Posts Tagged ‘Sin’

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Nine

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Nine

© C. O. Bishop 2012; Revised 2018

Genesis 18

Introduction:

We have been working our way through Genesis: In this chapter, there are several amazing points for us to consider:

  • One is that God and his angels can show up in human form, indistinguishable from normal humans: they can walk, talk, eat, etc., and pass for humans without question.
  • Another is that Jesus, God the Son, is the only member of the Godhead to show up in visible, human form, and He usually is soon revealed for who he is. He has not come to deceive us, in any way, but rather to communicate on the level of a human.
  • Jesus is the Communication of God…the Word, incarnate: He “declares God.”
  • Jesus is also the Judge of all the Earth, not just the Savior of the World.

Genesis 18

“The LORD appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre.” This clearly says Abraham was talking to God. We may feel a slight problem with that, because when Moses asked to see God’s face, God said, “No man can see my face and live…” and the Gospel of John (John 1:18) confirms that, but explains briefly, by saying “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared him.” So we conclude that this was God the Son, declaring and revealing the Father, as he has done throughout all the ages.

This concept is called a “Christophany”—a pre-incarnate appearance of the Christ: God the Son. There are others…the one who most frequently appears, though, is the individual called “the Angel of the LORD.” In every case, when the “angel of the LORD” (not “an” angel of the Lord) appears, it turns out to be the LORD himself…when he speaks, it simply says, “The LORD said…” That is what happened in this particular case, too:

Abraham was sitting in the doorway of his tent, in the shade, as it was hot out. Three men appeared on the road. Abraham saw them and ran to meet them. He was courteous and hospitable toward these three strangers, and he begged them to accept his hospitality: he offered to feed them, and they accepted his offer. Then, as they ate, he stood by them and served them. He offered them freshly cooked beef with freshly baked flat-bread, cooked beside the fire, and butter, and milk…possibly other things, but we are only told those four items. And they ate…which is interesting to me, considering who they turned out to be: Then they spoke up and he began to find that he had literally been entertaining God, and, evidently, two angelic beings as well. Let’s see how Abraham responded to them (watch the changing pronouns, here, too):

God Incarnate; the Living Word

(v.9, 10) They said “Where is Sarah, thy wife?”  He (Abraham) said, “…in the tent.” Then, HE (God) said, “I will certainly return next year and your wife, Sarah shall have a son.”

From that point on, it is this spokesman, alone, who speaks with Abraham. Bear in mind that, in John 1:1, Jesus is referred to as the “Word.” It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A few verses later, in John 1:14, it says “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth.” Finally, in John 1:18, he says, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the father, he hath declared him.” What a powerful revelation concerning all the appearances of God in the Old Testament!

Jesus is, and always has been, the communicator of the God-head: the one who “declared” God. So, this is Jesus, speaking as God, and declaring His Divine intent for Abraham’s life. He is the incarnate God, God-in-the-flesh, and he has appeared periodically throughout human history. It was He who walked in the Garden in the cool of the day, and met with Adam and Eve. It was He who wrestled with Jacob, and met with the parents of Samson. He is the One who fully communicates God to man, and, according to the book of Colossians, in Him the entire Godhead dwells in bodily form. (Colossians 2:9)

The Omnipotence and Omniscience of Christ

Notice, too, that Sarah also heard the voice of God, promising that she would soon be pregnant with her only son, and, (just as Abraham had earlier done, openly) she laughed inwardly at the thought, thinking “After I am this old, and my lord (husband) is even older, I’m going to have a son?”  Notice that she evidently made no sound! But God heard it anyway: He spoke and challenged her, saying “Why did Sarah laugh?” She was afraid, and tried to deny it, saying “I didn’t laugh!”, but God (in the Person of Christ) said, “No, you did laugh!” Knowing her thoughts shows that Christ is all-knowing: Omniscient. The fulfillment of the Promise (later) demonstrates that he is all-powerful: Omnipotent, as well as Trustworthy: He keeps His Word.

It might seem a small thing, but this is actually why Isaac was named Isaac! Isaac means “He Laughs!” It was God’s little “the joke’s on you!” response to their temporary unbelief. I like this because it shows that God has a sense of humor. Every time they called Isaac’s name, for the rest of their lives, they would remember why he held that name. I also like the fact that they were not rebuked for their initial response. God knows our limitations.

This is a good reminder for us, that The Lord has no trouble reading our thoughts exactly. Every thought is open to His observation, examination, and appraisal. What kind of thought-life are we practicing? This is the reason why, over in 2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5, he says that we have been equipped (as believers) to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” It is something to think about, isn’t it? Maybe we ought to take that more seriously.

Judgment is Coming

(v.16-33) The three “men” got up from the meal, and headed toward Sodom. Abraham, gracious host to the end, walked with them to see them on their way. The LORD (remember, this is Jesus) volunteered to share His plan with Abraham, saying “I know that Abraham will keep my word, and will teach his children to keep my word.” Jesus wants us to know His will and His plan, but it may depend upon our being willing to obey Him, and follow His will for us.

God told Abraham that he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, for their extreme sin. To me, this is a very sobering passage, as I see our nation (and indeed, our current world) sliding deeper and deeper into the very kinds of sin that Sodom and Gomorrah were famous for, as well as the violence that covered the earth before the flood. How long can we expect the judgment of God to tarry? It may be instructive to compare the old judgment (the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.) with judgments yet to come (The Great Tribulation, Armageddon, etc), and see whether there are other parallels. (Both texts are in the Bible: I am not suggesting that we have “figured out” the future of our country or any such thing.)

To begin with, it is good to notice that Abraham did not say, “Well, good! It’s about time you burned those nasty sinners out!”, but rather, he was immediately concerned for any righteous who might still be living there. We may assume he was primarily concerned for his kinsman, Lot, but he started with the premise that there might be fifty righteous there. Apparently he had a pretty good idea what the city was like, if he thought fifty might be the maximum. He also recognized that God has the right to judge sin, and did not complain that God was “being too harsh” on sin, but was simply fearful that those who were believers might be destroyed with those who had fully rejected the authority of God. Meanwhile, the two other characters (angelic beings, who simply looked like humans, at this time) took off toward Sodom, and the LORD was left alone with Abraham.

It is interesting to note, in verse 25, that Abraham addressed the LORD as “the Judge of all the Earth,” and protested that destroying the righteous with the unrighteous was not something he would expect from the righteous Judge. Let’s stop a moment and be reminded of just who the Righteous Judge, the “Judge of all the Earth” had to be: Turn to John 5:22, and see that Jesus said “…The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son….” Jesus is the Eternal Judge, as well as the only Savior! He truly is “God in the flesh!”

God said “If there are fifty righteous, I will spare the whole place!” Abraham kept “whittling” the number down, and even at ten, God said he would spare the whole place for the sake of ten righteous. But at that point God broke off the conversation, and left. The fact is: God already knew how many were there who would respond to Him at all. That is why he sent two angels, rather than only one: one alone could easily have destroyed the cities, but they had to drag out four people, to salvage them from the destruction: so, one hand for each human: two angels!

Bear in mind, through this entire exchange, that it was the Lord Jesus who was speaking with Abraham. Abraham was correctly addressing Him as the Judge, and begging him to save the righteous. Think back to Genesis 15:6, and remember that God declares a person righteous, only on the basis of faith! Abraham was praying for the believers!

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

Judgment is coming in our world as well, and we are acting as God’s ambassadors, attempting to offer reconciliation and salvation to any who will accept God’s terms. How do we do it?

Bad News and Good News

The word “Gospel” means “good news,” but we need to remember that part of the Gospel is the Bad News: the bad news of sin and the coming Judgment. Virtually all “good news” is predicated upon at least the previous possibility of something “bad” that either did not happen (hence the good news) or which did happen, requiring that we hope for Good News of a remedy of some sort.

I frequently cite the example of the “Good News” from a number of years ago, when Australian medical researchers had developed a “catch-all” antivenin, which would serve as the antidote for 85 different varieties of venomous snakes on that continent. So what was the bad news, obviously? They have at least 85 different kinds of venomous snakes in Australia! (Yow! Yes, that’s bad news!) Actually, I looked it up more recently, and, it turns out, that if we count sea-snakes, they actually have 140 varieties of venomous snakes there, but that “only” about a dozen of ‘em are regularly a hazard to humans. (Oh! Well, then, that’s not so bad, right?)

If we hear that the “…huge fires over in the wheat fields have been brought under control,” that is good news, but only because it is predicated upon the bad news that there were “huge fires in the wheat fields!” Do you see what a completely foolish thing it is, to attempt to preach the “good news” of the Gospel without also explaining the “bad news” of our sin, and the coming judgment of God upon sin? Why would someone who believes themselves to be righteous see any need for a savior?

The entire message of the Bible is this one central theme of God’s redemptive plan for fallen mankind: The Person and Work of Christ. If it were not for the fact that we are a fallen race, there would be no need for a Savior; no need for a Redeemer!

The story began back in Genesis 3, and continues through the entire Bible, culminating in Christ, both in the Gospels and in the Revelation. The last plea for the lost is made in the last few verses of the Revelation, inviting “whosoever will” to freely come. But all the way along, God makes it clear that we are a lost race, because of sin, and that no one is excluded from that condemnation. Our only hope, to be freed from our lost position in Adam is to be transferred into a safe position in Christ. Just as we saw Noah, safe, only because of his position inside the Ark, we are invited to receive God’s redemptive plan, and take up a new, safe position: in Christ.

I don’t usually feel the need to tell someone that they are a sinner: very likely they already know that. But I do tell them that I am a sinner, so they know I am not looking down on them in any way; that I am just a beggar, telling another beggar where to find free food. I am just one sinner, saved, and telling another sinner where to find the Savior.

If they fail to see themselves as a sinner, and they actually verbalize that idea, I can outline the sort of thing that God calls sin; every little selfish motive or angry thought is a symptom of the fatal disease called Sin. I can show them, from God’s Word, that every single human is a sinner, and needs a Savior. He says, “All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.” I can tell them the rest of the bad news, that Judgment is coming: God says, “The wages of sin is Death.” But I can finish with the Good News that Jesus Saves! “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” I can explain that we are “saved by Grace, through Faith”: specifically, “faith in His shed blood at the Cross.” We trust in His finished work, for our salvation.

If they are at all interested, then, I can share with them Jesus’s promise that “he that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life (now) and shall not come into condemnation (ever), but has crossed over from death into life.” (It’s a done deal!)

Conclusion

That is really all I have to offer. Paul said, when he arrived in Corinth, that he was determined to “know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He had seen how all the philosophical preaching he had done in Athens had really accomplished very little. So: in the next town, which was Corinth, he simplified his message, and went “back to the basics.”

I think that we need to take a similar approach, and not muddy the waters with our clever ideas, but just try to share the simple message of salvation from Sin, and the promise of eternal life, directly from God’s Word.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to the lost around us, and give us the compassion and courage to share with them the Bad News and the Good News of your salvation. Make us a light to those around us, and let us serve you faithfully.

 


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

© C. O. Bishop 2012, revised 2018

Genesis, chapters 16 and 17

Introduction:

There are many ugly histories in the Bible: God doesn’t pull punches when telling “what happened,” and “who did what.” Actually, that is one of the things that helps convince me that this actually is God’s Word, and not the word of man: God does not put his “heroes of the faith” on pedestals: he lets us see exactly what kind of flawed individuals they really were, and then shows us what He can do with such shabby, unpromising raw materials. We saw the sin of Adam, the drunkenness of Noah, and the foolishness of Lot: but all were saved individuals.

Virtually all the patriarchs, judges and kings also had deeply flawed lives; some far worse than others. But God chose them because of what He could do with them, not because of what “wonderful people” they were. He is still choosing that way today. He deliberately chooses “losers” through whom He will bring about victories. He leaves the “self-sufficient” to be just that…self-sufficient, self-satisfied, and self-centered. They feel no need for a Savior, and they see themselves as great people. (Perhaps they are, in fact, from strictly a human perspective.)

This story is about a couple of “failures, and losers,” living in the midst of a culture of failure, idolatry, and slavery, where life was cheap, and “human rights” were scarce, or even unheard of. We don’t like these subjects, as they make us uncomfortable, at least, and sometimes angry.

Genesis 16: Faith can Stumble

Back in chapter 15, God had made a promise of offspring, but Abram and Sarai were evidently tired of waiting. So Sarai had a “brilliant idea,” which was evidently a common “cultural norm.” She suggested that Abram impregnate her servant, Hagar, and she herself would simply claim the child. Abram, a typical man, apparently thought that was a great idea.

We would be horrified, today, in our culture, to even hear of such an idea, let alone to hear of someone attempting to carry it through, or, worse yet, actually doing such a thing. But there are actually more slaves today than ever before, and we simply are unaware, because it is mostly hidden, or in particular parts of the world. And, in those places, such a plan would be taken as a matter-of-fact solution, not a gross moral violation (which it certainly is and was.)

We will eventually see how Hagar felt about it all, but not in detail. However, this little scheme produced deep, serious trouble of the “fatal” kind, which continues still today. All the Arab peoples claim Ishmael (and Abraham) as their forefather, and believe that they are the chosen people of God (the Q’uran tells them so).

This incident occurred about ten years after Abram had moved into Canaan, so he was at least 85, since he left Haran at 75 years of age. The end of the chapter says he was 86 when Ishmael was born. We are not told how old Hagar was (much younger, evidently), but I can sympathize with her in this matter—as a slave, she was given no choice. She was being treated as a thing, an object…a possession; she had no more self-determination than did a domestic animal. She probably was not in favor of the plan, being forced to sexually serve her mistress’s husband; to be a surrogate mother; not even being allowed to claim her own son. She was not exactly a sex-slave, as that was not the intent: it was strictly for procreation, but when forced upon a woman, it isn’t much different. Whatever her initial feelings had been; once she was pregnant, she felt some satisfaction, or vindication, knowing that she could bear a child, while Sarai could not.

Sarai saw Hagar’s satisfaction (and the smugness and disrespect that followed it) and blamed the whole plan on Abram (how quickly we forget!) She called on God to judge him for his sin. But Abram said, in effect, “Hey, she’s your slave; you take care of it”. So Sarai physically abused Hagar (we don’t know how: the text just says “dealt hardly with her”), and Hagar ran away.

The Consequences of Sin

The story could have ended there, with a poor, lone, pregnant woman lost in the desert. But God met with Hagar in the desert at a spring where she had sought refuge, and He told her to go back. He further told her that she would have a son, that her son would be called Ishmael, and that he would be the father of a multitude…also, that he would be a “wild man” (some translations say “a wild donkey of a man”), whose hand would be against everyone, and against whom everyone else’s hand would be raised. (Does that sound familiar? The Arab nations all call Ishmael their father (whether he was or not), and they are at odds with the whole non-Arab world. The current pattern of worldwide Islamic terrorism has been deliberately exerted against all parties, in the attempt to start a world war, and bring about some particular prophecy in the Q’uran. Their stated desire is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth…in fact, to kill every single Jew.)

We should really think carefully about this whole story—it could sound simply like a tawdry tale of sin and abuse; the sad story of a very dysfunctional family, in a primitive, brutal society… and it is all of that. But the underlying lesson, it seems to me, is that sin always has an ongoing effect. Sin has consequences. I can’t go back and undo my errors: the hurts I have caused in the lives of others will have ongoing effects in their lives as well as my own.

Sin always affects more than just the ones sinning. The long-range results in this particular case are several nations of people who are deadly enemies to Israel—who openly state that their fondest dream is to wipe Israel off the map. I have no way to know which failure of mine will have far-reaching consequences—nor how severe. (Probably none as severe as this one, simply because I am not Abraham.) But all sin has eternal consequences: at the very least we will lose potential for eternal rewards. But we also dishonor God; we destroy our testimony, and we “…make the name of God to stink, among the Gentiles.” We drive people away from Jesus.

How many times have you met an unbeliever who has become embittered against Christians in general, and Christianity as a concept, or even against Christ as a person, specifically because of offenses committed by people claiming to be Christians? In fact, for the sake of argument, I will assume they really were Christians. Why would I assume this? Because Christians are perfectly capable of virtually every sin, if not absolutely every sin, commonly committed by unbelievers. We are supposed to be living holy lives, noteworthy for the Agape love displayed in us, and for the unity we enjoy with one another, and the general pattern of good behavior seen in all circumstances. Jesus told us to live in such a way that others will see our good works and glorify God. Unfortunately, none of the above is what the World tends to see. They capitalize on the failures, and assume failure is the “real” norm, and that all the “piety” was just hypocrisy.

I asked an unbelieving co-worker, recently, if, as his children were learning to walk, he had yelled “hypocrite!” at them, every time they lost their balance and fell. He replied that, of course, he had not. I pointed out that failure, especially among untaught or immature believers is quite common, and not necessarily a mark of hypocrisy. He thought a “hypocrite” is someone who says they believe one thing, and then do something else. I corrected his thinking, pointing out that the Greek word “hupocritos” only means an actor: a pretender; a fake. A failure and a fake are two different things. A fisherman who catches no fish is not a fake, but a frustrated failure. A runner who fails to finish a race is a failure, not a fake. Such examples are unlimited in number.

What we saw in this story was a prime example of a total failure of faith. They didn’t even think they were doing wrong: they simply assumed that “cultural norms” were OK with God, and they just didn’t think to ask His opinion. They ran ahead of God (a bad idea) with their own means of “implementing God’s plan.” This is certainly not the only example in the Bible of such choices by believers, but it is one that has incredibly severe long-range consequences.

I encountered a modern-day example of this assumption recently, through a friend in another state: his church is planning to hire a pastor, and they are following the “cultural norm” of soliciting résumés, and reading letters of recommendation. This is a classic abandonment of God’s command to not “lay hands on” (ordain) someone too soon, as it is patently impossible to get to know someone in just a week’s time, and it is therefore impossible for the congregation to know and respect that individual as an elder in that assembly. But the western churches have nearly universally chosen to go with the World’s way of thinking, and have reverted to the pattern of having one hireling, like a CEO, set over a church, with abnormal authority to rule, and an impossible task to accomplish as a servant, even if he is a perfect servant…and he isn’t!

God does give instructions as to how to find, produce, train and select church leaders…and they are always plural. But very few are willing to follow those instructions, and the results are frequently disastrous. Will that church survive the error? Very likely it will! Does the fact that it is a cultural norm make it a good replacement for God’s stated plan? Absolutely not! God says for us to trust in the LORD with all our hearts and to not lean unto our own understanding. Disobedience always has consequences.

Abram and Sarai replaced God’s plan with their own ideas, based upon cultural norms, and they assumed it would be fine. But they were wrong! We are always ill-advised to assume that our “cultural norms” are a good replacement for God’s stated will. I realize that this is a troubling idea, and I have no desire to stir up controversy, but it is important that we carefully examine our practices, traditions and beliefs, in the light of all of God’s Word (not just a pet “proof-text”), to see whether they are actually what God says to do.

Genesis 17: God’s Plan Revealed

When Abram was 99 years old—and Ishmael was 13—God met with Abram again, and reiterated his original promise, and, in the process, changing Abram’s name (which meant “exalted father”) to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”). But God also added a condition that was to be met by the recipients of the promise. The mark of the covenant was to be circumcision. Remember that this was before the giving of the Law…it was a provision that whoever was to receive the promise was to be marked as a son of the promise. In the New Testament, we see that it was a picture of discipleship—of the “putting away of the flesh.” And it is only a picture. There were countless Israelites (and millions of modern day Gentiles) who were circumcised as babies (or even as adults) but had no heart for the God of the Covenant. The flesh does not profit, at a spiritual level, unless the Spirit is driving the flesh…the physical body, in this case. But both the Jews and the Arab peoples still practice this, in the belief that they are complying with God’s demand, and that they thereby gain an entrance into the promise of God.

God went on to say that Sarai’s name would now be Sarah (meaning “princess”), and that she would bear a son, and that they would name him Isaac (meaning, “he laughs”, because Abraham laughed at the thought of a 99-year old man fathering a child.)

Abraham had his heart set on Ishmael as his heir, but God overruled: He said that, though Ishmael would be a great nation (and the father of many nations), Isaac was the son of the promise, not Ishmael. In Galatians 4:21-31 (read this), we see the explanation of what happened in Genesis 17 and 21. In Genesis 17 God told Abram that his son of the flesh (Ishmael) was not the son of the promise…in chapter 21, he was finally told to send Hagar and Ishmael away…and it deeply grieved him to do so. Abraham sincerely loved his son, Ishmael.

But God set up this picture, using the circumstances, so that we could see, almost 4000 years later that Law and Grace do not dwell together. The Law brings a curse, and Grace brings life. Does the Law have a purpose, today? Certainly, it does! The Law lets us know that we are a condemned sinner and in need of a Savior. Grace joins us to the savior.

“Doctor Law” diagnoses the need for a new heart. “Doctor Grace” is the surgeon who gives the new heart, and binds the believing heart immutably to Christ. They do work in the same clinic, but they never set foot in one another’s offices. Doctor Law always sends his patients to Doctor Grace—if they will go—and Doctor Grace never sends them back. They work well as a team—but always separately!

So, Isaac was a picture of Christ, in the sense that he was the Son of the Promise (and it showed in his life-story in a couple of places). Jesus is the Eternal fulfillment of the promises of God.

Chapter 17 ends with the circumcision of all the men in Abram’s extended household. (In chapter 14, remember, Abram had led into battle 318 fighting men from his own household. By this time there were undoubtedly more, as it was thirteen or fourteen years later. There must have been a lot of grief in that camp that week. That particular “surgery” is not a light thing for adults.

But: the result of obedience is blessing. Abraham continually received God’s blessing and protection. And, every time God gave him a command, Abraham got right in there and did it. We especially see this in Genesis chapter 22, where God tested Abraham.

Conclusion: Final “Review” Questions

  • Which came first, Faith or Obedience?
  • And, based upon which of those, was Abraham declared to be righteous, by God?
  • Which showed him as “righteous” to his fellow humans?

Answers:

  • Abraham believed God, and God declared him to be righteous on the basis of that faith.
  • Afterward, Abraham obeyed God, and, because of that, all of us can see the reality of his faith. He “put his money where his mouth was.” He put “shoe-leather” on his faith.

We already had discovered that this was Jesus, personally dealing with Abraham. After declaring Abraham righteous, on the basis of faith alone, Jesus made some demands on Abraham’s life, which we see as works.

Application: He does the same thing for us today:

  • He declared us righteous on the basis of faith in His blood at the Cross.
  • He then declared us to be his personal possession, as well as his offspring, and set us aside for His service, His purpose, and His blessing.
  • Finally, He says there are some things he wants us to do in response to faith, and in a personal response to Him as our Savior and Master. He wants us to walk with him and commit ourselves to His service.

Are you truly willing to follow him? Or is your faith going to be more like that of Brother Lot? Though he was truly saved, Lot was never really willing to make his relationship with God a priority in his life. As we will see next time, the results were not so good.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts and let us step forward in faith, breaking free from cultural norms, and doing what does not come naturally to our minds. Make us tools in your hands, to accomplish your will.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

The Coming Redeemer

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

Genesis 3-9

Introduction:

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

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

The Fall and the Promise

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

The Sacrifice and the Safeguard

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

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

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

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

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

The Flood

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

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

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

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

Similarities between Jesus and the Ark:

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

Lessons from the Ark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So, What about Sin?

So, What about Sin?

© C. O. Bishop 1/5/2018 Cornell Estates 1/7/2018

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans, and the first three chapters are nearly entirely given over to explaining the bad news of the wreckage of the human race in Sin, thus making the “Good News” of the Gospel of Christ entirely appropriate for every human…real good news, in response to real bad news.

So, What is Sin, Anyway?

What is sin? Why is it even an issue? Is it strictly a matter of opinion, and interpretation, or are there some solid truths involved?

The New Testament Greek word “hamartia” reflected a “miss” in spear-throwing, specifically, and one of the primary Hebrew words for “sin” (the Hebrew word chattaah), reflected an archery term meaning to “miss the ‘gold’ (bulls-eye) with an arrow.” But the English word “sin” goes back to various Germanic roots all carrying the idea of “moral wrongdoing, injury, mischief, enmity, a feud, guilt, crime, offense against God, misdeed, etc.”

The various words translated “sin” are used hundreds of times in the Bible, in varying forms, and always treated as something serious. The first warning as to the result of wrongdoing (simple disobedience, in this case, having to do with eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) is in Genesis 2:17, where the Creator warns Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  We find out later that spiritual death, separation from God, was the primary fulfillment, and it occurred the very moment Adam ate that fruit.

Three thousand years later, an important general comment is made regarding Sin: Ezekiel 18:4 states that “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” This answer was given against the human charge that God is punishing children for what their parents did.

Romans 5:12 has another important idea: “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:” Yes, sin entered by one man. Sin was introduced to the entire human race in its progenitor, Adam. Think of it as a “genetic code modification,” if that helps: we all became sinners, the moment Adam ate of that fruit. But, we all individually sin, and press home God’s point about the whole human race: Every single one of us, at one level or another…no one escapes that stigma, because we all prove it true on an individual basis. Romans 3:23 makes it abundantly clear: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” We all have missed the mark!

How Can We Identify Sin?

As New Testament believers, there is no need for us to go through lists of “Seven Deadly Sins,” “Five Felonious Foul-ups”, or “Nine Nasty No-nos,” or any such thing: we can learn principles by which we can examine our lives, and which cover all those “lists,” plus things we might not have thought of before, and can’t find on any lists. There are four such definitions in the New Testament:

#1 … Transgression of the Law

God gave the Mosaic Law in Exodus 20, and again in Deuteronomy 4. We will not reflect upon it today, because it was specifically given to the Jews, who were never able to keep it, by their own confession (Acts 15:10), and the New Testament specifically forbids placing that yoke on the necks of Gentiles, to whom it was never given in the first place. All that being said, the value of the Law remains unchanged: it is an eternal standard of righteousness. Romans 7:13 says that it “…makes Sin exceedingly sinful.” In light of that fact, over in 1st John 3:4, the apostle states that “…sin is the transgression of the Law.”

All right! There is one clear definition of sin, given in the New Testament, and specifically addressed to New Testament Believers, in spite of the fact that it reflects on Old Testament Law! “Sin is the Transgression of the Law!” Bear in mind that it is definitely talking about the Mosaic Law, not any particular civil law. It is possible (not at all common) for civil law to be contrary to God’s Law, but we will not address that today. How about another?

#2 … All Unrighteousness

In Romans 1:18-32, God addresses His revealed wrath against “…all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men….” This is a good place to read carefully, because, though the list He proceeds to lay out sounds fairly exhaustive, it is not, and it leaves room for other items not specified. Verse 32 says …”they which do such things…”, not ”those things.” The list is not exhaustive. That is important, because He does say that His wrath is ”revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” So what can we say, when the condemnation is universal, but the list is not?

1st John 5:17 states that “all unrighteousness is sin….”  All unrighteousness is sin! So, everything on that list over in Romans 1 as well as everything in those categories, named or unnamed, is still sin. Galatians 5:19-21 gives a short list (not the same as the one in Romans, but similar), and the list ends with the phrase, “…and such like”. It means “things like these.” All unrighteousness is sin. It doesn’t have to be on anyone’s list, necessarily. How about another definition?

#3 … If a Man Knows to Do Right and Fails to Do So

James 4:17 really makes it personal: “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” To him it is sin! We always say that ignorance of the Law is not an excuse for breaking it, but there is a law that reaches beyond that: knowing the GOOD thing to do, and failing to DO it, is just a wrong as knowing the law and breaking it.

And, quite frankly, even law-enforcement officers sometimes extend mercy to someone who is doing something that is perfectly legal in their home state, and which they had no way to know became illegal when they crossed the state line. I have had mercy extended to me in that specific instance on at least two occasions. One for a vehicle equipment deficiency, and another for hitchhiking in a state where it was illegal. (That is how I got into that state!) An unmarked car pulled up and the officer politely asked me whether I was aware that it was illegal to hitchhike in the state of Tennessee. My shoulders slumped, and I blurted, “No, I didn’t know that! That’s why everyone is staring at me, then!” He smiled and asked where I was headed. I said I was headed into Mississippi, to see my Grandparents for Christmas. He smiled again, and said, “Hop in! I’ll take you across the state line!” And he did! That was Grace and Mercy at work! He gave me what I had not earned, which is the very definition of Grace; and he did not give me the citation I had unwittingly earned. That is Mercy! He made a judgment based on my response. He was satisfied that I had no intent of breaking the law, and he extended both Mercy and Grace.

But God takes it a step further, and says that if I know the GOOD thing I should do, and decide not to do it, then I am guilty because of a sin of omission. That becomes pretty personal. We do not all have the same gifts or abilities, and God does not hold us equally accountable. A small child, for instance would not be held accountable for failing to render aid at an accident. But an adult very well may be. A non-swimmer may not be held accountable for failing to try to rescue someone struggling in the water…but a trained lifeguard, who simply decided his or her shift was ending, and couldn’t be bothered could very well be charged with criminal negligence. Good laws! That is how God sees those things, too! How about one more?

#4 … Whatsoever is Not of Faith

Romans 14:23 makes it not only personal but internal to the individual. It is checking the heart-motivation, not just what was done or not done. It says, in conclusion of a lengthy treatise, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” That really caps all the others, in my opinion. There are no loopholes, no excuses…It is between you and God. In the context, the issue being discussed was open either direction: any believer was free to go either way. But! God says that if you are convinced in your own heart that something is wrong, and you go ahead and do it anyway, then it IS sin, for you , because you thought it was wrong and chose to rebel!

By the way, we can do right things for wrong reasons, too, and break this one just as fully. Jesus pointed this out in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as other places, saying “Don’t be like the scribes and the Pharisees,” …who make long prayers for show—who give very publicly, to gain social status, who want the robes and honors of ministry, but don’t have the heart for service. We can do what our conscience tells us not to do, or fail to do what our conscience tells we ought to do, and find that we have sinned, even though the thing in question was not a transgression of the law, nor unrighteousness (by human standards), nor, perhaps would we admit that we “really knew” what to do.

This one almost approaches the mystical, as it is harder to pin down. The only way I know to respond is to keep pretty short accounts with God, and never allow our soul to become calloused. A tender spirit goes a long way toward avoiding this sort of sin.

How do WE Deal with the Question of Sin?

As far as I can see, the religions of the world are divided into four clear groups by their answer to this question:

  1. Those who deny the existence of sin, saying there is nothing that is intrinsically right or wrong, but those concepts have been drummed into us by our respective societies, and that there simply is no such thing as sin, nor guilt for sin. There are not many churches which teach this, because there is an inborn sense of right and wrong, that virtually all people admit to, unless they are specifically taught otherwise. We certainly see things as wrong when someone does them to us! Maybe not so much when they happen to others.
  2. Those who admit there is such a thing as sin, but insist that “God is so loving that He (or she) would never punish a sinner! We are all children of that loving God, and we just need to get along as best we can, and we will all go to heaven eventually!” This isn’t really common either, because along with a sense of right and wrong, most people have a strong sense of retribution built into them. We believe that good people ought to get good things, and bad people ought to get bad things. Revenge is a very common drive in humans across the globe. Of course our ideas about who is good and who is bad are terribly skewed, in many cases, and our ideas about what the human race deserves, is usually pretty mild…at least toward ourselves and “our kind of folk”. (Funny how that works…)
  3. Those who not only admit there is such a thing as sin, but also agree that God hates sin! And then they say that “You need to do lots of good things to overbalance all the bad things you have already done.” And they will definitely tell you what all you need to do: There might be special prayers to recite, or penances of various types. Money gifts are always appreciated; burning incense, lighting candles, cutting your hair in a specific way, wearing certain special clothing…etc. Oddly enough, virtually all the world’s religions fall into this group: why? Because it appeals to our old sin nature! We want to believe that we can DO something to make God accept us! It makes us feel good about ourselves: “I must be good! Look at all the good stuff I do!” and finally,
  4. The ones that agree that sin exists, that God is Holy, and He hates sin, but then go on to admit that every single human is a sinner, and that there is NOTHING we can do to undo the bad things we have already done. That is what the Bible teaches, and, in this regard it stands alone! We are left guilty and with neither defense nor excuse.

    Jesus’s blood at the Cross is the only payment that God has ever accepted, and we can add nothing to that sacrifice!

Our choices, then become pretty clear: if I try to change the game, and redefine sin, I am in trouble with God. But, if I try to deal with sin in some other way than via the Cross, I add insult to injury, as He says in Hebrews 10:29 that I am treading under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace! Wow! Rough stuff!

Make it Personal…God takes it that way!

God has made it clear that Sin is a pervasive problem, and that it effectively permeates every facet of human existence. He has made it clear that He hates sin. And He has offered us a way to regain a right standing with Himself.

So, the question becomes, since I now know how God defines Sin, how will I deal with it?

  • Will I brush it away, denying it exists?
  • Will I say, “Oh, yeah, I know, but God will forgive me! He’s a great guy! He isn’t concerned about this sort of thing!”
  • Will I grovel in my guilt, and slavishly try to earn God’s favor through my own works?
  • Or will I accept the simple fact that, apart from God’s Grace, and His Mercy, I am completely helpless against the enemies of my soul, and that my only hope is through Jesus’s finished work at the Cross?

That is the choice each of us faces, when we first become believers, but it is also the choice we face as believers: I cannot go back to being lost, but I can act as if I did! I can still rebel, and deny that my behavior is sin. And it will be very costly!

When I do such things, I put myself beyond God’s reach for fellowship and blessing, and I open myself to the attack of the Evil one. Everything I do during that lapse will be worthless to God, even when I am “trying to do good things to get on God’s good side.” I can’t lose my salvation, but I can definitely waste my life, and lose the opportunity to serve with Jesus, and be rewarded with Him.

So what can I do? I can confess to God that my sin is exactly what God calls it: Sin. Not a “personality conflict” or a “genetic trait”, or “my Irish blood”, or whatever excuse I would like to use. I confess it as sin…and what does God do? 1st John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How can you beat a deal like that?

Take that one to the bank! God already signed the check; all you have to do is endorse it by faith!

Lord Jesus, teach us Your Mercy and Your Grace. Teach us to rely upon your mercy and Grace, by faith, as you show us the sin in our lives. Let us repent of our sins, and confess them to you, so as to be fully restored to fellowship.

 

 

 


Looking Unto Jesus

Looking Unto Jesus

© C. O. Bishop 11/10/2017 THCF 11/12/2017

Hebrews 12:1-8

Introduction:

Last time, we finished up our study of Hebrews eleven, and saw the various results of faith in the lives of the Old Testament believers. Some saw great miracles. Others were bereft of all their possessions and loved ones, and were hounded across the land, hiding, and reduced to just trying to survive. Still others were arrested, tortured and executed for their faith, dying horrible deaths. The very last phrase stated that we are part of that same group of people…the household of faith…and we can expect similar things, to one degree or another.

Remember, as we are studying the Bible, that the various chapter divisions, in most cases, and especially the verse divisions, were not part of the original manuscripts, but were added in the sixteenth century to make study easier, just as adding street names and house numbers makes a city easier to navigate. The point is, that chapter twelve is a direct continuation of chapter eleven…So, let’s see what it has to say:

 

God’s Witnesses to Us

1Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

A lot of readers take this verse to mean that “we have a great cloud of people watching us.” That is not the point of this passage at all. When Jesus said “ye shall be my witnesses unto Jerusalem, and all Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth” what did he mean, in that context, by the word “witnesses”? That we were to watch him? Or did He mean that we are we to testify of Him? To bear witness on his account? Of course, we are called to testify! That is what witnesses do: they bear testimony. That is why we look for eye-witnesses when something such as an accident has occurred. We want them to tell what they saw. God doesn’t need us in order to “find out what happened”…He sees everything, and He knows everything. But He has chosen us to testify on His behalf, and for the benefit of the hearers. Our testimony on His behalf is a powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel. And we need witnesses to testify to us of the faithfulness of God. These witnesses are letting us know that God is faithful and that he is worthy of our complete faith and obedience. They are not “watching us”, but rather are testifying, across the ages, to encourage us to trust and obey God, just as they did.

There is nothing at all in Scripture to suggest that the folks who have gone on to be with the Lord have nothing better to do than to “sit around and watch us fumble around trying to walk with the Lord!” They are literally in the presence of the living God! Why would they waste a moment looking at my bumbling attempts at an obedient life? It’s too sad to be a comedy, and too ridiculous to simply be a tragedy. And, honestly, compared with seeing, and worshipping the glorified Christ, surely it would simply be an utter waste of effort.

Those people are physically, visibly with the Lord! They are only remotely concerned with life on earth…some of the martyrs may still be looking to God for justice to be done (see Revelation 6:9-11), but even that will only be temporary: they are with God! They are not watching the struggles of us who are still on Earth. In fact, so far as I know, that passage (along with a few others, also in regard to the time of the great tribulation) is the only one that suggests they even know what is happening on earth. They have other things to do!

So who are the witnesses, and what are they really doing? They are the ones listed in Hebrews chapter 11, among others, and they are testifying to us, by their own lives (already completed) that the Christian life can be done! (There is a old joke that goes “Why did the Oregon chicken cross the road?” Answer: “To show the opossums that it can be done!” I’m sure that in other parts of the world there are other animals who seem unable to successfully cross a road.) Those saints who have gone before us all testify eternally, through God’s written Word, to anyone who will listen, that we can trust Him, and that we, too, can live by faith, and walk in obedience to God. Think about the examples He chose for witnesses: Almost all the ones he named or alluded to were people with fairly serious failures in their lives. They were not “Super-Christians” by any means.

On the basis of their testimony, we are called to lay aside whatever is entangling our feet, and every parasitic weight with which we, by our life-styles have chosen to burden ourselves. Isn’t this race difficult enough without carrying all the baggage we each tend to haul along with us? Isn’t it easier to run when you don’t have your feet entangled in some sort of muck, mud, or rubbish? God calls us to set aside the baggage: examine your own life, and ask yourself honestly, “What baggage am I carrying in my heart, that keeps me from freely serving God?” Am I still holding grudges that keep me from God’s Joy? Am I afraid of losing some possession, so I will not give it up to God? Do I really distrust God so much that I can’t rely on Him to provide the joy in my life? Do I really treasure the clutter of the self-directed life so much that I would rather keep that wreckage than to lay it aside in order to gain the God-directed life?

Every one of those witnesses in chapter eleven is telling us to do these two things:

  1. Lay aside the baggage; the sin that so easily besets us; and
  2. Run with Patience—endurance—stamina, the (long-distance, cross-country) race that is set before us.

It is not a sprint. It is a lifelong up-hill slog, but He is beside us, step by step, the whole way. We can find great encouragement by reading the lives of those who have gone before, and accepting their testimony:

But, for our prime example, we are called to “look to Jesus:”

 

Looking Unto Jesus, the Perfect Example

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As you are learning to “look unto Jesus”, don’t miss this little phrase: “the author and finisher of our faith”. What does that mean? How is Jesus the author and finisher of our faith?

Though faith is always a personal choice, God laid the foundation for that faith in the Person of Christ. He is the author of faith. He is also the One who moves to perfect its work in each of our individual lives. We are drawn along to trust Him more, as we walk with Him. We grow in our faith, as we learn to obey Him. Who accomplishes that growth? Jesus does!

If you have ever raised a garden, whether flowers or vegetables, you know that the most you can do is plant the seeds in appropriate soil, at the correct time of year, where they will get an appropriate amount of sunshine, and then water them faithfully. But God is the author of life! If the seeds you planted do not germinate, there is nothing you can do to correct that problem except to replant with better seeds, and, hopefully soon enough to still be able to take advantage of the growing season. God is always the author of life, and growth. God, the Son is the author and finisher of our faith.

Jesus stated in John 12:32 that if He himself should be lifted up from the earth (in crucifixion) He would draw all men to himself. His sacrificial death for our sake is the lure of faith. He applied that “drawing power” to the entire human race, through the preaching of the Gospel. We either believed or did not: but the one who provided the object of our faith, the reason for faith—is Jesus.

And, what was the “Joy” set before Jesus? For what prize would he consider it worthwhile to endure the Cross? What future joy was only attainable by enduring the shame and brutality of a Roman execution by crucifixion? What was He hoping to gain? He was purchasing the Bride! He counted His relationship with us to be that Joy, along with the Joy of His relationship with the Father. How do we know?

1st Peter 1:18-20 says, “…ye were not redeemed (“bought back out of the market-place of sin, and set free”) with corruptible things as silver and gold…but with the precious blood of Christ…foreordained before the foundation of the World, but manifest in these last times for you.”

Did you get that? Jesus, the Lamb of God, was ordained to death before the World was created! That is why Revelation 13:8 refers to him as “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” Peter makes it more specific: the plan for the salvation of Man was made before the creation, not simply before the fall of Man. And the plan was specifically that He would “redeem” us (Greek verb lutrothete—“bought for the purpose of being set free”) by His own blood. Paul took note of this in Acts 20:28 “…the church of God, which He hath purchased with his own blood.” And we see in Ephesians 5:26 that Jesus has cleansed that church “…with the washing of water, by the Word,” in order to present to Himself a spotless Bride. Finally, in Revelation 22 we hear the voice of the Bride with that of Christ, inviting sinners to salvation. This holy partnership is the Joy that Jesus counted so precious that he willingly endured the Cross, and despised the shame as being beneath his attention.

That is hard for me to understand, because we are frankly not that attractive, as sinners. We have all been enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and He changed us, giving us a new nature. But the fact remains that while we were enemies, He chose to love us with the agape love and to extend His Grace to us as a free gift. And, even after we have been born again into the family of God, we are called his “sheep”, and are just about as attractive as the four-legged variety. Very contrary creatures, at best, stinky, not too bright, and utterly defenseless against predators. Yep…it fits! 

And one last point: He finished His race perfectly, and is seated in the Throne with The Father. Guess what: He says over in Ephesians 2:6 that we, too, are already seated there with Him! So it is entirely fitting that we should strive to imitate His walk, His motives, and His faithfulness. We can be encouraged by His example:

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Occasionally, it has really bothered me when someone who absolutely does not know about a subject in which I have been thoroughly trained, argues vehemently that I am wrong about it. I have felt a need to justify myself, and “pull rank”, or something: prove by my credential that I am more of an authority on the subject than they are.

But Jesus came to us as literally God in the Flesh…fully omniscient, and all-powerful, yet temporarily setting those prerogatives aside, in order to live as a human. And, in that “diminished” state, though still fully God, and Holy beyond human imagination, while He was quietly carrying out His eternal plan, He endured not just “contradiction” in the sense we know it (one “ignorant human” calling another human “ignorant”), but He also endured the abuse from the people who claimed to serve and honor him (His own people!) cursing him to his face, and denying everything he said. Even accusing him of being a slave to Satan, the real enemy of their own souls.

Could Jesus have “pulled rank,” so to speak, and, as Elijah did, call down fire from heaven to burn up all of those who sought to kill him? Or, as Elisha did, could He have cursed the people so that bears came out and tore them up? Of course he could have. Actually, that is kind of the point, here: if He, who could have defended himself against all His enemies, and who was the author of all righteousness, chose to endure, for the sake of those sinners (that’s us, just in case you are thinking, “yeah, those nasty Pharisees…!”); If he endured for the sake of the Gospel, and for the eternal souls of the sinners he cared for, and the eternal reward to come, shouldn’t we do the same? I have no righteousness of my own: none at all, in fact, beyond that which He has imputed to me, so I can’t even claim that I am any better than those who speak against me. I am a sinner, too! So I can learn to love the person, in the name of Jesus, and not feel the need to defend my status, my reputation, or my expertise. I can find freedom from my pride, in Him!

I also have no power or authority to force them to stop maligning me, which is probably a good thing…but, remember: He did have all power, and He chose to set it aside for our sake. As it is, He warns us to not seek vengeance. He is the Judge, and He will make things right in His time. So I am to endure, for testimony’s sake, and for the sake of the souls of the very people acting as my adversaries. And God counts that submission and obedience to be precious in His sight.

 

Where do We Stand?

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Evidently those specific folk to whom he wrote had not been physically wounded, so far. There were certainly those in the early church who already had been martyred for the sake of the Gospel, and others who had been beaten, and wounded, as Paul himself had been. Evidently these people simply had not. (Neither have I!) There is a passage (Galatians 6:17) where Paul points out that he “bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He was apparently referring to the countless scars from beatings, stonings, and scourgings, and more. He was aware that, like me, these particular believers had never been physically wounded for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they did, later on, or, perhaps not. But I can take this personally, and realize that I have had a pretty easy time, and really have nothing to whine about, though I frequently do so anyway. He goes on to point out that they had a long way to go in their relationship with God, too. So do we, I think: part of our whining happens simply because we really don’t understand the purpose God is working out in our lives. He is building up His church!

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

People’s parents nowadays vary a great deal in how they raise their kids, so perhaps that example will not resonate with people today. But let’s consider a successful athletic coach: When he sends his team running laps around the playing field, they may feel that it is punishment, but it is not: it is fitness training. It builds stamina for the contest of their sport (whatever it is,) and is a form of discipline—training. But, successful athletes employ self-discipline, and no one considers it punishment, though it serves the same purpose: They push themselves to become stronger and to have greater endurance. We are called to do the same, in the spiritual realm.

One other aspect of discipline, or training: No athletic coach ever turned to the sidelines and called to someone who was not on the team, demanding that they run laps, or get down on the ground for calisthenics. He is not interested in their improvement. If they interfered with the training in progress, he might order them off the field: but he has no interest in their personal betterment. Any person who is on the team, however, naturally expects to engage in the discipline and training coming from that coach. If they are not on the team, they are not under his discipline, nor are they participating in the game, nor will they be entitled to any reward for winning. Their behavior is immaterial to the coach. Can you see the parallel?

The chastening or training God brings in a believer’s life is not punishment. The punishment for our sins—all of it— was taken by Jesus at the cross. What is left (and this is only for believers) is called the “chastening of sons.” When things are getting rough, at the very least, I can rejoice that I am still “on the team”. God never repents of his gift of salvation.

The “chastening of sons” is only for “sons” (the joint-heirs of God, whether male or female, with Jesus, the Son.), so whatever “rough stuff” the world goes through is not for their training, but is just incidental to living in the world. When we go through some of the same things, God uses that experience to build us into his likeness. It may be the very same things that unbelievers experience, or we may feel it is sometimes even worse. But the difference is that we are now in a different family than they are, and our Father chooses to allow these things in our life to teach us to trust and obey Him, as well as to encourage those around us.

We serve with Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith, and even if it doesn’t look particularly impressive, He rewards our faithfulness, diligence, and obedience. We just need to maintain fellowship so that the Holy Spirit is the one producing the obedience. Otherwise we are only “obedient” in the same sense that Jonah was obedient. He preached, all right, and even had impressive results, but his heart was wrong. We want to avoid the trap of self-powered works.

Next week we will continue the subject of the Chastening that God extends to His children.

Lord Jesus, free us from our selves, and teach us to follow in your footsteps. Teach us to recognize temptation for what it is, and to look for opportunities to exercise faith in your Goodness, your Sustenance, and your Power.

 

 


There is a River!

There is a River!

A study and application of Psalm 46:1-11, Ezekiel 47:1-12 and John 7:37-39

© C. O. Bishop 2/18/17 THCF 2/19/17

There is a River

(Max and David Sapp 1969)

There is a river that flows from deep within.
There is a fountain that frees the soul from sin.
Come to these waters, there is a vast supply.
There is a river that never shall run dry.

Introduction:

The song, “There is a River”, written in 1969 by Max and David Sapp, takes its title from Psalm 46, verse 4… “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.” The song writers used that verse as a springboard to John 7:37-39, wherein Jesus described the indwelling Holy Spirit as a spring flowing from within the believer, and changing his life. (Read it aloud.)

The problem with Psalm 46:4 is that there never has been a river in “Jerusalem proper”, and certainly not flowing from the temple. There is one outside of Jerusalem, that heads south, and then east, but it is not the kind of creek to make anybody glad…it drains the city dump, and ultimately is swallowed by the Dead Sea. (This is the Brook Kidron, which is a study unto itself.)

So, when we read this Psalm, we have to either “spiritualize” the passage, as the writers of the song did, and compare it to the passages about the Holy Spirit (which is OK, by the way), or, we are left with a problem…unless we can find another passage that explains it. And that is the first thing we should do…let God explain His Word, if He will.

What River? Let Scripture Explain Scripture!

Let’s turn to Ezekiel 47. The context, beginning in Chapter 40, verse one, and running all the way to the end of the book, is a very detailed vision of the City and the Temple as it will occur during the Millennial Kingdom (also known as the Messianic Kingdom, or, the Kingdom of Heaven). In chapter 47 he describes a literal spring of water flowing from under the literal altar, in the literal temple in the literal Jerusalem, growing deeper all the way, and ultimately, flowing into what HAD been the Dead Sea, but, because of the abundance of healing water flowing into it, it will no longer be dead: it will evidently be connected with the Mediterranean Sea, because it will swarm with fish, specifically the same kind as are in the “Great Sea” which is what we call the Mediterranean. (Read it aloud…)

Now—since we know that there will be a literal river flowing out of the temple in Jerusalem, and we have been told the effect it will bring on the land and the people, let’s go back, and read Psalm 46: (Read it aloud…).

Verse one; the Psalmist says that God is “present”, which we know is true in the global, or even universal sense, but it seems, here, it is meant in a more literal sense. The Old Testament believers were quite aware of God’s omnipresence, and were specifying that He was literally there in Jerusalem, as we can see a few verses later.

Verses two and three describe some natural or supernatural cataclysms through which he states that they will place their trust in God. Zechariah 14 tells of the momentous return of the Lord to Earth, and how the ground will split under his feet at the Mount of Olives, one side moving toward the north, the other toward the south, so that a chasm is opened from Jerusalem, eastward, under his presence.

At the moment the Lord returns there will be a siege in progress, and an assault by the Gentiles against the city of Jerusalem, so that they will have been in terror up until that time, but the passage in Zechariah states that the remnant in Jerusalem will recognize the chasm as being their refuge, and will run into it…and God will fight for them, delivering them from their enemies. I don’t know if this event is specifically what is referred to in the 46th Psalm, but it is at least one example of the kind of thing that will happen at the beginning of the Kingdom age…literally. It is not a case of the Psalmist making grand statements about how much they love and trust the Lord—it is a straightforward statement about something that will literally happen in the future…just like the river.

We already read verse four, but now let’s read it again, keeping in mind the nature of the river that Ezekiel described in the Kingdom age. Now both the river and the fact that it emanates from the Holy Place seem quite literal—as well as the fact that it says the Most High dwells there. (KJV v.4 “… tabernacles of the Most High”, NIV “…where the Most High dwells”) God literally lives there.

This is the long-awaited “Kingdom of Heaven” which Jesus preached for most of His ministry on earth, and of which the Old Testament prophets spoke in many places, including the Psalms. Jesus Christ will be ruling and reigning from Jerusalem. God the Son will be literally, visibly, physically dwelling there. Anyone will be able to go and see Him. This is described in many other places as well, including much of the book of Isaiah.

Verses 5 through 11 describe a collection of things that will occur literally, before, during, or at the end of the Millennial Kingdom…the abiding themes being that:

  • God is in control,
  • His people have nothing to fear, and that
  • Those who despise Him should tremble, as He is no longer holding back His judgment.

So—is that the end of the story? It is all literal—all physical? So that there’s nothing to apply to our lives? Well, of course that’s not so…but I think it is wise to know what the scripture is actually talking about before we try to apply it. “First interpretation, then application.

What about the River Jesus Offered? Is it different?

Jesus did talk about a river, flowing in an individual’s life…he did say that it would change our life, and transform it, and quench our eternal thirst for God as we abide in its flow. He said “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

Let’s go back and look at Ezekiel 47, in light of the John 7:38 passage.

  • The river is flowing out from the holy place—God is the source, as opposed to nature. The Kidron has a new headwater.
    • Every born-again believer has become a temple of the Holy Spirit. He lives in you. He is the source of life, as opposed to self. You have a new Head!
  • The waters bring about healing, even in areas long dead…deserts, even the Dead Sea.
    • Death itself is no longer a permanent thing for the believer…it is literally the valley (not the Pit) of the shadow (not the substance) of death, that we walk through, not into. Regardless of how we get there, we no longer have to fear death, as He is with us forever.
  • The salt marshes, where the water does not have freedom to flow, remain salt.
    • We still have a sin nature, and wherever we do not allow God to change us, we remain the same. That’s something to think about….

But what about all that stuff with “measuring,” and the ankles, knees, etc?

When a person becomes a believer they are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is a positional matter—the believer is immediately and permanently in Christ, and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is immediately and permanently in the believer. The believer will never be more indwelt by Him…but the level of effect can and will vary. So this is all about the experience of those who have been re-born.

What about the Ankles?

When he begins his new life, a new Christian is just getting his feet wet, as it were—he is learning to walk, as a child of God. Thus, the waters are to the ankles. The Holy Spirit has not gained full control of his life, but the transformation has begun. Notice that the distances are not great—each increment is only about five hundred yards—a little over a quarter mile. Growth is supposed to begin immediately, and continue to increase.

What about the Knees?

Next, it says that the waters are to the knees…it isn’t too long before the new believer is learning the demands of God upon his life, and is realizing more fully how deeply contaminated his whole life has been. The increasing weight of conviction begins to drive him to prayer more often and more fervently, as he seeks to be cleansed, and desires to serve. Perhaps he makes commitments he can’t keep (“I’ll never sin again!”), or asks for things for which he really has no concept of the results, or whether it is God’s will, or anything. But at least he is praying…and beginning to pray with others as well. He is also learning to submit himself to God’s Will…to bow his knee to God, willingly.

What about the Loins?

Next it says that the waters are to the loins (KJV says loins—NIV says “waist”, but the Hebrew word is “Mothnayim”; it’s plural, and it means “loins”, though it could include the waist).

So, what about the loins? I had a friend who thought it might mean how it begins to affect one’s pocketbook, but I don’t think so—in the first place, the practice of keeping one’s money in their hip pocket is a fairly modern one, and completely unknown to the writer, as well as to most cultures since then. In the second place, the pocketbook is frequently affected before the heart, so that even unbelievers frequently give in support of a church, thinking that they thereby gain God’s favor.

Again; “what about the loins?” I think it has to do with childbearing—spiritual reproduction—that is what we are born to do. We are to reproduce, spiritually. We are to lead others to the same relationship with Christ that we enjoy. (Incidentally, if you are not enjoying that life, living it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to change you… no one else is likely to want it either….) It is a normal part of God’s life in us, that it reproduces itself in others.

What about Swimming?

What’s left? It says that 500 yards later, we are swimming…the water is too deep for wading. You are no longer in the “kiddie-pool”. The friend who first shared this with me pointed out two things about swimming. One is that when a person swims, they are completely supported by the water. The other is that the only part of a swimmer that observers can see…is the Head.

Now, can we see a tie-in with John 7:37-39? I think so! The Holy Spirit, the Living presence of the Most High in your life, literally dwelling in your body since the moment you believed, desires to make all the changes listed above—he desires that you walk with Him; He desires that you pray continually, that you kneel to him, and yield your life to him. He desires that you bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain eternally. He desires that you continue to deepen your relationship and commitment to Him until you are completely immersed in Him, and the only thing people see in your life is the Risen Christ—your Head. The Head of the Church.

If that is what you desire, too, then how will you see it happen?

The 119th Psalm poses the same question, in the 9th verse: “How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.” God’s Word—heard, read, studied, memorized, meditated upon, and applied to the life of the believer—is the only thing God says can change us. Interestingly enough, there are several places where His Word is also referred to as “water”…so perhaps the “River” has a double connotation. The Word and the Spirit work together, without exception, so perhaps we can conclude that the degree of our “immersion” in Christ, and the resulting transformation, will depend upon the degree of our immersion in the Written Word, and our submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit by His Word.

We have several services going, here at True Hope—at least three per week—more, if you want them.

  1. We have our Sunday morning Bible study, at 9:30, with a full hour of interactive Bible teaching, wide open to questions;
  2. our main service at 11:00 every Sunday morning, with a full hour of teaching, singing and prayer;
  3. We have an informal Bible-study on Wednesday afternoons, from 2:30 to 4:15. Refreshments are frequently served.
  4. We also have a Bible Study at Cornell Estates, in Hillsboro, every Sunday afternoon, from 2:30-3:30.

All of you have Bibles, and all of you know other believers around you. So, the food is on the table! If you are hungry, eat! If you are not, then all we can do is to offer the food continually, and pray that your appetite will grow.

Can you end up “back on the bank?”

Now, notice, finally, in verse 6, that Ezekiel was brought back to the brink of the river, and was looking out over it. In his experience it was simply because the angelic messenger still had other things to show him. But there may be a warning there for us—you can quench the Holy Spirit in your life, and end up standing at the very edge again, looking out over the river of God’s Love, Grace, and Power, and wondering why it is no longer drawing you along in its flow. That is a terrible, lonely place to stand—still connected irreversibly to God, but “set on the shelf”—“out of the water”, so to speak…no longer able to fellowship with God or his children. Jeremiah 17:13, 14 says that such a person has forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters…they will be ashamed, but they can be healed. That does not mean that He has forsaken you, but that you have broken fellowship with him, and that it is affecting your whole life…you have dried up, and you’re miserable.

If that is where you find yourself today, then I would invite you to come back to the table— back to the river— via 1st John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You can only begin your trip back to the center of God’s will with confession. Sin has to be addressed, before worship or fellowship is possible.

If there is anyone here who is in that condition, and is still unsure what to do about it, I, or any of the other leaders would like to talk with you about it. God is still in the business of transforming lives, and we are here to encourage the growth and blessing of God’s children.

Think about that River that God began in your life—where do you stand, in it? Are you wading? Are you swimming? Are your prayers flowing from that source? Are you leading others to Christ? Or have you returned to the bank of the river, and now are yearning to once again be borne along by the flow of God’s Love?

Hear the Invitation From God!

In Revelation 22:17, the invitation is made: “Whosoever will, let him take of the Water of Life, freely!” You can move into deeper water, if that is what you desire, by walking with the Lord; by Bible study, by Faith, and prayer. If you have found yourself lacking, you can restore fellowship with God through confession, then feeding on the Word and seeking Him in prayer.

Lord Jesus, help us all to progress deeper into Your love, and be suspended more fully in Your Grace. When the World looks at us, Your people, may they see only You. Amen!

 

 

 


No Condemnation (Part Two)

The Enemy Within

© C. O. Bishop 1/6/16 THCF 1/10/16

Romans 8:4-13

Introduction:

Last time, we noted that, due to our new position in Christ, there is no condemnation awaiting us. This is “Positional Truth”: entirely dependent upon the fact that we are in Christ, and not at all dependent upon “how we are doing” in our walk with Him. This is an important distinction, because we tend to be far more conscious of how we feel or how we are acting at the moment—our condition—and we assume that God sees us the same way. Nothing could be further from reality…that is exactly the reverse of the truth. We see ourselves inaccurately, while God sees us clearly, and we need to adjust our thinking to match His, not the other way around.

The Christian has three major enemies. We frequently list them as

  1. The World,
  2. The Flesh, and
  3. The Devil.

That is true, but it doesn’t give any information by which we may defend against those enemies.

“The World” (Greek kosmon), as used in scripture, can refer to the people, but in this context, it is the system of thinking and behavior that influences us all from outside our bodies. It may include peer pressure, advertising, propaganda, philosophy, human reasoning and entertainment of all sorts, none of which are evil in themselves, but all of which can be used to feed our natural bent to turn away from God and pursue our own interests and desires. It is mostly visible, though sometimes very subtle, and it is outside the gate, so to speak. It is all around us, some good and some bad; we are immersed in it, to one degree or another, and we are heavily influenced by it; but it is still outside us. It is the Enemy without the gate, so to speak.

The Devil, or Satan, is the Spirit controlling the pattern of the World’s thinking; he who desires to destroy all the works of God in us. He is the unseen hand behind the evil of the World. We can see the result of his influence, but we cannot see him. He will play along with us, and lure us to destruction through the World and the Flesh. But we don’t see him. He is the Invisible Enemy.

The Flesh (Greek sarka) is the Enemy within. Today we will focus on this enemy, and try to shape our thinking to match what God says.

Defining the “Flesh”

To begin with, I think it is appropriate to remind ourselves that the “flesh” in this case, is not the physical body. At other times in history, people have referred to this entity as their “lower nature”, as if it were some link to the animal world, but that is not appropriate, either, because, ironically, animals do not suffer from this affliction of sin. Animals (with the exception of the serpent, who was under Satan’s personal control) were not involved in the fall. They did not sin; they have never been given a free will with which to rebel against God.

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah 17:9 refers to the flesh, the Adamic nature, as “the heart”. It says that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Do you think that the scripture means the “central circulatory pump”, when it says “the heart is wicked, and deceitful?”  Of course not…but neither is it speaking of the new creation which God describes, when He promises, “I will take away your stony heart and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) The heart God proposes to give is a new creation—the same as the New Testament promises. Language being what it is, then, with all the possible ambiguities, it is important that we carefully read the rest of scripture, and carefully consider the intent, before we jump to conclusions that may wrongly use the Word of God.

The scripture consistently calls the Sin Nature the “flesh”, but contrasts it with “our bodies”. In this chapter, we are told that the “flesh” cannot be subject to God. The body certainly can be, however—it does exactly what we choose to do with it, and, in Romans six we were told that we are to yield our “members” (physical bodies) as “instruments of righteousness” for God to use to His own glory. That would be impossible if the physical body cannot be subject to God.

In Romans five we are informed that we were once “enemies” of God. Now why would that be? How could we become God’s enemies? Ephesians 2:3 says we “were by nature, the children of wrath”: We were born that way! But God intervened and provided a substitute, so, instead of every sinner dying for his or her own sins, one perfect sacrifice forever satisfied the righteousness of God, and allows us access to God through faith in that blood sacrifice. Believers were each given a new nature, created by God at the moment of saving faith, and that is our “new identity”. God no longer deals with the identity of our old nature (our Adamic nature; our Sin nature) though it is still there. He calls it the “Old Man” in Ephesians 4:22, and confirms that, even in a believer’s life, it can neither be redeemed nor repaired. It is irreparably corrupt, and just continues to get worse, if we feed it. What a hopeless situation it would be if we were left to fight this battle alone, like a toddler left alone to fend off the attack of a rabid skunk.

But We Are Not Alone!

No such thing has been suggested: Jesus promised, “I will not leave you comfortless.” (We are not alone!) He promised that he and the Father would make their abode with the believer, and that the Holy Spirit would indwell each believer personally. (John 14:16-23read it!)

One may wonder, then, why the believer ever has a problem with sin: the answer is: In terms of day by day choices, the Lord has not reneged on His gift of a free will. He longs for our fellowship, but will not force himself upon us.

With all the above information as the backdrop for the message of Paul, we are invited to examine the source of our struggles in detail: We are told that Jesus condemned Sin in the Flesh by living a perfect life, and dying a perfect sacrifice, and we are told why:

That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

So, the result of our being set free from our enslavement to sin is that the righteousness reflected in the Law of God (not the condemnation, and guilt) could be showcased and fulfilled in us. We are free to serve; but we can only do so via the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Why is it so Hard to Live for God?

Because the old nature is actively sabotaging our efforts! And it always will!


For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

 

I don’t like to keep hammering on this point, but: in case anyone has missed it; the concept of “death” in the Bible is a little different than how we think of it in our culture. We have been taught to believe that “when you’re dead, you’re dead!” …which doesn’t really explain much… but the fact is, when we are physically dead, our spirit and soul have been (usually permanently) separated from our physical body. When Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, he and Eve died instantly, as promised, but it was not physical death. There we saw the first example of spiritual death—the spirit and soul of Adam and Eve were separated from God. Were they happy about it? No; they could no longer even stand to be in the presence of God. They fled from Him because they were guilty sinners; no longer the innocent creatures they had been. Not happy!

So…which kind of death is warned of, here in verse 6? Is Paul warning that if you sin, you will lose your physical life?  Obviously not, because he just finished telling us of his own struggle against sin, in chapter seven. He did not die, physically, but he begged to know how he could be delivered from “the body of this death!” (What body? What death?)

As long as we live in these mortal bodies there exists the possibility of sin, and, with it, the repeated separation from fellowship with the living God; so that, far from loving His presence, we flee from Him, either in fear or resentment. That is separation from God, though it is a temporary condition, and, here in Romans Chapters 7 and 8, as well as other places, it is called “death”. And notice that in verse 5, he states that those who are living in the flesh focus their minds on the things of the flesh—they pursue their old carnal concerns and desires. Many of those old ways seem no different than the new; for instance, I still go to work when I am in the flesh, as well as when I am walking with God. But my motives are not the same. I am blind to the opportunities to honor God when I am “minding the things of the flesh.”

What’s the Problem?

In Romans 8:7, 8 we see why this is true:
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

The old nature has not changed its allegiance! Remember, it was an enemy of God by birth: that is where we got our old nature: Being born of Adam, we received the Adamic, fallen nature. Being born from above (born of God, born again), by Grace, we have received a new nature. But the old nature remains unchanged and unrepentant. The result is that as an unbeliever still “in the flesh” (positionally, that is—still unsaved) I cannot please God…period.

And, when I revert to sin, even as a saved man, I am functionally “in the flesh” again, though I already have been permanently transferred to the kingdom of God’s Son. Remember, God no longer sees me in Adam! He sees me only in Christ. He says that the Adamic nature is no longer the person He will deal with. The old nature has been separated from me as far as identity and authority, but not residency; just as Adam and Eve were separated from God in terms of fellowship, but not physical presence. They wanted out of His presence, because of their sin. I want to be separated from my old sin nature, just as Paul wanted to, and for the same reason. But God says it is already a “done deal”.

How Can We Escape our Bondage to the Flesh?

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Here again is the issue of “positional truth:” If you have the Holy Spirit, then you have a new nature; and that new nature is the only one God chooses to address: He says that you (the new creation) are under the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit.  Paul addresses this issue a little differently over in 1st Corinthians 3:3. There he is speaking to immature Christians who are allowing the old nature to control their lives and their decision-making: he says they are “carnal”—fleshly. (The NIV translates this to say “worldly”, but the Greek word is “sarkikoi”, from the same root as “flesh”—“sarka”. “The world” is a different enemy, though it is certainly in partnership with the flesh and the Devil.)

He goes on to state that if you do not have the Holy Spirit, then you are not saved…you do not belong to Jesus. Every believer has been baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, and has become a permanent part of the Body of Christ; the Church universal. Corresponding to that position, every believer has also been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus says He will be with us forever. (John 14:16) Our gifts are often different, but our position is the same: in Christ.

Finally, he says, since Jesus Christ is in you (via the Holy Spirit, you are actually indwelt by the entire Trinity), then the body alone is subject to death: you (the new creation) have eternal life, and your spirit is alive with the Holy Spirit, and is forever separated from the death of the old sin nature. He also reiterates that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to your account. He says that the “Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Whose righteousness? That of Christ!)

Again, Paul is quick to let us know that the “flesh”—the old sin nature—is not the same as our physical bodies, as we noted in the introduction. He says:
11 
But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

The word “quicken” means to “bring to life”. What would be the point of condemning the body, only to bring it to life again? It is the physical “mortal body” to which God will again grant life. The old Adamic nature is lost and cannot be redeemed. It remains the enemy of God.

12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.

You don’t owe your old self anything. You can’t improve it in any way, though it can temporarily look as though you did. The core issue remains the same: the old nature is not subject to God, and it cannot be made subject to God, no matter who does the re-training. Also, you cannot hope to “get it out of your system” by succumbing to its demands. That is like “eating all the brownies so they won’t tempt you.” That really doesn’t help! Don’t give in!

13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

When I am living according to the desires of the enemy within, in terms of fellowship, I am currently separated from God. 1st John 1:5-7 says I cannot walk in darkness and simultaneously have fellowship with God. That is the “body of death” from which Paul begged to be freed.

But notice how he says we are to be freed: He says “Through the Spirit” we are to mortify the deeds of the body…the “body of this death” from which Paul sought freedom.

And that is the key to Romans chapters 6-8: Faith in the indwelling Holy Spirit! Please notice that we were not admonished to “change our ways”, “get right or get left”, “turn or burn”, or any other such tripe. People have smugly quoted these and other pious warnings for centuries, and such thoughts define the heart of religiosity; but they have nothing to do with either salvation or sanctification. It is only the self-satisfied prattling of the self-righteous religionists…not the voice of God. It is based on works, not faith; Law, not Grace.

What Shall We Do, Then?

Jesus originally called us to place our faith in Him for Salvation, by Grace. Now He calls us to confess that we cannot produce righteousness on our own, any more than we could save ourselves from sin. John 15:5 says, “…without me ye can do nothing.” He didn’t say “without me you can’t do as much.” He said “…without me ye can do nothing!

We are called to allow the Holy Spirit to live through us, by faith…and He will produce the Fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:16, God says “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” Remember, it’s a blanket promise: if the Holy Spirit is in control of your life, then the old sin nature will have no say at all… you will do the things God has called you to do.

Lord Jesus, by your Holy Spirit, enable us to do the things you have called us to do, and to be the men and women of God you have called us to be.

 

 

 


The War between the Two Natures

The War Within

© C. O. Bishop 12/8/15 THCF 12/13/15

Romans Chapter Seven

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans for some time now. Last week we began the segment encapsulated in Romans chapters 6, 7 and 8. Here in Romans 6 through 8, there is a three-chapter introduction to the reality of Life in Christ: We “crossed the threshold” into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, in the end of chapter three. The facts of “imputed righteousness”, and the difference between Grace and Works were explained to us in chapter four; and our new, perfect position in Christ (along with the doctrine of “federal headship”) was explained to us in chapter five. But now there are three fundamental facts presented in chapters six through eight:

  1. We no longer have to sin. (chapter 6) We are no longer slaves to our old sin nature. This is a hard concept to grasp, because it seems to contradict our experience, but it is a fact, and we need to place our faith in God’s facts, rather than our own experience, when the two seem to be at odds.

 

  1. We now have two natures, and we cannot simply “do what comes naturally” (chapter 7). We are free from our old lock-step of sin, but we have to constantly, consistently choose to allow God to live through us, if we want to see our lives conformed to Christ. Otherwise, we will revert to sin.

    I have been told recently that the “old sin nature is not in the Bible.” True! Neither is the “new nature”, in so many words…the two are called the “old man” and the “new man” in Ephesians 4:22-24, and, even more frequently, they are referred to as “the flesh” and “the spirit”. The “flesh” is not in reference to the physical body, when we are talking about our bent to sinning. The physical body has nothing with which to covet, and, interestingly enough, that is the particular commandment referenced here in chapter seven. The fact that a particular term used in our society to describe a scriptural concept is not in the scripture as that exact word means nothing.

    The word “rapture” is not in scripture, either, but the concept is clearly taught and explained. The words that are translated “Heaven” in both Greek and Hebrew do not mean what we think of when we use the English word. The Greek words translated “forever, eternal, and eternity” do not translate to those exact words, either, but they are the Greek words used to express those concepts, and they are used equally to express the eternality of God, the eternality of the human spirit, and our eternal destiny in Christ.

    Don’t quibble over jargon; but rather, earnestly endeavor to extract the actual intent and meaning of scripture, which we can then apply to our lives.

  2. There is now no condemnation for us in Christ (chapter 8). God is eternally our savior, our father and our defender. We can never be lost again, nor, under any circumstances can we be separated from the Love of God in Christ. We can, however live as though that Love were not present, and endure the reality of chapter seven over and over again.

Paul Struggled with Sin, too!

It is comforting, in a way, to see that Paul struggled with the same things we do. He was not some “super-saint” who never had bad times. But, I am doubly thankful that Paul detailed, in writing, his struggle to live the Christian life, so that know the nature of the real problem.

He begins with an object lesson from real life. Bear in mind, he was also speaking from the cultural background of the Middle East and Mediterranean world, of the first century, not modern day Europe or USA. Modern feminism did not exist, nor was there any legislation expounding or requiring the equal treatment of the genders.  He was stating the facts as they existed in that culture, and as they still exist today, in that part of the world. Again, the meaning is clear, though we may feel uncomfortable with the cultural context from which it arises. Rather than quibbling over the cultural differences, let us try to see the point of the object lesson given. Slavery was a grim reality, then, as it is even more, today, in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as other parts of the world. We don’t like that, but it doesn’t change the facts.

The fact we must face in our own lives is that we are slaves, whether we believe it or not. We have been given a choice as to which master to serve, but becoming an autonomous, self-ruling spirit was never one of the options, though we have been taught from infancy that it is. The whole concept of spiritual autonomy came from a known source: Isaiah 14:12-14 tells us that Lucifer chose that as his goal, and, as a result, became Satan. He did not become truly autonomous, by the way, he only exiled himself permanently from fellowship with God, and doomed himself to an eternity in the lake of fire. (We don’t like that idea either, but it is a fact.)

The War Within

Chapter seven details what happens when a genuine child of God…truly born again, and possessing a new nature which is completely righteous and holy…tries to live for God in his own strength. This is part of Paul’s personal testimony, and is very helpful and encouraging to me.

Verses 1-3
1Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

Paul begins by pointing out how completely God has separated us from the authority of the Law of Moses, and the principle of law in general. He states that a woman is no longer responsible to obey a dead husband—she has been freed from his authority, whether it was benevolent or harsh. He is simply dead and entirely separated from her. She is free to submit herself to a new husband if she so desires, or press on alone if that seems better. But her old husband is dead, beyond all argument, and has no further control over her life, except as she allows it. Please bear in mind that the reality of that time in history was that there was very little available in terms of employment for women. Just a fact: sad, but true. Marriage to a good, kind, loving husband was pretty much the best option available.

Verses 4-6
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

As a logical extension of the idea of the woman being freed from her dead husband, Paul says that we are also freed from the Law, and may now serve Christ. She (it is implied) evidently had a rough time with her old husband, and now is free to go to someone better. (Remember Abigail and Nabal, culminating in Abigail and David—or, better yet, Ruth (who was married to one of Elimelech’s and Naomi’s sons) and Boaz, the great-great grandpa of King David.) These are historical people, and historical realities, being used to teach us about spiritual realities today.
Verses 7-16
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

Very interesting choice of laws to use for a case in point: it is one that has no physical parallel. It is strictly mental/emotional/spiritual in nature. The physical body does not covet. So the “flesh” referred to in this passage is not the physical body, but the old sin nature.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

My guess is that Paul was referring to the time before he understood the true intent of the Law. There was certainly never a time in Paul’s life when he was not a sinner, but there was a time when he thought he was not a sinner. Jesus showed him the truth of his spiritual condition.
10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin
, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

Paul shares his own experiences here…Remember that, when he was an unsaved Jew, he saw himself as blameless. He really thought he had no sins to deal with. But when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, he awakened to a new realization of the demands of the Law. So, still trying to serve God, but now with a new understanding of what the Law really said, and, as a born-again individual, he began trying to live the Christian life in his own strength.

The results were disastrous, in that he failed constantly. He had two natures, and he was identified with both of them in his own mind. He said, “I do the things I do not want to do, etc.”  All through the repeating cycle of striving to do good and failing, he referred to both his sin nature and his new nature as “I”.

Paul speaks to this issue in other places as well: he called the people living that way “carnal”—fleshly! They were living under the dictates of their old sin natures. They apparently did not understand that there has been a spiritual “unplugging”, and that their old nature was no longer in authority at any level.

Separated from the Old Man

  1. 17-23

17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
18 For I know that in me
(that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I
that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man
:
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

Paul finally concludes in verses 17-23 that the old man is “no longer I”. This is a vitally important concept: God no longer recognizes that individual as me…why should I continue to do so? And yet, Paul does not offer that as an excuse for sin…he simply recognizes that his old nature is the “old Saul of Tarsus”—not the new Creation in Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we excused for sin on the basis of it “not really being us who did it”. The disconnect, here, is in realizing that, far from sin being a failure in God’s new creation, it is simply a “case in point” for God’s indictment of the old man.

I need to realize that my old sin nature has been disconnected; “unplugged”, in a sense—it is not gone, but it has lost its authority and its identity. It is no longer “I”. I still have a will and a choice, and I can still subject myself to sin if I choose to do so…but even then, God is not judging my new nature…he has already judged the old nature, and nailed it to the Cross with Jesus.

So, when I obey, by way of the Holy Spirit living in me, it is “Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20 Don’t be confused—the “new man” is just that—a new creation! Neither the Lord Jesus nor the Holy Spirit can be said to be a “created” being. But I am! And my new nature was created the moment I trusted Christ as my savior.) And when I sin, it is my old Sin Nature (also called the “Flesh”) who also lives in me. I am continually faced with a choice: to whom will I submit my will? To sin, so that I continue in my old life? Or, to Christ, so that my new life shines as a light in a dark world? The choice is always mine, and it is not always much fun.

If I choose sin, I am wasting the opportunity to honor God with my life, and, in the process, to gain reward. If I choose obedience to Jesus Christ, then there will come a day when a reward will be forthcoming. Either way, I am secure in Christ…my position in Him is never in jeopardy. But my relationship with Him suffers when I continually choose to sin.

Conclusion:

Paul cries out his grief at the reality of the spiritual vortex in which he is trapped, and poses a final rhetorical question:

 24 O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

And the answer is?

25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Paul accepts the reality of his two natures and knows that his old nature will never change. He is thankful that he now has two natures, though the old one is still a grief to him. He rejoices that he now has a legitimate choice and that he can serve God.

He explains to us in some detail how to accomplish that, in Romans 6, as well as in Galatians 5:16 and Colossians 2:6, 7. It is to be by faith, step by step, day by day. That is why we call it “walking” in the Spirit. There is no such thing as “coasting” in the Spirit, or “surfing” in the Spirit, or “gliding” in the Spirit. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and deliberately taking another step, by faith. The more practice you get, the easier it will become, as the discipline of walking becomes habitual.

But, like it or not, that is the only way it can be done. There are no magic formulas, no magic spells—only a consistent walk by faith. Jesus said to take up our cross daily, and follow him. Recognize the fact that you are dead with him, and buried with Him. That is where the cross comes in. Then realize the truth that you have also been raised with Him, and that you now have the authority to live as He lives, if you will choose to do so by faith.

Lord Jesus, Help us to walk, day by day, step by step, until we develop the spiritual balance and strength to joyfully run in your service.


What is Sin Without Law?

What is Sin without the Law?

© C. O. Bishop 10/26/15 THCF 11/1/15

Romans 5:13-21

Introduction:

We have already addressed how sin came into the world, but, as we are about to see, there is a slight theological issue there: Since the Mosaic Law was not given for another 2500 years or more, what are we identifying as sin? How can we say something is sin, if there is no law to break?

In fact, perhaps we should briefly address the question of “What is Sin?” In the first place, the Greek verb “to sin” (hamartano—the noun is hamartia) means to “miss the mark”. The New Testament offers four clear definitions of sin, which, collectively, cover every type of sin:

  1. Sin is the transgression of the Law. (1st John 3:4)
  2. All unrighteousness is sin. (1st John 5:17)
  3. If a man knoweth to do right and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)
  4. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

We are not given a list of “seven deadly sins”, or “nine nasty no-no’s” to avoid: we are given principles to live by and principles by which to recognize sin. We need to learn those principles and, on the basis of that learning, avoid sin because we want to walk with God. This is only possible for those who have been born again; born from above; born of God.

When I had only one nature, I could not please God, because the only thing I had to offer was already fully contaminated. I had already broken God’s Law and could not “un-break” it. I had fulfilled all four of the above definitions. What little I knew of God’s Law I had openly broken. I had wallowed in unrighteousness, and schemed to commit more. Things I knew were right, I had failed to do. And I certainly did nothing out of faith. I was a sinner, plain and simple.

But, in this passage, Paul speaks specifically of the Law, and is pointing out that “the Law” the Jews considered to be the “end all” (the Mosaic Law) did not even exist at the time of Adam. So, then, what was the problem? How could people be in sin?

What Law?

13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

The Law spoken of here, in verses 13-21, is the Mosaic Law. But Law, as a principle, existed before the world began. The Law, as given to Man, existed from day one of Man’s existence—but in very limited form: Genesis 2:17 “…but of the tree that is in the midst of the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt NOT eat, for in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”

That is the principle of Law, sometimes called the Law of Sin and Death. But Paul is presenting a narrower scope, here: he is talking about the law of Moses, given by God at Sinai, and inscribed in the rock, literally by the finger of God.

There were things in that law, given through Moses, which had never before been addressed. Some of those things actually became capital offenses, whereas before that day they were non-issues. We need to keep that in mind as we read.

Death reigned from Adam to Moses, because of sin…but not sin as the Jews thought of it (transgression of the Mosaic Law). That Law had not been given. Death reigned, first, because of sin inherited from Adam, and second, because it was rampant in the life of every human, to one degree or another. We can read the Old Testament account and see individual examples, to ascertain that evil was abundantly present.

Paul is not suggesting that the Law initiated man’s slide into sin. It only highlighted it, and made it abundantly clear that something is terribly wrong with the Human Race. (A radar trap does not make you speed, nor do traffic cameras make you run a red light. They only reveal that you were speeding and/or that you did not stop at a light.)

Why does Adam’s Decision affect Me?

15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

There is a contrast and a similarity drawn here: The similarity is that in each case one individual made a choice as a representative of a huge group of individuals. We might not like that fact, but it is true. It can be true is a positive sense or a negative sense, even today. When a man or woman chooses to emigrate from the place of their birth, to find a better place to live, their children and grandchildren in generations to come will reap the benefit of that decision, good or bad, regardless of whether they were aware of the decision. But other decisions have lasting too:

I know a man who was the youngest of eighteen kids by one Hispanic couple. The couple was in their sixties by the time he and his next older brother were born, and, at a very young age, the two boys were left with a much older brother to raise, while Mom and Dad travelled, for their remaining years. The two toddlers had no choice in that matter. Another thing about which they had no real choice, is the fact that their older brother had, along with his wife, made the decision to speak only English in their home. So, by the time they were grown, my friend and his next older brother were the only ones of the original eighteen siblings who did not speak Spanish, and they were fairly bitter about it, as it meant they could not even converse freely with their own mother and father, who were in their nineties by that time. The choices we make affect others. That is simply a fact.

When General Lee surrendered to General Grant, it affected every single individual in the United States, for better or worse. Some members of the Confederacy may have insisted upon continuing the war after Lee’s surrender, but the fact is; the war was over—whether they believed it or not—and if they kept fighting they simply became murderers. They had no choice in the matter. There are many such tragedies in history, but it all began with Adam.

The choice Adam made affected all of his progeny, including you and me, whether we like it or not. You had no choice in that one. But concerning the choice Jesus made, to go to the cross as the representative of the whole Human race, and to satisfy the righteous demand of the holiness and justice of God, you actually do have a choice. You can choose to join him there, by faith, to eternally be found in Christ: or you can reject the opportunity, and stay where you are: in Adam.

And, as the choice of Adam brought death to all his progeny, the choice of Christ brings life to all His progeny—all those who are born again by faith in His shed blood.

Further Contrasts

Paul further explains the contrast, showing another difference between the choice of Adam and the choice of Christ.
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)

Adam’s one sin brought sin and death to the entire human race, who were not even born yet. He made that decision ignorantly, not having any understanding of the results, nor of the personal God against whom he had rebelled. Jesus knew from eternity past ALL of the sins of ALL of the human race, and ALL of the monstrous evil that would occur because of sin…and chose, before he created the world to become the sacrificial lamb that would erase that sin, and heal the world.

The result of the offense of Adam was universal, even in the lives of people who never heard of him…they are lost sinners. The result of the gift of Christ is only universal in the sense that every single person who receives him as Savior will definitely be saved. But not everyone receives him when they hear the good news…and not everyone even gets to hear it. Jesus did make it clear in John 5:24 that whoever does hear it, and believes it, HAS everlasting life. Eternal life is immediately and irrevocably given to them. They are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and He, the Holy Spirit, immediately begins housecleaning and renovations.

Notice too, a small change in wording. The result of Adam’s sin was that Death, as a principal, “reigned” on planet Earth. The result of Jesus’ choice was not that Life reigns on planet earth (it still does not), but that His people reign in Life. The word translated “reign”, here is the Greek verb “basileuo”. When we get into the next chapter, we will see that we no longer have to sin. We are told to not allow sin to “reign” in our lives (same word), but we are to rule over sin.

In Genesis 4:7 we can see where that same offer was made to Cain, but he rejected it. God said “sin lies at the door, and its desire is for you (to control you), but you shall rule over it.” You are to reign in life. We will address that again at a later time, as it is also mentioned in Revelation 5: 10, as well as in other passages.

18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

Verse 18 makes it clear that the gift was given “to” the whole human race. But verse 17 makes it clear that not everyone actually receives it.

19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Finally the contrast is completed in verses 19-21: the one act of rebellion brought death and destruction as all humans became sinners: in contrast, the one act of obedience brought Eternal life and grace and righteousness, as righteousness was imputed to (“placed upon the accounts of”) all who believe in Him.

Choose your Ruler: Sin or Grace

20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

Verse 20
could be misunderstood to say that “more sin brings more grace”. I have read of people in our age that actually teach this. They claim that the way to experience the fullness of God’s Grace is to deliberately wallow in Sin. (Remember Romans 3:8? Paul had already been accused of teaching just that…he said that their “damnation was just.”) People who teach that perverse doctrine are in deep trouble with God. It would be similar to suggesting that if you want to really appreciate how good it feels to be healthy, try getting as sick as possible—become a drug addict. Then you will see how good it is to be healthy. That is an abominable idea.

Honestly, when you see the human wreckage that is the result of such folly, you can be glad that they have “done your homework for you”. You do NOT have to experiment with that foolishness to see the results. You can learn from the mistakes of others, and stay healthy. The same is true for a rebellious spirit. If you see the result of sin in other’s lives (especially those in the Word of God, where someone is clearly telling you that “this is the sin, and this is the result”, you can choose to learn from their example and escape the judgment under which they fell. At work, or in society at large, we can see people who rebel against God, against the Law, and against any other authority. And, in general, it results in some sort of bad consequences. One can see people losing jobs through foolish rebellion, or immorality, or drug abuse, etc. If it continues, they can lose their freedom for all those same reasons. And, left unchecked, it will cost them their lives.

But what verse 20 actually says is that God was not caught short: He did not have to “go scrape up some more Grace” because of the magnitude of human sin. He knew it all from the beginning, and His Grace reached out to remove all the wreckage of our failings.

Paul concludes the idea of the transition from Adam to Christ, from Death to Life, asd from Sin to Grace, in the last verse of chapter 5:

21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Notice it does not say that “Satan has reigned”, but that “Sin has reigned, unto death”. The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the Psalmist says…and that has always been true. But the people have been enslaved to Sin. At the Cross, Sin was deposed from the throne of the believer’s life, and Grace was put in its place, through the righteousness of Christ.

Sin is no longer to be allowed to rule in the life of the believer—Grace is the new master, by the authority of Jesus Christ. And, yet, this is something about which we are expected to make a choice, every moment of every day.

Are you willing to allow God’s Grace to rule in your life? Then you need to start looking at the scripture to find out what that means. If you want to read ahead, you can begin looking at Romans 6 to see how that concept works. We’ll discuss it more next time.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for the work you accomplished at the Cross, and we desire to walk more deeply into the river of your Grace and Love. Teach us to live by your Grace.


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