Posts Tagged ‘judgment’

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 4

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 4

After the Flood

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Introduction: The Aftermath of the Flood

In Genesis 6:5-7 we see that God watched the world become increasingly filled with wickedness and violence. He made an all-inclusive statement in verse 5: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” What a stunning statement, coming from the God of the Universe! This is the Creator: all-knowing, all-wise, and all gracious, utterly condemning the human race, as only evil, and utterly wicked. We may think that this only referred to the human race prior to the flood, but there are other passages, statements made after the flood, that are similar in the wholesale condemnation of the human race. What are we going to do with those statements? And, on a personal level, are we going to admit that we ourselves are part of that condemned and fallen race, and that we, too, are in need of a savior?

We look around us at the ruinous state of some areas of the world, and, in sober moments, we realize that our own culture is only marginally separated from such things…that we could easily fall into that sort of corruption and evil. That perhaps the only thing that has preserved western culture against utter degradation, is the presence of the Person of Christ, central in our beliefs. And, as we watch, He is being excised from every facet of our western lives as if He were the source of the evil, instead of our only guard against it.

Let’s look, then and see what we can learn from the time of the flood, before and after:

Before the Flood

Remember, we saw that the land mass was one giant, fairly flat continent, with no divisions in terms of mountain ranges, or water barriers…no seaways to cross. All the land was accessible to every human and every animal. And, as we read through the genealogies between Adam and Noah, paying close attention to when each patriarch was born and when he died, we can see that the last patriarch to have been born during the lifespan of Adam was Lamech, who was 57 or so when Adam died. Noah was born 125 years after the death of Adam. All of them up until (and including) Lamech, could have known Adam personally, if they chose to do so. Methuselah’s life overlapped that of Adam by 240 years. Even if they never met until Methuselah was 100 years old, he would have had 140 years in which to absorb whatever Adam had to relate about the Fall, and of the few days after the creation before he and Eve were expelled from the Garden.

Every bit of Lamech’s life overlapped that of Methuselah…and the first 600 years of Noah’s life overlapped that of Methuselah. This is not what one would call “hearsay” evidence, nor is it just a “word-of-mouth” type thing. Adam was an eye-witness, and both Methuselah and Lamech knew him (or could have known him), personally, and Noah was well acquainted with both of them. This is a very short line of “tradition,” and very tightly connected. The final point is, as we read in the New Testament, that both Jesus and his apostles treated the account of the flood as fact, not allegory, or mythology. With that background, then, consider what God said about Man: that “every imagination of the thoughts of His heart is only evil continually! This is really what God said about the Human Race. And it is why he destroyed the whole race, to start fresh.

After the Flood

After five months, the ark was sitting on the top of a mountain, in a place now called Ararat. Evidently the earth’s crust was already beginning to fold, as that area is quite high, today (over 12,000’), whereas, before the flood, there were no real mountains; but, by the end of the flood there were at least some that are now recognized as real mountains. The obvious answer is that the crust was moving and folding during and after the flood. After ten months, mountains were protruding from the waters.

Noah could not see out onto the landscape, and it was almost a year before he even opened the one upward-pointing window and released a raven. The raven stayed out, flying around until the waters were dried up. He also sent out a dove, to see whether the land was dry. But the dove could not find a clean place to perch, and eventually came back to the ark, so Noah reached out and brought her back inside. (Just an interesting note: Ravens are scavengers, and the raven was probably quite content to be out in the ravaged world. Perhaps it was finding carcasses, still floating, and putrid: Prime raven food! Mud and filth were not a bad thing to the raven.)

A week later, Noah sent the dove out again. This time she brought back a leaf of an olive tree, showing Noah that things were drying up. He waited another week and sent her out, and she didn’t come back. It was a total of one year and seventeen days that Noah, and his family and the rest of the animals had been in the Ark. Then God told them they could come out, they and the animals. They were to breed abundantly, and fill the earth.

Noah built an altar to God, and sacrificed that “seventh individual” of every clean animal (those acceptable for sacrifice, and, later, for food, under the Law, still far in the future.)

God promised that he would never again destroy the world with a flood. He promised that when rain came it would always cease, and that the rainbow would be the emblem of His promise. The people started fresh with some new directives: They were free to eat meat, but not with the blood. And human life was sacred: whoever (or whatever animal) killed a human, was to be killed in turn, because humans were created in the image of God. Human Government was established.

So God was “starting over, fresh.” But he was not starting with people who were not sinners: God said (after the flood) “…the imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth;” This was when there were only eight people alive! And later, even when all the survivors knew him, they soon forgot who He was, and abandoned any attempt to walk with Him. They immediately leaned toward self-reliance, and ignored his directives.

Shortened Lifespan

We have several paragraphs of genealogies leading to Abram. The only thing I would like to point out about this genealogy is the diminishing lifespan with each new generation. Noah was six hundred years old when he boarded the ark. He died at 950 years of age. His son, Shem, was only 98 when he got off the ark, and two years later had a son. Shem lived 600 years and died. His son, Arphaxad, lived a mere 438 years. Shem’s grandson, Salah, only lived 433 years…and so it went. Peleg, a couple generations down, only made it to 239. His grandson Serug only lived 230 years. His son Nahor only lived to 148. But Nahor’s son Terah made it to 205. (That was Abraham’s Dad, by the way.) Abraham, the Friend of God, eight generations, or so, removed from the flood, only lived 175 years. His son Isaac lived 180 years, but the numbers, in general, were dropping rapidly. Later we find that 70 became the recognized norm, and that 80 was possible if you were in good shape, but that those last years might be hard years. Why the change?

Remember when we read that it didn’t rain, before the flood, but a mist came up and watered the earth? And later, we saw that the “windows of heaven were opened”, at the flood? It is conjectured that there was a water envelope, or canopy, that protected the inhabitants of the earth from harmful radiation. This is supported in Genesis 1:6-8, where God created an expanse (“firmament,” in KJV) between the waters—separating the water above the expanse from the waters below…and he called that expanse “sky”—(heaven in KJV.) What is above the sky? That is to say, what is above our atmosphere? Today there is the apparently limitless expanse of space. Evidently at that time, there was water out there, too. It’s something to think about.

That water canopy was removed in the process of the flood, and people’s aging process became much more rapid. We can’t prove that this is true, but it seems to make sense…especially since, during the Millennial Kingdom, people will once again live for around 1000 years. There is no terribly important doctrine, here, perhaps, but it is certainly interesting.

Bear in mind, as we read of these various judgments, that the “Judge of all the Earth” is unquestionably Christ himself.  We sometimes get the idea that the Judge is this “terrible Old Testament” figure, and that Jesus came as a Savior, to save us from His wrath. In John 5:22, Jesus stated that “…The Father judgeth no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son….” Jesus is the Judge, and the amazing truth is that the Judge, himself, stepped down to die in our place, as the full payment for our sins. Confusing? Yep. But true, and it is supported by the whole of scripture. But in the middle of the genealogy, a brief comment was made; that the earth became divided. And the word for “earth”, here, always means the land, not the people.

The Beginning of Continental Drift

So we see, not only a world destroyed by flood, but the foundations laid for a divided land mass and the eventual continental drift. That must have been quite a sight—but the only record we have is the simple statement that it happened. God had more important things to address: things that affected human history even more than the division of the land.

I do find it relevant to note that the land mass began to break up in Genesis 10:25, and that the motive for building the tower of Babel, in Genesis 11:4, was specifically so that the human race would not be scattered. Peleg was born 101 years after the flood (see Genesis 11:10-16), and God says he was named Peleg (“division”) because in his days the earth was divided. So, either the earth was beginning to break up about the time he was born, or this was prophetic as to what was about to happen, during his lifetime (he lived to be 239 years old.) Either way, apparently the people could see that the continent was fragmenting, and, that, unless they did something to keep people together, they might soon be unable to reach one another, as the land mass was drifting apart in several directions. The blessing of God had included what seemed to be an assignment to multiply on the whole earth, so this passion to keep them all together may have been a problem all by itself. But the means by which they chose to try it was really a bad thing.

Division of Languages

The next thing God relates was the descent of man into false religion; and the subsequent division of the nations and families of the earth, as a judgment from God. We see in Genesis 11 that people gathered in a plain of a land called Shinar. There they built a city (now called Babylon, by the way) with a tower whose top was to be “in the heavens”—in the sky. They were building the first skyscraper, it seems. (So what is wrong with that? We have lots of them today.)

The particular type of tower they were building is called a “ziggurat”. It was specifically used as an observatory for astrology, and whatever other religious purposes, possibly including sacrifices. (The ones in South America, square-topped, stepped pyramids, are similar to the ones in Babylon, and they were used for human sacrifice.) But, regardless of their use, the stated intent was that they should not be “scattered abroad on the face of the earth”. God had told Noah that the people were to “replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1)…probably that did not include “grouping up in one population center.” At any rate, God said that, collectively, if they were not scattered, there was no limit to what they might do. He apparently did not mean it in a good way. The mischief they might work is evidently what he was concerned about, and what he proposed to do about it just reveals his unimaginable power and wisdom.

It is interesting, too, that he stated his intent in the plural: “Let US go down, and confound their language that they might not understand one another’s speech”. He really did a great job of it! I have no idea how many people were there the day he chose to do his work, but today we have in excess of 6,500 known languages—closer to 7,000. What mass confusion must have ruled, the next morning, when, perhaps by families, the entire great city was filled with frightened people who could no longer communicate with one another! At any rate, God says they “abandoned the project.” (I love God’s use of understatement!) So they named the place Babel: “Confusion.”

And where did they go, to escape the madness all around them?  They fled from the “bedlam in Babel”, and scattered across the rapidly fragmenting continent, and, in some cases, apparently found themselves completely isolated. Scientists have concluded, through computer modelling of continental drift, that there was originally just one continent. But they assumed, for their model, that the drift had always been at a rate comparable to that which is observable today. Why would that be likely? Every other motion, except falling, tends to lose momentum, and slow down. So, very possibly, the initial movement was rapid enough to be alarming to everyone, and make them want to move to safer places.

The plain of Shinar had seemed safe, but God chased them out of there, and they were literally scattered across the land…and they rode those drifting land masses away, in some cases. Researchers have discovered recently, for instance, that what is now the United Kingdom was once a peninsula, and that there are ruins of towns, beneath the North Sea, where it was once dry land. Divers and other researchers, today, are trying to learn more about these civilizations.

We can only speculate how it all may have happened: Some, such as the Phoenicians, became seafarers, and they may have made travel between those drifting plates a regular thing.

But eventually, the plates were too far apart, and such voyages weren’t practical or common. Perhaps this is where legends such as “Atlantis” had their origin. Perhaps the “lost continent” did not actually sink, but simply moved too far away. Modern attempts to recreate such voyages have proven that the ancient sailors were pretty adept, and that they very likely crossed both major oceans regularly, as far back as 1000 years ago, and more, though it was a hard trip. Some of these ideas are, by necessity, the product of some speculation. But the evidence is limited for any conclusion, and, if I begin with the assumption that God is telling the truth about the flood (and everything else), then the evidence seems to point this way. That might explain the pyramids in South America, as well. We will likely never know for sure.

Conclusion:

What can we do with this information? All we know for sure is that the world is a great deal younger than the people of the world would have us believe: and that humans witnessed the break-up of the super-continent! Today we find earthquakes, avalanches, landslides and sinkholes both terrifying and fascinating: How much more, to watch the whole continent fracture, and the ocean sweep into the breach, roaring, foaming, and carrying away rubble and sand and trees? Possibly hot magma came welling up through the fractures as well, and steam and smoke boiled up to fill the sky, as the hot rock was submerged in seawater. People watched this happen!

The God with whom we are attempting to become better acquainted caused all this change, the division of the land, and the scrambling of the languages. He caused the physical and linguistic fractures, to avoid the spiritual depravity that was otherwise imminent. It was Grace, once again, and Wisdom and Compassion. Separation was, quite literally, for our own good!

We don’t always like the things God does (or allows) in our lives. We need to accept, by faith, the sovereignty of God, and, knowing both His goodness and His Wisdom, to trust that the things that happen are also for good. Remember that Jesus is both Judge and Savior!

Lord Jesus, inspire in us a trust of your character, your sovereign authority and your compassionate Wisdom. Help us to turn to you in faith, every day, for our sustenance and safety, with guidance for service. Make us an honor to your Name.


Closing Notes from Hebrews

Closing Notes from Hebrews

© C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 13:17-25

Introduction:

We are at the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and there are just a few, seemingly unrelated verses, left, as the writer gives his closing thoughts. He gives final instructions as to their response to church leadership, and then makes a personal request for prayer, as well as giving a closing prayer for his readers. Lastly, it is his greeting to the believers, and his benediction to all.

What about Church Leadership?

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

This is specifically in reference to the leadership of the church. We could apply it to civil government, as we are also commanded to be in subjection to the civil authorities, but this specifically says “they watch for your souls”…and that is simply not true of the civil authorities. An unbelieving governor, if called to accounts by God, could not give account with joy, no matter what he had done, as he is still an enemy of God, just as we were, before we were saved.

Civil leaders have been chosen by a variety of means, down through history. Some simply seized power, and ruled by force. Some were chosen by popular acclaim, either by an organized election, or by mob popularity. (You may recall that the crowd tried that with Jesus, once…they wanted to take him by force and make him king. What an odd idea!) Some simply accepted the burden of government because it had to be done, and there was no one else available who was qualified. I believe that a few of our early American statesmen were possibly in that category.

Regardless of how a civil leader is chosen, as an unbeliever, they would not fit this verse. This is talking about church leaders. Church leaders, too, have been chosen by a wide range of means, and, sadly, pretty much exactly the same means by which civil leaders have come into power. Some wanted the job because of ambition: they enjoyed being the center of attention, or wanted to wield authority over others in some way. Jesus described those, in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. Some were simply lazy, and they chose it as a “clean” profession, where they could earn a living without doing much work. God describes bad shepherds of another sort, in Ezekiel 34, saying that they used the flock to feed themselves, but did not feed the flock as they were sent to do. This actually covers a lot of the different “bad shepherd” types.

Qualifications for Church Leadership:

I’m not going to go into the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in any depth, this morning, as we have taught them before, not too long ago, but God clearly gives us the qualifications of church leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, 1st Peter 5:1-5, and other passages. You can read those on your own. They all have to do with proven character, demonstrated maturity and, in one case, (teaching) recognizable gifting.

God describes the job itself, with its responsibilities, in Ezekiel 34, as well as in Acts 20:28. If a church ignores any of this, and either appoints leaders who are not qualified, or those who will not carry out the responsibilities, then disaster surely awaits. Actually, if a man is not willing to carry out the responsibilities of leadership, then he also is not qualified, as that is the first qualification, in 1st Timothy 3:1. So, what is the job description for elders?

Job Description for Church Leaders:

What does the Scripture say about Shepherds? Looking at the whole of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear:

1. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator is around—and the greatest, deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. Even apart from the issue of predators, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).

This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34). We need the Shepherd.

2. God has assigned human shepherds. These shepherds are “sheep”, themselves, as well. But they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility.

3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

  • Ezekiel 34:1-16 says the shepherds are to:
    • Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
    • Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement to change self-destructive patterns.)
    • Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel.)
    • Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting Forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those wounds.)
    • Seek out and bring back those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, unable to bear the stress of being around the one who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply were angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
    • Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden)
    • Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)
  • Acts 20:17, 28-30: the elders (17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger from the Enemy,
    • Guard the whole flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
    • ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), (actually, ‘shepherd’ the flock: the Greek word is poimainein)
    • Be overseers. (Greek episkopos)
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 says that elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Feed the flock (KJV): (here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate—“shepherd”)
    • Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer)
    • Do so willingly, not grudgingly
    • Not for the sake of money
    • Not lording it over the flock, but
    • Leading by example,
    • Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd”) at His coming, for faithful service.

4. Shepherds face Judgment: Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, Judgment is coming, in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 both address this issue as well. Revelation 3:14-16 tells the long range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God closes it down.

5.  Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds: These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. We will discuss these again at a later date. If you want to read them ahead of time, they are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and 1st Peter 5:1-3.

6. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd—perhaps one could say, the only true shepherd (John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.

Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that is a scriptural viewpoint. I also believe that unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are doomed to failure.

Following Church Leaders:

On the other hand, having good leadership and following those leaders are clearly separate concepts. In this passage, the writer assumes that the recipients of the letter do have good leaders, and he is exhorting them to respond to those leaders appropriately. The word translated “obey” is the Greek word, “Peithesthe”, from “Peitho”, meaning “to be persuaded”. We are always to search the scriptures, and to be sure that we are being led appropriately, but the ultimate question will be regarding our response to  appropriate leadership, not whether we “like” the leader.

Any elder of a church, who has faithfully labored in the Word, and poured himself out in teaching, and has consistently offered good counsel from God’s Word, would be grieved to see a flock behaving badly. He takes personal responsibility for their waywardness, though he has tried to turn them from it. Jeremiah wept over Israel, though he had faithfully warned them against their rebellion. It is instructive to note that, when the chips were down, so to speak, and he had the opportunity to leave them behind, with the blessing and support of the conquerors, he chose to stay with Israel and to continue his ministry, as frustrating and unfruitful as it had been. I think of Jeremiah a lot, whenever I feel discouraged. He was utterly faithful and had the least “fruitful” ministry of any of the Major Prophets. But he stayed on the job!

The writer is here asking us to not respond to God’s leading through the elders, in the same manner as Israel did to God’s Word through Jeremiah. They told him they wanted to hear what God had to say to them. He warned that they would not like what he had to say, and that they would not obey God, in any case. They protested that they would obey, and insisted that he speak what God told him. So he did…and they immediately rebelled, and did the opposite of what God commanded. God is asking us to not respond in that way.

We can see in Acts 17:11 that God approves a response that includes “searching the scriptures to see if the teaching is accurate and appropriate.” But in all the scriptures, we see that the response God ultimately expects is that we allow Him to change our hearts, as we submit ourselves to His Word and His Will. Did it come through someone you don’t really like to listen to? Too bad! Paul was repugnant to many who heard him, but God definitely sent him to preach and teach, and to lay the foundation for faith. Those who responded well, eventually learned to appreciate him for who he was. I have had teachers who, initially, I found hard to listen to. But they were completely faithful to God’s Word, and I grew to appreciate them for their faithfulness and the blessing they were to the church.

Knowing that the elders will be held accountable, and that we are also held accountable for our response, we need to pray for the leaders, and respond well to them, too.

Closing Requests and Blessings

18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
19 But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

I don’t know what was going on in the writer’s life that he should write such words…if it really was Paul (and I think it was), then it seems to make a kind of sense, as, several times, during his ministry, he was in bonds, one way or another, accused of things he had not done. Perhaps this was one of those times: it sounds as though it might have been. But he asked for prayer that he might be released sooner, as be able to rejoin the other believers.

20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The writer’s prayer for the recipients, is that God would continue to perfect them so that their lives would be a continual honor to God. He reminds them of the source of their blessing, and the fact that Jesus himself is our great shepherd, as well as the fact that he has been physically, literally raised from the dead. But the bottom line is that our lives should be to his glory as well.

22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.

The Writer begs them to receive this letter of encouragement properly. (It seems an odd thing, however, to see that the Writer considered this to be a short letter.)

23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.

Timothy was one of Paul’s close companions…which also gives me to believe that Paul was the writer. Evidently Timothy had also been held, somewhere, but was set free already, and the writer hoped to meet with them all and with Timothy too.

24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

This closing is typical Pauline benediction. Notice that, whoever the recipients were, they were told to greet the leadership, as well as the other believers. All the letters to the church are just that: Letters to the Church! They are not, as a rule, to some sort of hierarchy of leaders, but to the believers themselves. This letter is to us. If you are a believer, it is to you.

Learn from it! Believe it! Study it! Make use of it in your life. Don’t just let it gather dust.

Allow God’s Grace to rule in your life.

Lord Jesus, make us able ministers of your Word, and faithful ambassadors of your Love and Grace. Help us to both lead and respond to leadership. To tach and be teachable. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.


What is Covered By The Mercy Seat?

What is Covered by the Mercy Seat?

© C. O. Bishop 7/18/17 THCF 7/30/17

Hebrews 9:1-10 Hebrews 4:16

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the epistle to the Hebrews. Last time, in chapter eight, we saw Jesus revealed as our true High Priest, and as the mediator of the New Covenant, which was originally promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Now the writer is discussing, in more particular detail, the reality of Jesus in the Tabernacle and the Temple. He begins by discussing what was physically in the Tabernacle, and what was in the Ark of the Covenant, and the significance of the Mercy Seat. So we will discuss those things in that order:

What was in the Tabernacle?

1Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.

For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.

And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;

The Tabernacle, proper, also called the “tent of meeting”, included two compartments, both of which were closed to the public. The outer sanctuary, wherein were the golden lampstand (or candlestick, in this passage), and the table of showbread, which was changed daily, was open to the general priesthood, for their service. The inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only open to the High Priest, and that only once a year. He entered in once a year, with a blood sacrifice for the nation of Israel, and to offer prayer for the nation.

Inside the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only am incense altar, for burning incense…no other kind of sacrifice or offering…and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant has been an object of mystery for thousands of years, but, in the matter of physical reality, it was simply a wooden box, approximately 27” x 27” x 45” long, and it was plated over with gold, with a solid gold lid that had images of cherubim on top, and with golden rings in the sides of the box, through which poles could be inserted by which to carry the box. That was it!

You can read the full description in Exodus 25:10-22. There are people today, who falsely claim to have built according to these directions and it turned out to be a radio transmitter (Erich Von Daniken, in his book, Chariots of the Gods) and others who simply claim that it generated electricity. These are all patently false claims, but they can only deceive those who fail to go read the instructions to Moses and see what the Ark of the Covenant really was. It was a BOX! Yes, it was gold-plated, etc., but it was still just a box! There were no wires: nothing that could generate any sort of physical power. The God who ordained it was the only power associated with that Box. When Uzzah touched the box, 400 years later, and was struck dead, he was struck dead by God, not electrocuted! Further, when Moses communicated with God, he did not need a radio, as Von Daniken claimed; and neither do you! God can hear you today, if you will talk to Him, just as He heard Moses 3,500 years ago in Egypt!

But, what was in the Ark of the Covenant?

Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;

The things in the ark, again, do not lend themselves to anything except symbolism. These three things were in the Ark of the Covenant, eventually:

  • A golden jar of Manna (reminding them of God’s faithful supply),
  • Aaron’s Rod that budded (reminding them of His promise of the resurrection), and
  • The two stone tables of God’s Law (declaring His Holiness, Righteousness and Justice.)

The recipients of all three (the Nation of Israel) had rejected all three in unbelief.

  • They had despised the Manna, saying they missed the leeks, onions, garlic, cucumbers and melons of Egypt, and they wanted meat, besides. They rejected the sustenance offered by God in every way, and they only desired to return to Egypt.
  • They had disregarded the promise of the resurrection, living for the pleasure of this world only (Just as Esau had done, 500 years earlier, and finally,
  • They had constantly disobeyed, defied and broken God’s Law; or at least only obeyed it at a surface level, and concerning matters in which obedience was relatively convenient. God’s Holiness was never central to their thinking, nor His Law central to their lives.

And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.

I really can’t tell you very much about the Cherubim…I have never seen a cherub, and the scriptures give no clear description. All I know is that they were the highest order among the angelic creation, and seem to have been “palace-guards,” of a sort. A cherub was placed to guard the way back to Eden so that Adam and Eve could not return there. Lucifer was originally a cherub, and was evidently the head of that group. We don’t know a great deal more about them.

The pure gold Mercy seat, itself, on the other hand, was both the “lid” to the box—the covering for all that was within—and, it was God’s throne on earth. Give this some thought: Why would God seat himself upon His Mercy, covering the things within the Ark of the Covenant? There is something truly significant about this: He was Seated (enthroned), upon Mercy, Covering the things pertaining to His relationship with Sinful Mankind. So, let’s talk about that:

God’s Mercy and the New Covenant

God’s rule on earth has to be based upon His Mercy. Lamentations 3:22 says, “It is of His mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”

And, His Mercy is what is needed to cover the ungodliness recorded by the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, itself. Remember: everything in the Ark, though they were emblems of God’s goodness, because they had been rejected by Man, were also emblems of our sin and perdition.

By the way, it is not only the Jews who have rejected God’s rule, his promise, and His supply. We Gentiles routinely spurn everything of God as well. We mock him in our literature and our movies and our jokes. We claim to be our own source of authority, the “captains of our own souls,” the directors of our own futures, and the guarantors of our own sustenance.

Meanwhile we face world famines, a diminishing fresh water supply, drug-resistant diseases, and the inability to cure our own lawless social ills; yet we boast that we will emigrate to the stars. Really!? We can’t solve our problems here, so we think we can travel hundreds of millions of light-years away, and start over elsewhere? How sad and foolish it all must look from God’s perspective. How desperately we need His Mercy!

Only God’s Mercy can cover our rebellion, our pride and our disrespect. But, the Ark of the Covenant is long gone…so, where can we find the Mercy of God today? Let’s see whether the Scriptures can tell us:

Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.

But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:

Only the priests (plural) could go into the outer sanctuary of the tabernacle, and only the High Priest into the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, and that only once a year, with a blood sacrifice for sin. This is just historical fact. The recipients of the letter were primarily Jews, and they knew all of this. But the Writer goes on to teach them what they did not know regarding that history.

The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:

Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;

10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.

Notice that verses 8, 9 and 10 give the “expiration date”, effectively, for the old covenant. It was only good “While as the first tabernacle was yet standing”. It was only a “figure for the time then present”, and was imposed upon them “until the time of reformation”. The obsolescence was actually “built-in” in several ways: Every priest eventually died, thus requiring a new priest; the buildings fell into disrepair, or were destroyed, etc.; and the sacrifices had to be repeated, day after day and year by year.

But Jesus is not bound by any of these imperfections, nor can his ministry become obsolete: He made one perfect sacrifice which provides the believer with a perfect standing before God, and, to top it off, unlike either the priests or the tabernacle within which they served, He himself lives eternally to intercede for us.

Notice verse nine, which says that the gifts and sacrifices the priests offered at that time could not even make the priests perfect, let alone those whom they represented. All the sacrifices accomplished was to temporarily “cover” the sins of the people, including those of the priests. The word translated “atonement”, in the KJV translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, is the word “kaphar.” It means a “covering.” Fittingly, that is also the name of the lid of the Ark of the Covenant…the “kaphar.”  And, what was it covering? Just the box? No, it covered what was in the box:

  • The despised supply of God,
  • The disregarded promise of God, and
  • The disobeyed, defied and broken Law of God.

These emblems of our Stubbornness, our Unbelief, our pride and lawlessness were what was really in that box, though ironically represented by the very emblems of God’s Sustenance, Promise and Justice. So, it required God’s Mercy to cover it all.

That is why the lid was also called the “Mercy Seat”, and it was a pre-figuring of the Mercy-seat before which we now freely appear before God. Under the Old Covenant, God’s Mercy, through the blood sacrifices, covered our sins. But under the New Covenant, in the person of Christ, our sins are taken away. John the Baptist, in John 1:29, clearly declared Jesus to be the one to fulfill all those prophecies. (“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the World.”)

So, in light of all that history; applying it to our lives, today; for us, who have never seen the temple…What does it mean today? We have never seen the Cross, either; but we have placed our faith in the Blood of that Cross. And, the Blood of that Sacrifice is what stands between us and the Judgment of God, today. His Justice and Righteousness were satisfied by that sacrifice. His Mercy and Love were satisfied there, as well.

The scriptures say that Jesus completed his sacrificial work, and then sat down…where? The only place He could sit down was in the throne with God, the Father. So that is where He is today, still on the job, interceding for us. Jesus is our Mercy Seat—our atonement—our covering. More than that, He has taken our sins away!

So…going back to our original question:

What is covered by the Mercy Seat?

The short answer: Everything!

All of our rebellion is covered by the Cross, all of our mistaken pride, and our stubborn self-will. All of our lies, by which we deceive ourselves and others. All our cruel unkindness by which we mistreat others. All our lack of forgiveness and our implacable hearts. All of our self-pity and narcissism, our lusts, our unholiness, our arrogance, and our fears. Calvary covers it all.

And, what is really important, here, is to see that His sacrifice at the Cross was a one-time sacrifice to “Take away the sins of the World”. That is what John the Baptist meant in John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God (the sacrificial Lamb) which taketh away the sins of the World.”

So…did that include the sins of, say, Adam? Or Abraham? Yes! Their sacrifices looked forward, in faith, to HIS sacrifice. And, if the cross took away the sins of Adam, it also took away the sins of the sons of Adam. If it took away the sins of Abraham, it also took away the sins of those who are Abraham’s heirs by faith.

Jesus said that those who do not believe are condemned already because they do not believe. The penalty of their sins was actually paid at the Cross. But, in choosing to reject that fact, they remain under the judgment of God. They can still change their mind, if they are willing to do so.

When you chose to place your trust in the completed work of Jesus—in His blood sacrifice for your sins—from God’s perspective, your sins were permanently removed from you. You are still living out the physical reality of your life, with all its trials: but in God’s economy, you have been permanently placed into Christ, so that where He is, you are! Read Ephesians 2:4-6…read it slowly, and think about what it actually says! You have already been resurrected with Jesus, and have already ascended… and are NOW sitting with Him in heaven! Where He is, you are!

I have always had a hard time with that concept…But God says that it is important for us to grasp that truth, and for us to rest in what it implies. The work is done!  We are not to slave away, fearfully trying to “do enough Good” in the world, so that God will accept us: He has already accepted us! I am already forgiven! I am already accepted in the Beloved!

John 5:24 says that my Past is covered: He says that I have crossed over from Death into life. Incidentally, that is actually not a simple past-tense, but a perfect tense: a completed action in the past, which has continuing effect for the future. “It is finished!

My Present is covered: He says that I have Eternal Life, now! I don’t have to wait until I die to find out whether I “graduated” or just “flunked out.” This is a very precious promise to me, because if I had to wait, knowing my failures and sin, I would be without hope.

My Future is covered: He says that I will not (ever) come into condemnation. I will never be condemned for my sins. I do not have to live in fear of the righteous judgment of a Holy God, because that righteous judgment was poured out on Jesus, at the Cross. “He who knew no sin was made to be sin, for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Conclusion:

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain Mercy, and find Grace to help in time of need.” This is where we find Mercy today. The Ark of the Covenant (as well as the whole temple on earth) was lost almost two thousand years ago. But the real Mercy seat still awaits our response of faith. Jesus sits enthroned, and His throne is the throne of Grace. We are to approach Him in full confidence, knowing that His work is complete, and that we are fully accepted in Him.

When is the “Time of Need?” It is now! Daily! Moment by Moment! All of our life is a crisis, apart from Christ. As an unbeliever, had I died at any time prior to coming to faith, I would have been eternally lost. I literally had no hope. Even as a believer, today, when I am out of fellowship with God, I am reduced to living by my own strength and wisdom, and, for all practical purposes, I am again without Hope.

Our “Time of Need” is a moment-by-moment dependency upon the Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness of God, as well as His Supply and Sustenance. We find all of these in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus teach us to believe your promise, and to trust your Word. Draw us along into a full relationship with you by faith and teach us the gentle life of obedience to your Spirit. Fill us with your Mercy and Grace.


Bad News Concluded; Good News Begun

The Bad News Concluded; the Good News Introduced

© C. O. Bishop 9/1/15 THCF 9/6/15

Romans Chapter 3

Introduction:

Paul has just finished condemning (for cause) all of three groups of people:

  • Immoral Sinners (those who ignore moral values and restraints)
  • Moral Sinners (those who adhere to at least some moral values and restraints, and are sure that because of that they will be on good terms with God) and
  • Religious Sinners (including the Jews: those who adhere to some form of religious piety, whether based on the Word of God or not…but in this case he specifically addressed the Jews, as they did have the Word available.)

That pretty well sums up the human race, doesn’t it? Biblically, we could divide the whole race into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. We could also state that within each group there are people who ignore all moral restraint, and others who adhere to some (or many) moral values. Paul systematically proved that all these groups were under judgment for sin, and ended with the idea that the Jews were under special judgment because they knew the Law and ignored it.

That is a pretty negative premise with which to begin, though it certainly “levels the playing field,” if that is considered a good thing: no one has a special advantage, and no one is treated unfairly. Paul is simply completing the Bad news as the necessary foundation for the Good News. But I am sure that to each of the groups mentioned, it was shockingly bad news; especially to the Jews who thought they were already on God’s side, and destined for heaven.

So what advantage IS there to being a Jew?

3: 1What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?

Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

Paul, a Jew, poses the question, “Then what possible advantage is there to being a Jew?” His answer? “There is much advantage in every way, but the chief advantage was that to them were entrusted the oracles of God.” As far as I can tell, every single Old Testament prophet was a Jew, unless you recall that Abraham was an Iraqi, later referred to as a homeless Syrian; and none of the immediate progeny of Jacob had ever heard the word “Jew”. That was a later descriptive term applied first to the tribe of Judah and those associated with him, and later to all the children of Jacob (also called Israel).

Melchizedek was certainly not a Jew, though he was the one who blessed Abraham in the name of the Most High God.  But every single one of the writers of the Old Testament were Jews, as were all but one of the writers of the New Testament (and that one is questioned by some). (Luke may have been a Gentile, as “Luke” is a Gentile name. But that would suggest that anyone with a Jewish name must be a Jew. (Joe? Sarah? Steve? Elizabeth? Where do you want to stop?) That is clearly not sufficient reason to make such an assumption.) I really do not know what Luke’s origin may have been, but without controversy, all of the other writers were Jews. Is that a privilege? An honor? Looks like one to me. Would it at least tend to give them an “inside track” as far as an opportunity to know the God of the Universe? I would think so.

Further, in every village where Paul (and the other apostles) preached, they began with the synagogue—the Jewish elders in that village. Why? Well, for one reason, they had been waiting for the Messiah for a long time, so it was fitting that they should hear the message first. But a practical reason is that those believing Jews, who had already trusted in the coming Savior, and the blood of his sacrifice, had also been soaking in the Written Word for their whole life; memorizing it, studying it, meditating upon it, and receiving teaching concerning it. They were in a position to vault into Christian maturity far more rapidly than a Gentile, who, even if he were a proselyte to Judaism, could only recently have begun to understand the Word of God. Thus, it was possible for Paul to be run out of a town by the unbelievers, but leave behind a fledgling church with ordained elders…after three weeks or less in some cases!

But what about all those Jews who don’t believe in Jesus?

For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

He follows his line of reasoning a little further, saying, If some of God’s people fail to believe God’s Word, does that diminish the faith (or faithfulness) of God? Nope. In fact, it underscores it, as He continues faithful regardless of the sin of his people. In the case of the nation of Israel, God demonstrated this truth later on, showing that there will come a time when the believing remnant of Israel will ultimately turn to God as a nation, and finally, “all Israel will be saved.” Not every offspring of Jacob in history: all the living remnant of Israel. God never took his hand off their history, though they repeatedly took their eyes off of Him.

We see a similar truth in the Church: the Church has failed God in every way, over and over, but Jesus said “I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!” God knows his sheep, and Jesus said He will not lose a single one of them. So, in answer to the question about God’s reliability, Paul says:

God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

The result is that God is absolutely correct in His Judgment, and no accusation against Him will ever be right.  (Notice that the truth of God’s Word is not dependent upon those who believe it. My believing it does not make it true. The World’s denial of it does not make it untrue. God’s Word, and, in fact, Truth as a principle, has to stand or fall on its own merit. It either is true or it isn’t. And since The Bible claims to be all true, it either is all true, or it simply isn’t true.)

But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)

God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?

For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

While it is true that Man’s sin is met by God’s Grace (and judgment…don’t forget the Holiness of God), it is foolish to think, “Well, then, more sin means more grace, right?” I used to think Paul was setting up a “straw man” as it were, because I could not imagine someone being goofy enough to teach such a thing, but there are evidently cults teaching just that, today, and advocating really wallowing in filth, so as to inherit more of the grace of God.

Paul says they are worthy of the condemnation they will receive. We should meditate frequently on Isaiah’s response to his vision of God. In Isaiah 6:1-8, Isaiah saw Jesus on the Throne of God, and was devastated at his own guilt, and the guilt of his people, compared to the utter Holiness of God. The Angelic response to God’s presence was similar: they cried out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of Hosts! The whole Earth is filled with His Glory!” All of those who saw Him were primarily impressed with the Holiness of God, above all His other attributes.

Other prophets had similar visions and experienced similar dismay. Some simply passed out—they nearly died at the revelation of the Holiness of God. No one got inspired to “go and sin more energetically”: not one! Remember too: Jesus told people “Go, and sin no more!”
Don’t ever get the idea that Jesus is “soft on sin.” It is completely true that He loves sinners, but it is equally true that He hates sin… all of it.

Please bear in mind that Jesus, the Jesus that we admired in Bethlehem, and in Jerusalem, in the temple, and at the Cross, is also the one the Bible identifies as “the Judge of all the Earth.” And Jesus, himself, personally confirmed that truth. (John 5:22)

V. 9-20 Paul’s Conclusion to the “Bad News” of the Gospel

What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

In verse 9, the “we” and “they” are Jew and Gentile: Paul speaks from the Jewish perspective, and confesses that the Jews are no better than the Gentiles, in spite of the advantages they were given. They still ran away from God, pursuing sin, and their history proves it time after time.

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

17 And the way of peace have they not known:

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Paul concludes in verses 9-20 that there is not one person in the whole natural human race, who is free from sin; and that, collectively, we are a total loss. He says, “There is none righteous, no not one.” In verses 9-12, he quotes Psalm 14:2, 3.  (Turn there and read it.) Notice in Psalm 14, he is not talking about the Jews, nor about any particular group of people. He is definitely talking about the whole human race. He also quotes Psalm 5:9, 140:3, and other passages, applying those as well, as a blanket condemnation of the whole world. He concludes in verse 19, 20 that all the world is guilty before God, and that no flesh can be justified (“declared righteous”) by works of the Law, since by the Law is the knowledge of sin. Law is only the light that reveals our lost state: it cannot save us.

V. 21-28 Divine Contrast

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Finally, in verses 21, 22, the righteousness of Christ imputedapart  from law-keeping— is revealed, and it is completely validated by the Old Testament prophets (specifically David, as we shall see later on.) That righteousness is only available to those who place their faith in Him, but it is applied to all that do so. It is “unto all (therefore available to all) and upon all (applied to all) them that believe.” Verses 21-25 are all in reference to the same individuals…and it is all past tense…a “done deal.”

Verse 23 (with which most Christians are thoroughly familiar) states that “ALL have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” But the point that is missed, is that he is talking about believers! He is saying (in v. 22) that there is no difference (among believers) because all were the same unclean, guilty sinners, and (in v. 24) that all have been freely declared righteous (justified) by GRACE, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (“Redemption”, in this particular passage, comes from the word “lutro-o”, meaning to be set free from slavery. In other passages it comes from one of two other words: “agorazo” or “exagorazo”. The first, “agorazo”, means “bought in the marketplace”. Jesus literally bought us with his blood. The second implies being “bought out of the marketplace”—that is, that He bought us OUT of that slave-marketplace of sin and that we have been removed from it forever. “Lutro-o” carries the final idea; that we have been set free, eternally, to serve out of Love; not fear.) All of these points are completely true of all believers in Christ…those who have trusted in the shed blood of the historical, Biblical Jesus Christ for their salvation.

v. 25 specifies that our faith is to be in the blood of Christ—not a creed, not a code of morality, not a church membership, nor an ethnic identity; but through the person and work of Christ: specifically, faith in His shed Blood. That is a pretty important concept and frequently is omitted in Bible teaching, today. I don’t know whether it is due to ignorance, personal revulsion at the concept of a blood-sacrifice, or rebellion against the stated need for it. But this was the error of Cain, if you recall, and it seems to increasingly be the error of the modern Church. Cain thought that he could bypass the “gore” of a blood sacrifice, and go straight to a worship experience with God. God sought to correct Cain’s error, explaining what was wrong: Cain compounded the error by killing Abel. Take note that those who deny their need for a Savior, or deny the efficacy of Jesus’ blood, will always attack those who recognize that need and who place their faith in His blood. This is a Biblical principle, and has been consistently borne out in human history.

v. 26 Paul says that Jesus himself is not only righteous, but that He is the only one who can authoritatively (and effectually) declare a sinner to be righteous. He declares those who believe in Him (this implies consciously placing one’s faith in him for salvation, not just believing he exists, or whatever) will be “declared righteous” by Him. The word “Just” means “righteous: having a right standing before God”. “Justified” means “declared Righteous”.

The Conclusion:

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

v. 27: Some final questions are posed: “Where is boasting?” It is excluded by the law of faith. That is an interesting concept: “the Law of Faith”. Saving Faith always produces level ground and true humility. How could I be “proud to be a Christian?” The fact of my salvation was predicated upon the fact of my absolute guilt as a sinner. There can be no pride there, surely. Paul’s conclusion in verse 28 is that a man is justified by faith (alone) without works of the Law.

29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:

30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

There is a brief transition in ideas, in verses 29-31. Paul poses the rhetorical question “Is God the God of the Jews only?” (Now some Jews and many Gentiles would have automatically said “yes” because they completely misunderstand who God really is, and thus miss the fact that there is only room for one Sovereign in the universe. There is only one God, in fact, and that God must be the God of all things and all people…there is none other.) Paul concludes then, that the same God has to accomplish the justification of all… both Jew and Gentile. He asks one final rhetorical question: “Do we make void the law, through Faith?”

The answer, resoundingly, is “NO!” (“God Forbid! Yea, we establish the Law.”) But how could the preaching of the Grace of God establish (i.e. “build up; strengthen the position of”) the Law of God?

When we consider the role of God’s Law, throughout History, we can see that Grace is always the conclusion of the Law. By accepting God’s Grace, in salvation, we confess that the Law is correct in condemning us, and agree that we cannot possibly please God in the flesh.

If that is not what you think, in terms of the meaning of Grace, then I would suspect that you do not understand your genuine need for a Savior, and I would question how in the world you were saved. How could you place your faith in an unseen Savior, confessing your sin by so doing, if you do not see yourself as a hopelessly lost sinner apart from His Grace?

But we do see ourselves that way, and we do trust in His Grace. And we rejoice in our Savior.

Lord Jesus, help us to see you in your Holiness, to see our own crying need for your Grace, and to daily seek your face in confession and prayer, and the study of your Word.

Amen!


No Longer of this World

No Longer of This World

© C. O. Bishop, 6/19/2015; THCF 6/28

Galatians 6:11-18

Introduction

Paul is concluding his letter to the churches of the Galatian province. He has compared his own ministry (source, content and result) to that of the legalizers, and has given clear direction as how to live by Grace and walk in the Spirit. He begins his closing with an odd statement: He says, ‘ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.” What was the meaning? This was in effect, a wry “signature”: he is saying, “Look, the letter was written by me—in crayon!”

Paul evidently had severe eye problems, either caused by disease or by the stoning he received at Lystra…we can’t be sure. We do know that the people he served knew of his eye troubles…he said that they would have given their own eyes to him if they could have done so. We conclude that probably the “thorn in the flesh” of 2nd Corinthians 12 may be this partial blindness and ocular distress from which he constantly suffered. Further, in Acts 23:2-5, he evidently could not clearly see the person (the High priest as it turned out) who ordered that he be punched in the mouth. The result of this partial blindness, in most cases, was that he had to have someone else write for him, as he could scarcely see. But this time he had no such scribe available, so he had to make the letters large enough that he could see what he was writing…thus the “large letter.”

But Paul prefaced his closing remarks with the admonition to take every opportunity to “do good” to anyone with whom we have contact…and especially to watch for opportunities to bless believers. This is not an incitement to monasticism, where the believers cloister themselves off away from the world…he just encourages us to love one another in practical ways.

Make Use of the Time

10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

In Ephesians 5:16, he says we are to be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. This life is the only opportunity we have to do good. We may think we will “just hang on and wait for Jesus to return”, but that is not at all what he commanded: we are to work while we have the opportunity to serve with Him. We already have eternal life; that is not the issue. We are serving out of love, and sowing in hope of eternal reward. We love one another because we want to, and because it is the best advertisement of the truth of the Gospel.

11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

Paul usually used a scribe to write his letters. Sometimes we actually were given the names of the persons who wrote his words…usually not. But one of the reasons he generally used a scribe, was apparently that his eyes were bad. This particular letter was written by his own hand, evidently in the absence of a scribe. The result was a bit of a mess: he had to make huge letters in order to see what he was writing. He took note of that, possibly to let them know that the letter had not been an easy thing for him, or possibly just a self-effacing joke, in a way, letting them know that he had personally penned the words. It was not an easy task to write such a long letter when he was nearly blind, but he considered it a good investment. He set the example of “redeeming the time”. There is no time like the present to obey God’s leading. Paul could have thought, “Well, sometime soon a scribe will come along, and I can get him to write this letter.” But he didn’t—he wrote it himself.

They already knew that his eyes were bad (compare verse 4:15), so this is just a reminder that he was their faithful teacher and mentor, not one of the elite scribes or pharisaical teachers who plagued them. He refers to those people, next, in contrast: He has spoken at length regarding the motives of the legalizers, and this is his final comment.

Bad Teachers Have Bad Motives

12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

He says that those teachers were not (and are not) willing to suffer the unpopularity (and the inherent risk of persecution) for having preached the cross. They preach legalism (circumcision, in this particular case) because that gains them glory in this life. They can point to “converts”, and lay claim to all that they have “done for God.”.

I remember listening to a missionary who very seldom spoke of his work in the Gospel, but went on and on about all the lovely church-buildings he had helped build. Were they good buildings? Probably so: but that is not what we are sent to do. Buildings do not save souls, nor do they edify the saints. Even baptism is made a distant second-place to the preaching of the Gospel.

The preaching of the Cross saves those who believe. The consistent preaching of the rest of the Word edifies believers. “Feeding the sheep” requires the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  These false teachers were advocating works of the Law, not only because within their culture that was completely safe to them, but it was a “number” they could claim, to gain honor among their own kind. They could hold up a list of “converts”, and crow about how God was using them. There are those today to whom numbers are very important, as well. It is an easy trap to fall into.

If a mega-church today is truly edifying the saints and preaching the Gospel of Christ to unbelievers, I guess I have no problem with the size of the outfit, except that it seems a bit unwieldy at that point, and more likely that certain believers may tend to not be served well, (see Acts 6; it was a problem in Jerusalem, too) Some people will just disappear in the crowd, and become anonymous.  But there is no proof of blessing in size alone. Many such churches are definitely not staying true to the Word of God, but are very popular because of a charismatic preacher, an exciting show, a well-choreographed presentation, a band, or other attractions. Sometimes they have lots of other activities that have nothing to do with the Gospel, and those activities are what are drawing the crowds—pizza, basketball, games, movies, etc. One has to remember that “what a person is drawn by is what they are drawn to.” If you want them to be drawn to Christ, then you had better be using Him alone as your main attraction.

The fact is, Paul actually had to state (1st Corinthians 1:17) that he had not been sent to baptize—it simply wasn’t much of an issue. And the issue of “who led you to the Lord” was unimportant, too. He said that he (among others) had sown the seed of the Gospel, and that Apollos (among others) had “watered” that seed, by further preaching and exhortation, but that God alone saved souls…God gave the increase…period. Why did he say such a thing? Because the people were dividing over whose disciples they were—who had taught them, who their mentor had been, etc. And Paul told them to knock it off. He said their divisions were wrong. Paul also knew there were such things as false brethren…there were those who pretended to be believers, to be accepted by the group, but were not born again. He was not a “numbers” kind of guy.  He knew he no longer fit in, and was satisfied with that.

No Longer of This World

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Paul could clearly see the danger of pride in the ministry. He stayed back from that “edge” by maintaining that the Cross of Christ was his only message. In 1st Corinthians 2:2 he said that he had determined when he first came to Corinth that his only message would be the Cross. In fact he said that he was determined to not know anything beside the Cross. He had had opportunity to observe that too much “human reasoning” would detract from the message of Christ, so he was determined to stay far away from that trap. If anyone described his ministry, they would have to say, “He preaches the Cross!” He recognized that he was eternally separated from the world by that Cross, and that the World was eternally out of reach to him, as well. He could never hope to “fit in” again…and he was satisfied with that arrangement.

My father once warned me, saying “The world is passing you by!” (I was in ministry training at the time, at one stage or another.) I replied that as far as I could tell, the World was “headed for Hell in a hand-basket”, and that it was just fine if they passed me by; I wanted nothing to do with their direction, let alone their destination. I think that sometimes, since then, I have forgotten that resolve, for a time, and have tried to “fit in” at one level or another. The results have never been as good as I wanted. I cannot fit in. I am forever separated from the World by the Cross. The World knows I no longer belong, and will not receive me as its own. And God says that I am no longer of this world…I cannot have partnership with it anymore, though I am required to live within it and function as a light in the darkness. Paul says, over in 2nd Corinthians 6:14, 15, “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And, what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord (agreement—common ground) hath Christ with Belial? Or, what part hath he that believeth, with an infidel?”

Those are pretty strong words: Paul said in Philippians 2:15, 16, “that ye may be blameless, and harmless, the Sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the Word of Life:” How can we shine as lights in the World if we are not in it? But, just as surely, how can we shine if, effectively, we join with the darkness, so that they see us as self-righteous hypocrites, and pretenders, with nothing real to offer.

Some of you have probably been grieved to see the recent changes in our national laws. This admonition seems particularly apt, today, in light of those changes. We are to continue to shine “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation”. We are not allowed to draw off and hold ourselves away from them—but we also do not belong to them and cannot join them in their perversion and rebellion. Ephesians 5:11, 12 says for us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them, for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” And, make no mistake: the result will likely be increasing persecution. Philippians 1:29 says “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” Paul knew that his future held such persecution, and did not turn away from it: He said (Philippians 3:10) “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings…being made conformable unto His death…” He knew the cost of the ministry. Do we?

The fact is that we are just as “separated from the World” by the Cross as the Apostle Paul was…but it has not had the same effect in our lives, as yet. That time may be coming soon.

Our nation has finally turned its back on God at every level, and people are gloating over the collective shame and sin and debauchery of the nation. The unbelieving world rejoices to see the fall of our once-Christian nation. In the previous verses we saw the warning, “Be not deceived, for God is not mocked: whatsoever a man sows; that shall he also reap.” Judgment is definitely coming: I have no idea what form it will take.

Inward Change is What God Wants.

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Paul says that the outward actions don’t accomplish much of anything; that the key issue is being born again. After that point, God is free to rear up a believer in the nurture of His Word, and produce the inward and outward changes that show the reality of the new birth. The chains and restraints of religious formalism and the trappings of formal piety are essentially useless. The results of the Holy Spirit working through a born-again believer have eternal value. Not only that, but, as we saw in the previous chapter, “against such things there is no law”. There may come a time when we will be condemned for our faith…but the good works of faith are not what they are rejecting: it is the “bad news” of the Gospel…the three-fold bad news that “Sin is black, Hell is hot, and Judgment is coming!” But the Gospel also concludes with the Good News; “Jesus Saves!” They don’t like that part either, so we stand condemned for the whole message of the Gospel. We have to accept the fact that we are cast aside by the World because they also cast aside the Christ who saved us. Jesus said, “Marvel not if the World hate thee; they hated Me first!” We are finally beginning to see that reality in the world around us. We must prepare our hearts to accept it as our cross, joining Jesus in the “fellowship of His sufferings.”

Peace in Persecution

16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Paul concludes by praying for peace upon those who live by faith, and obey by faith. He also prays for peace upon the “Israel of God”. (This is not saying that believers have become Jews, though he has already pointed out that they have become part of the fulfilled promise to Abraham. I believe he may be addressing the Jewish believers who have embraced Jesus as their Messiah… but I can’t prove it.) At any rate, Jesus agreed, saying “In the World ye shall have tribulations, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the World.

I think it is probably important to point out that the trap of legalism is still there: James 3:18 says “the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in Peace by those who make peace.” This whole passage is exhorting us to walk in the light and to shine in a dark world…but it requires that the Peace of God “leak out through us” in every relationship. We cannot preach righteousness in anger and expect good results. James says if we want to reap righteousness we have to sow that seed in peace, as peacemakers.

Philippians 4:6, 7 states that we can experience that peace at all times. We are to avoid anxiety and stress by laying our burden on Jesus…and leaving it there. We are not to just be confident in our own goodness and rightness, and think that that is the “light” we are to shine. The Love of God and the Gospel of His Grace is the light we are to shine.

Paul’s Conclusion

17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Paul once may have taken some sort of pride in his being a Jew, and bearing the “marks” of Judaism: physical circumcision, peculiar clothing, peculiar haircut, etc. Now the only marks he points to are the physical scars that he received as a result of preaching the Gospel. He pointed to them as the proof of his ministry. Not numbers, not buildings, not money or fame. He pointed to his suffering which had been the direct result of the preaching of the Cross. And his conclusion was that any accusations against his ministry will have to face the reality of his track-record.

18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (To the Galatians written from Rome.)

As we mentioned in the beginning of this epistle, Grace is not only for salvation, but for daily life. How fitting that the Epistle should begin and end with Grace, as that is the key theme of the book. Paul’s purpose is to point people away from Law, with its outward works, and to anchor the believers firmly in Grace. If we take his message to heart, then his purpose is fulfilled in us.

If we walk in the Spirit, we can expect the grace of the Lord Jesus to be with our spirits.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts by your Grace. Re-mold us into your likeness and lead us in the path of righteousness. Teach us to sow the Gospel of Grace and Peace and to demonstrate the Love of God in our lives, while maintaining a clean walk before you. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be.


Christian Liberty

What is Christian Liberty?

© C. O. Bishop 5/2/15; THCF 5/3/15

Galatians 5:1-14

Introduction:

Paul has spent much of the last four chapters talking about the trap of legalism, and rightfully so: it is warned against all through the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, though more so in the New, to be sure. Now he seems to move toward a conclusion: if Legalism, Law-works, are NOT how we are to live then how should we live? What does Christian Liberty amount to? Does it mean we are to be lawless? Absolutely not! It means we have been called to a higher law, one of the heart and of the Spirit, which sets us free from the Law of Sin and Death. So Paul is now teaching how that is supposed to work. What does genuine liberty look like, as opposed to Licentiousness which is claimed to be liberty? And how important is it, really?

Maintain your Liberty!

Galatians Chapter 5:1-14

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This is a very far-reaching command. It is a principle by which to live; not a checklist item. The things being suggested by the then-current crop of legalizers, confronting the Galatian believers, may not even be touched upon by the legalizers today. Perhaps it is the idea that one has to be baptized to be saved…or has to be baptized by a certain formulaic ritual, or into a certain church. Perhaps they are telling you that what you use for communion, who serves the communion, or the clothes you wear, or how you hold your hands when you pray… are the keys to peace with God. Do these ideas sound ridiculous? Guess what—they (and many other similar follies) have all been cited as cardinal doctrines. Churches split over tiny differences, and people try to deny one another access to God over tiny differences, too. I was in a Baptist church once where the preacher still put on a black robe even to baptize someone in a creek. (Why?? What was the message he was sending? That “Clergy” is somehow separated from the “common” folk? Or did the black robe somehow solemnify baptism?)

Sometimes unbelievers have been literally shut out because there was something in their lives that the church-folk didn’t want to be associated with. I recall an older, unbelieving friend telling me that he had quit attending church altogether, because, when his father had been murdered and he was trying to find someone to bury him, all the local churches (where they lived at the time—somewhere in New Jersey, as I recall—and 50 years ago or more) initially refused to help! Perhaps they were afraid of the publicity; perhaps some other fear—perhaps there had been some involvement of organized crime—I’m not sure; but his father’s own church would not bury him.

Were they so convinced of their own righteousness that they did not dare “taint themselves” by being involved in the funeral of a murdered man? Or were they afraid of honoring a murdered man and possibly incurring further violence toward themselves? I don’t know. But, as far as he was concerned, their testimony was ruined, along with the testimony of every other church in the world. He was deeply disillusioned about churches, by that experience.

He finally found a pastor of a local, evangelical, non-denominational church who readily agreed to serve, and he was grateful for that help…but when he shared all this with me, he had long since moved away from that area, and was not at ALL interested in anything churches of any sort had to offer. He died an unbeliever, as far as I know. That is a sad story, but it is true. Sadder still is the fact that, while all those churches collectively helped to send that man to hell, he himself ultimately made the decision to reject the God of the Bible. Their personal bondage to irrelevance had a permanent effect on his personal bondage to sin.

Unless he repented after I last saw him, he was lost…and, the blame partly lies at the feet of those churches, who loved their own reputations more than the Gospel. He was sure, the last time I talked with him, that because of his personal good works, he deserved eternal bliss with God. I was a very young believer at the time, and tried to point out to him that NO one deserves heaven on their own merit. I verbally, earnestly, included myself in that indictment, but his final words to me were, “Well, I do!” So; evidently, he, along with them, had bought into the idea of salvation by works. The pastor who buried my friend’s father had not fallen prey to that doctrine, and behaved with Grace and Mercy toward him. I just wish he could have led my friend to Christ before he left town for good.

2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

So…what is being taught here? Is Paul telling the Galatian believers that if they undergo circumcision (to become Jews) then they have lost their salvation? I thought he said that was impossible…?  Let’s read the next verse:

The Whole Law or None

3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

The issue, here, is that one cannot choose to obey pieces of the Law, and so claim to be “keeping the Law.” If you decide that Law-keeping is the pathway to God, then you are obligated to keep all of it. It is interesting to watch and see how picky the so-called “law-keepers” become about which portions of the law they will keep. They may tithe, and they may not work on the Sabbath, or they may not eat certain foods, or wear certain clothes—but they are completely lax and very self-justifying about the rest of the Law. Paul, however, does not allow them that option. He says they are debtors to do the whole law. (Bear in mind that it is God talking, here, not just Paul!)

4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

The temporal, daily, living effect of Grace, then, is gone…the eternal effect is there for the believer, regardless of their later behavior and beliefs; but way back in Galatians 1:4, Paul says that Jesus also died “…to deliver us from this present evil world”…and when a person embraces Law, they shut out Grace…so that they cannot embrace the liberty of Grace. In that sense, then, Grace has ceased to have an effect on their lives.

The liberty of the believer is solidly taught in chapters four and five, but it is feared by churches everywhere, because they think it is the equivalent of license to sin. It is definitely not, and that notion is clearly rebuked in scripture, but we tend to think of it that way, anyhow. But! Notice that it is the legalizers— those who try to attain to righteousness by human effort— who are being rebuked, and to whom Paul says “ye are fallen from grace!” not those who have fallen into some sort of immorality, or other sin. This has nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with a grace-filled life and a peaceful walk with God. There are plenty of passages where believers are exhorted to live holy lives…but here, the thing under condemnation is self-effort and self-justification. There is never a suggestion that the things they are doing are making them in any way more acceptable to God.

The Righteousness of Faith

5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

There is coming a day when we will be completely clothed and permanently filled with the Righteousness of Christ. I yearn for that day, as my continual failures distress me deeply. Positionally, we already are completely righteous in Him. Our new natures, in fact, are completely righteous already. But we still labor under the weight of our old sin nature. Paul says (Ephesians 4:22-24) that the old nature is “being corrupted” as a continuing reality. But he also assures us that our new nature is “after God (in His own image) created in righteousness and true Holiness.” So what we are looking forward to by faith is the full reality of His image, with our old nature gone forever. We endure this life by faith, looking forward to that which is to come. We cannot earn it; it is already ours. The best we can do is to learn to walk by faith in the reality of our new natures.

6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

The outward symbols mean nothing. The reality of Faith, working because of Love, means everything. Putting on the outward trappings of religion does not help anything. Being transformed from the inside out was God’s plan from the beginning.

7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?

The believers in the Galatian churches had begun well, and had been learning to walk with God. Paul asks how it is that they have stumbled, and are now being hindered. (He knows the answer—he wants them to see that truth of the matter.) This is similar to God’s questions to Adam, in the Garden. “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked?” God knew the whole truth—He wanted Adam to see it and confess it. God wants us to consider our progress or lack of it, and be honest as to how we got there. Sometimes it may mean recognizing that a “friend” has not had a good effect on our life. Sometimes it means that a personal choice to feed on some religious writings or teachings has subverted our thinking. More frequently it means recognizing that our own responses to life in general have not been productive. But ultimately, it means that legalism is not from God!

Legalism is Not From God

8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.

This is a pretty firm statement: this argument did not originate with your Savior!
Stop and think, then: where did it come from?

Ultimately, there is only one other source. The Flesh could do it on its own, but remember: the World, the Flesh and the Devil are allied against you. If it comes from any of them, it effectively comes from all of them. If it doesn’t originate with God, you can assume it ultimately originates with the Enemy, at one level or another.

9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

This is such a tiny verse it is easy to pass it over. Paul is using a common saying to warn them that there is no such thing as a “little bit” of sin. They used to say “there is no such thing as being ‘a little bit pregnant.’” Eventually it will show up in all its glory.

Sin will eventually bear fruit. If you decide to dabble in legalism, then you will eventually find that Grace has been set aside, just as if you had whole-heartedly embraced the Law. This requires some soul-searching: I need to examine my motives: am I “serving” because I am fearful of losing my right standing with God? Or because I think that, in some way, He will “owe me something” in the way of a “good life”? Either of those is a wrong motive. If I am a believer, then my standing (my position with Him) is already perfect, regardless of my behavior: I can’t improve it, nor can I damage it. I am already seated in the heavenlies with Christ, whether I believe it or not at any given moment. Also, God does not “owe” me anything, nor will he ever. My life may be short or long, easy or hard. There are believers in the world undergoing terrible persecution: did they somehow displease God? No, usually persecution comes because believers are doing exactly what they should be doing. Jesus promised that “in the World ye shall have persecution”.

Judgment is Coming

10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.

That is one thing we can be sure of: Judgment is coming. As believers, we need to realize that, though our punishment for sin was completely poured out at the Cross, we still face the Judgment Seat of Christ…and it is not necessarily going to be a pleasant thing. 1st Corinthians 3:10-16 states that some of us will be saved “as one escaping through the flames”. We should think carefully about how we live, how we serve, and why.

Paul was confident, as he thought of their past walk with God, that they were real believers, and that they would respond well to this correction. But he foresaw a grim future for those who were trying to subvert them. “…he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment….”

11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

There seems to be the idea that perhaps the Judaizers had even tried to say that Paul was in agreement with them…and that he had just neglected to tell them this part. Paul poses the question, “If that is what I am teaching, why am I suffering persecution? The Cross would not be offensive to the Jews if I was still teaching that believers had to become Jews.”

Sometimes, even today, a false teacher comes along with something like this: “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong! That is not what Jesus was trying to tell you! You just misunderstood! What He really meant was…” And then they teach some seriously bad doctrine that points people away from the Cross. By the way, when anyone tells you that there are other ways to be saved than by the Cross of Christ, you can mark him/her as a false teacher right then. Jesus himself says there is no other way. The apostles were in full agreement, saying “There is no other name under heaven, given among Men, by which we must be saved.”

A false teacher may be very popular, and preach warm, friendly-sounding messages that seem to reach out to the world with open arms. But if he offers something other than Christ and Him Crucified, for salvation, then he is helping divert people from the Cross, and sending them to a Christless Eternity. We feel sad to say such things, but far sadder to think of the thousands upon thousands who have been lost to the lure of the soft-sell, because someone was not willing to take a stand on the actual Gospel, but offered a “social Gospel” or a “self-help Gospel” instead.

Jesus spent a lot of time warning of coming judgment, and even stated that “they who do not believe are already condemned”. The bad news is what makes the Good news good. Paul said “…Christ came to save Sinners….” Jesus said He came to “call sinners to repentance.”

I have a student who recently had to skip classes because she was having a broken, infected tooth extracted. She first had to have penicillin for a few days, to kill the infection. She told me later that she could not believe how much better she felt once the infection was gone, along with the bad tooth. She had evidently suffered from the infection longer than she knew, and the penicillin gave her virtually immediate relief, capped by removal of the painful source, the rotten tooth.

So, the penicillin turned out to be great news because …what? Because she had a serious infection that was making her very sick, and possibly would have threatened her life! The infected tooth was what made the penicillin (and the tooth extraction) “good news.” Otherwise both would have been really bad news.

If sin were not a serious issue, with fatal consequences, then the crucifixion would be terrible news. If I were not a condemned sinner, then I would not need a savior. And Jesus’ death would just be a tragic miscarriage of justice. But; as it is, we see the Grace of God through the horror of the Cross, and we realize that it was the horror of our own sin that necessitated the Cross. Yes, the Cross is an offense; but not to God, and not to believers.

Contending for the Faith

12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

That is a pretty grim thing for the Apostle to say: if we said it today from the pulpit we would get into trouble. He is literally saying, “I wish they’d just die, and quit bothering you.” Some translations say “mutilate themselves”, but the Greek word so translated (apokopto) usually means “removed” or “severed”. We may wish something similar, under similar circumstances, but Paul knew that their judgment was coming, and that he had to wait for the Lord to act.

In Psalm 37 David made the statement that “They (the wicked) shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb”. Now, “Soon” is always meant “soon” from God’s perspective, but, in this particular passage, the word translated “soon” means “suddenly”—as in, “without warning”. The false teachers face an awful eternity—we pray for their salvation, not their death. Jesus said “love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you…pray for those who despitefully use you.” But I think that to pray for God’s intervention on behalf of the church is also in keeping with God’s word.

So, to pray that God will shut the mouths of false teachers is correct; not “un-loving”. In fact, in Titus 1:10, 11, Paul mentions this, saying that their mouths “must be stopped”. This is one of the few places where the scripture teaches contending for the faith. Corrective teaching, even to the extent that it causes disharmony, is better than false teaching, producing a so-called “harmony” that is to the detriment of the hearers. (We are not talking about simple disagreements about petty issues, here, but false doctrines that can destroy the church.)

Consider this: when a airliner is losing power, and there is a chance of a crash-landing, is it better to offer free drinks and peanuts, or, to give instructions as to how to prepare for the crash? One response may produce temporary peace and happiness, but the other offers a hope of survival. We preach the truth of the Cross, not because it is comfortable, but because it is true. We preach Grace, not to promote license to sin, but to produce liberty to serve. If false teachers are deterring believers from Grace, and substituting Law, it is entirely within God’s instruction to both apply corrective teaching and to simultaneously pray for God to close their mouths.

Conclusion:

13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Here is the key to the whole argument, in my opinion: the legalist churches fear liberty because they equate it with license. Paul warns against misusing liberty right here. Notice he makes no apology for their having the liberty…he just commands them not to abuse it.

Every time a Christian, or even someone who just claims to be a believer, falls into sin,

  • Legalists will claim he is “living proof” of the “dangers of Christian liberty;”
  • Unbelievers will rave that he is the “epitome of Christian hypocrisy” (implying that all Christians are, by definition, hypocrites); and
  • True believers everywhere will grieve for the damage done to the testimony of Christ.

God knows the truth. Any or all of them could be right, but the believers know the real cost. There will be people who will use that person’s sin as an excuse to reject Christ, and will be lost.

If you know that your sin could result in someone else spending eternity in Hell, even if it is only because they used your sin as an excuse to reject the Lord, shouldn’t that make you more conscious of your actions, attitudes and words? It certainly should!

So: loving our neighbors (with agapé love) should be our first concern as committed Christians. Agapé love implies being committed to the good of the recipient without regard to the effect in one’s own life. It means consistently putting the needs of others before your own. This is the kind of love that Jesus commanded, and the kind He demonstrated at the Cross. It has absolutely nothing to do with feelings, but is entirely about doing. It is “commitment with shoe-leather.” It is doing what is best for the other person, even when it doesn’t feel good for you. Bear in mind that Jesus didn’t die for you because it felt good, or because it was fun: he did so because you needed it!

Let’s pray:

God help us to use our liberty only to serve and Honor you. Help us to see ourselves through your eyes, and to not serve ourselves, but rather, serve you by serving others. Make us the kind of men and women you have called us to be.


Revelation 22:19

Regarding Revelation 22:19

© C. O. Bishop 3/5/15 (In response to a question)

That is a pretty hard passage, if taken as a single verse; to treat it carefully, I want to begin a few verses earlier…let’s look at Revelation 22:16-20. Also, it is important to remember that this is God’s Word…not just a dream, or anything. So it ALL has to be true, and it ALL has to hold together. We can’t just take bits and pieces and interpret in light of our opinions.

The Context:

In the previous one and a half chapters John has described the vision of the Holy City. 22:15 is the final comment about it. We saw that all those who previously rejected Christ (and who have subsequently been judged guilty and cast into the Lake of Fire) are permanently excluded from fellowship with the Living God, which is the whole character of the Holy City—eternal fellowship with God. No believer is ever characterized by his sins, in God’s eyes. He said of Israel, (Numbers 23:21) “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel”. (Really? This is immediately after he had destroyed a whole bunch of them because of sin!) This is the position of the believer with God. He does not see us as sinners, and never will.

The Invitation:

In verse 16, the narrator shifts back to a point of view from which he addresses the whole book, just as he did in the introductory passage (1:3), where he established the blessing of God to all who read (or hear) and respond in faith (faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth). He makes a present day invitation to all hearers to “come”—this is the invitation of the Lamb and the Bride (the present day church) to unbelievers, to come to Christ, in repentance and faith. It is not the same as verse 20 where Jesus says “Surely I come quickly”. This is an invitation to “whosoever will”. Notice, too that the hearers are ordered to continue to repeat that invitation: “Let him that heareth say ‘come.’” (That’s us! This is the final command to be a witness!) The Bride can only say “Come!” while she is still on earth. This is our day to serve. This is our opportunity to work with Jesus in “holding forth the Word of Life”.

The Warning:

Then comes the warning: The contrast to the blessing of 1:3, and the invitation of 22:17, here in 22:18, 19,  is the consequence for those who do the opposite; those who do not come, who do not believe, and who do not obey by faith.

No believer would deliberately add to the scriptures, I think (hope): especially these tribulation saints who are already risking dying for their faith. And that brings us to an important point. Part of the curse is one that can only occur during the tribulation. How can the plagues of the tribulation (those written in Revelation) occur at any time other than during the tribulation? They are all specific to that seven-year period.  That makes me think that the warning is specific to that time, as well. Another part of the curse could happen at any time: we will address that next:

We want to consider what the “Book of Life” is: I am not assuming that it is the same as the “Book of Life” in 13:8—that one is called the “Lamb’s Book of Life”, and contains the names of all the saved. The one at the Great White Throne judgment, on the other hand, in 20:12-15, seems to be the same book as this one in 22:19. I believe that book to be simply the “book of the living.” I may be mistaken, but consider this: At the Great White Throne, who is there?

Only the lost and only the dead are present to be judged (20:12). Death and Hades gave up their dead; the sea gave up its dead. Which dead? The unrighteous dead…the resurrection of the righteous had already happened, and the living wicked had just been destroyed (20:9). This is the final sentencing for the unrighteous dead, from all generations, all the way back to Cain. So, all of the righteous are alive and eternally saved, while all of the lost are dead, and awaiting eternal judgment. This is the final cleansing, in chapter 20.

The Conclusion:

After the Great White Throne, we saw the Holy City, and the eternal state of the righteous, with God. After the vision of the Holy City, the narration returns to Christ. No more future vision, but a present invitation, and a warning.

The warning is evidently primarily to unbelievers, particularly to false teachers. The threat is not that “a believer may be removed from the Lamb’s Book of life”, but that “a person who tries to alter the content of God’s Word may lose his physical life” as a result…be “removed from the book of life”, as in Chapter 20.

If it is a believer (I suppose it is possible) then they are simply taken home. Remember Balaam: he was a genuine prophet, but he went after the money, and helped the Moabites and Midianites corrupt Israel—so when Israel destroyed their enemies, he died with the enemies. But that did not change his position. The saddest thing, to me, is that the only legacy Balaam is remembered for is the evil he did. Virtually no one remembers that he was a genuine prophet, and a man of God. This is a heavy warning for pastors today, too. If we fall into sin, then that is what will be remembered by the World. Is repentance possible? Sure…but the consequences are permanent.

The evidence is strong that the only ones to whom the rest of this curse will actually happen are the unbelievers of the time when the plagues occur…the tribulation years. Otherwise it would be difficult for any of those plagues to be inflicted on them; as they are mostly world-wide plagues.

My conclusion: believers are safe in Christ, and unbelievers are already condemned. (John 3:18; 1st Corinthians 15:22) That is how I see the passage. The invitation is to unbelievers to repent and escape that judgment. The warning is stern, but does not threaten a believer.


Dead to the Law

Dead to the Law

© C. O, Bishop, 11/21/14 THCF 11/23/14


Galatians 2:19-21;
(Compare Romans 5:1; Romans 6:1-14; Romans 7:1-6; Romans 8:1; John 5:24)

Introduction:

In the last several weeks we have been working our way through the book of Galatians. Paul’s primary three concerns, so far, have been to persuade the believers of the province of Galatia that

  1. He had full apostolic authority, that
  2. His Gospel of Grace was directly from Christ and that
  3. Legalism is not from God at all.

Paul has completed his arguments regarding his own credentials. He has laid out the separate concepts of Law and Grace, and is concluding his explanations of their stark differences with a final point demonstrating what Grace actually achieves and which the Law could never have achieved.

Dead To the Law, Through the Law

19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

This is a truly profound statement. “I, through the Law, am dead to the Law…”  How can that be, and what does it mean? How can I die to the Law, through the Law? What does the Law have to say to me, anyway? What is the message of the Law?

The very first mention of the principle of Law was given in Genesis 2:17: “But of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” This is the principle of Law. In some places it is referred to as the “Law of Sin and Death.” This is what Paul refers to as “the curse of the Law”— the principle is simple—“The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4)

In fact, that first Law, given before the fall of man, was quite concise: “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” And the whole human race did die, spiritually, the moment Adam ate that fruit. The curse of that original sin still hangs over us, saying, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

I sin and am hopelessly ensnared by my sin nature. Regarding me and every other human in history, since we have all catastrophically broken the holy Law of God, there can be only one sentence from that Law. The Law clearly calls for my death, and for the death of all the rest of the human race.

Jesus died as a substitutionary representative of the whole human race. When Jesus died in our place, he was fulfilling the righteous demand of the Law. He was completing the judgment of the Law against all of us. He fulfilled the Law for himself by completely obeying it. But I have already broken that Law. The Law required my death, so, Jesus died in my place. I placed my trust in His finished work; his shed blood at the Cross. But now what does the Law say regarding me?

The answer is, “Nothing!” The Law says I am dead, now. It has nothing further to say. The Law only has dominion over me so long as I live…and the Law says I am dead! Through the Law (that is, through Jesus fulfilling the Law), I have become dead to the Law.

But why?  What is the purpose; just so that I escape the punishment? No; I am dead to the Law so that I can live unto God.

Dead to Sin

Over in Romans 6:1-14 Paul mentions the same idea, but does not fully explain what has happened: there, he spells out the results more fully. He says that since I am dead with Christ, I have become united with him in his burial and resurrection as well, and that I should live separated from sin. Compare Romans 7:1-6, especially verses 1, 4 and 6: You have died to the Law, so that you can bear fruit to God, and serve Him in the newness of life (eternal life). Jesus said “this is eternal life; that they may know Thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) Notice that in His prayer, Jesus did not mention any works at all—he said that eternal life was to be found in the person of Christ. But if we have eternal life in Christ, we are dead with him, as well, and our lives should reflect our freedom from the slavery to sin.

This is a hard concept to grasp, because, the fact is, we don’t feel dead. If it helps, remember that in the scripture, death does not mean a cessation of life, but, in all cases, it means a separation of some kind. When Adam died spiritually, as he ate that fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, he was positionally separated from fellowship with God…he was spiritually dead, the moment he ate that fruit. His wife, and in fact, the whole human race fell with him. Nothing happened until Adam ate…but Adam was acting as a representative of the whole human race, and we all fell with him.

Had he died physically in that position, separated from fellowship with God (physical death meaning his spirit and soul being separated from his physical body) then he would have been eternally separated from God (which is called “the second death” in Revelation 20:14). But God redeemed him, so that he was no longer separated from fellowship with God, and, when he died physically, 930 years later, he was still safe with his Redeemer.

Some people have criticized Christians for “redefining” death. But the fact is, these truths were laid out in the Bible thousands of years before Christ. A person can choose to believe that God lied when he said “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”, or they can realize this is the Word of Truth, and look a little deeper. We can see that their fellowship was instantly broken and they fled from the presence of the Holy God who called to them. But their physical death was many years later. We can either learn from this or call God a liar. Further, if death was simply the “cessation of life” then a “second death” would be impossible, without a second life. And, finally, Romans 6, Romans 7 and Galatians 2 would make no sense at all, when they speak of our having died with Christ.

So, in what way am I “dead”? In the first place, I am “dead” to the Law: as far as the Law is concerned, I died with Christ. It has nothing further to say to me, because it says that I am dead. In the second place, I am separated from the Law, in the sense that, now I am personally accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ…not just to a creed, or a book of regulations that are impossible to please.

The Law not only has no further comment regarding me, because it has been satisfied that the death sentence has been carried out, but it also has no further authority over my life. I say this very carefully, because the Law is utterly holy and righteous. But my position has eternally changed: I am in Christ. His new commandment is the one to which I am now answerable. He, Himself, stated that full compliance with the twin commands “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, soul and mind”, and “Thou shalt Love Thy neighbor as thyself”, together comprise full satisfaction of the Law. (Matthew 22:35-40)

So, His command “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34, 35) also would fulfill the Law. And, you know what? Apart from the constant leading of His Holy Spirit, I still am completely unable to comply with his Law. Only now, you see, there is no condemnation, as His blood already covered all my shortcomings and downfalls: I am free to live in Him, by His Holy Spirit, without fear of punishment. That is why Romans 8:1 says “there is now, therefore, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus…”

No Condemnation to Those in Christ

This is a critically important concept, as it has bearing on two key issues: our Peace with God and our Security in Christ. Romans 5:1 states that since we have been justified (declared righteous) by faith, we have (present tense) peace with God. That is either true or it is not. If Romans 8:1 is to be believed, when it states that there is no further condemnation toward us, then Romans 5:1 is a permanent truth. Our position has eternally changed. Further, John 5:24 (Jesus speaking) states that, having placed my trust in Christ, I will never again come into condemnation. That tells me that Romans 8:1 is also an eternal truth. I am eternally secure in Christ, and it is all because I died with Him, so that the Law has no further comment regarding me. The Law says I am dead. No further charges can be laid against me.

According to Romans 6:11 it is now my daily assignment to place my trust in the fact of my death with Jesus, and live in the new freedom He has provided, using that freedom to live for his honor and glory. The reason it can work is that I have been separated from my old sin nature, just enough that I can act independently of it, if I allow the Holy Spirit to guide me and control me. If I decide that I can “do it on my own”, then my sin nature immediately reasserts itself, and, for the moment, by choice, I have again become a slave to sin. This is strictly by choice. No one can make me sin. They may plot to cause me to stumble, or even do it inadvertently, but the fact is, with the Holy Spirit living in me, the only way I can sin is by choice.

Crucified with Christ

20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

So what does it mean to be “crucified with Christ”? Does it mean that I should have some veiled memory of the cross, or that, in some mystic way, I myself have suffered with him? Nope. I don’t think it is anything quite so mysterious. I think it is pretty practical. This is the new position of all believers. We can say with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live: Jesus Christ now lives in me.” It is true, in spite of the fact that, along with Paul, we also confess that our old sin nature is still present, and causing all sorts of trouble. He’ll tell us what to do about that later on.

But while we are talking about this positional truth, we need to think of the truths that accompany it. Romans 6:1-14 clearly states that since I have been crucified with Christ, sin no longer has authority in my life, either. It is one thing to assert that the Mosaic Law is no longer your taskmaster, but entirely another to state that sin no longer has rule in your life. The problem is; it is true!

Sin no longer has any legal authority in your life. You do not have to sin. You have a new nature which God says is righteous and holy. (Incidentally, from God’s perspective, this new nature is the “real you” now. Your new nature is a new Creation, created to serve God willingly and joyfully. God will not do business with your old nature at all. By the way, the new nature is not the Holy Spirit: The new nature is a created being, and the Holy Spirit is God—he is NOT a created being. The new nature is the new you, created in Christ, Holy and Righteous.)

When you do sin, whatever the issue; anger, gossip, lust, or anything else; you have made a choice at that moment to submit yourself to sin instead of to the Holy Spirit living in you. And until that lapse is confessed, and cleansed, you are, for all practical purposes, back in the flesh, and a slave to sin. It is an ugly thing to say, I know, but it is the sorry truth. We have two natures, and we must learn to walk with God, allowing the new nature to be in dominance.

Created Unto Good Works, not By Good Works

Over in Ephesians 2:10 we saw that “…we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” So often we twist that concept around and assume that it is by good works that our new nature has been created. Nothing could be further from the truth! The preceding lines make it clear: “By Grace ye have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it (the salvation) is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast.”

We are a new creation of God, in Christ, for the purpose of good results that he has planned in advance for us. All we have to do is daily make ourselves available to him, as a tool in His hands. We cannot produce righteousness through our works, God produces righteousness, and we walk in it by faith.

Paul’s Conclusion:

21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

This is the bottom line, regarding works of the Law: If you decide that you can produce ANY sort of righteousness through keeping the Law, then you are declaring that “Jesus died for nothing!”  That is a pretty heavy statement. Give that some thought: are you really willing to make that statement? If not, then think very carefully about how you view works versus grace: what you decide about those two concepts will demonstrate what you really think about Jesus in His crucifixion. Works are to be a result of Grace, not a replacement or a supplement.

We struggle with the concept, because everything in our lives teaches us that anything good costs something. And that is true! But, in this case, the cost was infinitely beyond our reach. Jesus paid the price in our place, and offers a perfect, eternally secure, right standing with God through faith in his blood.

I wish I could say that the Christian life was trouble-free, but in fact, the opposite is true. We are in a war with an invisible enemy, and only God can direct our steps. The Christian life is not hard: it is impossible, apart from God’s indwelling Holy Spirit. Keep that in mind. When we get to chapter five, Paul will have a lot to say about how to live the Christian life.

Meanwhile, let’s rest secure in the knowledge that Jesus’ blood was the perfect, permanent payment for all of the sins of the whole world. All he has asked any of us to do is to place our faith in His finished Work.

That step of faith places us in his care and under His authority. Our new position in Christ is completely secure…but not always comfortable. God takes personal interest in our personal development, just as a doting parent takes personal interest in the growth and development of a little child. Sometimes he puts us through uncomfortable experiences to make us grow into His likeness. Give Him time: believe it or not, He knows what he is doing and will continue His perfect work until the day he takes you home to be with Him. (Philippians 1:6)

Review these passages and meditate upon their teaching. This is not an easy idea to grasp, in my experience. But if you can understand the truth that you are dead with Christ, and begin to place faith in the amazing results that truth has produced, I believe you will find it more and more natural to leave behind the old patterns of life, and embrace the life of Christ in you.

Consider this, too: we often stress the fact that the believer is to feed on the Word of God, and that is certainly true. But we are also to feed on experiential obedience. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!” (John 4:34)

Let’s learn from Him how to feed on Him.


God’s Curse on Preachers of a false Gospel

Amazing Folly and an Awful Curse

© C. O. Bishop 9/12/14 (THCF 9/14/14)

Galatians 1:6-9;

Introduction:

One of the things we can see, early in the preaching ministry of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:42-45, 50; Acts 14:4, 5, 19; Acts 15:1, 2, 5-11; etc.) is that the unbelieving Jews were violently opposed to the preaching of Grace, especially since it was associated with the person of Jesus Christ. They felt quite sensitive, nationally, regarding Jesus. They were keenly aware that as a nation they had given him over to the Romans, to be crucified. But even the Jews who claimed to believe the Gospel were pretty insistent that the Gentiles had to effectively become Jews to be saved—undergo circumcision, and keep the Law.

Today, we might be inclined to think that this was specifically a Jewish problem, because, after all, why would a Gentile, to whom the Law was never given, try to make everyone keep it? But the fact is: the problem of legalism is universal among humans. We all want to believe that we can please God in our flesh—that we can clean up our lives and devise our own means of approaching God; and that He, on His part, will be ever so grateful that we humans have deigned to give Him our attention. Doesn’t something sound wrong about that?

Doesn’t that sound, in fact, quite backward? If God is really the sovereign master of all things, doesn’t it follow that HE, not we, should determine the “rules”, so to speak? When you go into a human courtroom, do you tell them how it is to be run, or do they tell you? When you hire on with human employers, do you tell them how their business is to be conducted, or do they tell you your job? Pretty silly questions, are they not? And yet, for some reason, we humans think we ought to be able to make up our own “truths” concerning God, and that He should then toe the line and be whatever we imagine Him (or her?) to be. Cain thought he could make the rules, too, even though he knew what God had decreed. King Saul kept fudging the truth, and twisting the words of God, to justify himself. This is the “default value” for the entire human race. We think we are in charge, and will, at the very least, “rewrite the script” so that we can seem righteous.

The fact is, God does tell us how things really stand between us and Him: and it isn’t a good story. That is the “bad news”, in fact, that makes the Gospel “Good News”. He says, “…all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God” Romans 3:23 (That’s bad news!). He also says, “The wages of Sin is Death…” (More bad news!) Fortunately, He further says, “…but the gift of God is Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) That is the bad news and the Good news, and both are pretty clear:

  1. We are all condemned to die, because of sin, and
  2. Eternal life is only available as a gift from God, through Jesus Christ…period.

That is simple enough for anyone to understand and for any of us to share. And that is the message these folks had already heard and believed.

Amazing Folly

6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:

7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

The folks to whom Paul was directing this letter (remember, it is to us, too!) had all originally heard and understood  and believed that Gospel message; that is why he calls them “brethren”, in verse eleven and other places. He clearly states (later on) that they had received the Lord by faith—that they had been saved by the Grace of God. And his question comes straight from his heart: “Why on earth would you toss aside a precious gift like that and try to build your own salvation?” He says, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you unto the Grace of Christ, unto another Gospel!”

Paul could have been referring to the fact that he himself had called them via the True Gospel of Grace, but I tend to think he is referring to God, possibly in the person of the Holy Spirit. He told the church in Ephesus that there is only “one hope of our calling” (Ephesians 4:4)—so I think that if the hope of the calling is the same for all believers, then the caller has to be the same for all believers, as well. Romans 8:29, 30 states clearly that every believer is called by God. If God called you to Himself, to receive eternal life by Grace, though faith, then to turn your face in any other direction is to “turn away from Him who called you”. Paul was shocked to hear that they had already fallen prey to the legalizers who had followed him and Barnabas around, trying to dilute or supplant the message of Grace. (There is a God-given purpose for the Law: we will see later what that purpose is: but it cannot save. Only grace can save!)

Paul points out right away that there is really only one “good news” that is from God.  The people preaching “Grace plus Law”, or “Law instead of Grace”, or whatever combination they came up with, were not really bringing a “different gospel”—they were subverting the faith of believers who had been on a right pathway, and perverting the Gospel of Grace so that it was no longer good news at all.

So what happened? How could anyone toss aside a great offer like that?

As it turns out, the idea that “I can (and/or must) do something to please God in order to be saved” appeals to our sin nature. We like the idea that we can control our destiny. People write poetry about it. (“Invictus”, by William Henley, is a prime example, where the writer grimly boasts “I am the master of my fate –I am the captain of my soul!” In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! But we want to believe it. This is nothing new.

Consider Genesis 3:7-10

We saw in the Garden that the very first response of Adam and his wife, when they discovered that they had become sinners, was to attempt to cover their own sin with the works of their own hands. (Remember the fig leaves?) They saw that they were naked (awareness of guilt), and they sewed together fig leaves to make aprons with which to cover their nakedness. On a horizontal, strictly human level, as they saw each other, they may have felt that the effort was quite successful…perhaps they even congratulated themselves that their new outfits were “…quite stylish…definitely an improvement over plain skin, don’t you think?.”

But what happened when God showed up? Remember, they “heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day” (by the way, as we discovered earlier, that was the pre-incarnate Jesus, in person)…and what was their response? They ran and hid. Why?

They themselves answered that question: “We were afraid, because…we were naked.” The human works accomplished nothing at all, when God was in the picture…they were still naked in His sight…and they knew it. By the way, God is always “in the picture!” We are never hidden from His sight. The only covering we can ever have is the one He provided, at the Cross. When we sing the Hymn, “The Solid Rock”, we say “When Christ shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!” We need to be clothed by Him. Adam and Eve believed God, and He clothed them in the skin of the first blood sacrifice, looking forward to the Cross, still 4000 years in the future.

God warned the believers at Laodicea (Revelation 3) that they were poor and wretched and naked. They were believers…but had become accustomed to clothing themselves in their own, home-grown, self-justifying self-righteousness. And Jesus was warning them that they were just as naked as if they weren’t saved at all. It is even possible that some of the “members” there were not believers. But the warning was to a church, not a city council. We have to assume that the majority of the people he was warning were simply backslidden Christians.

God is Very Serious about the Gospel

What does Paul say about these folks who want to “re-write the Gospel” to make it read, “Well, yes, sin is pretty bad, all right; so you need to do a lot of good works to make God accept you.”? Or those who say, “Well, yes, Jesus died for your sins all right, but if you expect Him to keep you, you’ll have to do enough good works to earn your keep.”? Here is what He says:

8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Accursed!

This is a pretty strong statement. Let’s think through what he is saying, and consider why He says it. We have already determined that Paul was speaking to the believers in the province of Galatia. Actually, as we read through the missionary journeys of Paul, we can see that Paul probably led a lot of these people to Christ—his second missionary journey led through their area, at least, and some of the towns he preached in were definitely in that area.

He knew they started off with the pure Gospel, because he himself had personally delivered it to them. The Gospel he preached was the good news that:

  1. Jesus Christ died as full payment for their sins, and that
  2. He was buried, and that
  3. He rose again the third day, and that
  4. All God was asking them to do was to believe His word regarding that full payment, and trust in Him for salvation.

So, how can someone be deceived, and drawn away from such a clear message? Why would someone find legalism attractive at any level?

The Legalizers

The fact is, we are the willing victims of our own sin, and we are willingly deceived:

  1. by our own deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9),
  2. by the Evil World in which we live, (1st John 2:15-17) and
  3. by Satan himself, the original Deceiver. (Revelation 20:7, 8, 10)

We are not able to save ourselves, nor can we even bring a clean sacrifice to a Holy God. Everything we touch is contaminated by our sin. But we don’t like to admit that; not even quietly, to ourselves…especially not to anyone else.

So when someone comes along and says that we have to do something special for God, in order to be saved, we jump to believe it. It makes sense to us. Everything has a price, after all! But we do not realize the unfathomable riches of God’s Grace, and the fact that the price we offer, no matter how dear, is a laughable pittance, contaminated by sin at best, and an mortal insult to One who gave His only begotten Son for us.

Consider how you would feel, had your son or daughter willingly sacrificed his or her life to save someone else from death, and that person later offered you money: not as a gift of thanks, but to “pay for” the life of your child. What value could you settle on as being a “right price?”  (Give that one some thought!) To a good parent, there is no amount, as a payment, that would be satisfactory, when their life had been given as a gift. It is an insult to even consider such a thing. It cheapens the gift, and despises the giver. Would you ever be able to forgive a person who tried such a thing?

As a matter of fact, God does offer forgiveness even for that sin…but he does not take kindly to folks who deliberately lead others astray, and thus keep them from receiving his Grace. He sees it pretty much the same as we would. People whose children have died from drug abuse do not think kindly of drug dealers, do they? And God has seen every single one of the human race who are precious to Him, dead because of Sin. He has given his own life to save them, and here is someone trying to turn people away from His Grace? What would your reaction be?

The fact is that God has placed a curse on anyone who ispersuading people to:

  • Deny their sin (saying that Jesus died needlessly, in his/her particular case)
  • Replace Grace with Works (thus offering a payment for His gift), or
  • Adulterate Grace with Works (thus denying that the gift of Christ was enough).

He minces no words, here! If you teach some other Gospel (one of those three listed options) then you are in deep trouble with God. God makes the rules! No one has the right to change them. Also, don’t get the idea that the “rules changed”, in moving from the Old Testament to the New:

  • No one has ever been saved by works. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness. Adam believed God, and God clothed him in the skin of a blood sacrifice.
  • No one has ever been kept by works. Ezekiel says that if you depend on your own righteousness, then the day you sin, all your righteousness will be rendered void, and you will die for your sin. (Ezekiel 33:13)
  • The only thing different is how people are to express their faith. The Old Testament believers looked forward to a coming sacrifice they only vaguely understood. They offered the required blood sacrifice for sin, believing that God would honor His Word. We look back with a completed revelation, to a sacrifice we still only vaguely understand. We believe that God will honor His Word, and we, too, trust in Jesus’ blood at the Cross.
  • Both groups—Old and New— are utterly dependent upon the Grace of God. Both are saved by that Grace…through Faith.

God says if it is byGrace, then it is not by works—and if it is by works, then it is not by Grace. The two are mutually exclusive. (Romans 11:6) The only good works that God asks of us are as a result of having already received His priceless gift. The gift was not to be earned by works, neither is it kept by works. It is all by Grace. We only serve out of Love and thanksgiving.

Conclusion:

We saw earlier that whenever a person preaches against Grace, and supplants it with Law; that person, whether they know it or not, is working with Satan to prevent the salvation of lost people, and to prevent the effective service of believers who have already trusted in God’s grace.

Can you see why God would feel strongly about the practice of mixing Law with Grace for either Salvation or Sanctification? It cannot result in either Salvation for the unbeliever or Holiness for the believer. In both cases, it results in slavery to outward demands of legalism, and in the unbeliever’s case, it results in eternal loss in the lake of fire. What a horrible thing to do to other people!

So, how can we apply this idea? The most obvious thing is that when someone comes to my door telling me that I need to approach God differently than what it says right here, I will know that they are under a curse. I will not believe them, nor “study with them”, or anything else they want me to do. They are under a curse, and all I can offer them is the Mercy of God through the Cross.

We also need to be wary of “human wisdom” that suggests a “sure-fire plan” by which we can make ourselves acceptable before God. There is no such thing. God’s plan is very simple, and (possibly) boring: We are to trust God for salvation, through Jesus’ finished work at the Cross. We are then to trust him daily for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we study His written Word, and learn obedience. No magic, here, folks…the song “trust and obey” pretty well says it all.

In my own life, if I catch myself thinking that the things I am doing are somehow “making me OK with God”, then I can back off and remind myself that the Blood of Jesus is the ONLY thing that can make me acceptable in His sight.

Finally, if I find myself judging other believers because they “aren’t living up to my standards”, I can be reminded that they, too, are under the Blood, and that God is able to make them stand. They are serving Him, not me.

May the Lord help us to recognize Law and Grace, and keep the two concepts separate. Amen!