Posts Tagged ‘Salvation’

The Fellowship Imperative

The Fellowship Imperative

Fellowship with God and with Other Believers

© C. O. Bishop 9/8/17 THCF 9/10/17

Hebrews 10:19-25

Introduction:

As we completed the first half of Hebrews chapter ten, we saw that Jesus offered one sacrifice forever, obliterating our sin-debt, and imputing eternal righteousness to us, as believers. This is a super-important concept: if our sins have been forgiven, and “taken away” by the blood of Jesus, then there is no more offering for sin. The Old Testament system of blood sacrifices is completely over—obsolete—done. . And we cannot go back to it.

Now, I wonder how the Hebrew believers must have felt, with the temple service closing behind them, and no real understanding of what lay before them This is not a new thing, though: Remember that Abram was called out of the land of his upbringing, to go out to a new place, where God would bless him. But he was not given a road map. He was just told to go. He left, not knowing where he would end up.

When I first became a believer, the question arose, “What about all the other religions? How do you know this one is right?” My only answer, at that time, was, “I don’t know anything about all the other religions. I only know that this is my stop…this is where I get off the bus.” I knew I needed Jesus Christ, and I trusted in Him. Later on, I learned more, and came to realize that, indeed, there was no other way. He said so Himself.

Many years later, I was called to sing in a wedding, in Colorado. They sent me a bus ticket, and I took that Greyhound bus to a place I had never been, arriving far behind schedule, in a snowstorm at 1:00 AM, to a dark crossroad, where I had been told that I would be met. There was no one there…but I had a choice: Get off the bus, now, in faith, and wait in the dark, snowy night for my friends to arrive, or stay on the bus and get off at another stop which would look better, but not be where I was told to expect them, and I would have no way to contact them. (This was years before cell-phones became a reality.) As it turned out, after hours of waiting, they had finally gone home, briefly, and they were coming right back. I waited less than 30 minutes before they came swooping out of the dark to rescue me. The point is that sometimes we have had to take a step of faith, and trust that God knows what He is doing. At that point, frequently, we can’t go back…we have to look forward. But we can go forward, and we are called to do so.

The Call to Fellowship

We have already been transferred out of the darkness of the lost world, into the glorious kingdom of God’s light; we can now take the next step, and enter the holy of holies by his blood. We are not told to just “wait on God to come and fellowship with us.” We are commanded, and exhorted to deliberately seek out His company. We are free to enter His presence, now. There is no barrier, today, for believers. This is the state of affairs, today; He says:

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,

20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;

21 And having an high priest over the house of God;

We see four points, here:

  1. We have confidence to enter the holy place of God’s presence.
  2. We are entering confidently, solely because of the Blood of Jesus that stands between us and God’s judgment. 
  3. We enter by the avenue of the Cross, by faith…through the torn body of the Savior, represented by the veil that was torn, in the temple.
  4. We enter, knowing that our High Priest, Jesus, had already entered in and made the way for us…and that it is He who invites us to that Fellowship.

 With these truths as our basis for confidence, the writer urges us forward. It has taken him nine and one half chapters to “build his case” for the supremacy of Christ, and the efficacy of his blood sacrifice, but now, with that foundation laid, he urges us to take action.

He says for us to draw near to God. We could not do so before, because we were without access to God. Ephesians 2:11, 12 say that “in time past…” we were “…Gentiles according to the flesh…without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of Promise, having no hope, and without God, in the World.” We literally had no access to God. But now we have that access through Christ. Over in Romans 5:1, 2 Paul says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access into this Grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the Glory of God.”

We have access by faith in Jesus, and we are invited to join Him there, at the Throne of Grace.

 

The Invitation to Fellowship with God

22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

We are invited to enter in with full confidence. We are not entering as those who have “crashed the party”…we are entering as members of God’s household—His own offspring. We are not even entering as “guilty children” who have misbehaved and who are expecting punishment. The punishment was dealt out at the cross. We are entering, in good standing with the Holy God who created us, and redeemed us. We are entering as those who have been washed, and made holy like Jesus. Do I always “feel” this confidence? No, because my heart is deceitful (God says so), and I am always conscious of my failings. But God says that I have been washed, and made holy! (1st Corinthians 6:11 “But you are washed…sanctified…justified…”). You are arriving clean! All you need to do is clean your feet at the door!

A small child enters into his father’s house with utter confidence that he belongs there…because he does! And he enters in, knowing his father is not too busy to address his concerns and questions. He goes there expecting good things. He wipes his feet because he has been taught to do so, initially, but as he matures, he does it because he does not want to bring dirt into his father’s house.

We may practice confession initially because we have been taught to do so. As we mature, we do so because we do not want Sin to hamper our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Psalm 66:18 says that when I cling to sin in my heart, God closes his ears to me. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” We learn to cherish that relationship with Him, and develop a hunger for his presence, so we are anxious to not allow sin to keep us from experiencing that fellowship with Him. But there is another aspect to fellowship: fellowship with other believers.

 

The Exhortation to Fellowship with the Church

He also tells us to hold fast to our faith-relationship with God, and to encourage one another to live the life Jesus died to provide.

23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

 It is easy to allow ourselves to become sidetracked by the “cares of the world”, so to speak:

  • money issues,
  • health issues,
  • relational issues,
  • political issues,
  • employment issues, etc.

We are exhorted to keep the relationship with God in the forefront of our minds, and to cling to that relationship as being of primary importance. He says to “hold fast without wavering”. We are not to allow anything to come between us and Him. The basis for our faith is the character of the one who made the promises: He is faithful!

Then the writer says something really odd: he says we are to “provoke” one another…we usually think of “provocation” as having only negative connotations, but, in this case, it means to “stir up” one another. We are to consider the best ways to be an encouragement to one another, to stir one another up to Love, and to good works. You may have noticed that there is a whole lot of “one another” references in the church-related scriptures. Why is that so? Can’t we just go in, sit quietly on a pew, listen attentively, sing songs, give money and go home? Isn’t that what church is all about?

Well…no! Actually, it is not! Even the worship is not, in itself, “church.”

So what is “Church?”

Sometimes I hear people say “Well, my ‘church’ is when I am out in the woods” or “when I am out fishing, alone with God!”…or something similar. The poet, Emily Dickinson, wrote a whole poem dedicated to this idea: she considered the birds singing in her yard to be preferable to the presence of other people. On the other hand, she also claimed she knew the way to heaven instinctively, and could get there on her own. This is sad, but quite common. It is the proud, ignorant statement of independence, without the wherewithal to survive the consequences.

The fact is, people who say such things do not understand what the word “church” means: the English word “church” is usually translated from the Greek word “ecclesia”, which means an “assembly.” It literally means the “called out ones”. It requires being together with other believers. It is certainly not the building, nor is it even, specifically, the teaching or worship.

I can listen to the radio, if I know that a very good teacher or preacher is to be speaking. This is not “church.” I can be awestruck by the majesty of a storm, or the breathtaking beauty of the creation as a whole, and respond in genuine worship. But that is not “church”, either. “Church” means the “assembly” of likeminded believers. This does not negate the need for private prayer and worship being experienced by every individual believer: both of these are good and necessary; but we meet together for corporate prayer and worship …which cannot be done alone. We also meet for mutual encouragement, and teaching, and comfort. None of these things can be done alone.

Church is not a place, nor is it a building, nor even a religious experience. It is, literally, the assembly of likeminded believers for the specific purposes listed above. That is why we are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together”. The word in this particular passage is the Greek “episunagogen”: which is where we get the word “synagogue,” that the Hebrews used to describe their own assemblies…the assembly—gathering together. The Hebrew Christians were still calling it the synagogue, which was fine—it simply means assembly. But it cannot possibly be “one person alone with God,” although that is also very desirable. In the Jewish culture, it is required that there be ten families, in order to have a “synagogue,” officially. But Jesus said “Where two are three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Is that a church, then?

Well…perhaps it could serve the purpose, to some degree, but the “assembly,” proper, also has some organization to it: it is an intentional meeting together for corporate worship, prayer, teaching, preaching, fellowship, encouragement, and comfort. It would be hard to do all of that with just two or three people. You could encourage one another, pray together for each other’s needs and concerns…possibly even share some teaching. But I doubt you could call that a “church”, because it lacks the structure assigned by God. God says the church possesses elders (always plural) who serve as pastors, shepherds and overseers. It has deacons (again, always plural), who serve as caretakers of the flock at a physical level.

The Universal Church is strictly an organism, not an organization: it is the Body of Christ, and consists of all believers from the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, all down through time, until today, with all the believers today, whether alive or dead….and it will be completed at the Rapture. Most of its members, we can safely assume, are already with the Lord …and, until the Rapture, it can never “gather together in one place”…at least not one physical place. (It could be argued that we all meet together at the Throne of Grace…and that is true, but we are not conscious of each other’s presence and cannot function collectively as described in scripture. I can’t encourage Peter, for instance, though I am encouraged by his historical example.)

But every Local Church combines certain aspects of an organism with many aspects of an organization. It does have organization. Things are to be done “decently and in order”…in an orderly fashion. The local church gathers together in one place, wherever that place may be. There are possibly millions of local assemblies, all over the world, meeting at any given time.

We gather for the express purpose of mutual care, encouragement and blessing. We learn to “stir up” one another, to love and to good works. Notice the stark contrast, then, between “fellowship,” which we are commanded to embrace, and “forsaking” which we are commanded to avoid:

Fellowship” and “Forsaking” are Polar opposites!

We are not called to be solitary creatures, though some of us may feel that we would like to be. God created us to be social creatures. We do better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, in a corporate experience. Is it healthy to have the capacity to stand alone? Absolutely! God calls us to do so, in fact! All the Old Testament prophets stood alone. We have their example. But, on a lifestyle basis, we are called to be a blessing to others around us…and we can’t do that unless there are “others around us!” Even in the Old Testament, Solomon (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11) stated that “Two are better than one…and a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Conclusion: The Fellowship Imperative

When we choose to exclude ourselves from the flock, we also estrange ourselves from the Shepherd. (Sorry…you may not like the “sheep” idea, but it comes from God, not from me, so please try to understand and appreciate the truth of it.) The more I learn about sheep, the more I see why God refers to people as sheep—and why people rebel against it and claim they are not like sheep. Isaiah said, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray…” Like it or not, that is what we are. We need the Shepherd, and we need the Flock!

The fact is, if a believer chooses to forsake the assembling of himself together with other believers, knowing that he is commanded not to do so, then, because it is deliberate disobedience, we can safely say that it is sin, and it will definitely limit one’s walk with God. There are many who will disagree, saying “I don’t need other people, in order to walk with God.” I can sympathize with them, because there is an antisocial side to my character as well. But, ask yourself this: of ALL the things God calls us to do, as New Testament believers, what percentage have something to do with other people? The answer is, “virtually all of them”, at one level or another.

We cannot “work with God”, without working with people, because all of the work he has called us to do has to do with the flock at large…other people!

We have to choose to submit ourselves to God’s assignment: go where He sends us, stay where He plants us, and do what He commands. It may not be fun: but the reward comes later. Jeremiah had one of the roughest service assignments of any of the prophets. It looked as though there was no fruit and no reward. But he was faithful, and he is enjoying his reward today. Furthermore, there was fruit, eventually. Millions of people have read the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, and have believed God’s Word, though virtually none of the immediate recipients responded in faith.

We must look to God for direction, but we must meet with others to carry out those directions.

Lord Jesus, encourage our hearts to walk with you and to fellowship with you at the throne of Grace, and to draw near to the brothers and sisters by your Holy Spirit.


Solid Food

Solid Food:

The Fourth Warning and our Eternal Hope

© C. O. Bishop 6/2/17 THCF 6/4/17

Hebrews 5:12-14; 6:1-19

Introduction:

We have been working our way through Hebrews for quite some time, now: we have seen the clear superiority of Jesus Christ over all the Old Testament “pictures” of Himself. We were able to see that He is the fulfillment of all those prophecies and all the prefigurings of Him who was to come. We also saw three warnings apparently directed to people who were not settled in their faith. Today we will address a fourth such warning, by far the most stern of all given so far.

It is important to read passages of scripture in the context in which they were given, so as to see who was talking, about what, and to whom. In this context, the writer had been addressing backslidden, immature believers, and scolding them for not moving on, and growing up into Christ. But he definitely addressed them as believers.

12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

1Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

And this will we do, if God permit.

This is evidently what Paul considered “baby food”. He says “Let’s move on! You should understand all this by now!” The “principles” means the primary teaching—the foundational studies. If you don’t have the foundation secure you can’t build. But: once the foundation is in place, you don’t keep “re-working the foundation”…you start working on the structure of the building, if I may use that analogy. So, Paul says, “Let’s move on unto perfection (maturity)!” He is moving on from milk to solid food. But as we move forward, let’s pay close attention to the pronouns: details that allow us to correctly discern the meaning.

Moving On

The following passage is the most commonly used passage to argue that a believer can lose their position in Christ, and be lost. Even if there were not contextual evidence to the contrary (which there is), there are dozens of passages elsewhere that flatly contradict the notion that one, having been truly born again, can ever be lost. But, in reading this passage, those who want to believe they can be lost again (because they do not understand the character of Grace) do not read the whole context: they read verses 4-8 and ignore the background in chapter five, but, most specifically, they do not read what follows, in verses 9-12. And, of course, they ignore the clear promises to the contrary, which state that those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ will never be lost, will in no wise be cast out, and will never perish.

Let’s read the whole passage, bearing in mind that the writer has been talking to believers (albeit immature believers) in chapter five, and is continuing his discourse, here. In chapter five he was using the pronoun “Ye” (KJV second-person plural) to address the believers, and “We” (first person plural) to refer to the writer, and possibly his colleagues. He only used the third-person when he spoke of an unspecified other person, saying, “…he is a babe…”

Here in verse 4, he changes the pronouns to third-person references. He no longer says “ye”, but rather “those, they and them”. These pronouns are terms of reference, not terms of address. He has changed who he is talking about. He was quite sharp in his rebuke to the backsliding believers, but now he is talking about another group to whom he is referring as a matter of comparison. We will read the whole passage and then come back to address specific verses.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:

But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.

10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:

12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Notice how the pronoun switches back to second person, in verse nine (“you”), and he specifically addresses the hearers as his beloved. That word is a relational term of endearment, and confirms that they are believers. He also states that he is convinced that in their case, the above five verses do not apply, because they are saved. He says that things pertaining to salvation are what will apply to them.

So, we conclude that the people in verses 4-8 are not believers, but are the “hangers-on”, the “dabblers” who have never claimed Jesus’ blood as their only hope for salvation. They have never been born again. They are not “baby Christians”, nor even “backslidden Christians”—they have not been born yet! They are still “in Adam”, not “in Christ.” (See 1st Corinthians 15:22…positional truth, as opposed to conditional.) And, this is one of the sternest warnings to that sort of person; that they are truly teetering on the edge of Hell. They are flirting with eternal disaster, and not seeing themselves as being in deadly danger.

But, one may ask, how can the person described in verses 4 and 5 not be a believer? This person:

  • Has been once enlightened,
  • Has tasted of the heavenly gift,
  • Was made a partaker of the Holy Ghost, and
  • Has tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the World to come!

How could such a person not be born again? Well…let’s consider a single example:

Consider Judas Iscariot:

  • Was he once enlightened? He had better have been! He sat under Jesus’s personal teaching for three years! He heard and saw everything the other Apostles heard and saw.
  • Had he “tasted of the heavenly gift?” YES! He was sent out with the other apostles, two by two, and was preaching, teaching and healing…even casting out demons.
  • Was he made a partaker of the Holy Ghost? To the same extent that the others were, prior to Pentecost, yes! I think we can demonstrate that he was. How else was he casting out demons and healing people? That was the Holy Ghost at work in his life. None of the apostles were indwelt by the Holy Spirit until the day of Pentecost. But the Holy Spirit was at work in their lives.
  • Did he taste the Good Word of God, and the powers of the age to come? Certainly! He had Jesus, the Living Word, right there, and he studied the Written Word with the other apostles, and preached the Word of the Kingdom along with them.
  • Was he a believer? NO! Jesus said so. Compare John 13:10, 11, where he specified that “ye are not all clean” and John 15:3, where he told the eleven, “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” The difference? Though all twelve apostles had heard the Word, only the eleven had believed (compare John 5:24.) Judas had known the full truth of the Gospel, but had never applied it to his own case.

We must carefully study the Word to be sure of what it says, and to whom, before we make application to our own lives. These verses are a prime example of a passage that can easily be misapplied.

Consider Abraham:

The Writer goes on to use the patriarch Abraham as an example of someone who continued to believe God, in spite of the fact that what he saw sharply conflicted with what he had been promised. Keep in mind that he definitely had a promise from God; this was not a “feeling” he had. He was spoken to in an audible voice…there was no “imagination” at work, here. Read Genesis 15:1-21, in context with Genesis 14.

God responded to Abraham’s statement of faith by making two promises:

  1. The promise of a seed (this was partially fulfilled in Isaac, and later, through Christ); and
  2. The promise of the land. Again, the promise of the land was only partially fulfilled even in the time of David, 500 years later. Final fulfillment will come during the millennial kingdom still to come.

13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,

14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.

The account in Genesis 15 records both the “counsel” (the original promise…verse 17) and the oath: God had first made the promise, and Abraham asked for a token he could cling to: a sign, if you want to call it that. In those days when two people took an oath, they made a sacrifice to God, and, to invoke God as a witness, they walked together between the pieces of the split sacrifice. So, God commanded Abraham to set up the sacrifices, and divide them, preparatory to the two of them walking between them, as Abraham apparently expected. But when the time came, God put Abraham into a deep sleep, so that he could not move, but only watch, as God, in the form of a lamp and a furnace, passed through between the pieces of the sacrifices. I don’t know the significance of the lamp and the furnace, though I am sure there has been much speculation over it. The point I do understand is that God made the oath alone—Abraham was only there as a witness to, and the beneficiary of, the promise.

15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.

Abraham had already been waiting for some time when God made this promise. He was an old man. It was still a few years longer before God chose to begin fulfilling the promise. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. And Isaac was just the beginning of the fulfillment. Even the hundreds of millions of Jews that have lived and died over the last 39 centuries are only a partial fulfillment. All those born again through Jesus are the full fruit of the promise.

16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.

17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:

18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:

19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

Notice that though the promise was to Abraham, we are told here to anchor our own souls with the same hope Abraham had. We are not told to take the promise of the land for ourselves; it is not a promise to us. We are told to place our trust in the same God in whom Abraham believed.

And that hope is the “anchor of our souls, strong within the veil.” What veil? We could spiritualize it and say that “our faith reaches into the Holy of Holies (true), and clings to the Mercy Seat of God (also true).” But; over in Hebrews 10:20, we see that the writer gets much more specific: he says that the literal veil in the literal temple was a prefiguring of the literal body of Jesus. Our hope is in the shed blood of Jesus. We enter in “through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” And that is where our anchor of the soul—our hope—finds solid ground as well. Jesus said “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”…and that is literally the truth. The torn veil was the only passageway to the dwelling of God on earth: Jesus’s body on the Cross—His shed blood—is the only entrance to God Himself. And it is in him that we find our security.

So, where is our hope?

Our Hope is in the Person of Christ and His Completed Work at the Cross

Let’s review some of the Promises of Jesus to see where our hope really resides.

  • John 3:15, 16 each state “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”. “Whosoever believeth” leaves it open to you and to me. This is a “bearer bond”. It has full value to whoever has possession of it. If you will personally place your trust in Jesus then this applies to you.
  • John 5:24 is another general invitation. It says that whoever hears the word of Christ and believes on (places his trust in) Him who sent him,
    • Has everlasting life (present tense)
    • Shall not come unto condemnation, (future tense), but
    • Has passed from death unto life (Perfect tense…it’s a completed, finished issue.)
  • John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” This is faith in Jesus as a person, his character and all He claims to be.
  • John 6:37 “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and he that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
  • John 6:39 “And this is my Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”
  • John 10:27, 28 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
  • 1st John 5:11-13 “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you who believe on the name of the Son o God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

In this study, I have concentrated on promises given through the Apostle John; but there are countless others, some plain, some obscure, beginning in Genesis, and scattered throughout the entire Bible. The Redemptive plan of God, through Jesus Christ, to save the lost Human Race, is the central theme of the entire Bible. The security of the believer, because of the faithfulness of God, not our own behavior, is a theme that parallels that central theme, all the way through God’s Word. To a person who is looking for such promises, they are literally everywhere.

This passage, Hebrews 6:4-9, far from teaching that a believer can be lost, is teaching the opposite: “God is not unrighteous, to forget…” God knows our frame, that we are dust…he knows that we are failures by nature. Jesus said, in John 15:5, “…without Me ye can do nothing.” That is literally true. We are encouraged to move on to spiritual adulthood, allowing God to work through us, and to produce fruit in our lives. My prayer is that each of us will submit to Him in love, and allow Him to do just that.

Lord Jesus, once again, we ask your blessing and mercy, as we seek to follow you. Teach us to walk in the reality of your love and the truth of Your Word.


Don’t Miss Out on God’s Rest

Don’t Miss Out on God’s Rest

© C. O. Bishop 3/10/17 THCF 3/12/17

Hebrews 3:1-13

Introduction:

1Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;

Perhaps the first thing we need to do is look at the significance of some of the words used, here: It is interesting to me that the writer addresses his audience as “Holy Brethren”.  “Holy” means set apart for God’s purpose. We are no longer slaves to sin, but neither are we our own masters: we are not free agents but, rather, we are ambassadors for a Holy God. We have a job to do: we are to be about His business.

What about the word “brethren?” It just means brothers, of course…The writer was a Jew, and he spoke to other Jews, so, it is possible that he used the word “brethren” only in that regard, but it seems doubtful. They were familiar with that use, of course, but this goes a little deeper. All those who have placed their trust in Jesus as their savior have become brothers in Christ. I think that meaning more closely follows the intent of the book. Furthermore, it supports the concept that this book is to all believers, even though the primary audience was the Jewish believers of the first century church (pre-AD 70.)

He says that we have been made partakers of the “Heavenly Calling”. Give that one some thought: in what way are you a partaker of the heavenly calling? Is that a reality in your life? In Romans 8:29, 30 Paul makes it clear that every single believer is called to God’s service…how are you responding to that heavenly call? Perhaps this will require some soul-searching…. In my own case, I have to ask, do I spend more time concerned with the things of God, or am I primarily interested in my own things…my own needs and interests? Something to think about.

Apostle” means “sent one”. Jesus was sent by God to do a specific job—to offer himself to God as full payment for the sins of humanity. He completely fulfilled all the prophecies concerning himself, some over which he would have zero control if he were not God incarnate, though some people have argued that he artificially engineered the “fulfillments.” Many were utterly outside his control as a human. He was God in the flesh, fulfilling His OWN Word. He could literally pick his place of birth, his parentage, etc. He was sent to do the will of God, the Father and he fed on that reality. He said “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)

The “High Priest” was the only one who could enter the holy of holies, with a sacrifice for the nation, and approach the throne of God. And he could only do so once a year. Jesus is the High Priest upon whom our lives depend. Either his sacrifice, presented before that Holy God, is sufficient, or we are forever lost. The writer is telling us to give this some thought…consider who we are dealing with. Jesus carried out his ministry with absolutely flawless faithfulness. Then the writer compared the person of Christ to Moses, who was also faithful:

Jesus is better than Moses

Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.

Moses was also called faithful. But he was part of the creation, while Jesus was the creator, thus worthy of greater honor.

For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.

For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. 

A further point is made, that, relationally, Moses was still a servant. Jesus is the only begotten Son: the heir of all things, as well as the creator of all things. He is literally “God in the flesh”.

And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;

But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.

 So, as sons of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus, we are encouraged to not lose sight of who we are in Christ: part of the household of God. And, he exhorts those who are dabblers, still uncommitted, to make a decision before it is too late. For every opportunity, there is a closing date: a “pull-date”—a time after which the offer is no longer valid. And, to all who play games with the Gospel, claiming faith, but never committing themselves, he warns that the result can be eternal loss. He uses Israel as an example, saying that unbelief is why the first generation, who left Egypt with Moses, failed to enter into the land. (Notice, here, that the land was not a picture of salvation. It was a picture of the rest-relationship with God. They had already been under the blood of the Passover, by faith; and they had already been through the Red Sea, again by faith. But when they balked at entering the land, he said, “Fine, then: you can’t go in.” So, in spite of the fact that they were saved by faith, they lost their opportunity to enter into the joy of that relationship, because of unbelief.)

The Second Warning: “Harden Not your Hearts”

Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,

Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.

There seem to be fairly harsh warnings throughout the book of Hebrews…and while some might be simple warnings against failing to enter into the rest relationship, others are clearly warning against eternal perdition…being lost forever. Since that has already been ruled out for the child of God, one must read more carefully, and then we can see that some of those who originally received this epistle had never committed themselves to the sacrifice of Christ, but were simply “along for the ride”, thinking that, “if it doesn’t work out, I can always return to the Mosaic Law, the Levitical priesthood, and the sacrifices thereof.”  But, since the real sacrifice now has been made, the earlier ones which were only pictures of the coming Lamb of God, no longer have any validity. There is nothing left, to which they could go back…it is just an empty shell, now.

While we, as believers should take to heart the warnings of this book, we need to see that the sternest warnings, here, are to those who have failed to place their full trust in the blood of Jesus at the Cross. There is no threat of a believer losing his or her salvation. We are secure in Him. But those who pretend faith are not only not secure, they are in special danger as having “neglected so great a salvation”, and having “hardened their hearts” (the first two warnings.)

10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.

11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)

Notice that is says “they have not known my ways”…not that they once knew them and simply slid back into their old ways. This is a critical difference. To those who are lost at the Judgment of the Living Nations (Matthew 25:31, ff ), Jesus says. “…I never knew you.” It is possible for a believer to continually live in the flesh and never learn the “ways of God”. But it is not possible for God to address a true believer and say, “I never knew you.”

Seven Rests from the Word of God:

(So, what is the “Rest” offered here?)

There are at least seven “rests” mentioned in scripture:

  1. The rest of God himself after the Creation,
  2. The rest offered to Israel in the land of Canaan,
    • The rest given to the next generation of Israel in the land of Canaan,
  3. The rest demanded for the Land
  4. The rest offered to Ruth in the book of Ruth,
  5. The rest Jesus offered to unbelievers, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,
  6. The rest Jesus offered to believers, “Ye shall find rest unto your soul…”
    • The rest God offers for the believer in Christ’s labor and rest, today.
  7. Eternal rest in Heaven.

Some of these are very similar, and I will not try to “surgically” separate them, but some are very different, and God says so. Those I will attempt to explain:

  1. When God rested after completing the creation, it was not because he was tired. The word used is “Shabbat”…from which we get the transliterated word, “Sabbath”. It means to cease from our usual labor, or from labor in general. It means “rest”, in the sense that we mean when we say “give it a rest!” (Stop doing that, now…)
  1. God offered rest to his people in the land of Canaan: They were already believers, having trusted in the blood of the Passover, and having passed through the Red Sea under the cloud of God’s presence. But they were offered “rest” in Canaan. Rest (in the sense of “relief”) from persecution, rest from poverty, rest from the desert. It was a picture of the Rest in Christ, to which the New Testament believer is invited. As demonstrated in their lives, it is entirely possible for a believer to miss out on that rest. The next generation entered into Canaan, but we see in subsequent passages (Psalm 95) that there still remained a “rest” for believers to embrace—Canaan itself was not the promised rest…it was only a picture of the promised “rest.”
  1. God demanded “rest” for the land. The land was to be left fallow every seventh year, and allowed time to regenerate. Israel did not follow this command, and, after 490 years of disobedience in this regard, were cast out of the land for 70 years, to make up for the 70 missed “Sabbaths” of the land. Interesting fact.
  1. Ruth was offered “rest” by Naomi. Ruth was working to support herself and Naomi, by gleaning in the fields. She had no security, as a stranger to Israel, and there were no “social services” offered. A widow, especially a foreign-born widow, did not have much hope in that society. (Their “welfare system” was limited to the gleaner’s rights.) But, she had placed her trust in the God of Israel (Boaz said so, supplementing her own statement of “Thy God shall be my God.”), and Naomi asked whether she might seek “rest” for Ruth, in the form of marriage, so that she had some security. The remainder of that story is as fine a holy romance as one can read. That was “rest,” in the form of security and blessing.
  1. Jesus offered two “rests”, in Matthew 11:28-30. The first was offered to those who labored and were heavily laden (unbelievers). He said “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This is the rest that is conferred upon us in salvation: it is a free gift.
  1. The second is different: He said “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. This “rest” is not a free gift; it is a product of an obedient relationship with the Savior. It comes as a result of walking with Jesus. “Ye shall find rest unto your souls.” It is only available to saved people, but not all saved people experience it. This is the primary “rest” discussed in Hebrews 3:7—4:11, although the “rest” involved in salvation is also alluded to. (In similar fashion, peace with God is a reality for all believers (Romans 5:1), but the Peace of God is offered on the conditions of faith and obedience. (Philippians 4:6,7)
  1. The final rest offered in the eternal state is described in numerous places in scripture, but notably in Revelation 22:1-3. “…no more curse”. We yearn for that final rest, and it is guaranteed to us: but we can experience God’s Rest in this life as well.

Departing from the Living God.

12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.

Is it possible for a believer to “depart from the living God?” In the same sense that the Prodigal Son left his father, yes, it is possible. But it is important to remember that all the time the Son was on the road, going or coming, he was a son. All the time he was feeding those pigs, and wishing he could eat their food, he was a son. And had he died there, he would have been a dead son: not a dead pig! His human father did not know where he was, so, from his perspective, he was dead…they were separated. (Death always is a separation of some sort, in scripture.)

But when he woke up and realized his own folly, he headed back to his father’s house. His Father saw him coming, and without hesitation, ran to meet him. He confessed his folly, and fellowship was instantly restored. The consequences of his sin remained…he was penniless. The remainder of the father’s fortune was still going to the elder son.

But his position as a son had never changed. Only his condition had changed. We see similar results in a Church-age believer’s life, in 1st Corinthians 3:10-15. There are those whose life-work will be lost, because it is entirely of a temporal nature (having no eternal value), but who will still be saved, themselves, though as one escaping through flames.

13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

On the other hand, let’s consider the alternative: were there people who lived in Egypt, and saw the plagues, who were impressed enough to obey Moses, and sacrifice a lamb? And who ate of that lamb, and followed Moses out of Egypt? Even followed him through the Red Sea? And, were terrified at Sinai, hearing the trumpets and voices, and seeing the smoke? And ate of the manna, daily, but somehow still never placed their trust in the living God? I have no way to know for sure, but my experience with churches today tells me it is entirely possible that there were people at that time, as well, who went through all the motions, but never knew, nor desired to know the living God as their savior and God. How can we know this?

During the Earthly ministry of Christ, there was one for sure (Judas), and likely others, who saw all the miracles, heard all the teaching, and ate the loaves and fishes, etc., but who never believed. (Definitely true of Judas!) And, during the Church age there have been many who attended church all their lives, sang the songs, prayed the prayers, took communion, listened to the preaching, and in many cases, went into the ministry themselves, but never believed the Gospel. I have met some of them. Peter warned against them (2nd Peter 2).

I have known some believers whose spoken testimony confirmed that for years they “played along”, living like a believer, but knowing, all the time, that they were living a lie. At some point they realized the deadly danger they were in and repented: they changed their mind about the pretense they were maintaining. From that point on, their perspective had changed.

There are others who pressed on with their smug self-will, certain that they were leaders of the blind, and that all these “sheep” were simply misguided fools. I have known pastors who outwardly seemed model Christians, but who eventually confessed that they did not believe the Bible. I cannot explain that, but it is true…and, from testimonies I have heard, it is not even all that uncommon.

The Deceitfulness of Sin:

Notice it says that their hearts were hardened “through the deceitfulness of sin”. Why is the sin called deceitful, rather than the sinner, in this passage? Because the sinner is being deceived by their own sin nature. Jeremiah 17:9 states that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”. The blood-circulating pump that is the physical heart is not the issue. That one either pumps blood or it doesn’t. The deceitful “heart” in Jeremiah is the old sin nature of the New Testament. This is the “evil heart of unbelief” warned against in verse 12.

God seldom uses the word “heart” to refer to the pump—he uses the word to denote the seat of emotions and intellect—the soulish part of the human trichotomy. We are a three-part being: body, soul and spirit. And the human psyche or soul, is contaminated with sin. (The Greek word is “psuche”…that is where we get our word “psyche.”)

Your old nature doesn’t “go away” when you become a believer. In fact, it is frequently referred to as “the flesh”, just as the soul is sometimes referred to as the heart. But you were given a new nature. That is why Jesus called it being “born again”. You have a new nature. That new nature is completely holy, just as this passage suggests, and it is truly “made in the image of God” in righteousness, as well as true holiness. (Ephesians 4:24) That is one reason I can say with assurance, that, if you have been born again, this passage is to you! The book of Hebrews is for you, as a believer. The seven warnings are to a specific group spelled out in the book: those who have not been born again, but who are pretending faith. But, to the believers, he addresses you as “Holy Brethren!”

However, because you are a believer, you need to especially be aware that your old nature is still extremely deceitful. You have had all your life to practice “listening to your heart”, as we are so often told to do. We have to deliberately practice listening to God instead of our hearts. People say “Your heart won’t lead you wrong!” But, in fact, the opposite is true. We have to constantly soak ourselves in God’s Word, so that we are less likely to be drawn away by our old sin nature.

Conclusion:

There are four things we should be able to “take away with us,” here:

  1. If you have been born again, God counts you as holy, and righteous, and as His child.
  2. If you have been born again, you have a job to do…a heavenly calling: you are God’s ambassador.
  3. If you have been born again, there is a rest you are invited to enjoy, and warned not to miss out on.
  4. If you have been born again, you have two natures, and one of them (the old one) is very deceitful. There is a war going on, and the enemy’s best weapon against us is that old sin nature…our deceitful hearts.

So…what do we do about it? We choose daily to walk with God, and saturate ourselves with His Word, so as to minimize the effect of our old nature. We pray, we worship, we fellowship with other believers around the person of Christ. We pray for and look for opportunities to do our jobs as ambassadors of God. We study to equip ourselves for that work, and keep our testimony clean so as not to be disqualified for service. All this we do under God’s Grace and under the guidance of His Holy Spirit, who indwells us and keeps us through all our lives.

Lord Jesus give us the Grace to continually walk with you and not to miss out on your daily blessings through sin and inattention to our jobs. Teach us to live in such a way as to draw others to you, not drive them away. Teach us to rest in you. Amen


What About Israel? (Part Four)

What about Israel? (Part four)

© C. O. Bishop 4/21/16 THCF 4/24/16

Romans 11:1-36

Introduction:

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

Chapter 11: Where does Israel Stand Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V. 17-25: Salvation versus Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

V. 26-32 The Future of Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

 

 


What Do We Know About Death?

What Do We Know About Death?

© C. O. Bishop 10/13/15 THCF 10/18/15

Romans 5:12.
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Introduction:

We have already seen our old condition and our old position as lost sinners, separated from God; and we have seen how God saved us. We already have seen that we were once enemies of God by nature: But how did we get that way? How did the world get to be such a mess?

We can see the beauty of the creation in the world around us, but there is a cruel reality hidden in all that beauty: virtually every living thing depends on the death of some other living thing, in order to survive. In fact, with the exception of green plants, which are capable of photosynthesis, thus making food from sunlight and water and mineral nutrients, all living things are utterly dependent upon the death of others to survive; in fact, even those green plants grow better with some dead things under their roots. And there are even carnivorous plants, which, though they can carry out photosynthesis, still consume insects as part of their diet.

Death is simply a stark reality for every living thing. Everything dies. We try to avoid death as long as possible, clinging to life, calling it self-preservation: in fact, every living thing strives for self-preservation, some more vitally than others. There are some plants, which, if cut off, both the root and the upper plant will die—neither can survive without the other, and neither can regenerate the lost part. Others may spring up from the roots, but the upper part, once severed, will die. Still others will aggressively seek to create roots, if they can reach the ground.

Years ago, I was given some willow logs, with which to make violin blocks and linings. A large limb had fallen during a storm, and the homeowners were happy to have me take it away. I didn’t have time to process it immediately, so I cut it into sections a few feet long, and tossed it on the ground, near my shop, expecting to get back to it soon. This was not a pile of green twigs; it was heavy sections of log, perhaps 10-12” in diameter, with rough, thick bark. But a few weeks later I noticed that it looked as though grass was growing all over those logs, so I went to see what it was. Every square inch of the upper half of each log, exposed to air and sun, had sprouted tiny willow leaves, processing sunlight and water. And when I turned the log sections over, the whole underside of each was covered with white roots, reaching for the soil. That is real vitality! The plant was doing its best to survive the twin catastrophes of the storm and my chainsaw.

But, if life is so precious, and if every living thing strives to stay alive, how did death come into the world? And why? Perhaps we need to answer some general questions concerning death, before addressing the specifics:

What is Death?

 

What is Death? (And what is it not?)

We have seen earlier, that spiritual death is the separation of the human spirit from God, and that physical death is the separation of the human spirit from the body. That is a nice, clinical definition, but it doesn’t really answer all the questions surrounding death. Besides, there is a third kind of Death, called “the second death”: it is eternal separation from God in eternal judgment, in the Lake of Fire. We don’t like talking about that, or even thinking about it, but that is separation, too…of the permanent sort. Now, let’s consider what Death is not:

  1. Death is not “cessation of existence.” We tend to see death as the “cessation of life”…and in some sense, that is true…but in reality, the human spirit does not cease to live, any more than the angelic spirits cease to live. They, like we, are created beings, and, like them, we have a beginning point somewhere in time, but no real end…just a destination in eternity. We have a choice about that destination…they did, too. Some chose to rebel, and are eternally separated from God. Everything that was good in them withered away, leaving only the sin. We call them fallen angels, evil spirits, or demons. They were not offered the grace of God, because they sinned while knowing God face to face. We sin ignorantly, never having seen God, and knowing virtually nothing about Him. That does not relieve us from responsibility; it only makes us eligible for God’s Grace, if we choose to accept it. Grace is a gift from God. It cannot be earned, and is never “deserved”. But it can be actively sought, and willingly received.

 

  1. Death is also not “natural”. It was not God’s original intent, nor was it a necessary part of the “cycle of life”, as the popular saying is today. We were created to be with God and like God throughout eternity, in fellowship with Him. Our real nature is eternal…and we can choose to be eternally with God, transformed into His likeness; or we can choose to flee from God, deny His existence, or even to actively, deliberately rebel against Him, maintaining our separation at all cost: and that can become our eternal state—separated from God.

 

  1. Death is not a “friend”. 1st Corinthians 15:26 says Death is the last enemy that God will destroy. But, for us, Death is a powerless enemy: God says “Death has lost its sting.” For believers, Death is “graduation day”…we leave our body and go directly to be with Him. The Grave has no victory over the believer’s life. We do not go down to “dusty death”, as Shakespeare wrote. Death, for us, is a shadow, at worst. Psalm 23 speaks of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”…Notice: walking (not “falling”) through (not “into”) the valley (not “the pit”) of the shadow (not the “harsh reality”) of death. Death is not a friend, nor is it comfortable, but it has lost its ability to harm the believer.

So: How did Death Begin?

Romans 5:12 is a critical doctrine because it clears up several errors in human thinking:

For one thing, there are folk who believe that there was an earlier creation in scripture, before the one detailed in chapters one and two of Genesis, and that it was destroyed by God. They claim that to be the origin of all the fossils. They use this notion to try to reconcile what they think is scientific evidence with what seems to be scripturally obscure truths. They are saying that there was once a whole world of animals and people that all died before Adam was created, and that world was destroyed, so that the Creation we read about in Genesis 1:1-3 is a “start-over” rather than a real “Beginning”. But, if that were so, then Romans 5:12 is not true. Do you see why?

Romans 5:12 states unequivocally that Death came into the world through the sin of one man…Adam. That one man, a created individual (with no parents, just a Creator), was given the authority to make a decision, in Genesis 2:17—he was told that he must not eat the fruit of a certain tree, and that if he did so, then he would die on that day. He did eat, and he died spiritually that very moment—fellowship between God and Man was broken…Man was spiritually separated from God. Later, his spirit was separated from his body, as well, which is what we call physical death.

I am reasonably certain that he did not understand (nor do we) the incredibly diverse and horrible results that would spring from his decision to disobey. The whole human race was plunged into sin, and Death entered the world, as a part of the curse. Prior to the curse, there was evidently no necessity for death at all.

But, how could all the death that supposedly happened in the destruction of the earlier creation have occurred, if there was no death in the world until Adam’s sin? The two ideas cannot be reconciled. There either was death before Adam, or there was not. There cannot be a world full of dead things, and the fossils of dead things, etc., and never have been any death.

But: if the “old world” that was overthrown in 2nd Peter 2:5 was specifically, and simply, the world before the flood (which is exactly what it says it was), then it all makes sense—and the fossils everywhere are the result of that cataclysm, not a separate, much older creation.

As a race, we are far too anxious to try to “reconcile the Bible” to modern science. Why should we do so at all? Why not do the reverse? Recognize that God is true and every man a liar by nature, then try to reconcile the science to the Bible. The people who study geology and paleontology with that idea in mind consistently discover that the Genesis Flood answers the questions of the Geologic Clock very satisfactorily. People who go with the reverse in mind have already decided the Bible is not true, and are looking for “proof”, so of course, they will find it.

There will always be those who reject the account of the Genesis flood out of hand, but, as a rule, those same individuals consistently reject ALL Biblical truth as fable. Unfortunately, the fact is that a “natural, random-chance, evolutionary, Mother Nature and Father Time” world-view and the Biblical Creation view, with a sovereign God and a fallen Creation are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true…they could both be false, or the first could be true and the second fable or the first a lie and the second the truth. But they cannot both be true. You have to choose.  It has never been a case of the “geologic clock” lying…it has only been a case of people consistently (and/or deliberately) misreading the “clock.”

Why did Death happen?

One thing we find out in Ephesians 3:10, 11 is that God had a purpose when he began the creation…actually, probably several purposes; but one thing we are told is that the entire “human experiment”, for lack of better term, is specifically intended to demonstrate the manifold Wisdom of God to the angelic hosts, for all eternity, and (Ephesians 2:7), throughout eternity,  to show the riches of God’s Grace to all created beings, in his kindness toward us through Christ.

Perhaps to some folk that won’t mean much, but it did, to me. Knowing that God is using my life to demonstrate His own Wisdom to the angelic beings all over the universe makes all my inept muddlings seem a little more worthwhile. It seems to somehow add some eternal purpose to life.

We see the tragedies in life, and they are very difficult to reconcile with what we know as the Goodness of God. But we are less than toddlers, in terms of comprehension: we have no idea what is really going on in life. The harder things get on this Earth, the more important it becomes to know the God who holds the future, and to not lean to our own understanding, desperately hoping that we can somehow stave off disaster.  God clearly says that disaster is coming. For example, we are commanded to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, and yet we are told that at the end, when Jesus returns, Jerusalem will be under siege as never before, and ready to be destroyed, overrun by its enemies.

We are commanded to spread the Good News of the death and burial and resurrection of Christ—the Gospel of salvation through His blood…but we are also told that few will believe it, and that the majority will choose to ignore the message or attack the messengers.

We can see, both scripturally and experientially, that the World, as a whole, is an Enemy of the God who created it. We can see that things have not improved over the ages—that the crucifixion would be just as likely today as it was 2000 years ago.

The coming Judgment is completely just and righteous…as a race, we deserve the coming destruction. As a race, we have emulated the sin of Adam, and followed in the steps of Cain, Esau, and Balaam. And, true to form, sin never affects only the sinner—there are always those who suffer the consequences of our sins, who were not the perpetrators…collateral damage, if you want to call them that. Our children, though guilty of their own sins, will also suffer the results of ours. A drunk driver doesn’t destroy only himself, but people in other cars, or pedestrians, or his own children, who are in his car and are destroyed with him. This is an eternal principle: while no one is punished for someone else’s sin, we are all affected by it.

The fact of the matter is that, spiritually speaking, the whole race was “in Adam” when he chose to sin. We all sinned with him. We didn’t just inherit his sin nature; we fell into sin with him, and have proven it on an individual basis, ever since. “Death passed upon all for that all have sinned.”  Notice that the sentence is past tense: “…for all have sinned….” It does not say (present tense) “for all sin…”, though that is also true. The fact is, we sinned with him. But, what else can we learn from this passage? (There is a good side to this story:)

It was Adam, not Eve!

The other (less important in some ways, but still common and destructive) doctrine unseated by Romans 5:12 is the idea that Eve brought sin into the world: She absolutely did not. Was she involved? She absolutely was. But did she have the authority to make a decision for the whole human race? No! Only Adam had that authority. This passage, along with others, states clearly that Adam’s sin, not Eve’s, brought the destruction we see around us. (So don’t blame women!)

In fact, if we go back and read the record in Genesis 3:1-7, we see that nothing at all happened until Adam ate the fruit. It does not say that Eve sinned, and ran off to cover her nakedness with leaves, and then Adam followed her example. It says that after Adam ate, “then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they saw that they were naked”…etc. Why is this important?

Two Races of Man: “In Adam”, and “In Christ”

Perhaps it is a small point, to some, but Adam became the father of a fallen race—the whole human race. It was strictly his doing that brought about the fall. The theological term for this idea is called the doctrine of “Federal Headship.” Adam is the “Federal Head” of our fallen race. Jesus eventually headed up a new Man. The old Man is fallen: the New Man is not. So those who are born again through Christ are part of that “new Man”. And the new man did not come through the old man, but through the Woman.

The woman was physically separated from man before the fall…and, though she was affected by the fall, and involved in the fall, the “Seed of Woman” (from Genesis 3:15) was to be the Savior of the World. I don’t know whether that connection is theologically important, but it is there, and it seems worth pointing out. Jesus, as the only human without a human father—truly virgin-born—is the “Seed of Woman”, in the fullest sense.

In 1st Corinthians 15:22, the distinction between the two races is made clear: “all in Adam died…all in Christ shall be made alive.” The issue of position—location—is before us again. There are two possible positions for a human: to be still “in Adam”, where they were born, or, having been born again (also called “born from above”), to be “in Christ”. If they are in Adam, they are still dead in their sins, and separated from God: if they have been born again as a child of God, they are “in Christ” and alive forever. That is a pretty sharp separation, there! It is literally the difference between life and death.

What about You?

If you have chosen Jesus as the blood-sacrifice for your personal sin, and placed your faith in His finished work at the Cross, then you are “in Christ”. The facts of Romans 5:12, though completely true in you, have also been set aside forever. God has imputed to you the righteousness of Christ, you are sealed in Him, and you will spend eternity with Him.

If you have doubts about where you stand with God, please speak to anyone here in the church. The Scripture is abundantly clear: you do not have to wait until you die to find out whether you have eternal life: You can know today.

Jesus said, “He that hears my Word, and Believes on Him who sent me, HAS everlasting life!” You can choose to place your trust in His blood this moment, and know that you have eternal life, because He promises that it is so.

Please choose life!

Lord Jesus, give us Your Grace for salvation; Your Grace for living; and Your Grace for day by day Service: for the sake of your Glory. 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 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!


The Burden of the Gospel

The Burden of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/10/2015 THCF 7/12/15

Romans 1:1-15

Introduction:

The Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is one of the most eminently practical books in the New Testament. It is also among the most foundational books in the New Testament, meaning that the truths it teaches are foundational to understanding the rest of the New Testament, as well as to living the Christian life. The Book of Romans, as it is commonly called, has sometimes been referred to as “the Gospel of God’s Grace” because that is the theme of the book, and that theme is woven throughout the entire epistle.

In this Book:

  • The Gospel is clearly defined and explored.
  • The effect of the Gospel is examined and expounded upon.
  • The built-in responsibilities of the recipients thereof are outlined, as well.

Even in the beginning lines, we can see these interwoven ideas begin to unfold. Paul identifies himself in terms of the Gospel, and, in the same breath, defines the source and key subject of the Gospel; the person of Christ. He goes on to state the effect of the Gospel in his own life and that of the recipient believers. Finally, he begins to state his own responsibilities, in regard to the Gospel.

This is the “burden of the Gospel”. I use the word “burden” in the same sense as Paul did over in Galatians 6:5for every man shall bear his own burden.” The Greek word there is “phortion”, meaning an assigned task. This is in contrast to the word in Galatians 6:2 where we are admonished to “bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” There, the Greek word is “baré”, meaning a crushing, unbearable load. The Gospel is not a crushing burden, but it is an assigned task, and should become a governing passion in each of our lives.

The Person of the Gospel

 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

Paul introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ; an Apostle (“sent one”), but immediately shifts the focus to the Gospel itself, which is what his apostleship is all about. I am reminded of a sheriff’s deputy, who, after briefly identifying himself as a minion of the court, immediately goes about the business upon which he has been sent: he is there neither to boast of his prowess as a lawman, nor to simply pass the time of day. He is there on business, and he immediately gets to the point. The “point” of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the Gospel of God’s Grace.

Paul immediately says that he is “separated unto the Gospel of God”— set apart for the work of the Gospel; the Good News of God.

Having thereby stated his business, in verse one, Paul begins to expand upon that theme in the verses that follow: explaining the character of the Gospel, and what it concerns, and so forth. He says first that it was promised from time past, through God’s prophets. (A prophet is a speaker for God—a mouthpiece; a spokesman for God. God promised the Gospel through the prophets.)

Further, it concerns Jesus Christ—it’s about Jesus—who is God’s Son, and who is our Lord (Greek kurios—“master”), and who, in terms of human origin, is of the seed of David. This was in accordance with the prophets who unanimously said he would be of the lineage of David.

He points out that God placed His own authoritative “stamp of approval” on Jesus, declaring him to be the Son of God with power, by the Holy Spirit raising Him from the dead. (Yes, that ought to show his authority: only one person has the authority and power to raise the dead, immortal.)

In verse 5, Paul continues talking about the person of the Gospel, Jesus himself. He states that it is from Jesus Christ that he (and others) had received “Grace and Apostleship.” Now, Grace has two aspects…he was given Grace as the gift of eternal life (as we also have been), but he further received the grace (Greek “charis” also translated “gift”) of being an apostle.

Paul evidently had a multitude of spiritual gifts, which apparently went along with being an Apostle. I personally believe that Paul is the twelfth of the twelve Apostles, and that Matthias, through no fault of his own, was mistakenly chosen by lot (drawing straws, or whatever), and appointed to be the replacement for Judas Iscariot, in Acts chapter one. All the apostles (including Paul) were chosen by Jesus, personally, except Matthias. If I am mistaken, so be it, but it seems to me as though Jesus chose his own replacement apostle in the person of Paul, and that Peter may simply have spoken out of turn. However, all the eleven were involved, and God did not correct or rebuke them, so I will not state that they were wrong. It just seems that way to me. I may be mistaken. Matthias may have been God’s choice as well. In that case, I do not know for whom will be the “twelve thrones for the twelve apostles.” But it doesn’t matter: God knows. (By the way, there are other people spoken of as apostles, too, in scripture, so this is not at all a “cut and dried” issue.)

There is no question, however, as to the apostleship of Paul. He was chosen personally, by Jesus, and given a specific task— he was made the “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). The word “apostle” means “sent one”. Paul was sent to take the Gospel to all nations, which was to result in the obedience of faith…or obedience to the faith…among all nations. Paul literally became the founder of the Gentile church. The Jewish church had begun under the ministry of Peter. But the Jews and Gentiles were to become one in Christ; and that was revealed first to Paul, though Jesus himself had hinted to that effect, saying “Other sheep I have who are not of this fold. Them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) (The Mormons attempt to use this passage to justify some of their doctrines, but the Bible makes it absolutely clear that what Jesus was predicting was the joining of Jew and Gentile in one Body of Christ. There is no other Biblical interpretation.)

Paul states (verse 6) that the believers in Rome were also among the “called” of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you believe the Gospel, you are one of the “called” of Jesus Christ as well. You are definitely called to serve God with your life. You can do some thinking about what that might entail, but this is a Biblical imperative: If you belong to Jesus, you are to serve Him.

The Effect of the Gospel

Next, in verse seven, Paul addresses the recipients of the letter:

To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that the words “to be” are in italics, meaning that they were not in the original manuscripts… it means that the believers are called saints: “holy ones” (that’s what “saint” means.) It implies that being one of the holy ones of God is predicated upon being a believer in Jesus Christ, not having the approval of the Pope, or some other human. We are not made saints by people, but by God. And we are not called “to be” saints, as if it is to be at some time in the future, but now: from the moment we receive Him as our savior. Perhaps the translators only meant to imply that we are called to “be saints…and had no intent of putting it into a future view at all. We are called to be saints. That is what is supposed to be happening…we are to behave as the holy ones of God, because we are the holy ones of God. We are set aside for His purposes, and His alone. We will discuss that more at a later date.

We can further see that the gift of God is in the following order: “Grace, then Peace.” This is consistent in all the epistles to the church, throughout the New Testament. If one feels they are not dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, then they cannot have Peace with God, let alone experience the peace of God, after conversion. There are those who reject God’s Grace, hoping to “earn” their own salvation. I have had people actually tell me this. They don’t understand that such earning is utterly impossible. Just as it was impossible for Cain to please God with the fruit of the cursed ground, in Genesis 4:3, it is impossible for any human to please God with the fruit of a life already cursed through original Sin. We have nothing to offer—it is ALL tainted by sin.

A person who claims that he is dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, but who subsequently supposes that he must work to “stay saved”, is still not understanding the point of “Grace”. What does the word “grace” mean, but “un-earned favor”? If you are trying to earn it, it is not Grace, but wages. We will address this idea later on, but for the moment, please see that if you want peace with God, you receive it by Grace. If you want the peace of God, you also receive it by Grace. There are things we are called to do in response to God’s Grace, to allow his Peace to flow unhindered (see Philippians 4:6-9), but those still have nothing to do with earning Grace.

In verses 8-12, Paul expresses his own longing, to go and see the Roman believers face to face.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

He evidently knew at least some of them, as he calls them by name, in the final chapter. But many he apparently had never met. He knew of their faith, and was thrilled to know of the fruit it was having in their lives. As a result of the testimony of the Roman believers, which he had heard everywhere he went, Paul prayed for them continually, especially longing to go visit them, and add to their joy by imparting “some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established”, or strengthened in their walk with God.

I don’t know what it was he hoped to do, beyond further teaching. Perhaps he actually intended to impart a “gift of the Spirit” as listed in 1st Corinthians 12, or Romans 12, but I really doubt it. From what we can see in the scripture, the gifts are given specifically by the Holy Spirit, at His discretion, and apparently at the moment of salvation, though such gifts may not come to light for some time, in many cases.

There is one passage that refers to a gift being in someone “by the laying on of hands of the presbytery”, but I wonder whether that may simply be the recognition of the gift (as that is universally what the “laying on of hands” refers to. When the elders laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, in Acts 13, for example, they were simply acknowledging that God had called Paul and Barnabas to the work they were going to do. The Holy Spirit had spoken (evidently audibly) to the group, telling them that He was going to send Paul and Barnabas out for a special job. All they did was to agree with God. I suspect that was also the case with Timothy (1st Timothy 4:14), and the gift of Evangelism that apparently was assigned to him by God.

Paul further expanded on the idea of a spiritual gift by saying, “that is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.” What he evidently hoped to do is to enjoy fellowship with them. The word fellowship is an old English idea which only means the “status of being a fellow (something)”. The word “fellowship” has nothing to do with “two fellows in a ship” as so many modern preachers are fond of saying. Fellows can be in a ship and despise one another. (Anyone ever hear of a ship called the “HMS Bounty”? Captain Bligh, and all those jolly good fellows?) In England they have what is called the “Royal Society.” It is considered a great honor to be called an “FRS”—a “Fellow of the Royal Society”… a fellow-member of that elite group. We have fellowship because we are fellow-Christians… we share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. It implies “partnership”—having in common—sharing something…participating together in something. Paul commended the Philippian believers for their “fellowship in the Gospel”…they were participating with him as partners in the work of evangelism. Paul knew that these believers were his brothers and sisters, and he longed to go spend some time with them. I can only wish that Christians felt this way about one another today, but they seldom do. We are exhorted to grow in grace and brotherly Love, increasing more and more. But it seems the Church today has gone the other direction. God help us to love one another with the Agapé love, as well as learning the brotherly love that God commands.

The Burden of the Gospel

13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

Notice that in verse 13, Paul begins to explain his motivation in his travels: he says, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren…” (I want you to know…) that I often intended to come visit you, but was restrained, until now. I wanted to come there, in order to have fruit there, as I have everywhere else. He wanted to lead others to Christ in Rome, and to impart wisdom and maturity to the believers there. He wanted to build up the Church, there.

What had originally been an assignment from Jesus had become a personal passion to Paul. This was not a simple statement of duty, but a personal burden for the souls of those for whom Jesus died. He was determined to preach the Gospel to those in Rome just as he had everywhere else. (He hadn’t been there, yet.) He considered himself to have a debt to pay in Rome and elsewhere. Notice too, that he did not limit his ministry to “the elect”: in verse 14 and 15, he states categorically that he considered himself a debtor to all: Greeks, Barbarians, wise and foolish. He clearly understood that Jesus had died for the sins of the whole world, as did the Apostle John. John states that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1st John 2:2) Paul echoes that conviction, stating that he himself was a debtor to the people around him, wherever he went: He owed them the Gospel.

Whenever God opened the door for him to go to Rome, he was ready to go. We know he eventually got there, but as far as we know he only went there in chains, as a prisoner. He was in prison there for at least a few years, and we know that he led many to Christ from that prison cell. The location had changed, but the burden was still the same.

Conclusion:

As we read through the rest of the Book of Romans, We will see that the Lord Jesus is the central figure in all of the Bible, and that he has called us to be set aside for His service. We will also see the lostness of the human race. We can see here in Romans 1:14 that Paul considered himself to owe the Gospel to everyone around him.

Do we take that assignment seriously? Has it become a guiding passion, for you, to pray for opportunities to share the Gospel, and then use them as they arise? To pray for wisdom as to when to not offer the Gospel, and when to speak boldly?

Jesus said “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish his work.” The job had never been just a task to Jesus: it was his burning passion from the beginning. Apparently it had quickly become the same for Paul. Where is your passion? There are multiple assignments that we all have as believers: we are to pull our own weight in every area—taking care of our needs and those of our families, making good use of our time, loving the brethren, etc. But where does the Gospel fit into the equation? Is that the passion of your life or just something you think about once in a while? Give that some thought: What is the primary “burden” in your life?

Lord Jesus, help us to share your compassion for the Lost, and to willingly take up and bear the Burden of the Gospel, for the sake of your Glory.

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.


Curse, or Promise?

The Curse of the Law, or the Promise of the Spirit?

© C. O. Bishop 1/22/15 THCF 2/1/15

Galatians 3:10-14; John 14:16, Ephesians 1:13, 14, etc.

Introduction:

We recently saw how Paul challenged the thinking of the Galatian believers: he asked them if what had been begun by the Holy Spirit, through faith, was now to be improved upon by human effort. His conclusion was that faith alone was the response God wanted to his Grace, and that by faith alone He had saved everyone in history who had ever been redeemed.

He used Abraham as the prime example, partly because Abraham was the ultimate patriarch of the Jews, to whom they all referred as their forefather; and partly because he is also the one regarding whom God said, “Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness.”

Paul concluded that if you want to be received on the same basis as Abraham, and truly be “his children”, then you need to respond to God as Abraham did: by faith. He demonstrates that this is how God’s promise to Abraham of an uncountable progeny would be fulfilled…through people of every nation believing the Gospel. Now he is ready to actively, sharply contrast law and faith, and thus, also, to contrast Law and Grace.

The Curse of the Law

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

Wow! That is a pretty harsh thing to say! Virtually every reference to the Law in the Old Testament tells how wonderful it is! Psalm 119 spends 176 verses extolling the virtues of God’s Law, his Word, his Statutes, his precepts, his commandments, etc. How can Paul say that it is a curse?

Why would he say such a thing? Because it is the simple truth! The passage he quotes is Deuteronomy 27:26, and is the culmination of a dozen consecutive verses of specific curses on those who fail to obey God’s Law. The fact is that God’s Law is perfect, and has the capacity to cleanse the hearts of those who willingly subject themselves to it, but only when God has already purged their sins by way of His chosen blood sacrifice. The Law does not cleanse by obedience, but via the blood sacrifice for disobedience!

The reason Abel was accepted by God was because he recognized his own unacceptability and brought a blood sacrifice as a substitute for his own life. God accepted him on the basis of that blood sacrifice. He rejected Cain’s non-blood sacrifice, because a non-blood sacrifice demonstrates that the giver is already purged from the guilt of sin, and is free to worship. Cain chose to bypass that blood, and bring worship without atonement.

Abel could (and undoubtedly would) later have brought other offerings as worship offerings…but he first brought the blood as required by God. We are not told what he did later, beyond the fact that he was accepted by God, and later murdered by his elder brother.

In Hebrews 9:22 we see that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” So the way people were saved under the Law was to recognize their own condemned state, and, by faith, to bring the required blood sacrifice. We do the same thing: we hear of God’s righteous judgment, and are convinced of our own guilt. We throw ourselves on the mercy of God, through the shed blood of Jesus, and depend on that blood sacrifice as our only hope for salvation. God receives us as he did Abel, and we are declared righteous through faith, as was Abraham. Then we are free to come to Him in worship.

11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Here we go again: the verse he is quoting is Habakkuk 2:4…and, by the way, he was not using that phrase lightly, as we sometimes do, saying, “Oh, they’ll just live by faith”. In Habakkuk, the idea was that the righteous ones would survive by their faith. He was predicting the destruction of the nation of Judah, under Babylon. He clearly stated that the righteous would “live”—as opposed to dying in the siege—“by his faith”. God knows our hearts—he knows who believes His Word. And their faith was the deciding factor as to whether they would live or die.

12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

The Law was strictly obedience: the sacrifices were Grace, by which God saved the disobedient sinners who confessed that they could not fully obey: That sacrificial animal died as a substitute for the guilty sinner. If a person wants to live by the Law, he/she must hear what Paul is saying: Law requires 100%, flawless, unfailing obedience. And no one but Jesus ever came close. So, without the Grace of God, the Law is strictly a curse.

The various cults who teach people to obey various segments of Law as a means to Godliness are ignoring this fundamental principal: if you choose Law over Grace, you are a debtor to obey the whole law—not just the parts that appeal to you. Sabbath and diet are not the whole law…sorry. And even those who think they keep the Ten Commandments are usually ignoring the last one—a matter of the heart. Covetousness is not something we do with our bodies but with our minds.

By the way, the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus(Mark 12:29-31), are not even in the Ten Commandments: He says that “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind”, and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” are most important. The first one has to do with being committed to God above all things, and the second has to do with being as committed to your neighbor’s well-being as much as you are your own. Those two concepts don’t even come up on the horizon of people advocating salvation by works. Their concerns are primarily outward…God’s concerns are primarily inward!

Redeemed!

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (who is “us”?): for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we (who is “we”?) might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Redeemed means “bought back”: we have been bought back out of the marketplace of sin, for the purpose of being set free. Remember that the Gentiles had never been under the Mosaic Law (just as Abraham was never under the Law.) So the “us”, here, is primarily in reference to the Jews. The Law came after the promise, and confined the Jews to certain behavior. It showed them that, apart from God’s grace, they were lost. They brought the blood sacrifices; daily in some cases, and many times per year, at best. They could not be done with sacrifices for sin, because they kept on sinning. And, if Gentiles wanted to approach God through the temple in Jerusalem (remember, Abraham never saw the temple), then they had to subject themselves to that same Law. And, effectively, they were then under the same curse.

Jesus’ sacrifice made a complete and permanent solution to sin, and made it possible for Gentiles to approach the throne of Grace apart from the Law. Prior to that, though all through the Old Testament there were examples of Gentiles being saved by faith, if a Gentile wanted to enter into the covenant of Israel, he had to become a Jew, ritually, and by adherence to the Law. But remember: he could never become genetically Jewish!

A child of God can rightly claim God as his/her real father. The Apostle John states (1st John 3:9) that “his seed remains in you”. You are not just placed into his family, you are born into it. That’s what Jesus meant when He said “You must be born again.” Nicodemus, whom he addressed, was the consummate Jew—a child of Abraham by physical birth; a zealous, diligent adherent to the Law. But he had to be born again as a child of God, just like you and me.

Notice, here, that Paul has again pointed out the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death: He became a curse for us. He died in our place. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 states that “he became sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He, who knew no sin, did not become a sinner—he became sin for us. He became a curse, and had the righteous wrath of God—all of it—poured out upon himself.

The passage Paul quotes is from Deuteronomy 21:22, 23; if a criminal was executed by stoning, and his body was hung up on a tree (or “timber, wood, or gallows” as the Hebrew word “ets” can be translated), as a lesson, a warning against further evildoing; then they were to take his body down before dark…hanging up the body was a statement that the man had been cursed by God. It had to be taken down by dark, so that the land would not be defiled. I don’t know if this was the physical defilement of a rotting corpse, or some sort of spiritual defilement. Either way, in Hebrew history, the executions were typically by stoning. The hanging up on a tree was a statement of their national rejection of sin. In Jesus’ case, he was executed by the Romans, at the urging of the Jewish priesthood. They were not allowed to execute criminals, under Roman law, so they incited the Romans to do their work for them. Crucifixion was a Roman invention.

That We might receive the Promise of the Spirit

The first-person plural “we” as used in these few verses seems to be primarily in reference to the Jews, who had been in bondage to the Law, and who were now set free by faith. The “we” in verse 14, the last half, includes all believers. All believers receive the promise of the Spirit through Faith alone. The Jews had known of the Promise of the Spirit for many years…say, 500 years at least. They had waited to receive the Promise, but they only connected it with the coming kingdom, and did not imagine that they themselves would be the recipients, in their lifetime. Further, though they knew that the Gentiles were promised to be “the inheritance” of the Messiah, and that God’s blessing would eventually come upon the Gentiles, they had not imagined it would come now, by faith alone; not by the Law.

The promise that Paul and Peter both mentioned is in Joel 2:28, 29, and refers to a time after the Lord’s physical return, and His restoration of Israel. The Jews knew this was coming. That promise is still awaiting the Messiah’s reign on Earth: it is a gift to the national and ethnic Jews. The whole nation of Israel, after the return of Christ, during the Kingdom age, will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. There will be no need for evangelism anywhere on earth, because God says that “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

But for right now; the promise of God during the Church Age is that believers, whether Jew or Gentile, will be permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In fact, in Romans 8:9, Paul states that if you do not have the Spirit, you are not saved. That is pretty strong stuff!

Here in chapter three, Paul has pointed out that as they had received the Spirit by faith, it made no sense to hope to “improve” God’s work by human efforts.

So, how can we avoid Legalism? And how can we appropriate the promise of the Spirit?

When anything or anyone says, “Do this, or else!” I look carefully at the commands associated with it: Are they, in fact, directed at the church? Not every command in the Bible is to the church, proper, and not all of them are applicable under all circumstances. I like to use the rather ridiculous rhetorical question: “When Jesus said, ‘What thou doest, do quickly’ does it mean I should always be in a hurry?” Of course, we realize that he only said that to Judas Iscariot, telling him, “Now that you have made your decision to betray me, get moving! Do it!” It has no bearing at all on anything I do, but it was a command from Jesus. It just wasn’t directed to me. So, since the heart of the scripture says that I have been justified (declared righteous) by Grace through Faith, and that God is at peace with me, and that I should have no further fear of condemnation, I should be very suspicious when someone says “If you do not conform to this norm, you cannot know God!”

Review in your mind how Jesus said you could be saved: “He that hears my words, and believes on Him who sent me has everlasting life…” He didn’t add anything to those two conditions. Neither did any of the Apostles. But: Is obedience necessary to a life of fellowship?

Ah! That is another matter! (1st John 1:7, 9) God says “If we walk in the Light (that’s obedience) as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” If we sin, he says confess it to restore fellowship—then obey and maintain fellowship. And, the commands he says to obey are to love; “Love God; Love one another”…pretty basic stuff.  Even the Old Testament (Micah 6:8) says “He has shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee but to do justice, to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  That is fairly simple. It is difficult to consistently do, but, as a concept, it is simple.

In Galatians 5:16 a promise is made: “If you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” There is a lot of explanatory material offered, as well, which we will explore another day. We know that God’s Word tells us how God sees things: what His perspective is. He just wants us to see things His way, and walk with Him. Amos 3:3 poses the question, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” It is a rhetorical question, with the implied answer being, “No!” That is why 1st John 1:7 says, “Walk in the light as He is in the Light”.

Learn to see the World, Righteousness and Sin from God’s point of view, by studying His Word, by prayer, and by meditation on his Word. Learn to literally walk with Him. It is just “day-by-day plodding along”—it is faithfulness—nothing flashy about it, nothing “glorious” from the World’s point of view. But God is building something glorious. We need to trust Him, and walk with Him, and allow him to continue his work.

Let’s learn to walk by faith, embracing the Promise of the Spirit, and avoiding the Curse of legalism. Let us not try to apply Law to ourselves nor to one another, but embrace the Grace of God as a principle for living. Apply His Grace to those around you: especially to those you find irritating, frustrating, or unpleasant: they need it the most. Apply it to yourself: believe God’s promise: the Holy Spirit will stay with you, guarding your heart until the day He comes for you.

Lord Jesus; fill us with your Love, and allow us to learn your Grace. Help us to avoid the trap of legalism, either as applied to ourselves or as applied to our brothers and sisters. Teach us to walk with you by faith. Amen!