Posts Tagged ‘righteousness’

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

The Judge of All the Earth

© C. O. Bishop 8/25/18 THCF 8/26/18

Genesis 18: 16-33; 19:1-38

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Book of Genesis, with the specific intent of observing Jesus as the Creator, in the Old Testament, as well as seeing who He is, and what He is like, beyond what we can see in the Gospels. Last time, we saw God talking with Abraham, and promising a son, through Sarah. We read how both Abraham and Sarah responded with a chuckle, because of the apparent impossibility of the fulfillment. We saw how God named the unborn son “Isaac,” meaning “he laughs”, because of Abraham’s laughter. That was the good news of chapter 18, but there was bad news, as well.

Bad News

In this next passage, God tells Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, for their extreme sin. To me, this is a very sobering passage, as I see that our nation (indeed, our whole modern world) is sliding deeper and deeper into the very kinds of sin that Sodom and Gomorrah were famous for, as well as the violence that covered the earth before the flood. How much longer can we expect the judgment of God to tarry? It may be instructive to compare the old judgment with what is to come (as both are in the scriptures: we are not assuming we have figured out the future of our country or any such thing) and see whether there are other parallels.

To begin with, it is good to see that Abraham, rather than saying, “Well, good! It’s about time you burned those nasty sinners out!” was immediately concerned for any righteous who might still be living there. We assume he was primarily concerned for his kinsman, Lot, but he started with the premise that there might be fifty righteous there. Apparently he had a pretty good idea what the city was like, if he thought fifty might be the maximum. He also recognized that God has the right to judge sin, and he did not complain that God was being “too harsh” on sin, but was simply fearful that those who were believers might be destroyed with those who rejected the authority of God. He addressed this visible, personal God as the “Judge of all the Earth.”

Bear in mind, through this entire exchange, that it was the Lord Jesus who was speaking with Abram. In John 5:22, Jesus confirms that He himself is, in fact, the Judge of all the Earth, so Abram was correctly addressing Him, and begging him to save the righteous. This was God the Son, receiving the prayer of Abraham. God (the Son) said “If there are fifty righteous, I will spare the whole place.”

Now, that is an astonishing thing, in itself! It would seem more efficient to “weed out” the unrighteous, and leave the righteous to start over with a good community.  But, as far as I can see in scripture, it is usually the other way around. The flood covered the whole earth, after God removed those he chose to save. Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed, after God removed Lot and his family.  Jericho was completely destroyed after God had salvaged Rahab and her family. Give that some thought: how might that pattern apply, today?

But Abraham kept dickering, and whittling the number down, and even at ten, God said he would spare the whole place for the sake of ten righteous. But, at that point, God broke off the conversation, and left. God already knew how many were there who would respond to Him at all. That is why he sent two angels, rather than only one…one could easily destroy the condemned cities, but he needed to drag four people out, to salvage them from the destruction. (Two angels, four hands.)

We believers pray for our nation, our leaders, the various peoples of the World, and for Israel, knowing that judgment is coming. The fact that we know judgment is coming does not render our prayers ineffectual or hopeless. Abraham prayed for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah. We can do the same. 2nd Peter 3:9 says that the reason God is taking his time about judging this world is that He is being very patient, and giving people the opportunity to repent. Sodom and Gomorrah apparently had run out of time, and judgment finally fell.

Judgment is coming in our world as well: we are supposed to be acting as God’s ambassadors, attempting to offer reconciliation and salvation to any who will accept God’s terms. We know judgment is coming, but we do not know when. We reach out to those around us, trying to offer them God’s chosen way to escape the coming judgment, but not many believe us. Sometimes that is an indictment against us, for not having a sufficiently stable and consistent walk with God that our testimony would be believable. Overall, however, it is an indictment against the World, as they have consistently rejected God, no matter who He sent to speak to them: even when He came Himself, in human form, as Jesus, the Messiah.

Genesis 19

At the beginning of this terrible passage, we see the two angels arriving in Sodom, at evening. Lot was sitting in the gate of the city. We think nothing of this statement, but the city gates were where the elders of a city, and the judges of a city would position themselves. It was not only a place of honor, but a place of responsibility. How was it that Lot had been put in such a position? He must have “fit in” somehow, in order to be recognized as a judge of any kind, it would seem.

Good News?

Lot saw the “men” as strangers, who needed to be protected from the men of the city. He met them courteously, and persuaded them (over their protests that they intended to spend the night on the street) to spend the night in his home, instead, and to plan to leave early the next day. This attempt is about the only thing recorded (along with his plea to the Sodomites to leave the men unmolested) where we can see that he may have been a believer. We are not told what he said to them, but he was very strongly pressing them to accept his hospitality and stay the night indoors. He knew they would be in danger at night on the streets in Sodom. Perhaps he warned them of the reason, perhaps not. We are not told what he said; just that he “pressed them greatly.” Apart from this, there is very little evidence that he was a righteous man, and without what we see in the New Testament about him, we could easily assume that he was a lost individual. However, he treated them with genuine hospitality, preparing a feast for them, which they ate.

But before any of them could head for bed, all the men of the city, young and old—all the people from every quarter—surrounded the house, demanding that Lot turn over to them the two “men” who had come under his roof; and they specifically stated their intent: homosexual rape. (The word “know” here was about carnal knowledge, not a formal introduction.)

Lot came out and argued with them, trying to dissuade them, stating that it was for this express purpose that he had brought them into his home; to avoid this crowd of rapists. He even offered his virgin daughters to the mob, as substitutes (what a horrible father he was!), but they insisted, saying that Lot did not belong there, anyway: that he had come there as a stranger; a sojourner, but now seemed to think himself to be a judge. They declared that they would treat him worse than the other two; then they moved to attack him, and to break down the door.

Apparently, up until this point, Lot had no idea who he was trying to shelter. But the two angels reached out and pulled Lot inside, and simultaneously struck blind the men of the city, young and old, so that they could not find the door. In fact, it says that they “wearied themselves trying to find the door.” What incredible single-mindedness! They only had one concern. The fact that they had been struck blind did not seem to bother them. They continued to search for the door!

Bad Testimony

The two angels instructed Lot to go and notify his entire extended family that the city was about to be destroyed. He did go out and tell his sons-in-law, who were evidently betrothed to his daughters (or, it is possible he had older daughters who were already married, but that would be guessing.) The sons-in-law did not take his warning seriously, and just thought he was joking.

When morning was beginning to dawn, the two angels told Lot that the time had run out, and that he had to leave. He protested, and lingered, and so they took him and his wife, and his two daughters by their hands and literally dragged them out of the city, then told them to get going, not to look back at all, but to flee to the mountains.

Lot was still protesting, and saying he couldn’t make it to the mountain. He begged to be allowed to flee to a small, nearby city, saying that he could get there, and live. They finally relented, and allowed him to flee to that location. The name of the city prior to this, was “Bela”. After this it was called “Zoar”, meaning “small.”

This whole account has a lot of things for us to learn: To begin with, we need to see that judgment is coming. There will come a time when the time has run out, and judgment has come. Even a believer can be affected by the coming judgment, even though we are eternally saved. Lot was a believer, according to God. But the judgment affected his life in terrible ways. It did not have to happen that way: He chose that outcome through unbelief, indecision, and inaction.

God knew how many he was going to save out of that city—there were not the fifty that Abraham hoped for, nor even the ten…there were four: they were dragged out of the city, unwilling to go, and even then, one of them was lost, by turning back. This story has often been held up as an example of someone “losing their salvation.” But: in the first place, we have no evidence of her salvation, in terms of belief, faith, repentance, etc. All we know is that she was dragged out of Sodom, along with Lot and their two daughters. Perhaps she was not a believer at all…and even if she was, believers have many times lost their physical lives because of sin…and it had no effect on their salvation. Consider Josiah, a righteous king, who for some idiotic reason (pride, perhaps?) decided to fight Pharaoh, king of Egypt, when Pharaoh was not even attacking him, but rather was attacking someone who was his enemy. What happened? Necho (the particular Pharaoh involved) warned him off, saying “Your God sent me to punish that king (of Assyria)…stay out of my way!” Josiah wouldn’t listen, and, sadly, uselessly, he died in the ensuing battle. It stands (or at least it should stand) as a lesson for us, today.

Lot’s life stands as a lesson, too. God says Lot was a righteous man (2nd Peter 2:6-8), but his life did not reflect it—he chose to be deeply associated with the wicked world—he was involved in their local politics, in fact, and his testimony was so shallow that when he tried to warn his prospective sons in law of the coming judgment, they thought he was kidding. He had a warning of sorts, a few years earlier, when Sodom was attacked, and he was captured: he probably witnessed the exchange with Melchisedec and Abram, as well as that between the king of Sodom and Abram. Abram set the example of the choice to follow God; but Lot returned to Sodom.

Bad Results

I could conjecture, perhaps, that he considered it a “mission field”…and so it may have been. But no one believed his message, if indeed he had one. And the long run result in his own family was that his daughters did not know God’s will, and he himself did not trust God for daily living, though he had evidently trusted him for salvation. In the face of judgment, he still chose the city of destruction (“Bela” means “destruction”), and then, when he saw the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he no longer believed God would keep his word concerning that “small” city and he fled to the mountains, where God had ordered him to go in the first place. Ironically, that city still exists today, though the name has changed a little. God kept his word through all the ages, though Lot had none of the benefits: Lot left a place that God saved for his sake—simply because he spoke up for it—and he went off and lived in a cave, where his daughters, assuming that he was the only man left in the world, decided they had to “save the human race” by getting themselves pregnant by their own father.

The two girls got him drunk and crawled into bed with him while he didn’t know what he was doing. Each deliberately became pregnant by their father, Lot. Their two sons, born of that union, were named Moab and Ben-Ammi. Their descendants, called the Moabites and the Ammonites, are still with us today, and have been enemies of Israel from the beginning until now. Today we call them “Jordanians,” and the capital of Jordan is Amman, even today. They are still the enemies of Israel. The Palestinians themselves are actually Jordanians, too. The sons of Lot have been a source of grief to Israel for nearly five thousand years, now. They are still people for whom Jesus shed his blood, and we desire to see them saved…but what a mess!

Most ironic of all, I suppose, is the fact that, had Abraham simply left Lot back in Ur of the Chaldees, as he was told to do, or even in Haran, years later, then none of this would have ever happened. But God has used it to his glory, and He will continue to do so. Remember that Ruth was a Moabite woman, and she became the Great-g-g-g grandmother of Jesus!

Conclusion:

One thing I want to point out, here, is that ALL the men from every quarter, young and old, etc. surrounded the house with one intent: to gang-rape the two “men” who had come to Lot’s house. They did not know they were angels. They simply saw them as “fresh meat”. The immorality of that area had reached “critical mass.” They were unsalvageable. We look at our society today and think “Oh, it’s just like Sodom!” but we are far from 100% immoral, though it may seem we are fast headed that way. God grant us the wisdom and courage to turn the tide, if possible.

Oh: and, about that repeating pattern? The one where God removed the righteous (declared righteous because of Faith), and then destroyed the city? Can you think of a coming event in prophecy which may have been prefigured by those Old Testament patterns?

How about the fact that there is a day coming when the Church will be removed, and the entire World judged, in the Great Tribulation? Yes, I think that is the picture in the case of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. And, more specifically, Lot is also a picture of believers who are saved by faith, but live their lives in sin. When the judgment seat of Christ comes, and our works are judged, they will still be saved, yet so as by fire…they have escaped judgment but lost most (or perhaps all) of their chances for reward. Lot was literally dragged out of Sodom, and most (or perhaps all) the wealth he had gained was lost in the destruction of the city. What a sad, shabby story of ruin and waste! And it was all so avoidable, too.

But where does Jesus fit into this story? Keep in mind that He is the Eternal Judge of all the Earth! Remember, too, that He is the one who authoritatively declared Lot to be righteous by faith, and who sent the angels to rescue him. He is the Savior of the World and the Judge of all the Earth. We need to see Him that way, and worship Him as God.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to your true identity, and teach us to walk with you, serving willingly as your ambassadors to a lost World.


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Genesis 15—the Promises Reiterated

© C. O. Bishop 2012: Revised 2018

Introduction:

We have been studying through Genesis with the specific goal of seeing Jesus there. Today we have a fairly special view, as we will see the particular passage that is cited in the New Testament as proof of how God saves sinners. There are some other things here for us to see as well, and some that are difficult to understand. But, as I see it, there are at least three things here we really ought to try to grasp:

  1. God Himself is the reward of the believer.
  2. God offers a righteous standing on the basis of faith alone.
  3. God’s Promise is entirely unilateral. There is nothing more for the believer to do, in order to make the promise sure. It is not a conditional promise, beyond faith.

Abram Met With God

After Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek, in chapter 14, God came to Abram again, and told him that He himself was Abram’s shield and “exceeding great reward”. Keep in mind that this was Jesus, the only Savior, who kept appearing to Abram. And here is an interesting thought: Are you satisfied, if God is your reward? Is Jesus alone enough for me? Or do I really say, “Well that’s fine, but, here’s what I want.”, and then list all the things I think ought to be in the mix?

Abram replied, “What will you give me?” Not, “Wow! YOU are my reward? That is really mind-boggling!” He missed the statement that GOD was to be the reward of Abram. It is hard for me to imagine the whole exchange, even though it is spelled out for us.

God: “I AM your faithful protector, and your eternal, super-abundant reward!”

Abram: “Yeah? What’s in it for me?”

Amazingly, God is not offended by Abram’s blindness and ignorance. He understood that Abram had no concept of the eternal glory of God, which was being promised to him. He could only see the temporal condition: He had no offspring.

So God listened to Abram’s complaint that he had no children, and that a servant of his was about to become his heir, but then God corrected his thinking. Evidently it was at night…God first said, “No, that person will not be your heir: your own son, begotten by you, will be your heir. And, by the way; let’s step outside and look at the stars. Try counting them…it will be just as hard to count those who will eventually be your offspring!”

And the surprising thing (when you consider all the other problems displayed by Abram) was that Abram simply believed God. Remember he was around 85 years old, and childless. But God promised him a son, and Abram believed him. (Incidentally, the name “Abram” means “high father”. I wonder how Abram had felt about the irony of his own name up ‘til now?) But this faith, expressed so simply, is the eternal example of faith by which we are instructed, still today. “Abram believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness.” This is God’s means of imputing righteousness to sinners. (Keep that in mind when we look at Lot, later.) (See Romans 4:1-8) This is the only means by which God declares a sinner to be righteous: through faith.

And yet, Abram had his doubts…When God continued, and said that Abram would inherit the land, he said, “How can I know I will inherit it?”

A Contract with God

Elsewhere in scripture (Jeremiah 34:18-20) we find that when two individuals had to make a binding contract, they made a sacrifice, and split the sacrifice in two pieces, then, together, they walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, thus binding both of them, with the authority of God behind the oath, to the terms of what was in the contract. And God held them to that covenant.

God commanded Abram to prepare just such a sacrifice. Abram prepared the sacrifice, and then he waited. He waited all day, and kept the birds off the carcasses. After the sun went down, God caused a deep sleep to fall on Abram, and a horror of great darkness (must have seemed to be a nightmare), and then God alone walked between the pieces of the sacrifice: All Abram saw was a smoking furnace and a burning lamp. But God walked between the pieces by himself. He bound Himself to His promise with an oath, and there was nothing for Abram to do but watch. In this, also, Abram is an excellent picture of the believer: God offers grace—we receive it by faith, and there is nothing we can do to add to God’s promise. We will not make His promise more or less sure by our interaction. But we will affect the relationship for better or worse.

Give it some thought: Who was dealing with Abram? And, who do the sacrifices actually represent? When two men called one another into account on the basis of a sacrifice before God, it was binding…not to be broken…because of that sacrifice! Now Abram has prepared a sacrifice, and God bound himself alone to the promise, on the basis of that sacrifice.

We Meet With God

To what is this picture alluding? If we read Genesis 22, we see Abraham obediently moving to attempt to sacrifice his son, Isaac. This story is an echo of the promise made in the Garden of Eden, regarding the Seed of Woman, and it will be echoed even more specifically at the Passover, five hundred years later, with the blood of the Lamb saving the believers through faith. But in this specific case, in Genesis 22:16-18, God again swears by himself, on the basis of the sacrifice. All these are looking forward to the Cross! Jesus, God in the flesh, offered Himself as a sacrifice, and God the Father bound Himself to an eternal promise on the basis of that sacrifice.

When we compare Abram and Lot, in scripture, we find that Lot was declared righteous too: evidently through faith, as that is the only means by which a sinner is declared righteous; but how did his life turn out? He did not go on to interact with God on a personal basis, and his life turned out to be quite a wreck. But God later reminds us (2nd Peter 2:7, 8) that Lot was a righteous man. We see that, while God kept His promise to both Abram and Lot, so that they were equally saved, their rewards were quite different. Because of disobedience, unbelief and neglect, Lot lost everything. Abram had some failures, as well, it is true, but he had a general pattern of faith and obedience, and he reaped a great reward.

So, in the New Testament, we can also see that a believer is saved by Grace through Faith, just as Abram and Lot were saved: but rewards are a separate issue. We can live lives that are barely different than that of an unbeliever, and our every thought and ambition may be the same as the world around us (similar to Lot), and the wreckage that he reaped can be our own, as well. Lot was a saved man who lost everything, because of unbelief, neglect, and disobedience. Abram was a saved man who earned rewards through a life of faith and obedience, though he had some serious flaws as well. Those patterns hold true today.

Abram kept building altars, wherever he went. A pattern of worship and sacrifice was established, early, and even after his failures, he kept coming back to God. When God met him in the person of Melchisedec, he responded in worship and thanksgiving. When God met him that historic night in Genesis 15 and promised a great number of offspring, he believed God, in spite of the fact that he was a very old man already (mid-eighties, at least), and God declared him righteous, on the basis of that faith.

When God promised the land, Abram initially had doubts about it; but he then acted in obedience and brought the sacrifices as commanded. Much later, when God called him to sacrifice Isaac, the Son of the Promise, he did not waver, nor even ask questions, but simply moved to obey, and God had to stop him. In Hebrews 11:17-19, God explains that Abraham (his name had changed) believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. But God had a substitute for Isaac. A ram was there, prepared as a substitutionary sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice died in Isaac’s place.

God had a substitute for you and for me as well. In fact, He had a substitute for the entire human race. Jesus is the chosen sacrifice: the One who died in our place. He is the substitute for us…and there is no substitute for Jesus.

So; What About The Promised Land?

It is important to see, here in Genesis 15, that God not only labeled the boundaries of the Promised Land, but identified the time involved. Fourth generation…four hundred years in Egypt…sins of the Amorites is not yet full, etc. I don’t understand the “fourth generation” statement. C. I. Scofield points out that there have been three dispersions, and that the fourth time they come back into the land will be in the Millennial Kingdom, but I am not really sure that has anything to do with this. But it cannot be simply the fourth generation from Abraham, as that would be Joseph’s and his brother’s children, and they did NOT go into the land—in fact, the four hundred years of affliction began just as that generation came to adulthood. So, I am not sure about that verse. Incidentally, they were in Egypt for 430 years, to the day. But the affliction evidently began thirty years into their time there. Maybe there is something else here that I am missing. That could easily be the case. But Abram was clearly given to understand that the fulfillment of the promise of the land was far in the future. He embraced it by Faith.

The physical boundaries of the land were given as the Nile River on the West and the Euphrates River on the East. Evidently the northern and southern boundaries were known to them by the tribal names, but they seem to include Syria in the North, and well into Arabia in the South. Only once, during the reign of King David, Israel held nearly all that land: and even then, they only had military garrisons along all those borders. They had not actually inhabited the land.

These boundaries are called out again in Joshua 1:4, so there is no question that it was specifically to the Jews, and not to “all the sons of Abraham.” He had seven other sons by two other wives: one by Hagar, Sarai’s slave, and six by Keturah, a woman he married after Sarah died. But he had only one by Sarah. And, it bears repeating: all the natural sons regarding whom we have any further information turned out to be bitter enemies of the Sons of Promise. The nation of Israel, today, is completely surrounded by those natural sons of both Abraham and Lot. And all of them are adamant that Israel has no right to exist, nor the Jews any right to live.

But part of the promise (Genesis 12:3) was that those who bless the seed of Abraham will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed. So Israel has literally been under the protection of God for 4000 years. The nations who choose to be allies to Israel join in the blessing of God. Those who count Israel as an enemy fall under the curse of God. And, God further promised that, through Abram, all the families of the earth would be blessed.

If nothing else, the Lord Jesus came through the stock of Abraham: He has blessed the entire earth with the hope of eternal life. But there is also the overall testimony of the history of Israel, and the treasure of the Word of God, as well.

Pastor Pat James told me that his mother, an avowed atheist all her life, became a believer in her last few years of life, specifically because she saw the survival of Israel as a miraculous intervention by God. As she considered all the enemies that had attempted to destroy the Jews over the last four thousand years, and whom, each time, had failed to do so, she concluded that there must have been Divine protection: she believed that the only plausible explanation for their survival was Divine intervention. That small, initial step of faith led to more inquiry, and more faith, and she ended up believing in the Savior of Israel as her own Savior as well.

Thus, the promise to Abraham continues to find fruition today. People are still hearing the history, hearing the promises, and joining in the faith of Abraham, by simply believing God.

What About You?

The same three lessons are there for us to learn:

Is Jesus really reward enough for you?

This is something to seriously consider: what do you really want in your relationship with Christ? Jesus himself said, in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work!” Do you share that passion for the lost, and for the service of God? I don’t think I really do: I am more like Abram, saying, “Yeah? What’s in it for me?” That is a sad truth, and one would think that, after 45 years of service, I would be better focused on God’s will for my life. I think I am growing in that area, but I certainly do not claim to have arrived.

What about the next point of God’s lesson to Abram?

Do you really believe that the righteous standing God offers is entirely His own work, and is offered on the basis of faith alone?

Or are you trying to “improve upon” Jesus’s finished work at the Cross, fearing perhaps, that if your works are “not good enough,” then God eventually will reject you? This is an area in which you will have to examine your own heart. Each of us has an inborn tendency to think that we are somehow “earning God’s favor.” His favor was freely bestowed upon us in the person of Christ. That is what Grace means: “un-earned favor!” As born-again believers, we serve out of love, and in the confidence that He will reward our faithfulness. We cannot add to the work Jesus finished at Calvary, on the behalf of sinners.

Finally,

Do you really understand that the Promise of God is unconditional?

There is no part of the “contract” waiting to be fulfilled by humans. Jesus poured Himself out as an offering for sin, on behalf of a race which was, at that very moment, rejecting His Grace, spitting on His Holiness, mocking His Majesty, and condemning His Righteousness to death, as if He, and not they were the criminals. We have completely deserved the condemnation of God, and, instead, He has offered us Mercy, Grace, and Blessing, on the basis of Faith alone!

As Gentile believers, we have no inheritance in the physical land promised to the physical offspring of Abraham. But we have a greater inheritance in the Person of Christ, as we, along with all Church-age believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are the Bride of Christ! The whole Earth is ours, along with all that is His. And, yes, it is worth waiting for it. As Abraham waited for the land, we wait for our eternity with Christ. As Abraham lived in the land, knowing it would all be His, we are to live in our relationship with Christ, experiencing now the spiritual life that is ours eternally. It isn’t always easy, but it is already ours! We embrace it by Faith.

Lord Jesus, feed your Flock on your Word: draw us along beside you by your Holy Spirit, and let us serve you in Joy. Use us to reach the people around us, and draw others into your Grace.


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.


Hebrews Chapter 2: First Warning

Hebrews Chapter Two: the first of Seven Warnings

© C. O. Bishop 1/22/17; THCF 1/29/17

Hebrews 2:1-4; Genesis 6:14-22

Introduction:

As we mentioned in the past weeks, along with the many exhortations to genuine believers, and the seven comparisons that are made to demonstrate that “Jesus is Better”, there are seven warnings given throughout the epistle to the Hebrews, which are directed specifically to those who are “along for the ride”, but have not received the Messiah as their savior. They aren’t sure, perhaps, or at least, are not committed.

There are many teachers who attempt to make this a warning to believers against losing the eternal life they now possess. The obvious problem with that is that if that “Eternal Life” is really eternal, then it cannot cease; so the only person who can “lose” eternal life, is one who never possessed it to begin with.

I hope to demonstrate what the warning really is, and to whom it really applies. Interpretation has to precede application; so, before we can rightly apply God’s Word to our lives, we need to understand what it actually says. In chapter two, here, we see the first of the seven warnings to the uncommitted; to the “dabblers”.

Don’t let the Message “Slip” Away from You

Hebrews 2:

1Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.

Given our exalted position in Christ, (provided we have actually crossed over into His life… John 5:24 says that we have crossed over from death into life) and, given the fact that Jesus really is superior in every way to the messengers who were sent to the patriarchs, it behooves us to give special attention to His Word. That is true for all believers…but the “warning” included here is not to believers. This is the beginning of the first warning in the book of Hebrews.

All of the Epistle is to the Hebrew “professing believers” of the Apostolic Age, but among them were evidently (as today) people who, while they professed faith, had never actually placed their faith in Christ as their only hope. They still were “half-in, and half-out”, feeling that they still had the option to go back to Judaism “if things don’t work out”, or if they changed their mind.  (The intended audience becomes increasingly apparent, as the warnings intensify.)

This sort of thing is common today among Gentiles, as well, because people “go along” with a church; perhaps, just to “see how things go”.

There are several problems with that approach:

  1. Ultimately, a person who is “half-in” is not in at all.
  2. An unsigned contract is completely invalid. A signed contract is completely binding.
  3. If you put on a uniform, it does not make you part of the armed forces…and if you take it off it does not get you out. In the same way, acting like a believer does not make you a child of God, nor does failing to act like one take you out of God’s family.
  4. The unseen danger is that when one “acts like a Christian”, one can convince oneself that he or she is “just as good as any other person”, and conclude that they are in a secure position because of their works. No one is saved by works. Saving faith produces works, but the works do not produce the relationship vital to salvation.

So, the warnings in the book of Hebrews are specifically to those who have known the truth, but have neglected to do anything about it: they are “dabblers”—dilettantes—those flirting with God, so to speak, but not realizing their own lostness. They are repeatedly warned to not fall short of saving faith.

I have “direct-deposit” for most of my pay, at work; a void “pay-check” is still given to me, every payday, including all the appropriate information regarding taxes, other withholdings, and employer contributions, etc., but it is non-negotiable—the money is already in my checking account, so the paper is only a notification. On the occasions, however, when a bonus is paid (which is not part of our hourly wages), it is not done by direct deposit: the check they give me is a live, valid paycheck, and I have to go deposit it myself. I have to take special care that I don’t lose that check. If I don’t get it endorsed and deposited, it will be worthless to me, though the payment was made to me in good faith. If I let the check “slip” into a drawer, or out of my pocket into the trash, I have lost a large sum of money that would have had real worth to my wife and to me.

We can do the same with the message of salvation. Jesus has “written a check”, so to speak, in the amount of “Eternal Life”, and signed it with His own blood, at the Cross. It is made out to “Whosoever Believeth in Him.” Each recipient is required to “endorse” that check by Faith. God then “deposits” Eternal life and, in addition, the righteousness of Christ, to the believer’s account. (In the Scriptures, this is called imputation. Abraham believed God, and God “imputed” righteousness to Abraham. We studied about this in Romans chapter four.)

When we say, “Well, I’ll think about that,” or “I’m just not ready for that, yet,” then we acknowledge that we heard the message, but that, at least temporarily, we are choosing to reject both the message and the gift…and, consequently, the Giver. The check remains un-endorsed, and the transaction is incomplete. The writer warns to not let that happen.

Don’t Neglect the Gift

For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;

The issue here is not about “neglecting” a plant, so that it finally withers and dies, but neglecting a message—neglecting to respond to that message. In any human organization, there will be people who are “along for the ride,” but not committed to the cause, so to speak. The military calls them “weekend warriors.” In any local assembly, it is possible for people to fool one another, and there will always be those who secretly feel that “I’ve always been a Christian! I’m certainly just as good as anyone else here!” They are fooling themselves and others, but not God.

That sort of thing is possible at a local level, and a horizontal level: human to human. We can fool people. In the Body of Christ at large, however, only God is keeping the records, and it is impossible to fool God; He knows each heart. He warns against such duplicity, and lets those people know that they can wait too long…that, if they are not “on the Ark when the door closes”, they will be lost, along with the world. He warns them to not miss out.

Don’t Miss the Boat!

In Genesis 6:14-22 we see a very peculiar foreshadowing of Jesus the Messiah. (Read it.) That Ark, which Noah built, parallels the person and work of Jesus in several ways:

  1. The Ark was built according to God’s instructions
    1. (Jesus fulfilled God’s prophecies to the letter.)
  2. The Ark was built to endure. (Those animals and people were in there for over a year!)
    1. (Jesus’s ministry and work is permanent.)
  3. The Ark was big enough to accommodate all that would be in it.
    1. (Jesus shed his blood for all.)
  4. God knew who was going to be in the Ark …but they entered by choice.
    1. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, and invites all to come to Him, but he knows from eternity past the ones who will respond in faith.
  5. The Ark withstood the flood of judgment and rose above the judgment.
    1. (Jesus bore the judgment for our sins at the Cross and rose from the dead.)
  6. The Ark had only one window, looking up. Noah could not see where he was going.
    1. (Our only information regarding our future is with God. We can only look up.)
  7. The Ark was coated inside and out, so as to be impervious to both the water outside and the filth inside. (What do you think those animals were doing during that year?)
    1. (Jesus was impervious to the Judgment and also is not affected by our unrighteousness. Our sin cannot sabotage God’s Grace.)
  8. The Ark had no sail, oars, nor rudder. Noah was utterly dependent upon God as to the outcome.
    1. (We have no means by which to control our eternal destiny. We have to trust God.)
  9. The Ark had only one door; only one way in or out…and God closed and opened the door. Noah couldn’t close it, and Noah couldn’t open it. God closed and opened it.
    1. (We have only one entrance into God’s Grace, by faith, and He says He will never lose us, nor leave us.)
  10. Everyone inside the Ark was safe…not necessarily comfortable, but definitely safe. Everyone outside the Ark was lost: regardless of age, health, intelligence, or even morals: they were lost because they were outside the Ark.
    1. All in Christ are safe…regardless of works or any other issues. All outside Christ are lost, because they have not believed in Jesus. (John 3:18)

When we read all that the scriptures have to say about Noah, we find that he spent 120 years building the Ark…and that he was a preacher of righteousness. We assume, then, that those around him had heard the warnings. They knew the purpose of the Ark, and the reason for the coming judgment.

They may have believed that he was just a smelly old man with odd ideas about life, and may have thought, “Well, I’m obviously a better man than you are, buddy! If God is in the business of “saving people”, He’d choose me over you!” Or, it is possible that they actually heard and considered the call Noah made, but ultimately put it off too long. One way or another, we are told that Noah had no control over the door. Only God could close it, and only God could open it.

The only choice Noah and his family really had was whether to get aboard. They did, and the rest is history. Once God closed the door, the only comparison that mattered was the location of the individuals being compared: they were either inside or outside the Ark. That is true today, as well. There are unquestionably people who are better humans than I am, who reject the Grace of God, because they are convinced they don’t need it. They think it is a “crutch”, or something.

But God’s Grace is far more than just a crutch. It is the only antidote to the lostness of the human race. As a race we are lost in sin. Turn to 1st Corinthians 15:22. There are two positions, or “locations” listed here: Everyone is either “in Adam”, where, it says, “all die,” or they are “in Christ”, where, it says, “all shall be made alive.” My position “in Christ” is the only thing that makes me acceptable to God. That position is perfect, though my condition may vary all over the scale. Do you suppose Noah and his family may have been afraid or seasick, or claustrophobic, aboard the Ark? Very possibly they were. But did it affect their position? Absolutely not! All the other issues are irrelevant to the question of eternal life. My position is secure: I am in Christ. I am part of the Body of Christ. So, how did I get there?

Where’s the Door? How do I get in?

Jesus promised that the “way in” was to place my faith in Him. In John 10:7, He said that He is the door…the “way in”.  In John 3:16, he said “…that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The way to become part of the body of Christ, according to 1st Corinthians 12:13, is to be placed there by the Holy Spirit—baptized by the Holy Spirit, into the Body of Christ. This happens (whether one knows it or not) at the moment of salvation… at the moment one chooses to believe the Gospel, and place his/her faith in Jesus’ shed blood as full payment for sin.

While it is entirely possible to “fake it” on earth, and fool Christians, it is absolutely impossible to fool God. There are no false brethren in the Body of Christ at large. But there can be, in a local assembly.

I have a friend who will tell you very plainly that he faked his faith for 15 years, until it suddenly dawned on him that he was in deep trouble. He was lost. He repented, and placed his faith in Jesus as the blood-sacrifice for his salvation, and has been serving faithfully for the last 40 years or so. There is no question that such things happen. The problem is that we can’t tell for sure who is who, and they can even be fooling themselves, and be convinced that they are Christians, for a variety of reasons. The seven warnings in this epistle are to that sort of person.

God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

The writer continues to point out how much more harsh the consequences may be for those who knew the Gospel, and had heard the apostolic teaching, in person, and had seen the miracles of that age, if they ultimately failed to heed those warnings. Jesus had issued very similar warnings to the Jews in Jerusalem, and Judea and Galilee. (Matthew 12:21-24; 23:29-39)

A person who hears, understands, and rejects God’ plan for the redemption of lost humanity is in deeper trouble than one who simply never heard it, or who heard such a garbled version of it that they never understood. And, a person who pretends faith, through a self-made piety, is in deeper trouble still.

Think about it this way: a person who is not in the service (say, the US Navy), and who walks aboard one of the warships that come to this area for special occasions, is there as a guest. He or she is treated completely politely and cordially. But when the ship leaves the harbor, and the visiting opportunity is over, it is expected that they will have already gone ashore. If they were to stow away, and were later discovered, they would be taken off the ship, probably by a Coast-Guard vessel, or, if they were still in inland waters, possibly a sheriff’s patrol boat, and they would be charged with trespass. I don’t know how serious the results might be.

But… if they had also dressed themselves in the uniform of a first-class seaman, and claimed to be a member of the US Navy, there would be a much deeper investigation, and probably far more serious charges. They would at least be charged with impersonating a member of the Armed Forces, and possibly with espionage.

So the writer is putting forward his first warning that some of the professing believers among that first generation of Jewish Christians might want to stop and think about the nature of their real relationship with the Messiah. He is warning them not to “neglect the message”, but to step all the way into that relationship by faith.

What about those already “in Christ?”

As a believer, who truly has placed his/her faith in Jesus’s blood sacrifice as full satisfaction of God’s Law, you need not fear that God will ultimately reject you: Your position in Christ is completely secure. Jesus promised that of all those whom God has given him, he will not lose a single one.

These warnings are not directed at you. But! The exhortations in this book are to you! There are encouragements, teachings and promises, here, that are specifically to those who already belong to Christ. As we study together, we will try to learn how to apply them to make them applicable to our lives, both individually and collectively.

 

Lord Jesus, help us to rightly divide the Word of Truth. Help us to correctly understand your Written Word, and correctly apply it to our lives. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.

Amen!


Who is the Weak Believer?

Who Is The Weak Believer?

© 10/6/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 10/9/2016

Romans 14:1-23

Introduction:

Weak believers—“Who is who?”

As we read Romans chapter 14 there are three main questions to ask:

  1. What constitutes a “weak” believer, versus a “strong” believer?
  2. How is each to treat the other?
  3. What are we going to do about it?

1Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

Him that is ‘weak in the faith’, receive ye.” The writer assumes that the reader is not the one who is weak, but specifies that the reader is to be receptive toward those who are. We all want to think that “We are the strong believers!” That is because we are vain, self-centered people. We all want to think that we are right. But how can we tell “who is who?” Everyone has a right to their own opinion, right? But, maybe we need to find out what God says about the matter.

What Constitutes a “Weak” Believer?

Paul then goes on to say that the one who is unnecessarily limited in his choices because of his poor understanding of scripture is the weak one, while the one who is liberated by his faith is the strong one, but that neither has the right to disrespect or condemn the other. This presupposes that the things in question are not elsewhere forbidden. For example, Idolatry, Murder, Theft, Lying, and Adultery are always condemned. Such things are not a part of this discussion. This is about things not condemned by God, but which are frequently condemned by humans. The first thing he addresses is vegetarianism.

For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. (Vegetables.)

The strong one believes he is free to eat any food…the restricted one, who thinks somehow he is forbidden to eat meat, is weak in his faith (probably untaught, thereby ill-equipped), and would be guilty (at least in his own mind) if he violated his understanding of God’s Word by eating meat (mistaken though he is.)

How is Each to Treat the Other?

For God hath Received Him

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

The one who is free in his faith is not to look down his nose at the one who is limited…on the other hand, the one who is limited must realize that he himself is not the judge, and that he must not condemn the one who is enjoying his freedom in Christ. One’s position in Christ is what makes one acceptable to God…not what one eats or doesn’t eat.

But, how is one “received by God?” Ephesians 1:6 states that we have been “…made accepted in the Beloved.” The key, there, is that I am accepted in Him! I was placed in Him by the Holy Spirit at the moment I trusted Jesus as my Savior (1st Corinthians 12:13); the moment I believed that His blood at the Cross was the sacrifice for my sins. I have no other standing before God. I am either accepted in the Beloved, or not at all. And, if I am accepted in the Beloved, and in fellowship with Him, then nothing else really matters, does it? And yet, we tend to reject one another over some pretty petty stuff. Perhaps we need to ask some questions of ourselves:

Who is the Master, here, anyway?

Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

So, while he is on the subject of judgment, Paul points out that each believer is personally accountable to God. We are not to judge God’s servants…God can handle them. If it is not something expressly forbidden by scripture, then we have no authority to criticize, let alone condemn or attempt to control other believers.

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Paul raises another example—he refers to the keeping of holy days: probably specifically the Sabbath was in mind, but, obviously, it could include all the Jewish feast days. And, again, he states that the one who observes a holy day before the Lord has not done wrong…and the one who sees all days as holy to God, and treats them all pretty much the same, is well within his rights as well. In both examples, both believers are fully able to enjoy their fellowship with God, and give thanks…and other believers are not to interfere with them.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Verses 7-12 reiterate that we believers are not “free moral agents,” so to speak…we are each accountable to God. Our life and death are all under his authority, and in everything we give account to Him….So Paul asks the question, again,  “Why do you feel free to judge a brother?” (With the context making it clear that this is concerning things NOT forbidden by God….) We will all give account to God at the Judgment Seat of Christ…not for sins, but for works.

Paul concludes that rather than judge each other for things in which we have freedom, we should take care that we do not use our freedom carelessly, in such a way as to cause another believer to sin. Yes, the truth is, they have the same freedom we have, but if they are not convinced of that and simply “go along” with our freedom when they still think it is wrong, then we have caused them to sin. They have violated their own conscience, but at our insistence.

What about Conscience? Is it Infallible?

My father, in his junior year in college, had his chemistry book stolen from him. He had left it on the porch, outside the cafeteria, and someone took it during lunch. He hadn’t any extra money, so, for the rest of the term, he was forced to borrow other students’ textbooks, in order to complete his homework. They kept urging him to “just steal someone else’s book”; but he knew it was wrong, and refused to do it.

The problem came to a head, though, near the end of the semester: he still could not afford a new book, and as final exams drew near, his friends could no longer lend him a book, because they needed the book themselves. So, unable to replace the book, and desperately needing one, he finally succumbed to the peer pressure: when he saw a chemistry book just like his, sitting outside the cafeteria, he grabbed it, shoved it under his sweater, and hurried home, feeling exceedingly guilty; like a criminal, in fact, because he had violated his conscience. He had stolen a book!

And, he was guilty—that is why he “felt guilty”—he had violated his conscience! But when he got back to his room, he discovered that he had stolen back his own book; the original thief had finally gotten careless and left the book on the cafeteria porch, just as Dad had done. Was Dad any less guilty? Nope. He truly had violated his conscience. He was very angry, then, and wanted to go back and find out who the thief had been. But it was too late. He rationalized his own theft, and was relieved that it turned out to be his own book…but he was still wrong.

Now: Were his fellow-students right, in urging him to steal? Of course they were not! They were clearly encouraging wrong behavior; urging him to sin. Was he wrong to retrieve his own book? Nope! That was not the issue! He thought he was stealing someone else’s book: that is why he was guilty.

So, let’s take that principle a step further: Paul says that if a person thinks it is wrong to eat meat, then, until God enlightens them further, it is wrong for them. But you have no right to criticize them for that position, though you know they are mistaken.

A Word to the Weak:

Let me “put the shoe on the other foot,” for a moment: let’s say you are the one who thinks it is wrong to eat meat…or something else that God does not condemn. Is it OK for you to use this passage to bully your meat-eating brother and say that he has to not eat meat, because it offends you? I don’t think so! You are clearly commanded in verses 3, 4 and 10 to leave each other alone in such matters. Allow God to work in the other fellow’s heart, as well as in your own. On the contrary, we each need to consciously look for ways to not cause another believer grief in their relationship with God. So, how do we deal with such differences? That is our final question:

What Are We Going to Do About It?

No More Judging: and No More Pressure.

Paul recognized that such behavior is common. He told them to knock it off!

13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

This issue of “stumbling” means to “cause someone else to sin”: it does not mean that I can bash someone else because I don’t care for their taste in shoes, or the way they part their hair. So, while we are to look for ways to not cause others to “fall”, we are also not to go around trying to control other believers by saying “Your hair-do offends me!” (Or something equally foolish)… there is no way that someone else’s hair-do is “causing you to sin!”

I had a fellow take me aside when I was in Bible school and tell me that my shoes offended him. They were odd-looking, oversized shoes, (though brand new) and happened to be literally all I had to wear. I had found them on a clearance table in a mall for $7, and I was grateful to have them. Were my shoes causing him to sin? No! He was just condemning me for wearing them.

14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

If we convince someone else to do something because we know it is right, when the reason they are resisting is because they think it is wrong, then we cause them to sin. Don’t make a big deal out of peripheral things that have nothing to do with Christ; Paul says that the kingdom of God is not about food and drink, but about Righteousness and Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit. These are the key issues we should be looking for in our own lives.

Each of these has two aspects: the one God provides (imputed to us by Grace), and the one with which we respond (and demonstrate and experience), via the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

  • Righteousness:
    • Imputed: (Romans 4:3) “…Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him as Righteousness.” That is how we receive Righteousness, too! When you place your faith in the shed blood of Jesus, His righteousness is applied to your account, and you eternally stand before God in the Righteousness of Christ.
    • Demonstrated: (Hebrews 11:8-10) Abraham believed God, and it caused him to live a life of obedience to God. He had his failures, but God holds him up as an example of faith-driven righteousness.
  • Peace:
    • Imputed: (Romans 5:1) “Being therefore Justified (declared Righteous) by faith, we have Peace with God.” We are to first find peace with God, through faith in Jesus’ blood, and then, daily seek the Peace of God.
    • Demonstrated: (Philippians 4:6, 7) “ 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  We choose the Peace of God by faith. We obey by faith, and leave our griefs with Him. (See also, 1st Peter 5:7)
  • Joy in the Holy Ghost:
    • Imputed: (Galatians 5:22, 23) “…the Fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace…” The Holy Spirit is the source of all Joy in a believer’s life. Joy has been conferred upon us by God, in the person of the Holy Spirit. He indwells us and will never leave. (John 14:16)
    • Demonstrated: (same passage) The Holy Spirit is the source of the Joy of God, in all cases. We demonstrate, experience, and display Joy in our lives only when we are in fellowship with God and walking in obedience with Him. (1st John 1:7) In fact, a lack of joy and peace is an important clue that we are not walking with Him.
      • Please do not confuse Joy with Happiness. They are not the same. The circumstances may be severe enough to preclude happiness (the cross for instance) but Joy is still possible (“…Jesus…who, for the Joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross…” Hebrews 12:2)

If we possess (and experience, and display) those three things, we are in fellowship with God, and will be (usually) accepted by those around us, as they see the reality of Christ in us. So, that is where we need to put our priorities…not on the outward things that are of no eternal value, but on the inward things that make for peace, and by which we can build up one another in the faith.

20 For meat (food) destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.

v.20-22. Paul reiterates that we do have freedom, but that we are not to use our freedom in such a way as to cause our brothers or sisters to sin. We can exercise our freedom privately, and not cause someone else to stumble.

When a vegetarian friend or relative comes to our home for a visit, we simply have vegetarian meals, so that they are not forced to “choose”. Sometimes people have medically-mandated dietary restrictions that are so limiting that they simply cannot eat what everyone else does. (We have a niece who has to completely avoid gluten, for example.) But they have no thought or feeling that this is a moral issue; it is simply a practical necessity. In that case we try to prepare a separate, attractive, and tasty meal for that individual as well, so they can eat with everyone else, and be included, but not be affected badly by eating something they can’t handle. We seek to be a blessing, not a stumbling block to those around us.

23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

v. 23 is the key verse to the whole subject—he says that one who partakes in an activity that is not forbidden by God when he thinks that it is forbidden, is condemned by his own conscience, because he did not act according to faith. (John 5:24 says we are not condemned by God…and never will be.)

The Conclusion:

“Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (This is one of the four definitions of sin, given in the epistles: the others are 1st John 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of the Law”; 1st John 5:17 “all unrighteousness is sin…” and James 4:17 “…to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is Sin”) Romans 14:23 wraps it all up: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin!”

Don’t attempt to “bully” others into your own way of thinking, when there is no clear mandate, and especially, if it is a peripheral issue; not a cardinal doctrine. Learn to appreciate your fellow believers for their position in Christ, and not condemn them because they aren’t “just like you!”

Receive the three cardinal values of the kingdom of God (Righteousness, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit), and practice reflecting those three in your life. That will go far toward building good relations with those around you.

Learn to Love the brethren; Learn to walk with God.

Lord Jesus, we are accepted before God because of your sacrifice at the Cross. Cleanse our hearts and help us to love one another as you have loved us, and accept one another as you have accepted us. Fill us with your Righteousness, your Peace, and your Joy, as we learn to walk daily with you.


What about Israel? (Part 2)

What about Israel? (Part Two)

The Sovereign Mercy of God

© C. O. Bishop 2/13/16 THCF 3/13/16

Romans 9:14-33

Introduction:

We have begun reading Romans chapter nine. It is the beginning of the three-chapter “trilogy”, here in Romans, which addresses the future of Israel. It is not an easy passage to read, but it is worth studying out, because understanding this passage will eliminate a lot of false teaching that is common today regarding Israel and the church, as well as some other topics, including the security of the believer.

I want to tell you: this chapter was very difficult to me, for years. I got angry every time I read verses 18-20. I thought, “Now, wait! That is a valid question! I want an answer!” I actually had to set it aside for several years, eventually, and wait on God to make me able to understand it. The answer really is right here in God’s Word, but it is only available to those willing to believe God and trust His will.

Ultimately, as long as I am questioning God’s righteousness and Wisdom, this will be a closed chapter for me: a stumbling block at best. The beginning question, posed by Paul himself, is:

Is God Unrighteous?

And he answers the question in strongest terms. Let’s read it:

14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.

26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God

In verses 14-26 Paul states that Mercy extends from God. God states that He, and He alone, has the right to choose upon whom he will pour His mercy. His foreknowledge must be considered along with His Sovereignty, here…God knows in advance the kind of person each will be, and where they will place their values. (Remember what we learned about Esau and Jacob in the preceding passage.)

Remember too, that, by definition, both Grace and Mercy can only be extended to those who do not deserve them. Grace is unmerited (unearned, undeserved) favor, while Mercy is the withholding of deserved punishment for real (not imaginary) guilt. So, if all the potential recipients of Mercy are guilty sinners, deserving their punishment, and God chooses to offer Mercy and Grace to only those in a certain category, that is his privilege, and He is being Merciful and Gracious to those few. To the rest He is not being unjust: he is being just…judicially righteous.

If a Federal judge offered a “program” to a group of hardened, convicted criminals whereby they could potentially have their records purged, but most of them rejected it, would he then be unable to make good on his offer to the few who accepted? Or would he simply follow through with the sentencing on all those who rejected the offer, and follow through on the “program” for all those who had accepted his offer? God has offered Grace to the whole human race, down through the ages. Statistically speaking, very few have responded in Faith.

I spoke with a Chinese immigrant a few weeks ago, who had come here with his teenage son, four years ago. He had recently divorced his wife, before having obtained a visa to immigrate to this country, but, as he explained to me, he and she had quarreled continuously during their marriage. Now that he is here, (he explained) he has “received God”. He still has limited English, but I asked whether he would have a chance to reconcile with his wife. He wasn’t sure…she is now a believer too, for which he is grateful—but he cannot help her immigrate, because he is no longer “related” to her. His hope is that his teenage son may become a citizen and move to bring his mother here…in which case, possibly reconciliation can happen. But he choked up and his eyes filled with tears, as he testified to the goodness of God in bringing him to a place where he heard and believed the Gospel, and where he can freely fellowship with other Chinese Christians. He had a respectable job in China; here, he is a janitor. But he is rejoicing, because he has a Walkman or iPod, or some such gadget on his belt, and all day, while he cleans toilets, he is listening to the reading of God’s Word in his own language. My question: Is God unjust to the Billion-plus people left in China? Nope. This guy wants to return as a minister to his people. This man and many others like him are evidence of God’s Grace. We are all condemned sinners, by birth.

Sovereign Mercy

If I were a potter, and if I intended to make fine china, rather than flower-pots, it follows that I will choose the correct kind of fine kaolin clay to begin with. The best human potter in the world cannot make fine china out of common red clay. Regardless of the workman’s skill, the character of the building material will be revealed in the quality of the resulting product.

But God created both the fine kaolin clay, and the common red clay. So, how could he blame either one for being what it is, right? Paul raises that rhetorical question: “Well, then, how can God blame anyone, since He made them the way they are?” He does not directly answer that question; instead, he reminds the “rhetorical questioner” that we are the created things, and God is the Creator.

We are not in a position to question His doing: He defines Righteousness. We have our own ideas, of course, but the fact is, by nature, we are each flawed in our thinking, and cannot second-guess the wisdom of God. Furthermore, it is an uncomfortable fact that all porcelain, whether for fine china or toilet bowls, is all made from that nice kaolin clay. So, in spite of our feeling that it is all due to personal, inescapable differences in the individuals, thus an unfair judgment from an unjust God, the fact is we were all made of the same mud. But here are some thoughts along the line of an answer:

To begin with, it is true that physical, mineral clay is inanimate and has no choices. Humans, on the other hand, are all created in the likeness of God, and all have choices. God knew from eternity past that there would be people who would never value Him for who He is. He created the whole human race in Adam, knowing that a large majority would surely reject Him. I do not have to understand His choice to go ahead with the creation; I do have to accept His sovereignty in making that choice. He is God. I am not.

One thing made clear throughout Biblical history is that every single person has choices to make and that they are held accountable for the choices they made in the light that they had. A person who rebels without any knowledge is less culpable than one who rebels in full knowledge of God. (Satan is the extreme example of the latter.)

What about Pharaoh?

Pharaoh is alluded to, as one whose heart God hardened. That is historically true: but, he had already declared (Exodus 5:2) that he “did not know God”, and initially, it says (Exodus 8:32 and others) that he hardened his own heart. God stepped in during the devastation of Egypt, and saw to it that Pharaoh continually hardened his heart, beyond reason, until everyone around him could see that he was fighting God, and that Egypt was being destroyed by God. Did Pharaoh have a free choice? Yes, he did, but once he had made that choice, God saw to it that he carried it to a ridiculous extreme.

Knowing in advance how various individuals would respond, God saw fit to set them in places that would ultimately demonstrate His glory and His mercy. In the case of the Church, according to verse 24, he selected those vessels of mercy from both Jewish and Gentile sources. According to Hosea 1:10, “In the place where it was said unto them, ‘Ye are not my people,’ (that would include us Gentiles), there it shall be said unto them, ‘ye are the sons of the living God!’” Interestingly, in the context where that verse was originally given, he was speaking of the restoration of Israel; not “saving the Gentiles.” But in Romans 9:24-26, we are told that, prophetically, it also included the Gentiles. I love reading God’s commentary on His own Word, because He has the authority to do and say things I never would have done, or even thought of. It is His Word, and He knows His own intent.

The vessels of dishonor he knew from eternity past, as well, and He chose to place them among both Jewish and Gentile nations. There have been men (and women) of monstrous evil from all sources. There have been heroic figures from all sources. And there will ultimately be people of faith from every nation, every ethnic group, every tribal group, and every language in the world. (Revelation 5:9, 10) By the way, there have been vessels of dishonor among believers, too. The Bible confesses the gross sins of many men and women of God, who, despite their relationship with their Savior, were sadly flawed. Some committed adultery and murder. Some lied, or denied they knew their savior at all. They were still believers, but in a “bad place, spiritually” (as people sometimes say, today) and it cost them dearly.

Finding the Treasure in the Field

Here is something else to consider: with few exceptions, a miner knows that he is looking for ore, not a stand-alone pure element. Gold, for example, is usually heavily mixed with (not compounded with) quartz, and Aluminum always is compounded (not just mixed) with oxygen or silicon. Similarly, Iron is usually compounded with oxygen, among other things.

The miner knows that he needs the richest ore he can find, but that even the best ore will require refinement, and that the refining process will produce dross, or slag, which in itself is usually not of great value, though it can sometimes be used for other purposes (sometimes with which to pave roads, or make abrasives.) But the oxides and other impurities are collected (mined) along with the desired elemental metals. The ore is valuable as ore, due to the metal it contains. God knew the hearts of men before he created them, and the “element” he was looking for was faith: the willingness to believe God. The human race is the ore: the people of faith are the treasure. Hebrews 11:6 states that without faith it is impossible to please God. And NO one is created with faith in God. We are created with a choice: we choose to believe Him, or we choose not to believe Him.

27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:

28 For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.

29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.

30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

Ultimately, the question is: “What will a person do with Jesus, the Christ?” Notice that he says, in verses 32-33 that a stumbling block was set up (the Person of Christ); alluding to Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 where it says that whoever was offended by that stone would fall, but those who believed on Him would not be ashamed. He says that people who had not been the people of God were being called to be the people of God (quoting Hosea), and that in spite of the numerical growth of fleshly Israel, only a remnant would be saved—those who were saved by faith. He says the loss of Israel would have been as complete as that of Sodom and Gomorrah, except that God had promised to save a remnant. We are seeing here the fulfillment of what Jesus himself said, that few would enter in by the narrow gate, or desire to follow a narrow way…that most would follow the broad way to destruction. It referred to both Jews and Gentiles.

The result has been that the Gentiles who were not even looking for a savior were offered salvation…and many (but still relatively few, compared to the billions of Gentiles on earth today) have joyfully received Him.

Israel claimed to be seeking righteousness, and to be waiting for the Messiah, but they had sought to do so by works of the Law (v. 32), and had rejected faith. So, when He actually arrived, and came to them, they rejected Him out of hand (as they still do, today, largely). They stumbled over the stumbling-stone that God set up throughout all the ages. Faith in a substitutionary sacrifice has always been the stumbling point. People want to think they can earn salvation, or that they are already good enough on their own merit. From Cain to the Anti-Christ, the issue has always been that of “rejecting God’s plan”, and “choosing to supplant it with my own way.” It is interesting, in Jeremiah 2:13, that God called those to be two separate evils. “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” But faith in God’s chosen Messiah is the treasure for which God seeks.

Jesus addressed this concept in one of the parables, telling of a man who joyfully sold all he had to buy a field he knew contained a treasure. And He said “the field is the World.” Jesus gave his life, and paid for the whole world, to gain the people who would place their faith in Him. He was the man in the parable. They were the treasure.

What about Us?

All humans today will fall into either one group or the other, just as in all other ages. And, even as believers, having been genuinely born again by Grace through Faith, and indwelt by God’s Sprit, we still have a moment-by-moment choice to make: will I, or will I not choose to believe God and follow Him by faith?

If I choose to disobey, it does not inactivate God’s Grace and Mercy, any more than the collective disbelief of ancient Israel negated the promises of God. God has not forgotten Israel, and He will not forget me. But: the disobedience of Israel has been very costly. And my disobedience is costly as well. This life is my only opportunity to “go to work with Jesus”, and to join him in saying “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!” If I keep putting it off, there will come a time when I am out of time, and I will have very little to show for my life, when I stand before Him. Will He still love me and accept me? Yes! That fact is made abundantly clear in scripture. Will the same rewards be forthcoming? Nope. That fact is also crystal clear. Salvation is a gift… But rewards are earned.

We can pray for Israel, and love her as God’s chosen people, but above all, we should learn from her errors, and resolve to avoid making the same errors. Read the scriptures to find out the path God has chosen for the people of God, and the principles by which He calls us to live. Then choose daily to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

If you want to stir up more faith, remember; “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) Go to God’s Word to feed your new nature, and grow strong in Faith.

Next time, we will continue to read, and study, to see how God is keeping His promises to Israel.

Lord Jesus, we pray for the peace of Israel, as you have commanded. We also pray that we will not be blind to your Word, but that we will believe you and follow you as befits the children of God. Please refine us to become the ambassadors of God that you have chosen us to be; conformed to your image, and committed to your service. Amen!


Abraham’s Saving Faith: Grace and Imputation

The Faith of Abraham

© C. O. Bishop

Romans Chapter 4

Introduction:

In Chapters 1-3, Paul has just finished explaining the Salvation offered through Grace…and the fact that it is the only solution offered by God for the completely epidemic Sin of the human race. All are involved; all are infected; all are guilty; all are condemned. So…all are included in the offer of salvation through the single sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God completely “levels the playing field”, in terms of a person’s eligibility for the gift. No one is excluded for reasons of origin, depth of depravity, or relative personal worth (as humans see worth). We are told that the whole world is condemned already. (Jesus confirmed this, and said that believing in Him is the way to accept God’s offer of salvation.)

Paul stated that justification (which means “being declared righteous”) is available strictly on the basis of faith in Jesus’ shed blood. (Romans 3:25) He further pointed out that the teaching of Grace, far from annulling the Law of God, confirms its truth and authority. The Law is what sheds the light of God’s spiritual “pathology” on the life of every human, and declares that we are all fatally infected with sin. One can either admit that truth, or deny it. We can “demand a second opinion”; but the only other sources of such information are either consciously subject to the will of God, and will cite his Law as their authority to diagnose, or they are in conflict with the Law of God, and will either attempt to set aside the authority of God or deny it completely. We eventually have to choose who to trust.

What Saved Abraham?

1What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
Paul raises Abraham as a case in point, through whom he simultaneously explains the principle of Grace and the principle of Imputation. He poses the question, “Was Abraham justified by works or by faith? If it was by works then he had something to boast about.” But God doesn’t permit boasting, in regard to Grace. Paul points out that Abraham was declared righteous when he believed God, not when he began doing the things he was famous for. The works were a result of faith. The faith was what moved God to declare him righteous. (See Genesis 15:6)

For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
Paul follows this with the statement that (obviously) when a person works, their reward is wages, not a gift. If I work for employers, they owe me my wages. They are legally bound to pay me. I do not consider my wages a gift. But Grace specifically means “un-earned favor”. If you can do anything to earn it, then it is not Grace. You cannot mix Grace and works. Either God’s Grace is what saves you or you think you can earn his favor, and will try to save yourself by works. There is no middle ground.

What is the Weak Link?

Where I work, we build ocean-going barges. The chain “towing-bridles”,  attached to the barges, are huge… they have to be, to pull the enormous weight of the loaded barge, and not snap in heavy seas, as they are slacked and jerked taut again by the waves and the raw power of the sea-going tugboat. (How huge am I talking about? Each separate link weighs 126 pounds or more. Each link is cast in a mold that encapsulates the next link, so that the whole chain is a series of 126-pound cast-steel links. There are much bigger ones out there: these are just what we use.)

Now, consider: if I took one of those links out, and replaced it with binder twine, what would the strength of the chain be? Obviously the weak link would be the binder twine, and, in fact, it would not even hold the weight of the chain, let alone pull the barge. In fact, if I ran hundreds or even thousands of loops of the twine through the two adjacent links, it would still be impossible to approach the strength of the chain—and the twine would be decidedly the weakest link.

So what is the point of this illustration? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If my works are, at any level, responsible for my salvation or my security in Christ, then, ultimately, my security is completely dependent upon my works, as they are undeniably the weakest link. When God says salvation is “by Grace, through Faith”, what possible value can my works add? God’s Grace, by Jesus’ finished work at the Cross is the power of God for salvation. If it is not enough, then I am lost. It is as simple as that. I cannot add to Grace by works…but I can respond to Grace by works, because of faith…just as Abraham did. Grace is what saves us…not works.

So, what is “Imputation?”

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Paul introduces a Old Testament truth, here: the idea that one thing can be “counted for” another; that, by faith, righteousness can be “added to the believer’s account.”

This is an accounting term: when I take a paycheck to the bank, it is just a piece of paper: it has no intrinsic value. But it authorizes the bank to “post value to my bank account”, and, based on that posting, I can make purchases or withdraw cash from that account. This is a fairly important idea, because there is a parallel in the salvation offered at the Cross. When Jesus died for me, he wrote a “check”, in His own blood, payable to the bearer, for the value of “eternal life, and eternal righteousness”. Now, consider: when I take my paycheck to the bank, if I fail to endorse that check, they will not honor it. The value of the check will not be posted to my account.

So how do we “endorse” the “check” Jesus wrote for us at the Cross? By faith: By placing our trust in His finished work. The facts are simple: Jesus really did write the check, if you want to call it that, in His blood, at the Cross, and he offers it to us as a gift. Now: you can do whatever you want with that check…you can toss it aside, judging it worthless; you can set it aside, thinking you may want it at some more convenient time (which still does not get you the value of the gift); or you can place your faith in that blood sacrifice, and the righteousness of Christ is instantly and permanently imputed (posted) to your account. God will eternally see you in the righteousness of Christ…He will never again see you as a condemned sinner.

Let’s look at 2nd Corinthians 5:21 “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him

This is the ultimate substitution. In Abraham’s later story, we see that God provided a substitute for Abraham’s son, Isaac. A ram was offered in his place. Throughout the Old Testament, we can see that all the blood sacrifices were a substitute for the sinner, at one level or another. And that is why Jesus was called “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” He is the substitutionary sacrifice through whom we can be made righteous before God. He did not become a sinner for us: He became sin. We do not imitate him to become righteous. His righteousness was applied to our accounts by Grace through faith, and, by faith we imitate him, honor him, and depend on His righteousness in our accounts; not at all upon our own works.

Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
David also described the blessedness of a person whose sins are covered…who has had righteousness “imputed” to him without works. The doctrine of imputation means that God has “posted righteousness to my account”. He has counted me righteous. Not because of anything I have done or can do…I am a sinner, and my whole character apart from Him is to rebel against the righteousness of God. God says in Romans 8 that my sin nature not only is not subject to the law of God, but it cannot be. So how could I be declared righteous?

How is Righteousness Imputed?

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
Paul takes his time getting to the explanation, but we already had a clue back in Romans 3:25—Jesus was the propitiation (the sacrifice that satisfied the righteousness of God) for our sins through faith in His blood.

When Abraham first “believed God”, it was simply regarding the promise of a coming “seed”; that his progeny would be without number. But the specific singular word for “seed” is used. Remembering that Paul used and quoted the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, just as Jesus did, I looked up the word for seed in the Septuagint…and it turns out that the word used there is very specific, the promise of the land is to a specific (singular) seed, while the promise of numerous offspring is plural. It gets more specific later on, but Abraham was looking forward to Christ, just as Abel did, and as did the other men and women of faith.

We look back to Him, and we believe—they looked forward and they believed. They understood enough of the gospel and the character of God to make a decision: so do we. The book of Job was possibly the earliest book of the written word of God, and he knew about the resurrection, and the second coming, and redemption, and life after death. The Old Testament saints were not ignorant.

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:

12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Paul carefully reminds the readers that Abraham was still an uncircumcised heathen when God made his promise and Abraham believed. He points out that God declared him righteous then, not 25 years later when he was circumcised. So his circumcision was an outward mark of something that had been an inward reality for 25 years.

Paul says that those who believe are the spiritual offspring of Abraham, whether or not they bear the physical mark of Judaism. In fact, the whole point is that the two ideas are almost unrelated, as there are thousands upon thousands of people (millions, actually) who bear the mark of some sort of faith, but do not have that faith. Jews who did not trust in the Messiah, as Abraham did, but only had the mark of circumcision, were just as lost as the millions today who have been baptized (or circumcised, or both) but have no relationship with the God who chose that sign. Not all Jews were saved, and not all members of churches today are saved… even if the church they attend is faithfully preaching the Gospel. It completely depends upon the individual: do you or do you not place your dependence on Jesus’ finished work—his shed blood—at the Cross?

If someone attends a church that does NOT faithfully preach the Gospel, it just means it is less likely that the person is saved…but not impossible; they may have heard the good news elsewhere, and may already have personally placed their faith in God to save them via the shed blood of Christ. One by one, God saves those who believe…not those who attend a particular church or wear a certain kind of clothing, give money, were born of a certain family, etc. He saves them one by one, by Grace, through Faith alone.

But a real believer has literally been born again, and has a new Father and a New Nature. A baby Christian is hungry for the Word of God; the milk of God’s word. So a genuine believer will not remain comfortably in a church where God’s Word is not taught. He or she will increasingly grow hungry and dissatisfied in the absence of sound teaching from the Word of God.

14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

 

Law and Grace are Separate, but they Work Together

Paul emphasizes the mutual exclusivity of Law and Grace: he says that if the promise was based on Law, then Faith is made void, and the promise has no effect, because the truth is, the Law brings judgment, not salvation. If there were no rules, there would be no consequences for breaking rules; but there are rules, and there are consequences for breaking them. So he concludes that it is by faith, not law, so that Grace is the only means by which we can receive that promise. The result is that all those who hear and believe the Gospel are saved by Grace, and Abraham has literally become the father of many nations, by faith. People from every nation on earth have heard and believed the Gospel.

19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb:

20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;

21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
He also reminds us that Abraham was no dummy—he knew the odds of his becoming a father at that age—but he rejoiced. He was strong in faith…he did not even consider the deadness of his own reproductive organs or those of Sarah, his wife…he believed God’s promise. Specifically, he believed that God was able to fulfill His promises, and that His character was such that he would do so. Paul concludes that on that basis, his faith was accounted to him as righteousness.

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;

24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Paul goes on to say that this was not written just for Abraham’s sake, but for ours, that we might have God’s righteousness applied to our own accounts, as we place our trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead. He says that Jesus was Crucified for our sins—but he was resurrected so that we could be declared righteous…the Resurrection was God’s declaration that He was satisfied with the payment. (Romans 1:4)

From the Cross, Jesus said “It is Finished!” At the Resurrection, God said “Amen!”

Conclusion:

So how will you respond to the promises of God? To begin with, you have to know what He has promised to you. But then, day by day, you can choose to believe Him…or not.

Jesus said “he that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life…”; (that’s present tense: “…has everlasting life”.) Do you trust him for that promise? If so, then you have eternal life now.

What about where he says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you: let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Do you believe that one, too? Just as you have been once-for-all born again by faith, and you trust in his promise to keep you, for eternity, you can daily experience His peace by faith, trusting in His wisdom and strength to guide and protect you.

Lord Jesus, grant us the Grace to hunger for your Word, and to be filled with your Spirit and your Wisdom. Draw us into an ever deeper relationship with you.

Amen!

 


The Bad News, Part 1

The Bad News, Part One

© C. O. Bishop 8/7/15 THCF 8/9/15

Romans 1:18-32; 2:1

Introduction:

We began our journey through the Epistle to the Romans a few weeks ago, and saw that the theme of the book is the “Gospel of God’s Grace”. We also saw that the “Good News” of the Gospel is good news, primarily because of the bad news that it addresses. We could see that the only reason, for example, that the Salk vaccine was such good news when it was first developed in the early 1950s, was that the ravages of Polio were such horribly bad news.

The Bad News of the Gospel, in a word, is Sin. We can talk about Sin as a concept. We can examine the origin of Sin, from a biblical perspective. We can bemoan the results of sin in our society…but ultimately, we need to realize that Sin as a principle is the whole source of our problems as a society, and our lostness as a race. Jesus came to free us from that Sin…in every sense. That is the Good News. But we need to understand the Bad News, before the Good News will really be “good news” to us personally. And we need to see it from God’s point of view:

God’s Perspective

In verse 18, Paul begins a dissertation on the overall slide of the human race into sin and perdition that runs all the way from 1:18 to 3:20. He is not singling out any particular group— by the time he is finished talking, in chapter 3, the whole world is condemned in sin. And he is not being judgmental at all—he is simply stating facts.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Paul first states that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness. He is not “OK with some sin, but hell on the bad stuff”. God hates all sin. Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why?

Consider a company, in which a serious accident (or several) has occurred, due to equipment operators being under the influence of intoxicants of some sort: We are not surprised when such a company adopts a “zero tolerance” policy toward drug abuse, including alcohol. Or a parent whose child (or children) have been lost to the drug trade…how do you think he or she would feel toward street drugs and those who promote them? We are certainly not surprised when they passionately hate the drugs and those who promote them.

Now, how much worse, when something has killed every single one of your kids, and separated from you those you loved the most? That is where God stands. Adam and Eve died spiritually the moment Adam ate the fruit in the garden…and we all died with them. Jesus said that Satan was “a murderer from the beginning”: Who do you suppose he killed? The answer is: he killed you!

God hates sin, because it has murdered the whole human race. Every sin, no matter how small, is a facet of that death-dealing disease we call Sin. God loves the sinner, but he hates the sin. And He is never confused about that distinction, though we sometimes find it very confusing.

Further, he states that his wrath is revealed against those who “hold” or “suppress” the truth in unrighteousness. When I first read that passage in the King James Version, I thought that perhaps his anger was reserved for those that ‘hold” the truth, in the sense of “having it”, but refuse to respond to it. When I looked up the Greek word I discovered that it means to “hold down” or “hold back”—to suppress. It is not a matter of possessing but not responding to the truth, though that is addressed later…the issue is that our unrighteousness seeks to suppress and shut down the truth of God. The fact of the matter is: we don’t want to hear it.

But There are No Excuses

19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

In verses 19 and 20, Paul states that no one is fully excused, because everyone has, built into them, the awareness of a Creator. He says that much of what can be known of God is revealed “in them”. We learn (sometimes very early…in my case, before I was 8 years old) to turn a blind eye to the evidence in creation (Psalm 19:1-3), and particularly our own construction…(compare Psalm 139:14) and so we turn a deaf ear to the call of God, with the result that some of us (myself once included) arrive at a place where we arrogantly (or bitterly) declare that “there is no God.” But the evidence was there, and still is. In fact, the only reply God has to those who say “there is no God” is that “the fool says in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Notice, however, that it is in reference to a people who once knew God: it is regarding the whole human race, or a nation, say, that had its beginnings in faith. Not so much an individual, as no one starts off “knowing God” and regresses to being lost: it’s the other way around.

The human race, as a whole, once “knew God”…there was a time when every single human on the planet knew God personally, but not all were in a right relation with him…and it went downhill from there, as history tells us. By the time of Noah, the world was irreparably evil.

22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

They definitely knew who he was, as the Creator, and they did not glorify him, but turned their backs on him. We profess ourselves to be wise, apart from the wisdom of God.  We are sure that we, ourselves, the wonderful human race, can solve all the world’s problems. We even think that if we could get our hands on another planet, orbiting another sun, we could “terra-form” it, thus recreating our own world, and providing a new home for humanity.  What incredible arrogance! We can’t even fix the world we live on! Our so-called wisdom is unspeakable foolishness, and, year after year, it is shown to be so with every tragic mistake we make as the human race.

23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

As a race, we have turned to idols; we used our imaginations and creative skills to produce images to which we ascribed the attributes of Deity. We made images of men (say, Buddha, for example; ironically, he hated idols, but there are more idols made in his likeness than in that of any other deity), and birds (some of the Egyptian deities, as well as North American Native deities, among many others, had bird attributes), and four-footed beasts (The golden calves, for instance), and creeping things (there are Hindu temples in India dedicated to the worship of rats and serpents.) In today’s world, we have deified Science and computers, and we are sure that together they will save us all. Men like Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and others have become the “priests” of the religion of Science. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a social outcast; not simply misinformed. (That is a characteristic of religion, as opposed to simple facts.)

24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Paul says that because Man turned his back on the real God of the universe, the Real God has turned Man loose to experience the result of his arrogance. The results are strange, as, to my mind, they seem to have little to do with the spiritual sin…but evidently the immorality of Man is directly linked to the unholiness of Man. Corruption at a spiritual level begets corruption at a physical level, and finally at a social level. He says that the immediate result is that they began to “dishonor their own bodies” between themselves. as a result of their own lusts. The sin nature bears sinful fruit; hardly surprising.

 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Many people today try to deny that the New Testament condemns homosexual behavior. As you read these verses (24-27), what other interpretation could there possibly be? He is specifically describing homosexual behavior, and declaring it to be one of the direct results of abandoning accountability to God, and worshipping and serving created things instead of their Creator. Please notice that that particular sin is not given a special category: it is simply listed along with all the rest: disobedience to parents, and envy are listed right along with murder and adultery.

The Problem is that We Don’t Like God

Remember that, in the Garden of Eden, God came seeking fellowship with Adam and Eve…and they ran from Him. It was not the other way around.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

Don’t use this to try to create a “hierarchy” of sins by which to decide that some sins are really despicable, while others are just “kinda cute”. God does not agree with our estimation of the relative worth of sin. He says his wrath is revealed from Heaven against all unrighteousness.

32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Paul’s conclusion is that we not only do these things in full knowledge that those who do such things are worthy of death, but we give approval to those who do them. Today we give that approval by making box-office hits of movies glorifying adultery, murder, debate, deceit, disobedience to parents…etc. The fiction section of a library or a bookstore (even a Christian bookstore) is always the most popular, as we prefer fiction to reality…we prefer fiction to truth. There are perhaps 20 would-be fiction writers for every would-be non-fiction writer. And we glorify novelists far above mere journalists and technical writers. It all seems to fit, I think: Jesus said that when Satan speaks a lie, he is speaking his own language, because Satan “is a liar and the father of it.” I am not suggesting that creative writing is wrong. But we are addicted to it.

We, as a race, are addicted to fiction, and, increasingly to fiction that caters to our lusts. Things that were once unmentionable are now common fare: things once fully condemned as grossly pornographic are so widely available that even Christian parents frequently allow their children access to them. I recall hearing a young child of a professing Christian couple gleefully telling of the erotic scene he had viewed the evening before in his parents’ home. And that was nearly thirty years ago. It is far worse now.

We celebrate the authors of such books and screenplays, as well as the actors and producers of the movies. We hail them as great artists. We give approval to those who do the very things God condemns. We encourage others to do the same. Yes…it all seems to fit.

2: 1Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

We tend to robe ourselves in the rags of our self-righteousness and reject someone else because of their perceived sin…But God says that in so doing we admit our own guilt: You see, that list he gave us in verses 24-27 is a list of examples of the sin God condemned…not an exhaustive list of things he calls sins. And it is certainly not a hierarchy of sins in some particular order of importance.

Sin always breaks fellowship with God. Hold your finger here in Romans, and turn to Proverbs 6:16-19 (16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.)

Notice it doesn’t list drug abuse or sexual immorality? That isn’t evidence that such things are approved, it simply gives us notice that the things God hates have to do with the sin of the heart…the self-centeredness that makes us arrogant, foolish and violent. That sin is the same source as the sin that drives every other social ill in the world. The wrath of God is upon all of it.

So, what are our options?

  1. We can deny it all, and say that sin doesn’t even exist—that there is no such thing as right or wrong—that it is only our perceptions and social norms that drive such a concept. But the problem with that is that every single culture in the world recognizes right and wrong, though they disagree wildly about what it means.
  1. We can deny the importance of sin, and claim that God is such a “sugar-daddy” that He doesn’t condemn sin at all: he just loves everyone so much that we can do anything we want, and we will never face consequences for our decisions. The problem with that is that we all have an inborn sense of justice, as well, which tells us that there should be consequences for bad behavior and reward for good.
  1. We can admit the existence and importance of sin, and admit the holiness and justice of God, but then suggest that human effort (doing lots and lots of good things to make up for the bad things we have already done) can somehow earn a right standing with God. (Virtually all the world’s religions teach this, by the way.) The problem with this is that we are trying to carry out flawless works with very flawed hearts. Our motives will always be questionable. Everything we touch is tainted by who we are. When I confess that I am a sinner, it does not mean that “I got something on my shoe”…it means that my character is such that I break God’s Law. In fact, even if I am allowed to make the rules myself, I will break them (which is why I gave up on New Year’s resolutions many years ago.)
  1. The last option is what the Bible teaches: Sin is real, and it matters! God is holy and just, and He will judge sin. And, finally, there is nothing I can do to undo the sins I have already committed. But where does that leave me? It leaves me lost… and needing a Savior.

Then, What is God’s Solution?

That is why Jesus went to the Cross: He provided full payment for all my sins: past, present and future: In fact, if you think a moment, you will realize that when He died for me, all my sins were future. He paid for them all, knowing everything I would ever do; all the ways I would fail him as a Christian, as well as all the vile ways I despised Him, as an atheist, before I was saved. And he says in John 5:24 that all he asks me to do is believe it.

Conclusion:

Paul says I have no excuse…and he is right. But, in the next few chapters, he will introduce God’s solution for sin: the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of God’s Grace.

Lord Jesus, help our unbelief: we fail in so many different ways to trust your Grace, and believe your Word. Train us to be your followers, in Jesus’ name.


The Power of the Gospel

The Power of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/23/15 THCF 7/26/15

Romans 1:16, 17

Introduction:

When I meditate on the two verses of Scripture we are about to read, and consider their meaning, I try to think them through one word at a time: I …am not…I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed of the Gospel. I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ…and so forth. Every word needs to be considered:

In the very first words, I have to ask: is this true of me? Or is it just a letter from Paul? Can I say this with Paul? I count on the rest of the passage as being true for me; how about the first phrase?

Ultimately, these two verses introduce the topic and theme of the entire book. This Gospel of Christ is precisely what (and who) the letter to the Romans is about. In verse 16, Paul begins to lay out the facts about the Gospel. He first states that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it is the Power of God unto Salvation to everyone who believes it, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.

Let’s break that into bite-size chunks:

  1. I am not ashamed
  2. Of the Gospel of Christ,
  3. Because it is :
    1. The Power of God unto Salvation
      1. To those who believe it
        1. Jews first
        2. Also the Gentiles.

Am I Ashamed?

Perhaps I should save the “personal questions” for last, but Paul addressed it up front, so I think I need to do so, as well: Am I ashamed of the Gospel? Does it embarrass me to tell another person about Jesus? Do I really believe it is what God wants? And, is it important enough to me, personally, that I will take the implicit risk, and at least give others the opportunity to personally reject the Lord, instead of just going along with a whole society that mocks Him? Better yet, am I anxious to give them a chance to change direction before it is too late?

If the truth is that I am uneasy about explaining to a friend or acquaintance how they can have eternal life, perhaps I need to ask myself why: Do I really understand the Gospel myself? And, do I really believe it, myself? Do I really understand and believe that I was on death row for years, with nothing to look forward to except eternal judgment, and not even the sense to know it was coming? Do I really believe that the Holy God whose Law I deliberately broke, deliberately took my deserved judgment on himself, being executed in my place, by people just like me? Do I really believe that the God who created the people who sinned, and the tree of which the cross was made, and the iron from which the nails were forged…allowed those sinners to nail him to the cross specifically to provide salvation for the very sinners who called for His death? If I really understand that and believe it, then I need to see how vitally important it is that they hear that message. And that He has entrusted that job to me. Why was Paul not ashamed? Because of all that we just mentioned and one more thing: It is the Power of God unto salvation.

The Gospel …of Christ

Paul doesn’t give much detail here—he feeds us the facts in order, and in bite-sized pieces. But the first thing of which we should take note is that it is not just any “Gospel” or “good news”, but specifically the Gospel of Christ: the good news about Jesus.

I am going to jump over to another passage, to compare references: 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 tells me the bare-bones facts of that good news. There, Paul said “I delivered unto you as of first importance what was delivered to me:

  1. That Christ died for our sins in agreement with the Scriptures (fulfilling Prophecy)
  2. He was buried (also according to the prophecy)
  3. And that he was raised again the third day (still fulfilling prophecy).

Why am I underscoring the fact that Jesus fulfilled prophecy at every step of the way? Because the fact that God can accurately tell the future, (he who tells the end from the beginning) is the pedigree of God’s word and His authority and His reliability.

That little outline Paul gave is the core of the Gospel: it assumes the bad news is understood—we need a savior because…we are lost sinners. Paul is about to give us all the bad news we can stand…and more, probably; but he is stating the good news first: Jesus saves! And the Gospel is how He does it!

On several occasions I have heard a preacher say that he was going to “really give them the Gospel!”, and then I listened very carefully, and was dismayed to find that they not only failed to “really give ‘em the Gospel”, but they did not even mention any portion of it.

  • No mention of the Holiness of God,
  • No personal guilt for sin,
  • No coming judgment,
  • No need for a personal Savior,
  • No Cross,
  • No Grave,
  • No Resurrection!

What Gospel? It was certainly not the Gospel of Christ!

When I share with someone, I try to remember to explain all three points of the good news, as well as at least the core of the bad news…We need a Savior because we are Lost! And, quite honestly, sometimes I look back and realize that I left out one or more points of the Good News, and maybe all the “Bad News.”

I need to bear in mind that the message we are called to carry is specifically the Gospel of Christ; not “an enhanced life”, “great inner peace”, or any of the other social gospel “motivators” we try to share with others. If I am not telling people the bad news of coming judgment for personal sin, and the specific points of God’s power to save through Christ, then I am not “giving them the Gospel”. And I may even be causing such confusion that they will be driven away from Christ. It is a very simple message: I need to learn it, memorize it, and simply recite it if necessary…explain it if I am allowed to do so.

The Power of God:

Why would Paul say that the Gospel is the “Power of God unto Salvation”?  How can that be? Why can’t He just “reach out and save people”? In Genesis 18:14, God even poses the rhetorical question “Is anything too hard for Me? (The implied answer being “No!”)

So what is the limiting factor, here? Is it our sin? Nope! There is no sin too bad for God to overcome and forgive, and heal. The limiting factor is the Righteousness of God, himself, which demands Judgment for sin; and the Holiness of God which says that God cannot compromise Himself. He cannot “wink” and look the other way. He is Holy! He cannot have partnership—fellowship—with Sin at any level. So, how can the Gospel give Him the power to reach past His own Holiness and Righteousness, and save a lost Sinner? Why is it called “the Power of God unto Salvation?”

The Greek word here is dunamis—it is the “can-do” power of God: God’s ability to accomplish a task. We use that word as the root-word for “dynamic”, “dynamo”, and other words regarding “power to accomplish something.” But there is another word, too, that is also frequently translated “power”; it is the Greek word exousia. Exousia is the authority to do something. When Jesus said “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth…”, He used the word “exousia”—all authority is given unto him in heaven and earth. (Matthew 28:18-20) So what did he say on the basis of that authority? “Bow down and worship me? Bring me all your money? Go attack my enemies?”

Nope, He said “Go ye therefore (because I have all authority in Heaven and in Earth) and teach all nations…” He used his infinite authority to tell us to take his “ability to save” (the Gospel) to the whole human race. Did you know that the Gospel of Christ is the only thing described in the Bible as being “the power of God to save” those who believe it? That is what Paul says, right here. He does not say it is “a” power of God, but the Power of God. This is it! This is Plan A, and… there is no Plan B.

To Save Those Who Believe:

It is interesting, too, that God did not direct his offer to those who could do something for Him, or who would swear loyalty to his cause, or who were specially deserving, or some such thing: He offered it to anyone who would take his offer…those who will take Him at His Word. When people asked Jesus (John 6:28, 29) “what must we do to work the work of God?” he said “this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Again, this is it! This is Plan A—and there is no Plan B!

So what does that plan entail? Jesus promised (John 5:24)”He that hears My Word, and believes on Him that sent me, has everlasting life (Now! Not “someday when you die!”), and shall not come into condemnation (Ever!) but has passed over (Permanently!) from death into Life!” No works are involved. In another passage (Ephesians 2:8, 9) He says we are saved by Grace, through Faith. Grace means it cannot be earned…at all. If you think you have earned it, it isn’t Grace and it isn’t from God.

“Faith” means being persuaded… believing… trusting. When you make the decision to believe the “Good News” regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and you trust His blood as full payment for your sins, then according to His promise, you are eternally saved from that moment forward. That is the Power of God to Save! And it is only effective for those who believe.

To the Jews First?

Well, what’s that about? I thought we were all equal in Christ! Well, we are… but, in fairness to those who had already waited for 1500 years to receive the promise of the Messiah, it was offered to the Jews first, wherever Paul went. He first located the local Synagogue, and he sat down with the elders, sharing with them from the Old Testament the prophecies they already knew, then showing how Jesus completely fulfilled all of them, including the death and burial and resurrection, as promised in the Prophets and writings. When they rejected the fulfilled promise (as they did for the most part), Paul immediately moved to the Gentiles and shared the same message with them.

As a rule, though, some of the Jews responded in faith, and some Gentiles did as well, collectively forming the nucleus of the infant local church. He spent as much time as he could with them, teaching and preaching. In some cases the local resistance was so violent that he had to leave before his presence became dangerous to the believers. (Thessalonica is a prime example—Acts 17:1-10) But that is how the local churches were founded, in virtually every case: Jews first, then Gentiles. It was the only fair way to approach the issue, at the time. And as a matter of practicality, the Jews who believed had already mastered the scriptures to some extent, and could rapidly grow, as believers, to a level of maturity enabling them to function as leaders and shepherds to the poor, ignorant Gentile believers. This was an ideal “soil” into which to plant the “seed” of the Gospel. To be sure, most of the Jews were hardened against the truth. But those who actually believed, and received the truth, immediately took hold and began to grow. So the Good News came “to the Jew First, and also to the Greeks.” He wasn’t holding out on the Gentiles. He was only doing things in proper order.

The Righteousness of God Revealed “From faith to faith

Further, Paul states that the Righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel. Our understanding of his righteousness begins as we place our faith in his character, but our understanding continues to grow as our faith grows. He says that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel from faith to faith…as our faith increases, so will our recognition of and our understanding of His righteousness.

Conclusion

Paul sums up the concept by stating that “The just shall live by faith.” This is actually a quote from Habakkuk 2:4, in the context of judgment coming on Israel, and stating that the righteous people would “live” (that is, survive) on the basis of faith. And, in truth, that is an eternal reality. Habakkuk was facing the physical destruction of Jerusalem and Judah. Those who believed God (and were thereby declared “just” or “righteous” by God) would physically survive (though not necessarily thrive…it was rough all the way around!)

Throughout the history of the Human race, it has been the same: the whole human race having died with Adam, those who believed God, survived the Fall of Man, and rejoined fellowship with God. Those who did not, since they were already dead in Adam, simply passed into a Christless Eternity and were lost. And that is what happens today as well.

Before I was a believer, I was already dead in Adam…already condemned, because I had not believed in Jesus. I was on “death row”, awaiting execution. Jesus had already taken my punishment at the Cross, but I was 18 years old before I placed my trust in His finished Work. Now I am safe in Him. I no longer face God’s Judgment. I already have eternal life. So I now have something truly precious to share with others, and a responsibility to do so.

If they refuse to hear, I am not accountable for their rejection, unless I caused it by my sin. But I am truly a debtor to all around me. I owe them the Gospel, and I owe it to Jesus to pay that debt.

There is no other way…this is plan A, and there is no plan B. And God says He will save all those who believe. We have to try, folks! This is all we can do.

God help us to be the faithful witnesses you have called us to be, praying for the lost, loving one another, loving the lost, and sharing with them in the power of the Holy Spirit!

Amen!


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.