to stand against the evil of the world. (Have you ever noticed that an athletic director or coach never selects someone at random out of the bystanders in the bleachers, and makes them run laps after practice? He only requires that of the members of his team.) Another way to look at the same concept is “pruning”. John 15:2(b) states that a genuine, healthy, live, fruit-bearing branch of a vine may still be pruned to make it more fruitful. This is entirely up to the vine-dresser…God, in this case. We trust his good judgment.
  5. Because it is simply God’s will for us at the time. Job did NOT know what was going on in his life, nor why he suffered the loss of all his possessions, and all his children in a single day. We were given a little peek into what was going on. God did have a purpose, and it had nothing to do with any error on Job’s part, nor, apparently, any need for correction, testing or training (though we could read that into the result). God had his own purpose in Job’s life, and was not required to explain it all to Job. (And he didn’t, as far as we know, unless Job was the author of the book, and God gave him revelation to know what all had happened behind the scenes.) But Job was neither being punished (God says so!) nor was he suffering for Christ, so to speak. It was simply God’s will for him.
  6. Consequences of Personal Righteousness. This is an odd one—we think that if we are doing right, everything ought to go well…and sometimes it does. There is a verse, (Proverbs 16:7) that states, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him”. That is a general truth—in general, that is something we can expect. But if our enemies are God’s enemies, then at some point, we will be attacked for being good. 1st Peter 2:19 “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” Also, there may be advantages to immoral or unrighteous behavior (perhaps a promotion, in an ungodly business world) that we will simply miss out, because we choose to behave righteously. This is the beginning of “Suffering for Christ”.
  7. Suffering for Faith. Being subjected to threat from those around us, and suffering rather than renouncing faith. (This is related to #6, consequences of personal righteousness, but is a little different.) Under genuine persecution, a believer may be offered a chance to recant his faith in order to escape persecution. Refusing to recant, and accepting the suffering, is part of the believer’s lot. During the early days of the church, many lost their lives for that very cause. Philippians 1:29 “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake”
  8. So that we may be a comfort to others. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 (read) Verse 4. That we may comfort others with the same comfort wherewith we were comforted by God.
  9. So that our consolation in Christ may abound. Verse 5. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so may the consolation of Christ abound. We are called to join Him in the fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). But we are to experience the reality of His consolation, as well. (Habakkuk 3:18)
  10. So that others’ consolation may abound through us. Verses 6-7. We can learn from the experiences of those around us. We will not experience everything ourselves.
  11. So that we will learn to trust God, and not ourselves (could be tied to #5, as in Job’s suffering). Verse 9. This is an important one.
  12. So that we as Christians may learn to pray for each other. Verse 11.
  13. So that Thanksgiving may be offered on our behalf. Also verse 11.

Embracing the Cross

I frequently have told my students at work to “embrace reality”. By that, I mean that they should accept the reality of work, the reality that life “isn’t fair”. Sometimes life is hard, but we are to embrace that reality and go ahead and function. That is what maturity teaches us; to accept responsibility and go ahead and function when life isn’t fun.

God wants us to embrace the Cross: we are to accept the reality that we are separated from the World (we no longer can really feel at home here, as we see the monstrous reality of Man’s rebellion against God, and his cruelty toward other creatures, animal or human.)

We are to accept the reality that we are separated from our old sin nature–it is no longer the “real me”. My old desires are a foreign thing, now. They are definitely not the desires of my new nature. Ephesians 4:24 says that my new nature is “…created in righteousness and true holiness”, in the likeness of God. I must accept the reality of my two natures, and daily choose to feed the new nature, and fulfill its desires, rather than those of my old nature. I can never “coast” or “glide”. It is accurately called a “walk”: it demands day-by-day, step-by-step choices, in order to follow Jesus.

One of the things God requires of us is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. That we be concerned with the needs of those around us, as much as with our own needs. That Agapé love that he requires of us is not possible in the flesh, I am convinced. In fact, the whole Christian life is not possible in the flesh. The Christian life is not difficult; it is impossible apart from daily (moment by moment, really) choosing to allow the Holy Spirit to Love and Live through us. But that means constantly embracing the fact that we died with Him, and then allowing Him to live through us.

It certainly isn’t easy, folks. But that is what the Christian life is all about.

Embrace the Cross, and Learn to Walk with Jesus.