Posts Tagged ‘condition’

Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

© C. O. Bishop 5/25/2018 Cornell Estates 5/27/2018

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

The epistle to the church at Colosse is written by the Apostle Paul, as were more than half the books of the New Testament. It was written about the same time as the epistles to Philemon and to the church at Ephesus, evidently, as it was carried by the same messenger(s). We must bear in mind, though, that, while the human writer is Paul, the true Author is the Living Word, the Lord Jesus. So, this is the Written Word of God, and we will approach it with that in mind. All scripture must agree with the rest of scripture. Whenever we think we may have found a contradiction, we can rest assured that, with more careful study, we will confirm that the discrepancy was just due to our own misunderstanding.

Are there different styles of writing from one human writer to another? Certainly, there are, just as the marks left on wood by my hand-plane are different than those left by a drawknife or a scraper…or a saw, for example. But my hand was the one guiding each tool, and I can accurately claim to have “handcrafted” the resulting project, regardless of what it is. I’m the maker!

God’s Word bears the stylistic and vocabulary-related marks of his various chosen tools, the writers of the Bible. But it is truly all “One Book, by One Author.” And it has one central theme, the Person and Work of Christ. In fact, the entire Bible is structured around God’s redemptive plan for the fallen human race: and Jesus is that plan.

This epistle is not nearly so personal as the one written to the church at Philippi, as Paul did not know the people in this church as intimately as he did those at Philippi. He knew them mainly by reputation, evidently, through Epaphras, who, it seems, may have planted that church. The result then, can be seen even in the opening greeting: it is not nearly so tenderly, and passionately worded as is the letter to the believers at Philippi. The people at Philippi were his intimate friends and fellow-laborers. That church was his only regularly supporting church, even though, ironically, it was not his “home-church” He was initially sent out from Antioch, but his relationship with Philippi seems to be the closest he had with any individual church.

So, while the greeting to the church at Colosse is not “cold,” or impersonal: it is simply to a group with whom he had less close ties, so it is a little more reserved. Paul begins by introducing himself and Timothy to the believers at Colosse:

Sent From God –To You!

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul introduced himself simply as “an Apostle of Jesus Christ (a “sent one”) by the will of God (not self-appointed), and Timothy, our brother. No special accolades, no boasting about his great education, or his other credentials, nor even a list of all the churches he had personally planted (and there were many): He was “sent by God”…and that was it. The same was true for Timothy: He was just a faithful brother. Do you see the simplicity of service, here? It is a privilege to serve: just do it!

I think it is noteworthy that the letter is not addressed to the “Pastor”, nor to the “Deacons and Elders”, nor yet to the “Church Board of Trustees”, or any such thing. It is to the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse.” It is to the Church, proper. All the church epistles are addressed to the churches, not to the leaders, nor any sort of authority figures. By the way, the Bible knows nothing of friars, abbots, sextons, monks, cardinals and popes, etc. They are entirely invented by humans.

Position and Condition

The letter was to the “saints” (the word “saints” means “holy ones”…they were made holy by their position in Christ) and the faithful (believing) brethren “in Christ.” That is a key phrase: our position in Christ along with His indwelling Holy Spirit in us, is all that sets us apart from the World around us; just as Noah’s position inside the Ark was all that set him apart from his neighbors who were outside. Consider the end result of our position, and that of Noah. All in the Ark lived because of their position inside the Ark. All in Christ live (eternally) because of our position in Christ.

What does it mean, to say that the believers, the saints, the “holy ones”, are “holy” before God? It literally means that we are “set apart” for God’s service. It means that we are His private, personal property, and that we are for His service and His pleasure. We often forget this truth, and think that we are here to please ourselves. We forget that we are called to “be holy as He is Holy.” It does not mean we wander around with a halo over us, and our palms pressed together, or any such silliness: it means that we belong to Jesus Christ; and it makes perfect sense that we should actively seek to serve Him, as His chosen vessels for the Gospel; His ambassadors to the lost World around us.

Paul focused on that one positional attribute that all believers share: We are in Christ. And, as we can observe in Colossians 4:16, this epistle was intended to be a “circular letter:” It was to be read in other churches as well. It is to us, as believers in Christ. We are in Christ, by the new Birth, through Faith, so this letter is addressed to us, personally. As we study, try to keep in mind that this is literally God’s letter to you! Take it personally!

Also, consider this: Paul’s position in Christ was more important than his specific task, as an Apostle. And, an Apostle was not more “in Christ” than any other believer. The first concern is our position. But once that position is secured (and it is a permanent change), our condition before the Lord becomes our first concern. Am I walking with Him? And, finally, am I exercising my gifts? Am I doing what He has called me to do? Part of being “faithful” is being committed, and reliable. Yes, the word “faithful” means “the believers”, but the kind of faith God calls us to exercise is also intended to produce “faithfulness”, in the sense of reliability. Can God count on you to obey Him on a daily basis? Can others count on you to be the man or woman of God you are called to be? Can they trust you to live a Godly example for them, both in words and actions?

Grace and Peace

In verse two, as in virtually every Pauline epistle, is Paul’s opening blessing, praying for God’s sustaining Grace in the lives of the believers, resulting in His abiding Peace. These two ideas always come in that order: Grace, then Peace. In Salvation, we received saving Grace, through faith, and it resulted in Peace with God. On a daily, living basis, we receive God’s sustaining Grace, again through daily renewed faith, and it results in the Peace of God. Both flow from the Father and the Son, to us. “Grace be to you, and Peace.” Always in that order!

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

Paul may not actually have known these people, personally: but he said that he and Timothy had been praying for them, and giving thanks for their walk with God ever since they had heard of their faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and their love for the believers around them.

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

This is how we are supposed to respond to other believers, based on our faith in Christ, and our position in Him. Jesus gave us the commandment that we are to love one another as He loved us. These believers were doing exactly what Jesus said to do, and Paul and Timothy were overjoyed to hear of it. Keep in mind, too, that Salvation is a gift, not a reward. Faith in the Gospel brings Salvation, which gives us Hope. Obedience brings reward.

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

Paul and Timothy gave thanks especially because of the Hope that was secured for these believers, including the reward that was in store for them in Heaven. Paul reminds them that they (the believers) already knew about this, too.

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

What is the “Hope that is laid up for us in Heaven?” Our hope is eternal life with Christ; being finally separated from our sins, and the trials of this life. We hope for a new body, free from the ravages of age and disease, and for the literal, physical presence of the Lord Himself, the fulfillment of all the promises of God. We look for a new heaven and a new earth, where the damage done by man is all in the forgotten past, and Joy surrounds us like the air and the sunlight.

All this and more is “laid up for us”…it is on deposit, credited to our account, since the moment we each trusted Jesus’s blood at the Cross as full payment for our sins. Eternal Life is already ours. Reward is accumulated as we allow God the freedom to use our lives.

I remember, when I had first trusted Jesus as my Savior, but still knew almost nothing about the rest of the Bible, a friend, who knew I was just recently saved, asked “Are you looking forward to going to heaven?” I replied honestly that I wasn’t even sure whether I believed in a heaven or hell; I only knew that I needed Jesus now! But as I began to read His Word, I soon came to see The Bible as “first and final authority,” in all things, so that I eventually saw that, “if God says it; that settles it,” whether I personally believe it or not. And, as it happened, it turns out that the Bible does have a fair amount to say about both heaven and hell, so that I gradually came to understand a few things about eternity. And, yes, I eventually understood that my “hope” had been “laid up for me in heaven,” immediately, when I first believed, though I knew nothing about it. Later, I learned that there was a reward involved, too, though I still don’t really feel I know much about that part.

The Gospel and the World

Paul also says that that Gospel had been going out to the whole world just as it had come to Colosse. The Gospel is for everyone, but not everyone has heard it.

Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

What is the “Gospel”? We hear the word used in a lot of ways, including the idea that “gospel” must mean “truth,” because people say, “No, really, that is the gospel truth!” when talking about things that have nothing to do with the Bible, but which they believe to be absolutely true. The Greek word translated “Gospel” is “euaggelion”, which means “Glad tidings”—good news. The Gospel of Christ, as it is presented in the Bible, has to include at least the following things:

  • The fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins, in fulfillment of scripture (fulfillment of God’s eternal promise.)
  • The fact that he was buriedreally dead, pierced through by the Roman spear, after dying on the Cross. Dead and buried, wrapped up like a mummy, and interred in a rock tomb with a heavy stone for a seal. This also fulfilled prophecy.
  • The fact that He rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the tomb, also in direct fulfillment of scriptural prophecy, and the fact that he was seen alive by many witnesses, over a period of forty days after his resurrection.

Why do I list these three things? Because, in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, Paul listed them in that order, as being the core truths of the Gospel of Christ: the “Good News” which, being believed in, has the power to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16) When I review, in my own mind, any recent conversation in which I attempted to share the Gospel with an acquaintance, I’m questioning whether I really offered that person “the Gospel:” Did I really include the death, and burial and resurrection of Christ, or did I just tell them “how wonderful the Christian life is?” (Sorry, that is not the Gospel…and not really even true, in many respects: Paul says, over in Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on his name, but also to suffer for His sake.” That doesn’t sound very “wonderful” to most people.)

The Gospel is the Good News of Eternal life in Christ, and how it was purchased for us by the death, and burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah. And, being believed in, it is the Power of God to save sinners…and it is the only thing so described in the scriptures. If I leave out the necessary ingredients, is it still the “Gospel?” Can I still expect it to work to change lives, if I leave out those key points? The answer to both questions, is “NO!”

Faith and Responsibility

So, why did I mention that “not everyone has heard the gospel? Because Paul pointed that out, too, over in 1st Corinthians 15:34, saying “Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” Our faith brings responsibility.

Paul is only reminding these believers, at Colosse, of things they had already been taught: He says that Epaphras taught them these doctrines, earlier. And that he (Epaphras) was also the one who told Paul and Timothy about their vibrant faith:

As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

So, evidently Epaphras is the one who led them to Christ, and who planted that church, and who had continued to serve them, teaching and encouraging and helping them mature in their faith…and the church was doing well. Notice that Paul uses Epaphras as an example: he calls him a “dear fellow servant” and reminds them that Epaphras has been a “faithful minister of Christ” to them. He was a faithful servant of Christ, bringing them the message of salvation, and training them up as men and women of God. The word “minister” means “servant.” It is not a special “religious” term. It was and still is used in many walks of life to mean a servant. Epaphras served Christ by serving them with the Word of God.

Now, he had the opportunity to report to Paul and Timothy what GOD had been doing in Colosse. He was not claiming personal credit for the changes in their lives. Only the Holy Spirit could make those changes happen. And Paul and Timothy were rejoicing with Him for God’s victory at Colosse.

Paul was very encouraged to hear of the inroad of the Gospel in that town. He wrote this letter to encourage them and to help them to become more established in their faith. He goes on to say that, ever since he heard of their new-found faith, he had been praying for them: Next time, we will see what sorts of things Paul prayed for, in the lives of these believers.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your word. Fill us with your Spirit, and let us grow in faith, as these believers were growing in faith. Teach us the meaning of practical holiness, and remake us all into your image. Allow us to serve as your ministers, bringing your Grace to those around us.

 


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

The Coming Redeemer

© C. O. Bishop 2012, (revisited and revised 2018)

Genesis 3-9

Introduction:

The Bible is not “the history of God.” The “history of God” would be impossible to encapsulate in a book, or even millions of books, as He is Eternal.

It is not the history of Man, as it leaves out the vast majority of human history. It is historical, but in a very limited sense. In Genesis we can see one aspect of the beginning of earth’s history: specifically, it is the history of God’s redemptive work toward the fallen human race. It tells us how we began, how we became sinners, and what God has chosen to do about it. We will discover, as we read the Old Testament, that Jesus is “Plan A”, and there is no “Plan B”. We can see God’s wisdom and his saving Grace, from the very beginning.

The Fall and the Promise

When Man fell into sin, in Genesis, chapter three, we see the first prediction of the Person who would be the Savior. In this passage he is referred to as the “Seed of Woman”. The masculine gender is applied, and the singular personal pronoun is applied—it is not a group of people that are called the Seed of Woman, but one male Child. And only one such child in history could accurately claim that title, because all the rest had a human father—they were NOT the Seed of Woman, but the seed of a man and a woman. This is the first Prophecy of the Christ, and it predicted the destruction of Satan, and the reinstatement of fallen man. The prophecy was given as part of the curse on the Serpent (and Satan), but God continued on, to lay out the consequences of sin for both the Man and the Woman, as well. The only Good News in this passage is the Seed of the Woman. And Adam believed that “Good News” (the Gospel, in its earliest form.)

The Sacrifice and the Safeguard

Adam placed his trust in that promise (Genesis 3:20, 21), in that he named his wife “Eve”, which means “mother of all the living”…and, on the basis of that Faith, God clothed him and his wife in the skins of slain animals: this was the first blood sacrifice, and it signified the covering of sin by means of that sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice for sin in the Old Testament was invariably blood, and it resulted in the “atonement” (Heb. “Kophar”, or covering) for sins. Every single one of the God ordained blood sacrifices in the Old Testament looked forward, by faith, to the one sacrifice that would be offered at the Cross. Revelation 13:8 refers to Jesus as the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the world…and, indeed, the Apostle saw him on the throne (Revelation 5:6) as a Lamb, having been slain. We look back to that one sacrifice, when we take communion. We are not asking that he die again, nor does that wine become blood. His sacrifice was once for all time, to take away sin, but his death was pre-figured, or pictured, countless times throughout the Old Testament, in animal sacrifices that could only cover sin.

Finally, God moved Adam and Eve out of the Garden…not as punishment, or banishment, but as protection, so that they would not eat of the tree of life, and gain eternal life in their fallen state, thus becoming like the demons; unsalvageable, and lost forever, soaked in evil. This was Mercy, pure and simple. It was a safeguard for the human race.

Consider this, as well: Who was it that came walking in the Garden, in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8)? Who was the judge that listened quietly to the plea of each of his guilty human subjects, then dispensed Justice and Mercy and Grace? Who is the “Judge of all the earth?” These are just some things to consider. I hope we will find answers as we move through Genesis.

In Genesis 4, we see that Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock”…a blood sacrifice, and he was accepted by God. How did he know to do that? Possibly Adam told him…possibly God told him, because we see that God himself reasoned with Cain regarding his rejected sacrifice, saying “if you do right, you will also be accepted.” Evidently Cain knew what was required, and refused to comply. Hebrews 11:4 recalls this passage, and specifies that it was the sacrifice that was the issue, not just the heart-attitude. Cain brought a vegetable offering, which would have been fine as a worship offering, after the sin issue had been dealt with. But God called for a blood sacrifice for sin, before worship could be accepted. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.” We can’t approach God in our sins. Abel brought a sin-offering. Cain did not.

Throughout the Bible, we see faith being demonstrated as “an obedient response to a revealed truth”. Faith is not a feeling, or a power, or a gift, in general, (though there does seem to be a special gift of faith.) Faith is simply taking God at His Word. Faith believes God enough to do something about it. Sometimes that “something” is just to believe God. (John 6:28, 29) Sometimes it requires some real shoe-leather. In Cain’s case it simply meant that he had to recognize himself as a guilty sinner, and accept GOD’S remedy for sin…not his own. God’s remedy involves the shedding of blood, whether we like it or not. And Cain rebelled. He “had his own religion”. That is a common problem today, isn’t it? We think our way is better than God’s way, and we can’t understand why it isn’t.

The Flood

In the following chapters we read about the decline of the human race into violence and wickedness—we aren’t told much about the specifics, only that the whole human race was corrupt. (Whoa! That’s news, huh!? We must have a good dose of that left around today!)

In Genesis 6:8, God says that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” It does not say that he was not a sinner—in fact, the use of the word Grace necessitates that he was a sinner. Grace is unmerited favor—unearned favor. And, sure enough, after the flood, Noah proved he was a sinner, by getting drunk.

But, what about the flood? Was that a picture of Christ, too? No, it was a demonstration of God’s judgment on all sin…and the Ark was the picture of Christ—God’s grace to mankind; God’s power to save those who believe him. (Read Genesis 6:5-22)

Please remember that Jesus treated this as history, not legend: this is fact, not fiction. In the account of Noah’s Ark we see that, ultimately, there are only two places one can be in relation to God; in the ark or outside it. One can be in Christ, or in Adam. (1st Corinthians 15:22)

Similarities between Jesus and the Ark:

  1. Everyone started off outside the Ark…including Noah and his family. (We all start off in Adam…outside Christ…we are born that way.)
  2. Only Noah and his family looked forward to the completion of the Ark. (Only believers looked forward to the coming Messiah)
  3. Only Noah and his family saw the Ark as God’s means of deliverance. (Only believers see Jesus as their hope for salvation.)
  4. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to repentance. (Only believers respond to the Gospel call.)
  5. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to enter the Ark. (Only believers heed the call to enter into Christ.)
  6. Noah and his family entered by faith—God revealed that they were to get on board, and they believed, and entered by faith. (We do too!)
  7. I think it is interesting that (in KJV) God said “Come into the Ark”, not “Go into the Ark”.
    1. We see that God was there among them! His hand guided that craft, as it had no sails, no oars, no rudder…He controlled its destiny from beginning to end. (This is also, even more, true for the believer. Jesus said “Come unto me”, and God controls our destiny in Christ—and, beyond our imagination, we are already seated with Him in the Heavenlies.)
  8. Everyone who was aboard the Ark was safe with God. All outside were lost without him. (All in Christ have been made alive…all still in Adam are lost…though in our case, the door is still open for them to enter.)
  9. The Ark was sufficient to save all who trusted in it. (Jesus saves all who call upon His name.)
  10. The Ark was built according to the Word of God. (Jesus came in full accord with the Prophecies, fulfilling them all to the letter.)
  11. The Ark took the brunt of the judgment that fell on the earth (the water of the Flood) but rose above it. (At the Cross, Jesus took upon himself the full weight of the wrath of God for the sin of the World, but He rose from the dead, in triumph over the grave.
  12. The Ark was coated with pitch, outside, to make it immune to the judgment without, and coated with pitch inside, to make it immune to the contamination within. (Well? What would you expect to happen in a 450-foot floating barn full of animals, on a year-long cruise, with no way to clean the stalls?) (Jesus’ righteousness made him ultimately immune to the judgment for sin, and makes Him completely immune to our continuing sin as well…we cannot “torpedo the Ark” through our unworthiness… we were unworthy before He saved us, and guess what? We still are! Our sins were all paid for in full at the Cross…the fact that ALL of them were still in the future when he died should tell us something about the completeness of his redemption.)
  13. The one window of the Ark, possibly for ventilation, either looked upward, or was positioned in such a way that Noah could not really see out—he could not see the destruction that was all around him, nor could he tell when it was time to get back out onto the land. He could only look up and wait on God. (Does that sound familiar? “Look up, and wait on God.”)
  14. All those aboard the Ark were there for the duration. Nobody got off before the Ark was safely aground and the earth was dry enough to be safe and habitable. (No one gets out of Christ, either.) In some ways this could seem to be a parallel to the Tribulation as well, though not a very tight parallel…Only Noah and his family survived the flood, but there will be many who survive the Tribulation, who are saved during the Tribulation, and live through its horror. BUT—it does seem to me that the Church, having been taken away for the duration of the Tribulation, will come back to a cleansed world, just as Noah and his family emerged from the Ark to enter a cleansed world.
  15. Finally, after the only ones left alive were Noah and his family, God said “the imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth”. (Don’t get the idea that Christians are not sinners. We are sinners, who admit it and want to do something about it. Christians are saved sinners. We are beggars, who have been fed, and who have been reborn as children of the King. We are the recipients of Grace, and Grace cannot be earned.)
  16. Grace was the thing that saved Noah—and it is what has saved every person who was ever saved in the history of this planet. God offers Grace—we respond by faith. From Genesis to Revelation, that is the message. Notice, too, that when Noah was on dry land again, he offered that seventh animal of every clean variety, as a sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice is always blood, for a sin offering. We come by the Blood of Jesus. In reality, so did Noah, Abel and Adam.
  17. To stretch things, just a bit: when God gave the rainbow as a sign, it was a promise that He would not again destroy the world by flood. We look back to the Cross as God’s promise that he will no longer condemn us for our sins. Romans 8 states that “there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And it is because of the Cross. I do not think the rainbow is a picture of the cross, but I do think the promise is a picture of the security of the believer today.
  18. One final note: The Ark was God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from destruction in the Flood. Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Jesus is God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from eternal damnation.

Lessons from the Ark

We should also remember that the experience of the Ark was not a “pleasant cruise on a calm sea.” It was a violent ride on tumultuous seas, with swells and breakers, raging uncontrolled, over the surface of the whole earth. The Christian life is not easy, for most believers. It is a tumultuous ride through a World that is violently opposed to the message of the Cross, and the raging surges of human sin that cover the whole earth. There is no “safe haven,” except in the person of Christ.

The Ark was the only safe place, but it was not comfortable. There was the overwhelming smell of thousands of animals, unless God miraculously cleared the air (which He may have done.) There was the darkness of an entirely enclosed wooden ship, or barge, unless God supernaturally provided light (which He may have done.)  There was the rolling and pitching, and the groaning of the ships timbers, as the storm raged. They were in that Ark for a year and seventeen days; seven days before the flood began, and a year and ten days from the beginning of the flood until they disembarked.

Sometimes we may feel that we are enduring hard times, and we are doubtful about our future. How doubtful must Noah and his family have felt, during that experience? But consider this: if they were doubtful, did it take them out of the Ark? If they were afraid? If they were angry, and resentful? If they were seasick, and despairing of ever seeing the light of day again? No, the fact is, regardless of their condition, their position was perfect! They were safe in the Ark. In fact, the only thing that made a difference between those inside, who may have been uncomfortable and frightened, and those outside, who were dead, and eternally lost, was their position inside the Ark.

I am not necessarily a better person than any particular unbeliever. In fact, I suspect that the reverse is likely true. The only thing that makes me different than those in the World, is the person of Christ, and my position in Him: and He is the only Hope we have, to offer to the World.

We offer the only provision God has ever made for the salvation of sinners: If they are hungry, we offer the Bread of Life. If they are thirsty, we offer the Living Water. If they see that they are in darkness, we offer the Light of the World. If they are open at all to the Person of Christ, then He is all those things to them. We hold out Jesus, the Living Word of God, to those around us.

We need to live in such a way as to not diminish the light of the Gospel. God needs clean vessels through which to pour His Grace. He asks that we present our bodies, daily, as living sacrifices, so that He can offer His Grace to the World around us. Each of us has that responsibility before God, and He points out that it is our “reasonable service.” And it really is, isn’t it? After what He has done for us, how can we offer less?

Lord Jesus, teach us to see your face in the scriptures, as well as in the world around us. Help us to see the people of this world as precious souls for whom you died, and to count them as priceless in our eyes. Enable us to reach them with the good news of eternal life.


That I May Know Him

That I May Know Him

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/2018

Philippian 3:9-17

Introduction:

We have been studying through Philippians together: When we last met, we ended on Philippians 3:9, where Paul concluded his statements as to having lost the things that were once important to him, but having found himself “In Christ.”

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Now Paul, having found himself “in Him”—in Christ—was positionally perfect. His standing with God was made forever secure. But his condition—his state—could change drastically, just as our state, or condition, changes when we sin. This difference, between the two concepts, “Position” (Where I am, and Who I am, in Christ), and “Condition” (How I am doing, and What I am doing) has been the source of much bad teaching, and misunderstanding in the church, for centuries. Paul’s old condition, from human perspective, was quite admirable. Lots of great credentials and accomplishments. But his old Position (still in his sins…still “In Adam”) was terrible—he was headed for destruction!

When he embraced the redemption provided at the Cross, he lost his social standing, and his accomplishments were no longer respected. He lost them because of the Cross, but gained something new at the Cross, at the same moment. He gained a new Position. He is now no longer “in Adam”…he is “in Christ.” This is in keeping with 1st Corinthians 15:22 And all his own efforts do not add to that position, nor does a failure on his part detract from that position. His works can only affect his condition, not his position.

Paul said that he counted all those things as garbage! Why? Because they could not enhance his position at all, and possibly could prove a snare to him, in terms of the practical outworking of his relationship with God. He said that those things have been willingly set aside: why? So that he could focus on growing in an experiential knowledge of Christ

That I may Know Him

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

“That I may know Him?” What can he mean by this? Didn’t he already know Jesus? He met Him on the road to Damascus… he was commissioned by Jesus for service. How could he not know Him?

The word Paul chose to use, here (Greek “gnonai”, from “gnosko”), means to have experiential knowledge—not merely acquaintance, or knowing a fact, or even figuring something out. I may “know” something because of careful reasoning. I may “know” something as a fact about which I have been told. I may even “know” a person because I have met them once. I sometimes tell people about famous violinmakers that I happen to have met. I could say, “I know him.” But I have to qualify that remark, by saying, “He wouldn’t remember me. I only met him once.”

To know someone in an ongoing relationship which is growing in depth and closeness is the kind of continuing knowledge Paul sought. And all the things he once took pride in would detract from that relationship if they had any affect at all. If he set them all aside in terms of value or importance, they could have no negative effect. But if he clung to any of them as being “vital to his identity”, they would surely detract from his identity in Christ, as a distraction, if nothing else.

This can be true in our own lives as well: If it really is central to my self-view that I am part of some trade (a welder, in my case, or a violin maker, or a teacher or pastor), or that I belong to some political party, or a particular church, or even a particular nationality,  or ethnic group… then how central is my relationship with Christ? To the degree that “something else” is central to “who I am”, Jesus has been dethroned in my life.

What do we call it when “something else” has taken the place of God in my life? The fact is, this constitutes idolatry. Perhaps Paul avoided using that word in order to underscore the relational issues, but we do tend to elevate such minutia to ridiculous levels of importance. We have our little “in” groups of people who drive a certain kind of car, drink a certain kind of beverage, follow a particular sport, or a specific team within that sport, or who are alumni of a specific school. Our society promotes this kind of thing, and says we ought to have “pride” in the school we attend, etc. We even argue over which kind of shoes to wear. Proverbs states that pride is the root of contention. And if it ruins human relationships, how much more would it limit our relationship with a holy God? We need to think clearly about what is important to us, and why…and, to what extent.

Grammatically, Paul applied that same word for knowledge to the whole list he enumerated: To Know Christ, and (to know) the power of His resurrection, and (to know) the fellowship of his suffering, being made conformable to his death.

To experientially know the power of the resurrection in my life is to see the new life in Christ take hold and transform me from the inside out. I began “knowing” that power the day I first trusted in Christ as my savior. But it is an ongoing transformation, and I want to see it increasing continually. We are to live “as those alive from among the dead.” We can’t have our old perspective on life anymore. We have been resurrected with Christ.

To experientially know the fellowship of His suffering: fellowship means “sharing in”—“partnership”. How can we be partners in the suffering of Christ? He did say that we are to take up our cross and follow him. That we are to count our own life as a thing of the past, and join him in his passion for the lost world. Do we personally share in having nails driven through our flesh? No, not as a rule. But we can at least recognize that His suffering was for a purpose, a testimony, etc., and we can join him in in enduring whatever is set before us as a way to demonstrate his Love and faithfulness to others. I think that would at least be a start. Jesus poured himself out to meet the need of a lost world. We can pour ourselves out daily to serve, as He gives us opportunity.

What does it mean to “be made conformable to His death?” Over in Hebrews 12:4, Paul commented to the believers that “ye have not yet resisted unto [the shedding of] blood, striving against sin.” In their particular case, the suffering for Christ had taken no serious turn, though it certainly had, in the lives of the many believers who had been tortured and killed for their faith. Could they have borne such a burden? Perhaps not, because these are the same believers he rebuked for having backslidden into babyhood, in Hebrews 5:12.

Is it possible then, that the issue in becoming “conformable to His death” may have to do with becoming committed enough that, if called upon, he could follow Jesus in death? Maybe. That would be some serious growth, as a believer. But that is exactly what eventually happened to Paul. And, yes, he was ready!

“Arriving”

11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

What is he saying? Does he mean that the way to be resurrected is to do all the things he just listed? Why then, would he say, in Romans 6, that as many as have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death, and his resurrection? (By the way, that baptism is not in reference to water, either.) Why would he say in Ephesians 2:6 that I have already been raised up with Christ (resurrection) and have already been seated with him in the heavenlies…in fact, that I am there, now? (Not only already resurrected, but already ascended!)

So, we can be sure that he is not saying one is to earn the resurrection from the dead. In fact, he did not say “earn”—he said “attain.” The Greek word is “katantiso”, meaning “arrive”. It is only used 13 times in the New Testament, and in all but two cases it is translated “come to”, in the sense of “arrival”. So, in what sense could Paul question his “arrival” at the resurrection? According to his comment in Ephesians 2:6, he is already there. So he cannot fail to be resurrected. Some commentators suggest that he only wants to live to see the rapture. In that case the next sentence would make absolutely no sense, as he said he “isn’t there yet”. That would be a silly statement, as the rapture, obviously, still hasn’t happened. Incidentally, the word in verse 12 for “attained” comes from yet another Greek root: “elabon”, which comes from “lambano” which is usually (133 times) translated “received,” meaning to “take for oneself.” So, whatever Paul is talking about, it is something to be received, not earned, and it is not something that everyone receives at the same time. It is individual in nature, and something at which to “arrive.”

So, there have been a variety of possibilities suggested, each having some problems. But what if the issue is only that he wants to live out the reality of the resurrection in his own life? That he wants to live like one risen out from among the dead (the Greek word, here, for “Resurrection” is “ex-anastasin”—resurrection from out of”…and this is the only time in the New Testament where this specific word is used.)

What if the real issue is that he wants to live in such a way that Christ’s new life will be the only thing other people see? That would be something to “attain to”, wouldn’t it? Something worth striving toward? If that is what he means, then all the following comments make plain sense, too. And, as it happens, we have another admonition from Paul that says exactly that—Romans 6:13 says that we are to live “as those alive from the dead”. I believe Paul was “leading by example, and saying that that was his goal as well.

12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

The Greek word translated “apprehend”, here. Is “katalambano.” It is translated several ways, but it seems to mean, in general, to “seize something, with the purpose of making it one’s own”. So, Paul knows that he himself has been “seized upon” by Jesus, and made the “personal property of Christ.” He, in turn, wants to “seize” the relationship with Christ, and make it a living reality in his life, so that Jesus is all people will see in him. And he concludes that he, personally, has chosen to “press toward the goal!”

Paul says that his whole goal is to draw close enough to Jesus that nothing else is visible in his life. Have you ever heard a plane coming, overhead, but when you looked up, it turned out that they were so close to being lined up with the sun, that all you could see was the sun? You could still hear the plane, so you knew it was there, but all you could see was the sun, until the plane moved to a position further out of line with the sun.

If your life is so “lined up with” the Son of God, that when people look at you, He is all they see, you are “apprehending” that for which Christ died to provide. Follow after! Press on, toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ.

Paul clearly says that he has not arrived at that point in his life, but that it is his goal to continually strive toward it. And there is a reward for the striving; a prize. God knows the heart…He will reward the striving, the consistent attempt to “get out of the way” and allow the resurrected Christ to live through us.

Examples to Follow

Paul goes on to say that we are to follow his example. This is good leadership. “Follow me!” is something you can only say from “out in front.” Paul was definitely out in front. In this passage and other similar passages, he says “follow me as I follow Christ” or “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1st Corinthians 11:1) Paul was leading by example. He could literally say, “Do as I do!”

15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
16 Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

The word for “rule” here, is “kanoni”—a standard; not a law. This is not a suggestion that we need to set up “rules to live by”. The “standard” that Paul had just erected was that he personally sought to follow Jesus closely, hoping to “arrive” at a level where only Jesus would be visible in his life. That is the standard…the living reality of Christ.

We have the same example for us to follow, then. We are not left to wonder how we should live. We have a written command, and a living example. Paul says we can look around us, and take note of those among us who follow his example, and imitate what we see in their lives. And, we are to learn to set such an example ourselves.

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

We are not to follow blindly: we are to read our Bibles, then compare what we see with what the Bible says, and, as our leaders, pastors, teachers and fellow believers follow the example of Christ, we can also follow their living example.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to see you in the believers’ lives around us. Help us to learn to walk by faith, but to see the reality every day, in the lives of the men and women of God around us.


Our True High Priest, and the New Covenant

Our True High Priest and the New Covenant

© C.O.Bishop 7/14/17 THCF 7/16/17

Hebrews 8:1-13

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Hebrews. Over and over we have seen the theme “Jesus is better” played out in the scripture. Only one exception has been presented: Jesus was not said to be better than Melchisedec. But in every other case, His credentials were shown to far surpass those of all the “heavy-hitters” of Judaism: The Prophets, the Angels, the priesthood, Abraham, Moses…all fell far short of the standard set by Jesus the Messiah.

But now the writer returns to the theme, and sums up the clear Superiority of Jesus over the High Priests of Israel, showing His true office as our High Priest: the mediator of the New Covenant.

Our True High Priest

 1Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;

A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.

The writer is beginning to wrap up his treatise on the superiority of Jesus the Messiah over every aspect of Judaism. (By the way, please keep in mind that this is in no way a “criticism of Judaism:” All of the Old Testament scriptures are “God-breathed.” Judaism, as taught in the scriptures, was entirely from God, and, collectively, it was the introduction to, and prediction of, the Messiah. But Jesus is the Messiah: no more allegory or foreshadowing is needed: He is the real fulfilment of the promises.)

One thing we touched on earlier, but which is worth repeating: the high priest of the Old Covenant could never sit down, while he was “on the job”: the only “seat” in the Holy of Holies was the Mercy Seat—the “lid” of the Ark of the Covenant…God’s throne on earth. No one ever tried sitting there. People had died under God’s judgment for just touching the ark, even though they had good intentions. Sitting on it would have been a guaranteed path to instant destruction.

So, the point then, is that, in both Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 8:1, we see that Jesus finished his work and sat downand He is still interceding as our High Priest. Hebrews 7:25 says, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”. He is still on the job! So…where is he sitting? Both passages make it clear that he is seated at the right hand of the Father.

But, remembering the Holy of Holies—that means he has to be seated in the throne, with God… all of which agrees with John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus simply resumed his seat of authority with the Father, as is His due. He is God the Son. By the way, consider John 5:22, here, too (“All judgment is committed to the Son”)—Jesus is the Judge of all the Earth. He is the one who sits enthroned and will Judge the nations, as well as the hearts of men. The Throne of God truly is his rightful throne.

A person may think through all this material and still find it puzzling how Jesus could be called our High Priest. But consider this: The High Priest of Israel had two specific functions:

  1. He offered a sacrifice for the nation, once every year, reconciling the nation to God, and
  2. He represented the nation of Israel before God, interceding on their behalf, in prayer.

Jesus’s sacrifice was Himself: His own body, willingly given; and He is still interceding for us. He is our High Priest!

 

What is Different about the Priesthood of Jesus?

For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.

For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:

Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

If Jesus had remained on earth, he could not even serve as a priest, let alone the High Priest: the earthly tabernacle (and later, the Temple,) were served by one family, under the Law. Only a Levite could serve in any capacity. But that tabernacle given by revelation through Moses, was still only a figure, or a shadow, of the real thing: the heavenly throne room with the literal, continual presence of God was the real thing. And that is where Jesus serves today… It is where He came from.

Moses was commanded to make the tabernacle according to the pattern he had seen in his visions on Mount Sinai. He did so, as faithfully as he could. In fact, God says that He put the spirit of wisdom into the men who did the actual work: they had not seen the vision…they could only work from what Moses told them. But evidently God overshadowed their limitations, and supernaturally guided their hands so that the tabernacle actually came out the way Moses had seen it. The result was a very good (though limited) man-made (though God-ordained) copy. It did not and could not serve the same purpose as the real thing, even though God actually appeared in that tabernacle on at least some occasions. Further, we can see here that the priesthood itself was only a foreshadowing of the “real thing”… Jesus; God the Son. All the sacrifices looked forward to the one blood sacrifice that Jesus was to make at the Cross. All the offerings and prayers and rituals were looking forward to Jesus, in his priestly ministry.

In similar manner, we are told that Jesus is the living Word of God, and that the written Word is God’s best communication of Himself to us. It was given through human writers who, just as he overshadowed the human builders of the Tabernacle, were borne along by the Holy Spirit so that the communication was literally the Word of God. We look to the written Word, as unto a light in a dark place, until the true light of the world—the living Word of God—Jesus—returns.

1st Timothy 2:5 states that “…there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man, Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the real High Priest. He is the “One Mediator between God and Men.”

 

The Covenant of Jesus is Better than the Old Covenant

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

Notice the tenses in the above statement: He has obtained (past tense) a more excellent ministry (than that which employed the human priesthood). He IS (present tense) the mediator of a better covenant, which was (past tense) established upon better promises.

I find it strangely thrilling, to see the precision of God’s Word. Jesus obtained (past tense) through his service and sacrifice, a better ministry, or office, than the one the Old Testament priests held, and which they all served. It was consummated at the Cross. (“It is finished!”)

But He serves now (present tense) in that specific ministry, as the mediator of the New Covenant, which is only begun in the Church Age, and which will find (future tense) completion in the Kingdom Age. But He is already at work, and has been for 2000 years. One of the better promises was that he was to be a High Priest eternally, after the order of Melchisedec. The promise of the coming New Covenant was made six hundred years before Christ. The promise was fulfilled at the Cross—still past tense for us and for the recipients of this epistle. But the mediation of that covenant is present tense, and it never stops to take a break. Our High Priest never gets tired, and His sacrifice transforms the lives of those who place their trust in Him.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

This was God’s revelation to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) of the coming New Covenant… with whom? The Church? No, he said, here, in verse 8 (quoting Jeremiah 31:31) that the covenant was with Israel (the northern ten tribes) and Judah (the southern nation), and then reiterates it in verse 10. That promise was not to the Church! (Read on!)

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

He says that GOD found fault with the Old Covenant. But how could He? He was its author! The fault was not a moral failure, nor a design failure: it did exactly what it was designed to do: it drove believers to see their need for a savior. When will the New Covenant occur? After his return: this is a Kingdom age promise. How can we tell the time for sure? Read the next verse:

11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

When, on this earth will every single Jew know Jesus and have the Law of God written in each of their individual hearts? This can only be the Kingdom Age. Has the Kingdom age begun? Absolutely not! Paul warned the church that they not be tricked in that regard…there are a number of things that have to occur first, including the removal of the Church, the revelation of the antichrist, and the terrible seven-year tribulation in which half the world’s population will perish. The new Covenant for Israel will begin shortly after the return of the Lord Jesus.

Has the New Covenant begun for the Church? Absolutely! In fact, that New Covenant is the only one we have, in this age, as Jewish or Gentile believers. Israel had been looking forward to the whole New Covenant as promised, for 600 years, or thereabout, when Jesus announced the good news of the Kingdom. And they rejected it.

The Covenant still stands, but it will only be ratified with the Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. Not before. The Church-age believers experience two small parts of that promise, though vital ones:

  1. In this age, every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit: no exceptions. That will apparently be true in the Kingdom age as well.
  2. In this age, (and all of them, for that matter), the believer stands righteous before God, by imputed righteousness, not by the works which they may or may not accomplish. God remembers our sins no more. But in the kingdom age, God will not rub Israel’s collective nose in the dirt of their past sins. They will simply stand righteous before Him, in Christ. And that is our current standing—“in Christ!”

 

The Old Covenant was passing away—and is now obsolete.

13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

This is the final warning that the Old Covenant was about to expire: it had reached its “pull-date”, as it were. The Kingdom age was not being offered to that generation any more. And the Temple (though the readers did not know it, of course) was about to be destroyed. There would no longer exist on earth even the shadow of reality that the temple in Jerusalem had represented for so many years. There would literally be no way to return to their old way of life.

So, the only way these Hebrew believers could enter into the New Covenant was to believe fully in the Person of Christ, and enter into the New Covenant as it applies to the Church. The New Covenant, as initially offered to Israel, had been temporarily withdrawn.

The promise still stands, and it will definitely be fulfilled, to the letter, but, just as the promise of the land was offered to the Israelites who left Egypt with Moses, and, because of unbelief, they failed to enter in; the generation of Jews who were personally approached by the Messiah also rejected His offer through unbelief, and, in turn, were refused the Kingdom. Could they repent and believe? Certainly, but now they enter in along with the Gentiles, and have the same status as the Gentiles. The ultimate promise of the land and the Earthly Kingdom will not be fulfilled, nor even offered again, until Jesus returns.

 

Conclusion: What can we do (or not do) about the New Covenant?

One thing that keeps coming up is the temptation to go back under the Law, when God says, right here in this passage, that we are not to do so: that the Law never could change a life, and that Grace has always been the means by which we are saved…and that the Law has, in fact, become obsolete. We need to be vigilant against the kind of thinking that insists that our standing with God—our position in Him—is dependent upon our behavior—our walk with Him. Only our state—our current condition—is dependent upon our walk.

Remember that Israel, as a nation, is and has been the “Chosen People” of God whether or not they are in a good relationship with Him. He has never “dropped them and chosen someone else.” But His blessing, on a year by year basis, as a nation, has definitely been based on their walk with Him. When God warned Israel, saying, in effect, “if you obey Me, I will bless you; if you disobey Me I will curse you”, it never affected their position as the Chosen People of God. It changed their condition, as blessed or cursed…which is a huge issue all by itself.

God still defends Israel, as His People, though they have been in terrible condition, spiritually, for thousands of years. And the day is coming (soon, I hope) when they will awaken, nationally, and stand again as the people of God.

We have an even more precious position—the Jews and Gentiles called out of the World over the last 2000 years, are called the Church: the Body of Christ—the Bride of Christ. He sees us as being already perfect in Him, and already seated with Him in Heaven, though our experience may be quite different, at times, here on Earth.

Our position in Him is perfect and eternally secure. Our condition may vary wildly. But we don’t want our condition to be vacillating like that! We want to have a blessed relationship with the Savior, not a rocky, shabby relationship that dishonors Him by our bad behavior.

So, out of love to the Savior, not out of fear of the Judge, let’s look to our lives, and learn to walk in obedience by faith.

Attempting to live a holy life in our own strength is not pleasing to Him, as He has already told us we cannot do it. So, we confess that we cannot live holy lives on our own. We ask Him to take control and live through us. We read His Word, to see how to live; we join in fellowship with other believers to encourage one another; and we confess our sins when we fail. But we don’t waste time groveling over our failures: we stand up by faith, and walk again, knowing that even our fumbling attempts to walk by faith are pleasing to Him.

Let’s walk together, encouraging one another; blessing one another, as we seek to walk with Him. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn away into self-effort, self-improvement and self-righteousness.

Lord Jesus, draw us into full faith, and teach us to walk with you in obedience by Faith.


What About Israel? (Part Four)

What about Israel? (Part four)

© C. O. Bishop 4/21/16 THCF 4/24/16

Romans 11:1-36

Introduction:

We’ve followed Paul’s epistle from chapter one through chapter ten; chapters nine through eleven deal with the question “What about Israel?” “Where does Israel stand before God, today?” Paul spent chapters nine and ten explaining how they got into the mess they have been in for the last two-thousand-plus years, and what could have been done differently…and what can be done today.

Chapter 11: Where does Israel Stand Today?

1I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

So, Paul poses the next logical question: “is God all done with Israel, then? Has he cast them away?” His answer is the strongest possible negative: “God Forbid!”

God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying,

Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.

But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.

Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
Paul says that God has always maintained a “faithful few” in Israel, or, more specifically, among the Jewish people, who believe in Him and desire to obey him. In Elijah’s day, it was down to 7000 people. Pretty slim margin….

And it was not their works that saved them. Even the fact that they had “not bowed the knee to Baal” was not what saved them. Paul emphasizes three times in two verses that salvation is by Grace, not works, and that the two cannot mix. He states that if it is by Grace, then it is not of works…and that if it by works then it is not of Grace. He heavily underscores the fact that the two concepts cannot co-exist.

V. 7-12: Judicial Blindness through Disregard for Light.

What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.

And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:

10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.
11 
I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.

12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
Paul says that though they claim to seek for God, they have been blinded as a nation. That may sound harsh, but consider Samson: He ignored God’s light, and the responsibilities of his own standing as a Man of God, until his sin overwhelmed him and he was literally blinded by the enemy. Did he lose his salvation? Nope. Did he lose his giftedness? No, not really. He was set aside for a time, and he was used one last time some time later.

Israel consistently has rejected the messengers God sent, including all the prophets, and even the Messiah himself. So God allowed them to drift into a self-induced sleep—he says that he gave them the spirit of slumber that their eyes should not see, nor their ears hear.

The fact is; this is a danger to anyone, saved or unsaved, Jew or Gentile. If we ignore the light of God, we will eventually become blind to it…literally unable to see the truth of God. So, there is a trap in our disregard for warnings. And Israel is living proof of that fact. But God is using their fall to enrich us (not at their expense, but in the fact that seeing them fall is a warning for us.) Simultaneously, he is using our blessing to stir them to jealousy, so that they will return to Him. The Day he reclaims Israel, they will be a far greater blessing to the World.

V.13-16 Using Gentiles to Stir up Envy in Israel

13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:

14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
Paul reminds us that though he speaks to the church as Gentiles, it is because he is the apostle to the Gentiles. That’s his job, in other words. And, it is his hope that the result will be that some of the Jews will be made jealous of the reality of the Gentiles’ walk with the God of Israel, enough that they themselves will investigate, and believe the Gospel. (By the way, that is why he always began with the Jews, in any new work…he went to the synagogues and offered to them the promises of their own Messiah, before turning to the Gentiles…and, in virtually every city, there were at least a few Jews who believed; thus, a remnant, who were saved.

Bear in mind that the nation of Israel has had more exposure to the Gospel historically, than any other nation on the planet. And, because of their unbelief, they have gone through more chastisement. I doubt there has been another nation or race that has been so consistently rejected by the world, and subjected to pogroms, holocausts, and genocidal attacks as the Jews have been. And yet they exist. They stand as a witness to the faithfulness of God.

The result of their being temporarily set aside as the channels of God’s Grace to a fallen world has been that the Gentile nations have been hearing the Gospel for the last 2000 years. Many millions have received the news with joy, and millions, over the centuries, have died for the sake of that Gospel. But there is coming a time when Israel will once again be specifically the channel through which God pours his blessing. The Millennial Kingdom, when Christ rules from Jerusalem in person, will see the nation Israel fully restored, and acting as a nation of priests for the entire world. The Church will not be doing that, by the way…the church is called the Body of Christ for a reason, and the Bride of Christ, as well. The Church will be in the Throne with Christ. I do not claim to understand it, but it is a fact. Israel, in their fleshly bodies, will be the ambassadors of God on earth. The Church will be reigning with Him, in their new bodies.

The restoration of Israel will be a sort of resurrection. Compare it to Ezekiel 37, the vision of the valley of dry bones. Yes, that is just a vision, but God says it represented the restoration of Israel.

Now, consider: God made his promise to Abraham, and declared Abraham holy (meaning, “set apart for God”). He said that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham, and his seed. If God did not fulfill that promise through the nation of Israel, for ANY reason, (remember: it was an unconditional promise!) then it would be GOD failing, not man. And that is simply not going to happen. So, Paul reasons that if the root (Abraham) was holy, then the branches (Israel) have to be holy as well. If the patriarch was set aside as separated unto God, and the promise was made that his progeny should be holy as well, then it is impossible for God to set Israel aside permanently. Bear in mind that this is not for salvation, but for a relationship with the Holy God, and a position of service and blessing. No one in the history of the world has ever lost their salvation. Jesus said so, in John 6:39. He said that of all the Father has given him he will lose nothing, but that he will raise them up at the last day.

V. 17-25: Salvation versus Service

17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.

20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.

24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.


No it is not possible to lose one’s salvation. But! It is certainly possible for him to set aside certain “branches of the tree” as unusable, just as any orchardist prunes his trees and maintains the health of the tree by so doing. Paul says that the natural branches (some of them) have been cut out, and unnatural branches grafted in, in their place. This is not unusual, for orchardists, but usually, when it is done, a better branch is what is grafted in. I have a pear tree with fruit whose taste I don’t like. But it is a tree my mother planted, and is otherwise healthy. So I intend to graft in a variety of pear that I know I like, so as to use the strength of the roots, and preserve the tree, but also reap suitable fruit.

In this particular case, the grafted in scions are a “wild olive.” Their fruit is not known for its goodness, and no human orchardist would graft in a wild olive for the fruit…possibly for cross pollination, or some other cause, but not for the fruit. So it is a really odd thing for God to graft in the Gentiles who have never sought after God, and cut out the Jews (bear in mind, here that the issue is fruit-bearing—service—not salvation.) The Church age has seen Israel set aside as the channel of God, but the church is no longer actively doing what God sent them to do. They (“we”—let’s make this personal) have not continued to make the blessing of the world through the Gospel their (our) highest priority. So…is it possible for the church to lose its position of service and blessing? Not as a whole—the universal church is not in focus here, but the local church, and individuals therein.

The local church can be as the church of Philadelphia, who the Lord said had an “open door before it that no one could close” (speaking of service, and the outpouring of God’s grace and light, through the Gospel.) Or, in stark contrast, it can be as the church at Sardis, whom he said was dead, and whom he warned that they needed to strengthen that which remained.

Or, in the worst case, it could be as the church at Laodicea, to whom he made no plea, and gave no warning, except to say that he would “spew them out” of His mouth. He said he was going to remove their candlestick out of its place. He did not say, “…unless you repent…” as he did to the other churches. This church was all done, and their time was all gone. He went on to say that he still offered fellowship with any individual believer who would allow Him into their daily life (Revelation 3:20)…but he made no offer to that church as a group. It was being terminated. No one lost their salvation, but that particular local church had lost its position as the channel of God’s blessing, and the holder of God’s light (hence the “candlestick” reference.)

Paul points out that the danger of being removed from service is still real, for every believer. In another passage he stated that he was afraid of becoming a castaway—shipwrecked. (1st Corinthians 9:27). He was not fearful of losing his salvation, but losing his job. Remember that Balaam was a real prophet. He had a real relationship with God, and was a real mouthpiece for God. God spoke through him, and, up to a point, Balaam had been the channel of God’s truth. But Balaam sold out, (Numbers 24, 31) and lost his job, as well as his life; Sad, but true.  And we have seen many examples in our day of people who had once had a valid ministry, but through sin and self-will, they lost their testimony and shamed the Lord, as well. This was Paul’s fear, and it ought to be ours.

For the moment, the majority of Israel is blind to the truth of God, though there are always some who believe. There are thousands of Christian Jews in the world today, and they are a terrific blessing, as a rule, adding perspective to the understanding of the Old Testament, especially, that we, as Gentile believers, would normally miss. The time is coming, however, when Israel as a nation will be grafted back into the root, as the channel of God’s blessing to the world. By that time, the true church will be complete…the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in. At that time, the tribulation will be over, and the remnant of Israel (all believing Jews) will all be in God’s service again, and all will be the channels of His blessing, as He intended. Thus, “All Israel will be saved.”

V. 26-32 The Future of Israel

26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.

29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:

31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
This verse, stating that “all Israel shall be saved”, like many passages, is frequently misunderstood. On the one hand there are those who take it as a lump, blanket-clause promise stating that all Jews are automatically saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some of the worst enemies of the Gospel have historically come from the Jews. Who were the real enemies of Jesus when he walked this earth? The Jewish leaders! The Romans didn’t particularly care about him. But the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the rulers of the Temple, the high priest and his followers all wanted Him dead. John the Baptist warned them of hell-fire to come. He said that they would be baptized with fire. He explained that the “chaff shall be burned with unquenchable fire”. He made no bones about it: though they were Jews, and the chief of the leaders, they were not only not thereby automatically saved, but were in direct danger of eternal punishment…they were headed for Hell (So much for all Jews being saved.)

The other ditch on this particular road is to deny this verse entirely, and teach that God has permanently cast Israel aside, and will not fulfill His eternal promise to Abraham. Such teachers claim that, on the basis of Romans chapter four, where it says that the inheritors of Abraham’s blessing are those who believe, that the Church has entirely supplanted Israel, and is now the possessors of the promise. (Sorry to disappoint those who teach this, but Romans Eleven is a specific warning against that idea.) God says that we are a temporary replacement, and only in terms of service and blessing. The nation of Israel will definitely be “grafted back in” to the root of Abraham, and will take their eternal place as the nation of God.

One good point we don’t want to miss, here, (verse 29) is the fact that God does not change his mind about His gifts. Think again of Samson: God used him after his disobedience and foolishness, in very similar manner to the way he had used him earlier—he gave him great strength. God did not remove the gift, but simply set Samson aside for a “timeout”. Israel is also in such a “timeout”. The promise is still good…but they don’t have it at the moment.

They were only reduced to the current state in order to allow the mercy of God to extend to all. Romans 3 states that the “whole world was guilty before God.” And here, in verse 32, He states that the result is that He can offer the same Mercy to all. Someone has said, “The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.” I like that saying. The point is that “…there is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

We tend to struggle with this whole passage. Questions are posed for which we would like to demand an answer, but for which we will have to wait on God’s timing. God’s Wisdom is so completely beyond ours that it is truly “unsearchable”, and His ways are truly “past finding out.”

Consider the plight of a child who has a physical ailment…a sore throat, let’s say: his parents take him to a doctor (possibly frightening in itself, but maybe not—his parents are there.) Then that nasty doctor sticks a swab down the child’s throat, and takes a culture, to see what is causing the sore throat. The child gags, and struggles; but his father holds him, and comforts him, though not allowing him to escape the procedure. The culture comes back positive for streptococcus bacteria, and the fever is high enough to demand a decisive treatment. An injection of penicillin is prescribed. (Now, I realize medical science is constantly changing, and possibly nowadays they don’t do this. But—I speak from experience—let me tell you! They did it this way when I was a child!)

So the child’s backside is bared, and cleaned with alcohol, and, while the father holds the child, that needle is jabbed into the muscle of his little rump, and the penicillin is injected to do its good work. What part of the whole experience is pleasant for the child? None of it! What portion can he understand? Only the fact that it is his father’s will. Does he question that wisdom? Yes! But that does not render the wisdom of the father invalid; it only reflects the immaturity and ignorance of the child. Please keep this in mind when you are tempted to question God.

34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?

35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

Does God need my advice? Nope. Does he get it? Oh, yeah…frequently! And, unless it happens to coincide with His eternal wisdom, it is kindly and wisely ignored. God doesn’t need us; we need him. The whole world is his creation and handiwork; it all emanated from Him, as the creator, it all is ultimately returning to his eternal dominion, one way or another, and all will eventually be to His glory. He certainly does not need my advice. I need His.

Conclusion:

We can take the experience of Israel as both a warning and a learning opportunity: While I cannot lose my salvation, I can definitely be “set on the shelf” in terms of service. If I want my life to bear fruit, and have eternal value, I need to be daily seeking God’s direction, and doing things his way. Israel is definitely still on God’s agenda, but there have been thousands of wasted years, that were not necessary. Jesus wept over their lost opportunity, but still claims them as His own. We can be both warned and encouraged by their example.

Lord Jesus, grant us the wisdom to seek out and obey your will in our lives. Give us your love and compassion for Israel, but let us also learn from their experience. Make us the ambassadors you have chosen us to be.

 

 


Why is “Law vs. Grace” such an issue?

Why the “Flap” over Law versus Grace?

© C. O. Bishop 3/28/15 THCF 3/29/15

Galatians 4:1-18

Introduction:

We have worked through three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, so far: while the first couple of chapters deal a lot with his credentials as an apostle, the central doctrinal theme began in the sixth verse of the first chapter and has been interwoven through the whole book, so far….and he isn’t done talking about it yet. The issue has been the trap of legalism.

We may wonder why it is such an important issue with Paul…but, remember that this is God’s Word, speaking through Paul: we must conclude that it is important to God, as well.

One way to look at it is that it is a “Counterfeit Gospel”. Counterfeiting in general is a fascinating subject on a human level, as so much creativity and intelligence has been poured into it that it actually seems clever, and relatively harmless. But the reality is that money, stamps, designer shoes, etc. are all valuable not because of intrinsic worth, alone, but because of what they represent.  Even a tool may carry a brand that inspires confidence in its quality and durability. If the buyer discovers that he has been cheated, and that his new equipment is not associated with the brand it boasts, he is justifiably angry. No one comforts him, saying, “Oh, well, the one you have is probably just as good!” The point is that it is not the real thing, and the buyer has been tricked and cheated. It also causes others to look at all tools of that brand with a bit of suspicion, thinking “How do I know it is real?”

If the counterfeited item is a ticket to attend a concert by a famous artist, and, at the door, you find that it is counterfeit, then you have not only lost your money; you have lost your only hope to hear that musician, as it is too late to go find a genuine ticket and buy it.

All counterfeiting constitutes a threat to the perceived value of the original item, as well as the ultimate loss of the one left holding the counterfeit. During World War Two, the Nazi regime had produced plates with which to make counterfeits of the major Allied countries’ money. They planned to flood the Allied countries with counterfeit money and collapse their economies. And it could easily have worked, had it actually been carried out.

In the US, today, it is not only illegal to make counterfeit money; it is illegal to own it. So, even if you received counterfeit money in good faith as payment for goods or services, when you attempt to use that “money”, not knowing it is counterfeit, you can potentially be in trouble. But if you realize it is counterfeit, and try to keep it as a “collector’s item” you can actually be prosecuted for knowingly keeping counterfeit money. There are some striking parallels between counterfeit money and a false Gospel.

So, What about a Counterfeit Gospel?

Clear back in Galatians 1:6-9, Paul made it clear that a counterfeit Gospel of any sort was serious business, and cursed by God. Here’s why:

  1. This divergence of trust (Law versus Grace and Self-justification versus Divine Justification) has been the issue from the very beginning. Adam and Eve blamed someone else for their sins. Cain brought the works of the flesh in place of a blood sacrifice for sin. This is not just an issue—it is perhaps the primary
  2. A person who places even “supplemental faith” in works of the Law, either to save or to keep them, displays to those around them a pattern of legalism that is attractive to some people, because they think, “I can do that!” (And the truth is, they can…at least as well as any other sinner!) So, even if this person had already been saved by faith in Christ, they are leading others astray, and helping keep people away from Christ.
  3. A person left “holding the bag” is just as lost as if they had rejected Christ out of hand…a false Gospel cannot save us. Placing my faith in a life-jacket or other flotation device that will ultimately become waterlogged and sink is simply suicide.

So, let’s move on into chapter four and see how God explains the real purpose of the Law, and why, when misused, it is so dangerous to us.

Galatians Chapter 4

1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child (infant), differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord (kurios—master) of all;

2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

We do not share the cultural pattern of ancient Rome: we have no slaves, everyone is raised by their parents or guardians, with few exceptions, and civil law dictates at what point a person is considered to have attained majority. The law of our land determines, state by state, the age at which a person can marry, drive, consume alcohol, or serve in the armed forces.  But in Roman society a son had to be publicly recognized by his father as the heir of a household. This was called “huiothesis”—the “placement of a son”. The word is translated “adoption” in English New Testaments, but it is utterly different than our use of the word “adoption”.

Adoption

In our culture it always means legally taking responsibility of one who is not your child, and giving them the privileges of being your child. In Roman culture it always meant taking someone who is your progeny, your offspring, and announcing to the world that he is your heir.

In our culture, an adopted child will never take on the characteristics of the adoptive parents because they are not genetically related. In Biblical adoption, the child had better demonstrate the characteristics of the Father, as God says “his seed remains in you”. You are literally his child, and only waiting to gain full adulthood with your new body. He says that by means of the promises of Scripture, applied by faith, we do become partakers of the Divine Nature. That would not be possible had we not already been born again by faith. But the nature of God is to become an increasingly visible and solid reality in our lives through the application of God’s Word.

So we have a hard time understanding this passage, especially in light of the fact that over in Romans 8:23 Paul states that the final adoption of sons will occur at the redemption of our bodies…and not before. The whole world is groaning together; and we with it, waiting for that release from the curse. Both Galatians 4 and Romans 8 state that we are now the sons (huioi) of God. Both make it clear that until we attain majority, we are children, and under taskmasters. But in Galatians the “paidagogon” is the Law…and no child of God is under the Law, in the Church age. The Law can serve as a mirror to show us our sin, but it cannot cleanse us. Grace cleanses us. This is why David pleaded “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me!”

It seems that positionally we are now sons of God, but that as long as we still possess our sin nature we are conditionally “children” (teknon –born ones), and not “sons” in the truest sense. For instance Romans 8:14 says, “As many are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God.” The logical question at that point would have to be, “Is there ever a time in a Christian’s life when they are not led by the Spirit of God?” And, to that, the honest response is “YES!” Why? Because we still have an old sin nature. And when we sin, we are not being led by the Spirit of God. If you are sin-free, then you can say you no longer have a sin nature. But 1st John 1:8 says, “If we (believers) say that we have no sin, then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” You can talk this one over with God…I can’t add to His statement.

What’s the Problem with the Law?

So what harm can the Law do? It was certainly given for a good cause.

3 Even so we, when we were children (nepioi…infants), were in bondage under the elements of the world:

4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

This in reference to the Jews who had been under the Law; the Gentiles never were under the Law, and never will be in the Church age. (Notice the use of the pronoun “we” in this and similar passages.) The unbelieving Gentiles died under God’s judgment, apart from the Law. The Jews died under the judgment of the Law. We were lost for the same reason (Original Sin) and saved by the same Messiah.

6 And because ye ARE sons (huioi), God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

In this verse, Paul switches back to the 2nd person plural pronoun “ye”. He is back to addressing the Gentile church, and he says that they are already sons (heirs), and indwelt by the Holy Spirit as a seal of their position in Christ.

7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Paul’s Concerns

Paul underscores the change in the believers’ position, because he is building up to a point regarding their behavior. They are NOT just servants anymore (although he himself elsewhere calls himself a “doulos”—bondservant.) They are literally God’s children, and specifically children named as heirs. Paul is about to point out the inconsistency with which they are behaving. Notice again that the things he points out were specifically true of Gentile believers.

8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. (idols)

9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?

10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

Paul says that these Gentile believers had escaped from the slavery of idolatry, and have been born again as children of the living God—known and accepted by God—so why in the world are they willingly becoming slaves again to outward symbolic behavior?

The Law was completely foreign to them as unbelievers and through Christ they were set free from their slavery to sin. But now, because of some ritualistic, legalistic strangers, they are entering again into slavery just as destructive as that from which they had escaped. Paul is completely baffled by their willingness to take on this bondage, when they so recently had escaped their original bondage.

11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Paul says, “I’m beginning to think I wasted my time working there among you!” He is not questioning their salvation so much as pointing out that the practical outworking of their faith should have been continuing freedom, worship and holiness, by the Holy Spirit and by faith, not by compliance to law. Instead, they have extinguished the light of Grace in their lives and have embraced a system of belief that had already been proven powerless to save, powerless to heal, powerless to cleanse, and powerless to give life.

12 Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.

Paul reminds the Galatian believers that he is cut out of the same material that they are—and yet he is living the reality of his freedom in Christ. He begs them to join him in his freedom, and his walk with Christ.

13 Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.

14 And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

15 Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

Paul reminds them of the circumstances under which they had originally met him. In the first place, as we read through the record in the book of Acts, he had come to them after having been savagely beaten-up in another province. In the second place, apparently he had a disease of the eyes, either caused by injury in the beatings, or by infection of some sort. He was not physically attractive when he arrived, but he brought he message of Salvation and they had received him joyfully, and had loved him for the sake of the message, and the hope he had given them.

But now, because of the backbiting deception of the Judaizers, they were viewing him with suspicion, as if, rather than being God’s Apostle to the Gentiles (as he really was), he himself was the false teacher, and the Judaizers the true. That is why, back in chapter 3, he had challenged their thinking, asking, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by the hearing of Faith?” You see, these believers had received the Holy Spirit before the Judaizers ever arrived. Paul had introduced them to the real, living Christ.

Who are the Real Enemies?

16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

Paul is reminding them of who he is to them, and asking “Why have you turned against me?  I have only given you the truth, from the beginning.” The truth is not always sweet-sounding words. It has the same character as light—it simply reveals what is real—it reveals what reality is, not attempting to make it into that which is not. If that is what we really want, then we have to welcome the bad news of truth, as well as the good news.

17 They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.

The NASB reads “They eagerly seek you, but not commendably, but they wish to shut you out that you may seek them.” I actually had this happen at work once: There was a fellow who claimed to be a believer, but never went to church, never read his Bible, etc. One day he came to me and asked, “Do you study the Didache?”(pronounced “DID-ah-kay”) I said, “I don’t even know what it is.” He gave me a smug, superior smile and turned away, saying “I expected you wouldn’t know….” I walked after him a few feet, asking how it was spelled, and he spelled it for me. I told him that I had seen it in print, but had not known how it was pronounced. He gave me some small bit of information about the document in question, implying that it was an important part of scripture that had been “left out” by those who compiled the canon. He acted as though he possessed some secret, desirable information that God had kept back from me. (That sounds very familiar—it is nearly exactly what the serpent–our ultimate enemy– told Eve.)

So, I went and looked the thing up on the internet, and found there were a few different versions of it, but that it was only one of the many “pseudepigraphal” (false-scripture) writings, and that, conveniently, the entire text could be downloaded in English, and printed. So I did, and skimmed through it to see if there were any definite departures from Biblical truth. I quickly found that it taught works-based salvation, to be earned; by that I could easily reject it as false. (No need for a scholarly opinion by a seminarian; we compare it to God’s written Word.) I took the printed copy back to the man who had challenged me and gave it to him, showing him the portions that were clearly false teaching. As we spoke, it became obvious that he had really never seen a copy of it before; he knew nothing about it. Then I knew that his whole play had simply been an effort to position me as an “outsider”, and claim to have special knowledge. When it turned out he had no special knowledge, and that the knowledge he had claimed to have was false anyway, he seemed quite deflated. He never mentioned it again.

18 But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.

It seems that, as in the above verse, the issue was what they were seeking, and where. The Judaizers wanted the Gentile believers to seek God (or, in reality, seek the Law) through the Judaizers. They wanted to gain followers.

Paul says it’s a good thing to seek good things…and not only when Paul is personally there to stir them up. He says that they should be continually seeking the things of God in his absence as well as when he was there…but that the people who were subverting them were not seeking their best at all. They just “looked good.”

The cults today may look pretty good, too, and some of them advertise heavily. But, universally:

  1. They deny the full deity of Christ,
  2. They deny that His blood can fully eradicate our sin-debt and
  3. They deny the inerrancy of His Word.

They claim to teach the Bible, but deny its central figure: the Biblical Christ—the Messiah. We must realize that not all teachers point us to Christ. Prior to the Cross, Judaism did point people to Christ. After the Cross, by those who persisted in the form of it, it pointed people away from Christ, as they denied his person and work.

The Old Testament definitely points people to Christ. But those who teach the Old Testament in exclusion of the New Testament are excluding the person of Christ, and so excluding the God of the Old Testament as well, because they are the same God, separated only by the mystery of the Trinity. It is good to remember what Jesus said in John 5:23 “…That all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father who sent him.” If someone claims to believe in Christ, but does not offer him the same honor as the Father, then they are missing the mark. They do not believe in the Christ of the Bible, but some lesser figure, the product of their own imagination or (possibly) a simple doctrinal error.

In the case of these false teachers, Paul offered no excuse on their behalf: He said they were under a curse from God. We think that is too harsh…but it is because we do not understand the Holiness of God. He utterly rejects Sin as a whole, while, by Grace through faith, He continues freely redeeming both its victims and its practitioners.

A Counterfeit Gospel comes from your Enemy

We need to be aware that counterfeit holiness looks superficially like genuine holiness, but the motive is completely different, and it is exposed when you see how the individual responds to other people. Genuine holiness is rooted in a genuine love for the Savior and results in a genuine love of one’s neighbor, regardless of circumstances.  Counterfeit holiness is rooted in self and results in pious, but self-serving relations with others. Ultimately, far from drawing a person to Christ, it separates the practitioners from God.

The Real Gospel Comes From God

Soak in the real Gospel. Spend time meditating on the depth of God’s Word. Just as a bank teller studies the genuine currency in order to recognize counterfeitr bills, study the genuine Word of God, in order to recognize counterfeits.

Let us maintain the freedom of Grace, and seek to see the Love of God and the Fruit of the Spirit worked out in our everyday lives. Let us be sure that the message we portray to others is the Grace of God, not our personal piety, nor a system of “good works”. We do not believe in a “Counterfeit Gospel”—let’s live in such a way as to show (and share) the real Gospel.