Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

Security of the Believer (Pt. 1)

Introduction to Peter’s Epistles:

Security of the Believer (Part 1)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:1-5

Introduction:

We never want to forget that the Author of any portion of Scripture is God, but I think it is important to remember the identity of the writers as well: The writer, in this case is the Apostle Peter, and it was written probably about A.D. 60. But let’s give some thought to Peter: This is Peter, the companion of Jesus, the commercial fisherman, the one who openly struggled with his humanity, and truly desired to overcome it and walk with Jesus. This is the Commercial fisherman who absolutely knew the danger of going overboard in a storm but was willing to deliberately step out of the boat, to “go for a walk on the water” with Jesus.

This is the same Peter who was sternly rebuked by Jesus for trying to prevent Jesus’s journey to the Cross; the same who swore he would be true to the death, but a few days later, denied he even knew the Lord. The same Peter who ran to the gravesite, and barged right into the empty tomb, seeing for himself the empty grave-clothes, and the folded face covering. This is the same Peter who loved Jesus with all his heart, as a human, and knew his own shortcoming: he couldn’t profess a greater love. The same Peter, who tradition holds was crucified upside down, by his own request, as he didn’t feel he was worthy to die just as Jesus did. We don’t know the manner of his death in detail, and I can’t prove the traditional tale true or false. But all the other notes are directly from scripture.

Remembering who Peter was, as a human, leaves me a little surprised at his understanding of “heavy doctrines,” which may explain why it astonished the Jews of the time as well. What you and I need to remember is that it was a supernaturally-supplied understanding. In the first place, his personal tutor was God the Son! In the second place, when he began his preaching ministry in the book of Acts, he was not only indwelt by, but also “full of” (under the influence of) God the Holy Spirit. The Jews were amazed (Acts 4:8-12), and said, “How could an uneducated man learn these things?” Let us not make the mistake of judging the authorship by what we know of the writer: Peter was just “the guy carrying the bucket!” The one who filled it was God. God is the Author of this epistle, just as He is the Author of the rest of the Bible.

This epistle was to a large group of scattered individuals, not to an individual, nor to a specific assembly in a given town. But the way he describes them in the first five verses allows us to realize that we are also included. Like the other epistles, this is to You.

Security of the Believer

Chapter One

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Key Words and Ideas in the first five verses of this epistle:

I have underscored about 30 words or phrases in these first five verses. If we can grasp the significance of these few words and phrases, we will be well on our way to studying the whole epistle:

Peter (Greek ‘petros’): This is not just “the man’s name:” it is the new name given to Simon Bar-Jonas, by Jesus, and it means “a rock”…a stone, such as one might pick up and move, to be used for some purpose. This is not to be confused with ‘Petra’ which meant an unmovable bedrock: the kind a building is founded upon, not to be moved. Peter is not the “rock” upon which Jesus was to build His church. The Truth about Jesus is! (Matthew 16:18)

Apostle: The word simply means a “sent one.” There is a gift called “apostle,” and that gift is a person. Peter was one of those gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4:11-16). Are there others beside the original 12? Well, there at least were others: Paul was one, for sure. Some think he was the only other one, but in Acts 14:14 both Barnabas and Paul were identified as Apostles. There is some evidence that Apollos was recognized as an apostle. It is possible that the number even included Priscilla and Aquila, but all it says is that they were “of note among the apostles.” At any rate, that is what the word means, and as far as I can see, their primary task was to plant the churches. There are people who argue that they also had to write scriptures. The problem with that idea is that there are only eight writers of the New Testament, and only four of them were called apostles. Mark was not an apostle. Neither was Luke. The “James” who wrote the epistle of James is almost certainly not James the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, but rather one of the brothers of the Lord, who was not even a believer during the Lord’s earthly ministry. And Jude did not claim apostleship, but only said he was James’ brother. Just something to consider.

Jesus: this is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew name we pronounce “Joshua.” It means “The LORD (YHWH) Saves;” which is especially significant because the angel Gabriel announced that his name should be called Jesus because He would save his people from their sins. This is the name before which it is said “every knee shall bow, to the glory of God the Father.” This is the name of which it is said “…there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” This is His personal name, as the Savior, and not just during his earthly ministry. It is his chosen name forever, regardless of into what languages it is translated. Not the pronunciation of it, but the name itself: the “content” of the name.

Christ: This is a Greek word, too, meaning, “the anointed one,” which is what the Hebrew term “Messiah” means.  That is His “office”, as being “chosen and sent by God”…it is not his “last name.” When we refer to Jesus Christ, we are referring to Jesus as the “anointed one” from God, who was sent as our one and only Blood Sacrifice by which the sins of the entire Human race were to be washed away. It means, Jesus the Messiah: Jesus, the Anointed One. The world uses it as a curse, when, in fact, it is a point of worship. He is “The Anointed One!” There is no other!

Strangers: This epistle was especially addressed to the “dispersion:” the Jews who had been scattered among the nations, but specifically the Messianic Jews—the believers among the dispersion (perhaps specifically those who had been scattered after the persecution in Jerusalem)…not just any foreign-born Jew. Remember that the scattered tribes had been gathered in Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost, for the feast of tabernacles. Those who became believers in Jesus stayed in Jerusalem because of the Gospel. When persecution arose, they were scattered again (Acts 8:1) and possibly began drifting back to their homes among the nations. But we are told that wherever they went, the Gospel went. They shared their faith! These are the original recipients of this epistle. But we are to be that sort of person as well.

Elect: This word means “chosen.” A lot of controversy comes over the understanding of this word, so we will address it later, except to point out that it does not always have anything to do with salvation. Aaron’s rod was called “elect,” too, as were the vessels in the temple. It simply means “Chosen.” Rather than spending a lot of time on the subject right now, I would like to point out that the whole Gospel is addressed to “Whosoever Will.” (Revelation 22:17) We see the invitation on the outside of the “gate” or “door,” so to speak, saying, “Whosoever Will May Come! “ Then, by Grace, through faith, we step across that threshold, entering into a permanent relationship with the Creator, through Jesus’ Blood at the Cross. But later on, we begin to learn more, and we look around; finally turning to look back and ask “How did I get in here?” And, on the inside of that same door, we see the sign, “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the Earth!” God chose in Eternity Past, to save all those “In Christ.” Those who respond in faith are automatically part of that group. There is nothing in the scripture to indicate that God deliberately chose the majority of the Human Race to end up in eternal punishment. We choose that ourselves.

Foreknowledge: This goes right along with “election:” we have no doubt about the absolute foreknowledge of God. That’s the way He presents His “Credentials” in Isaiah 46:10. He “declares the end from the beginning.”  We will address both of these ideas more thoroughly, later in this study. Yes, God knew from Eternity Past who would choose to believe Him, and who would not. But He also chose to go to the Cross and die for the sins of even those who rejected Him. You will never meet a person for whom Jesus didn’t die; a person whose sins were not under His Blood. 1st John 2:2 specifies that Jesus did not die “…for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” God knows in advance who will come, but the offer and the promise is genuine.

God: The Greek word is “Theos.” It is His “office”…” it is what He is.” This is not His name. The name he offered to Moses, to give to Israel, was ‘I AM.” The name by which Abraham knew Him was what we call the “Tetragrammaton:” the “YHWH” four-letter “puzzle,” which no one seems to know how to pronounce. (I think Acts 4:12 is a good answer to that puzzle, by the way.) But this passage specifically refers to God the Father.

At this point we are beginning to touch upon the doctrine of the Trinity. In Isaiah 9:6, 7, we are told that “the Son”, the long-awaited Child, of whom we sing at Christmas, “…shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father!” So, at that point I gave up. Jesus confirmed that the Father is greater than He, but this scripture says Jesus is the Father. And, in Acts 5 and in Acts 13, we see the Holy Spirit identified as God, as well. So…I will drop it right there. I think the Trinity is a true “mystery,” and I seriously doubt that it is decipherable by human intellect.

Sanctification: the word means “being set apart for a special purpose.” Like the word “elect,” it can be used for inanimate objects, not just humans. But in the case of humans: saved individuals have become the Lord’s personal property, and are for His use and His honor only. We have been declared holy! Give that some thought, as to how it may apply to your own life. When the vessels from the temple, which were declared Holy, were defiled by enemies who stole them and used them in idolatrous feasts, did they lose their “holy” status? No! They had to be cleansed, and restored to proper use, but they were still God’s personal Property. So are we! So, when we have sinned, and are out of fellowship with God, we are no less holy, positionally, but we are defiled, in terms of condition. We need to be cleansed and restored! That is what 1st John 1:9 is all about: the restoration of a sinning believer.

The Spirit: This is in reference to the Holy Spirit: there is not as much information about the third member of the Godhead as we might like there to be. There is enough, however. He chooses to not speak of Himself, but of Jesus. The bookstores are loaded with extrabiblical books about the third member of the Godhead which are largely false. But there is sufficient information in the scriptures for our use, and Jesus specifically said that the Holy Spirit would not glorify Himself, but only Jesus. We need to keep that in mind, when we are trying to gain “greater spiritual experiences.” Does it really glorify Jesus, or do we simply want a thrill?

Obedience: The Greek word here, is “hupakoe”, meaning to “hearken submissively” or, along with that idea, to “set in order below”…in other words, deliberately choosing for ourselves the “lower rank,” where Jesus is concerned, and taking His Word as authoritative. Interesting concept, isn’t it? Notice that both the word “Obedience” and the following phrase, “the sprinkling of Blood,” are both in reference to the Lord Jesus.

Sprinkling of Blood: This refers back to the Old Testament sacrificial system, under which an object was declared holy through the sprinkling of the blood of a holy sacrifice: a priest or other believer was declared holy (as well as cleansed) by the same sort of sprinkling. This was completely fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ, whose Blood did not just “cover” our sin (which is what happened at the day of Atonement, each year) but “takes away the sin of the World,” according to the statement made by John the Baptist, in John 1:29. These Jewish Christians were quite familiar with the Old Testament teachings regarding Blood. They had no trouble understanding what Peter meant. He stated it fully, though: “…Obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ”…so this is not some generic requirement of obedience, nor of any “other” blood. Both are about Jesus. And all of these people had heard Jesus, and had “hearkened submissively.” This is the “obedience to the faith,” called out in Romans 1:5. Paul made it more clear a few verses later, in Romans 1:16, where he stated that the Gospel, being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe. This is Obedience to the faith. Does it result in more “physical” obedience? Surely it does, yes, but the initial choice to place one’s dependence on the shed blood of Jesus at the Cross for salvation, is the “obedience of faith” that resulted in the “Sprinkling of Blood” upon that believer’s soul, and which cleanses him or her before God, forever!

Conclusion: (Yes it means You!)

If you have heard the Gospel, the “good news” that Jesus’s blood was the full payment for your sins: If you have believed that news, and placed your trust in His shed blood for your salvation, then according to Jesus’s personal promise in John 5:24, all of the things we have been talking about are true of you!

You have been “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the earth!” You have been declared Holy, by the “sprinkling of His blood” and You are His personal Property, forever!

Yes, you entered in because you saw or heard the invitation, “Whosoever Will may Come!” But you can now look back and see that you were chosen in Him, specifically because you were “one who would respond in faith.” So, now, when you read the first chapter of Ephesians, and see all the amazing “positional truths” laid out there, you can know for sure that all those things are true of You, not just some “theoretical person.”

Next week we will continue in 1st Peter, and see the remaining concepts concerning our eternal position in Christ.

Lord Jesus, please secure our hearts against the fear that the Enemy sows in us. Let us rest in your Promise, not in our own wisdom or reasoning. Help us to obey out of Love and confidence, not fear, as we rest in your promise and your Love.


A Warning to the Wealthy

A Warning to the Wealthy

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:1-6; Psalm 73:1-12; Psalm 37:1, 2, 16

Introduction:

We have been working through the book of James for quite some time, taking excursions to address other matters from time to time, but in general, pressing on with James. James has proven to be a very practical book, and in chapter five it becomes quite “pointed” for the first six verses. In keeping with the topic of the last month, the next few verses give us some insight into our response to the world around us.

It is easy for us to become disgruntled or envious as we see others prosper, especially if we know that the persons in question are living in such a way as to dishonor God, so that they are prospering in spite of their ungodliness, or possibly because of it. What we are going to read today is God’s response, both to them and to us.

Interpreting James Chapter 5

1Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

There are several questions we should be asking, as we consider this passage:

  • Who is speaking?
  • To whom is this passage speaking?
    • Is this a general condemnation of wealthy people?
      • How much do I have to have, to be “wealthy?”
    • Is this passage speaking to believers or to unbelievers?
  • What does it say?
    • Is this a statement that wealth itself is evil?
    • If not, then what is the issue?

Obviously, this is a good time to be very careful to “compare scripture with scripture,” in order to ascertain what God is saying, and to whom, as well as what effect it should have upon believers as a whole; and, finally, “how does this affect me?”

Let’s take the above questions one at a time:

Who is speaking? To us, as believers, and specifically as those who believe the Bible is literally the Word of God, the answer is simple: God is speaking. There are believers who begin to sort out the scriptures “by writer,” as if one writer had more authority than another, or more credibility. If that is the case, then the Bible is a bewildering mixture of authoritative and non-authoritative writings, and we are effectively declaring ourselves to be the “authority” who determines which is which. I hope you can see the problems inherent in that approach to the Bible. I choose to place my confidence in the Bible as the Word of God. Yes, there are human writers, but the result is God speaking through them.

To whom is the writer speaking? It is important to ask this question, too, because, while all of the Bible is for us as believers, not all of it is “to” us. There are portions which are pronouncements of judgment on enemies of God, and are not to us at all.

As we read through the book of James, we can see that up to this point (and beginning again in verse seven), James has clearly addressed the “brethren;” specifically speaking to the needs of believers. Here, he seems to change audiences for a moment, and speaks briefly to a different group. How can we tell? Back in chapter one, verses nine and ten, he addressed the poor and rich “brothers”, and rather than condemning the rich, he asks that they rejoice in being “brought low.” Also, comparing the many references to kings and wealthy men in the Old Testament, there is not a condemnation of wealth, nor the wealthy, but a recognition that, as a rule, God has blessed them (the Godly, wealthy men, such as Abraham.)

So, the question we finally have to answer is whether the passage speaks to believers or to unbelievers: unregenerate men whose wealth was not from God.

I read, not long ago, that, because open land is scarce in Japan, and golfing is extremely popular, golf-courses were becoming crowded to the point of being unusable, until the owners raised the fees high enough to “thin the ranks” and make the courses less crowded. Their shameless intent was to make golf completely inaccessible to people of modest income, thus making it a “privilege of the rich”, while making themselves very wealthy as well, through the green fees. But there was an embarrassing, unintended result: Only very wealthy people could play, certainly, but that meant that, very publicly, now, the politicians, industry potentates, and the organized crime leaders together, shared the clubhouses: Everyone could see the “connections.” They all seemed to be “together,” as…they were “together.”

I don’t know what eventually became of that; I am not a golfer, but if I had been, and if I had found myself in such a situation, I would have abandoned the game. Actually, there was a similar situation at work years ago, wherein it became common knowledge that “the way to get promoted was to join the golf league, and schmooze with the bigwigs.” I would not have believed such a story, except that I saw it in action numerous times, and some of the “beneficiaries” of this “insider” gamesmanship bragged about having “golfed their way” into their current jobs. I found such goings-on deeply repugnant, and, when invited to join, I was glad I could honestly say, “I don’t play golf.”

Since God does not condemn people for how much they have, nor how little, and He warns believers not to give special attention to believers who are wealthy, I think it is correct to conclude that the “rich,” here in James 5:1-6 are unbelievers, who are literally guilty of the crimes he lists. What is coming for these “rich,” then? And why? Why is it worthy of “weeping and howling?” Let’s compare Psalm 73:1-12 (read it.)

The Unbelieving Rich

The Psalmist says (Psalm 73:3-12) that, in their lifetimes, these wicked rich prospered; and they did not even seem to suffer in death, but were strong all their lives. He says that this bolstered their personal pride, and gave them confidence that they could do whatever they wanted, including violence and greed, and exalting themselves against God. We have “celebrities” today who speak boldly against the God of Heaven as the psalmist describes in verse nine, and wealthy politicians who oppress the very people they claim to represent. I recall various celebrities even claiming to be God, while others claimed themselves to be more popular than Christ, and still others insist that God does not exist, and they “re-invent Jesus” in various vile forms, far removed from His holy, omnipotent reality, as both the “Judge of all the Earth,” and the Savior.

Does this behavior of the wicked, who rant against God, go unnoticed? It surely seems to do so, from our perspective, doesn’t it? And it did from the psalmist’s point of view, too! He said that his own attention to the ways of God had been for nothing (Psalm 73:13-16): “I have cleansed my heart in vain…I have been plagued…and chastened every morning.” He was becoming bitter, and frustrated, but when he entered the temple, (Psalm 73:17-23) God gave him something to change his mind. He allowed the psalmist to see the “end” of the wicked. He saw that they had been lulled into complacency by their own sin, and were trapped in their wickedness, and despised by God: and that their final destination was an eternity in Hell. The psalmist then repented of his own bitterness and resentment, as he realized that, while things had not been “comfortable” from his own perspective, he, in fact, had continually been with God.

That is a good thing for us to keep in mind, as well, when we see the wicked flourishing. They always have done so: this is nothing new. They open their mouths against God, and league themselves with the enemies of God. So, the enemies of God reward them, and they flourish. But the final result is the total disaster of eternal damnation. So there is a warning, here, in James, to exactly that sort of person: “Repent, because judgment is coming!”

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

We make jokes about this sort of thing, saying, “You can’t take it with you!” But the fact is, you not only will not prosper by it, eternally, but, if you fall into this category of ungodly “prosperity”, the very riches themselves will stand in the judgment, as testimony against you.

When the “books are opened”, as in Revelation 20, these things will testify against you, not for you. We tend to see the rich as having been “blessed by God,” but it entirely depends upon two things: How did they get the wealth, and what did they do with it? There have been wealthy individuals who inherited wealth, and regardless of how it was originally amassed, they used it faithfully, once it was under their control

We can read the account of Hezekiah, in 2nd Chronicles 29. It says that, when Hezekiah became king, he immediately used his inherited authority to open the doors to the Temple, which had been closed up by his ungodly father, and to exhort the Priests and Levites to use their divinely-appointed authority to go in and clean out the interior of the Temple (where he had no authority.) He then saw to it that the idols were dragged out, broken up and thrown into the muddy creek east of Jerusalem—the Kidron. The ultimate result of his inherited wealth and authority was a full-scale revival in Judah. (Read chapters 29-32.)

There have also been wealthy industrialists, (R.G. Letourneau, for example) who started out with nothing, who earned the money through inventions and entrepreneurship, and who not only did not mistreat their employees on their way to such wealth, they gave heavily to support missions or other humanitarian works. I do not believe that such persons fall under this condemnation. But to those who cruelly exploited their workers, and ignored the plight of the poor, and ignored the call of God, all these things will testify against them. Judgment is coming!

Notice, too, that it specifically warns that the treasure is being heaped up for the “last days”…the tribulation, or the judgment day. This is not addressed to a believer. We will not be involved in those things.

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

What a terrible indictment against these individuals, whoever they are/were. Obviously it is not an indictment against every rich person in history, but it seems that it could easily apply to many, whose lives actually have matched these accusations. There are counter-examples within the scriptures, and there are counter-examples alive today. But the fact is, the very wealthy of this world have frequently gotten there by “stepping on” the poor. Not always, of course, but it is certainly an observable phenomenon. And this warning is to those persons.

Consider the Book of Ruth, though: God does not condemn the wealthy Boaz, for instance, because he was definitely treating his workers well, and reached beyond the legal requirements, with Grace, in order to meet the needs of Ruth. It is also clear that he had no designs upon her, at the start: her mother-in-law, Naomi was the one who initiated the move to have Ruth approach Boaz as the “Kinsman-Redeemer”; Boaz had only given instructions to his workers to add Grace to her gleanings. (I love that book, by the way, as it is such a clear, tender picture of Christ.) But the workers blessed Boaz voluntarily, and He blessed them in return, as well as eating with them in the field: he did not see himself as “above them,” socially. He chose to eat with them in fellowship, as Jesus chooses fellowship with us.

Finally, the accusation is that they have condemned and killed the “just” (singular), and he (singular) has not resisted them. Who is that one Just man? I think the condemnation here is specifically against the ungodly of this world, who, collectively, down through the ages, have approved the crucifixion, through their own choices and actions. Our sins put Jesus on the Cross! All of us bear that burden. But whether you will meet Him as your Savior or as your Judge is up to you! If you meet Him as your Judge, remember what you have done to Him by your life! If you would rather meet Him as your Savior, then throw yourself upon His mercy, offered through the Cross!

If you know that you will meet Him as your Savior, then consider how you are responding to Him today as your Lord. He is the Judge of all the Earth, and that includes the Judgment seat of Christ, where our works will be judged. Nothing escapes His attention. Yes, my sins were judged at the Cross, but my works are still awaiting judgment and will either be eternally worthy of reward, or eternally worthless.

As I look back at my life, I can easily see that much of my effort has been directed at things which were ultimately a waste of time. That is pretty sad, but it is true. God sets the standard. We can either believe it or not believe it, but the standard remains the same.

So, how should we respond?

I can truthfully say that this verse is not speaking “to” me, as:

  1. I am not an unbeliever, and
  2. I have no employees, regardless of whether I could be accused of being “rich” in anyone else’s opinion. (We know that, to people in very poor nations, the poorest people in the United States would be considered very wealthy, by their standards. But that is not the issue, here.)

I also know that this passage is written “for” me: The whole Bible is! So how can I profit from this specific passage, and how should I respond to it?

If nothing else, it should alert me to the fact that while the possessions and actions of this life are passing and temporary in nature, our actions and attitudes are by no means unimportant, in light of eternity. God doesn’t miss anything at all! According to Jeremiah 17:10, He will render “…to every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doing.”

Further, Psalm 37:1-4 tells me how I am to respond to those around me: I am not to “fret” about them, nor to envy them, nor try to “right their wrongs” myself: I am to “trust in the Lord and do Good,” and to commit my way to Him and allow Him to take care of my needs.

I don’t know what the eternal rewards are, because we simply are not told. But I do know they are eternally worthwhile! So, since the rewards for proper response to God are eternally worth having, a proper response to God is also worth the effort. I can ask myself:

  • How do I use my time?
  • How do I use my belongings?
  • How do I use my money?
  • How do I handle relationships?
  • How do I treat people who have not treated me well?

Each of these is a part of how we can determine whether our lives are fitting the pattern set by The Lord as being “Lights in a dark world” and “ambassadors of Christ.”

Lord Jesus, allow us to see ourselves clearly in the light of your Word, and to see the World clearly, through the eyes of your Love. Help us to repent of the things that fall short of your honor, and to live as ambassadors of Christ.


Looking for the Lord’s Return

Looking for the Lord’s Return

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 3:12 “Looking for and hasting unto the Day of God”

Introduction:

From what we see in God’s Word, we can easily see that, literally from the beginning of the Church Age, nearly 2000 years ago, the Church has been under spiritual (and sometimes physical) attack from the enemy. And yet it has grown under those conditions. I just read a very interesting comment, supposedly made on National Public Radio, to the effect that things are changing in Communist China, in part because the younger generation is turning to Christ! This is not good news to NPR, but it is good news to me! The Church has always grown under persecution! We are not warned to flee persecution, but rather, to endure it!

So, since we don’t know when He is coming back, only knowing that the Rapture of the Church is the “next major event” in His plan, what are we to do while we wait, and how are we to respond to the threats against the Church, and the many hoaxes against our peace of mind?

Should we hunker down and hide? Should we become militant and try to fight back, physically? Should we waste what little time we have, trying to argue against the endless array of accusations against God’s Word and the Lord Himself? Or do we have a definite assignment?

The problem is that, in our flesh, we all fear persecution! We want to escape it entirely! But part of the message of the New Testament is the admonition to “take up thy Cross!” Embrace the Cross! Philippians 1:29 says, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake;” The fact is, we don’t like that part of the Gospel! And we are not alone in this tendency:

The Disciples wanted the Kingdom!

As Jesus prepared to leave this world, and was saying His final goodbyes, so to speak, the disciples (evidently all of them) were still stuck on their own agenda: Acts 1:6 says, “When they were therefore come together, they asked of Him, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?”

Somehow, in my imagination, I see Jesus heaving a sigh, and once more, explaining to them the priorities of God!  But all it actually says it that Jesus clearly stated that we will not know the time of His return, thus, we will not be told, ahead of time, when the Rapture of the Church (which they knew nothing about), the Tribulation, and the Lord’s physical return, would occur: (nor, therefore, His coming Kingdom, which is what they wanted first; though, as we have seen from the scripture, the other things had to happen first! Jesus spent all of Mathew chapter 24 explaining the tribulation, and then capped it with the Matthew 25 statements as to His imminent physical return, after the great tribulation, and showed the Kingdom coming after that!

There on the Mount of Olives, in Acts 1:8, He gave the disciples their final “marching orders:” They were to be His witnesses, to the uttermost parts of the Earth!

Looking for and hasting unto the Day of God

We do have an assignment! The great commission, (Matthew 28:19-20)which was given to the eleven disciples, includes the words, “go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations,” and ends with the words, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (age).”

So…what had he just commanded them to do, and, more specifically, is that part of our marching orders as well? Yes, it is! The Great Commission is directed to us, simply because we are among those taught. Thus, part of how we are to respond to the sure knowledge that His return is imminent (meaning that it could happen at any time) is that we are to be doing what He asked us to do.

When we know that “company is coming” we run around, getting ready, making everything “just so,” until we know they are about to arrive. Then we try to just relax and wait to hear them in the entryway, so to speak. But that is when we know they are coming, and we know the appointed time!

In this case, it is not just “company:” it is the Master! And we only know that He is coming: we do not know when, and He clearly stated that we will not know the time of His coming! So all we can do is to faithfully be doing what He assigned, all the time, so as to not be ashamed at His arrival. There is no time when we can say, “OK, He should be here in the next ten minutes! Let’s sit down and wait!” We are to “look for and haste unto” the coming of the Day of God! We are to anticipate His imminent return and act accordingly, getting on with the job: specifically evangelism and discipleship.

So What about all the rumors and attacks?

I have had several people send me literature about “current bills in Congress” or secret agendas, conspiracies, etc. The first thing we want to remember is that our enemy is not flesh and blood. It is Satan and his emissaries. The second thing would be to look back in the Bible, and see that this sort of attack has been his “modus operandi” since the beginning: what was the first thing he did, in order to misdirect Eve in the Garden? First, he twisted God’s Word, then he flat out denied its truth, and finally, he said the words we so often hear today:  “thou shalt not surely die! For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (This is “Stuff God doesn’t want you to know.”) We are constantly presented with “things the government doesn’t want you to know,” or “things your church doesn’t want you to know,” or similar offerings. These are the root of “conspiracy theory.” These ideas are very tempting to us, just as Satan’s ploy was to Eve. It works!

So, skip forward about 4,000 years: When Paul had gone through Thessalonica and preached the Gospel of the Cross, there was immediately an uprising of people fighting against that Good News: And, their weapon? Making false accusations against Paul and his entourage, as well as against those who received them. There was very nearly a riot: the local government stepped in, and demanded a peace-bond of the believers, and that night, the believers had to smuggle Paul out of town under cover of darkness, to keep him safe. One would think that this would be the end of the Gospel in Thessalonica, but the seed had taken root! The letters to the church at Thessalonica were to that core group of believers and those whom they had subsequently led to the Lord. So…how long had Paul been teaching there? Less than three weeks, apparently. It says he taught there for three Sabbath days. So, at least two weeks, but less than four.

And what form did the subsequent attack against them (the believers) take? 2nd Thessalonians 2:2 says they were told by “someone” that they had somehow missed the Lord’s return. We have multiple cults today that tell us similar things. Well, this was one of the very first, and it began happening before the Church-age was 20 years along. Today, it is nearly 2000 years later, and the Enemy is up to the same tricks! And it is getting much easier! He no longer has to depend upon some misguided person to go out of his or her way to spread lies personally: we have the internet, and anyone who thinks it is great fun to watch Christians run for cover has only to fire up Facebook and spin a tale of conspiracy! And it works every time!

Also, for some reason, some well-meaning believers (even those well-taught in the Word) suddenly get the idea that they can “ferret out the truth” about “what God doesn’t want us to know” and figure out the date of the Lord’s return.

I remember the evening I left the missionary training camp in Baker, Oregon, in 1980. I stopped in the tiny town of Union, Oregon, to say goodbye to the little Baptist church I had attended there for two years. There was a meeting in progress, and the place was packed. So, I sat in the back and listened, waiting to say my goodbyes. The guest speaker was a well-known local preacher: the subject was “When the Lord is returning?” (Yep! That will draw a crowd all right! You see, we don’t really believe Jesus when He says we will not know.) Everyone was listening earnestly, and taking notes, writing down all he had to say: he had found a “way around” Jesus’s statement. He said “The Lord said you won’t know the day or the hour! He didn’t say you can’t know the month and the year!” (Do you see a problem with that? If we knew the month and the year, we’d only have to worry about His return for the last thirty days or so, right? That means, ultimately, we would know the day and the hour, as well, within a 30-day bracket.)

So…when was the Lord’s Return “supposed” to occur? It was “scheduled” for March of 1982! (Guess I must have missed it, huh?) It was false teaching, regardless of his honest effort to teach good doctrine. He was a good man, and a faithful man of God, but the study was doomed from the beginning, because he had taken the bait of “things God doesn’t want you to know!”

Other “Conspiracy theories”

There are other such examples: people claiming to have portions of scripture that were “left out” of the Bible, so that we Christians “aren’t playing with a full deck,” so to speak. You can look these things up, and read them: Usually, a careful reading, even in English, makes it obvious why it was left out. It simply is not authored by God, and it is obvious: it teaches contrary to the rest of the scriptures. There are many such attacks, and I don’t propose to attempt to answer them all. Look up “pseudepigraphal writings,” and you can see a long list. “Pseudepigraphal writings” means “false writings.” They were recognized as bogus epistles (or whatever they claimed to be) at the time they were first presented. It did not take the Council of Trent to disclose them for what they were. The original recipients had recognized them as false, years before.

So what about today? What is the latest buzz, today? I remember when I first became a believer, the rumor was running around that Henry Kissinger was the Antichrist. There are several problems with that sort of rumor. One, is that he does not fit the description in scripture. The biggest, however, is the fact that scripture makes it clear that we will not see the Antichrist, because he will be revealed after we are removed from the earth! The primary passage is found in 2nd Thessalonians 2…but even if we didn’t have that passage, we can see in the Revelation that the church is to be removed from the Earth in Revelation chapter four, while the Antichrist is to be revealed in chapter thirteen! This is pretty hard to get around! The same goes for the “Mark of the Beast,” which Christians have been fearing for years. “What is it?! How do I avoid it?! How can I recognize it?!) That mark shows up in Revelation 13, long after the Church is to be evacuated in chapter 4.

What about the Mark of the Beast?

Recently, more than one person sent me “documented” evidence that “the government is conspiring against us” to force us to receive an imbedded computer chip (similar to those implanted in pets, for identification purposes) and that they are “gonna do it by means of a vaccination!” (This time, it’s the COVID virus vaccine.)

I’m going to pass up the temptation to argue the obvious physical and technological objections inherent in this hoax. (And, yes, it is yet another hoax, meant to terrify the people of God and keep them from doing their assigned task.) The physical size of an implantable chip is far larger than the interior of a vaccination needle. But let’s set that objection aside, and just stick to scriptural reasoning: What three things from scripture would tell me that this is a hoax?

  1. The Mark of the Beast is to be either in the forehead or the right hand; No vaccinations are given in either of those two places: they are simply not good places to administer medicine. This alone would make me believe that “it just isn’t so!” But that isn’t all!
  2. The Mark of the Beast is a voluntary compliance associated specifically with the choice to worship the image of the antichrist (this is spelled out in Revelation 13.) No one can “slip it to you unawares!” You can’t just innocently go to the doctor for a vaccination, and come home headed for hell.
  3. The bottom line still is the fact that the Church is leaving Planet Earth in Revelation chapter four, and the Antichrist and everything associated with him is not revealed until we are gone…specifically, in Revelation chapter thirteen!

What about the “One World Government?”

We hear a lot about this. It is good to remember two things:

  1. The way the people of Bible times saw “the world” implied “the civilized world,” which, in the time of Daniel, meant the Babylonian Empire. In the time of Alexander the Great, it meant the Grecian empire, and under Rome it meant the Roman Empire. (By the way, each of these was successively larger than the ones before. But Rome never went to Canada, or Australia, etc.)
  2. When Daniel gave the prophecy regarding the world’s governments to come, in Daniel 2, it gave the progression of Babylonian Empire, Medeo-Persian Empire, Grecian Empire, Roman Empire (though unnamed) and the revived Roman Empire (also unnamed). But it was all one image: not four images. The World system of government as a whole was to be smashed by the “Stone cut out without hands.” This is the Return of Jesus.

So, how does that tie into the idea of the One World Government? If we read carefully, in both Daniel and Revelation (which are closely-linked, and, ideally, should be taught together) we see that the antichrist is plagued by wars all around him, even though he has secured that “One World Government. So it isn’t as “monolithic” as we tend to make it out to be. Remember the Revived Roman Empire of the “ten toes” of Daniel chapter 2: that “empire” is comprised of parts of the old Roman Empire. Those parts have been trying to reassemble ever since the Roman Empire imploded. Remember, Rome was never conquered, so much as it fell apart through corruption and neglect and social disunity. (Sound familiar?)

When the Czars were in power in Russia, their very name gave us a clue as to their thoughts. The name “Czar” is the Russian word for Caesar. When Kaiser Wilhelm declared himself the Emperor of the German Empire, again, we can see his intent, as the German word for Caesar is “Kaiser.”

And, according to J. Vernon McGee, when the current European Union was first organized, the treaties were not signed in Brussels, Belgium as I would have expected: They were signed on Capitol Hill, in Rome! Is the EU the “revived Roman Empire” of Revelation? I don’t know! Could they at least be a predecessor to the coming political structure over which the Antichrist is destined to rule? Sure!

But, if it is, what should our response be? To tremble in terror and find a place to dig in, and hide? Nope…but that is what the disciples were doing after the crucifixion. And Jesus came and preached peace to them! He had said, earlier, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer! I have overcome the World!” And that was before the Crucifixion! But now, afterward, he was speaking to them as the Resurrected Christ! And that is how he speaks to us as well! We are not to cower in fear: Jesus said “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” That is not a recipe for helpless fear!

2nd Timothy 1:7 says “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of Love and of a sound mind.” And that is how we are to respond to the threats brought by the Enemy!

A Famous Historical Example of Satan’s Attack

Remember, back in the book of Nehemiah, the assignment was given to “rebuild Jerusalem.” In chapter four, the threat had come of an attack, specifically to prevent the people from carrying out God’s command. Their response was good. They were watchful, but they went on with the work. Nehemiah 4:18 says, “For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side and so builded.” They were prepared for an attack, but their primary attention was given to the assigned task of building the wall. (The wall was specifically what their enemies did not want built, as it once again made Jerusalem a walled city, and very defensible.)

There were other such threats, some more subtle: in chapter six the enemies tried to draw away the leader of the assembly, Nehemiah, himself. But he knew their intent was to ambush him in some way, and he said, in effect, “Sorry, I’m too busy to meet with you!”

Later they threatened to accuse him to the Emperor, saying that he was trying to make himself a king.  He called them on it, saying that it was a lie, and that they were simply trying to put fear into the hearts of the people.

In another attempt, they claimed to be “prophetically” warning him of an attack on his person. Nehemiah 6:13 states that he recognized that the man was hired to bring a false message, in order to frighten Nehemiah into dropping the work he was commanded to accomplish. The rest of the passage (Nehemiah 6:15, 16) goes on to say that even their enemies could see that the work had been done through the power of God, as they had rebuilt the entire city wall in 52 days, even when under the constant threat of attack and various means of dissuasion by their enemies.

The testimony of God’s people when under persecution and attack is important, as our response will let the World know who is really in charge in our lives. If we are easily shut down, silenced, and turned away from our assigned task as the ambassadors of Christ, they will notice! If we continue to function regardless of circumstances, then they will notice that as well.

We have to choose which kind of behavior will go on record as our “normal.” Will we be “children, carried about by every wind of doctrine,” as Ephesians 4:14 warns us not to be? Or, as 1st Corinthians 15:58 encourages us to be, will we be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord?”

Ultimately, the choice is ours! We cannot choose what events may happen in our lives, but we can choose our response! We can’t control the actions of the World, and we are not told to do so. We cannot “rewrite the book of Revelation!” Those things are going to happen! We can either:

  1. Rejoice in the fulfillment of God’s Word, and lift up our collective heads, knowing the Lord’s return is near, or we can
  2. Cower in fear, hoping to avoid things that may not be pointed at us in the first place.

Let’s choose faith, and rejoice before the Lord together, knowing that our release is near!

Lord Jesus, turn our collective and individual eyes upon you and let us leave our fears behind! Fill us with the joy of knowing that you are coming soon, and the courage born of knowing you are with us even now!


Drawing Near, and Dwelling

Drawing Near, and Dwelling

© 5/5/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:8-10; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 15 and others

Introduction:

We need to talk about the difference between our position in Christ, and our condition as we attempt to walk with Him. The two are not the same, and, while both are clearly defined in scripture, we tend to confuse the two, or decide that only one of them really matters. Both of those failings are traps we need to avoid.

Remember, as we read, that James is speaking to believers. These “brethren” to whom he addressed himself are all persons who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ; in His righteousness, His Blood, His finished work at the Cross, His resurrection and His coming again. They are already Christians! So, with that in mind, let’s read the next three verses, and ask some questions about their meaning.

Draw Near to God

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

How can one “draw near to God?” Obviously, this is a somewhat rhetorical question: He does not occupy just a single location in space or time, where we can physically go to meet with Him, though many people think of Him in that way: Frequently people feel that if they go to a specific place (a church-house, a temple, a special place outdoors, etc.) then they are “going where God is.” Many churches actually encourage such thinking, referring to their physical building as “the house of God.”) The Old Testament believers had an unusual, special time, during which God promised that He would actually take up residence in the Tabernacle (and, later, in Solomon’s Temple,) and that people literally could approach Him there. So, when Jesus spoke of the Temple as being “my Father’s House,” he was addressing a literal reality. That temple (rebuilt by Herod the Great) was destroyed in AD 70, however, and it had ceased to function as the “house of God” long before it was finally destroyed.

But even the Old Testament scriptures teach that God is Omnipresent…everywhere at once. Solomon (who built that great original temple) acknowledged that the entire creation could not contain God, so how could this building of stone do so? Both the New Testament and the Old Testament teach that God does not “dwell” in a house made by human hands. In fact, in the church epistles, we discover that the Church, proper—the people—are now the “habitation of God!” Together, the people of the Church at large, comprise the “Temple of God,” and He personally indwells every member of the Body of Christ.

Remember, James is only speaking to believers! So, I cannot get more close to God, physically: He already surrounds me entirely, inside and out. Since that is the case, and we are not being exhorted to get physically closer to “wherever God is”, what really is the intent of this passage? What is James encouraging you to do? Let’s compare some other passages:

Hebrews 4:16 exhorts us to “…come boldly unto the throne of Grace…”

Hebrews 10:19-22 says,

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Neither of these two exhortations could have been literally followed, even though the temple in Jerusalem still existed at the time they were written. No one but the High Priestcould enter the holy place under any circumstances, and he only once a year.

Draw near, by Faith, as a matter of Practice

But all the believers were being encouraged to “enter in”, and to “draw near” by faith. And that is how we do it, too. We enter into the relationship by faith, initially; and every day (indeed every moment,) we can choose to maintain that “holy place” relationship by faith. Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith. The rest of Hebrews 11 is called the “faith-chapter” for good reason: it underscores the necessity and vital importance of faith in our walk with Jesus.

Colossians 2:6 says, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” How did you receive the Lord? Was it by works? By reciting a creed? Going to church? Praying a prayer? You may have done all these things, and I have no doubt that they were done in all sincerity; but please remember that is possible to be sincerely wrong. Romans 3:25 makes it clear that faith alone, and specifically faith in the shed blood of Jesus, the Savior, is what makes us eligible to receive the Grace of God, offered through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

So…when I ask someone how they became a believer, that is what I am hoping to hear. If they tell me “I went forward at a tent meeting…” or something, I am worried, because it sounds as though their faith is in something they did…not the finished work of Christ at the Cross.

This is why Paul said, in 1st Corinthians 2:2,”For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He was preaching the Cross, because he knew that, otherwise, his audience would place their faith in something else—anything else. We don’t like the Cross! It was the equivalent of a gallows, or an electric chair, only worse: a truly “cruel and unusual punishment.” We would rather think that we can do something good, which will put us in good standing before God. But God made the rules: We are saved by Grace through Faith alone (Ephesians 2:8, 9) and that is how we are to walk with Him as well

Walking by Faith denies self—it excludes pride and self-will. It confesses that “I can do nothing.” Jesus said in John 15:3, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” If anyone else says that, it is a statement of supreme arrogance, and it is utterly offensive to the hearers. But when Jesus said it, it was the simple truth. There is nothing we can accomplish of eternal value, without Him being the motivator and source of authority and power. This is what Jesus called “abiding.” It is just a fact. On our own, we produce nothing of eternal value. In Christ, walking by faith, everything we do, regardless of how mundane, has eternal worth, because we are in obedience, doing His will! Abide in Christ, abide in the Tabernacle…dwell in His Holy place!

Dwelling with God

Psalm 91:1He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” The Psalmist suggests that it is possible to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High”, not just visit there once in a while. Further, it says that the one who does so, deliberately, by choice and by faith, will “abide under the Shadow of the Almighty.” Surely that is worth the struggle, to maintain that sort of close relationship with the Creator, Savior and Judge of all the Earth.

Psalm 15 reads as follows:

1Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

So, not only is it possible to “abide in the tabernacle,” and “dwell in His holy hill,” (at that time, the temple mount) but He goes on to say what kind of behavior goes along with the privilege. This is not a blanket promise to all believers: this is very definitely a “conditional promise.” We have read many of God’s unconditional promises, all of which are true of every believer. But this one, and many others like it, are dependent upon how we respond to God, and the resulting ways that we respond to the people around us. Notice, please, that every single one of the “conditions” listed in Psalm 15 are describing how we are to deal with other humans, with the possible exception of “speaking the truth in his heart.” That one may have to do with being honest before the Lord, since only He can see the heart; but it would still affect our interpersonal dealings.

In James 4:8, we are exhorted to “cleanse” our hands, as sinners, and “purify” our hearts, from being double-minded. So my behavior and my heart-motives are both in question, as I attempt to draw near to God. I cannot “draw near” to God, if I am mistreating other people in any way, or even just submitting myself to my Old Sin Nature, in pride, or lust, or covetousness, etc. Psalm 66:18 says that “if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” God won’t even listen to my prayers, if I am sinning…even just in my heart. (Jesus confirms this, when he “upgraded the Law” by saying that if I am angry without cause against a brother, then I am in danger of judgment, just as if I were a murderer; and that if I am secretly desiring sexual sin, I am just as wrong as if I were literally committing adultery…he said that I am already doing so in my heart! There’s that heart-motive thing again!)

 In Ephesians 4:31, 32, it says that I am to lay aside all bitterness, and wrath and anger (all of which are inward attitudes) and clamor and evil speaking (it is starting to come out my mouth, here), along with all malice (the underlying heart-issue.)

Morally, and in terms of His character, God has never “moved” nor changed His “position.” He defines perfection. We embraced His promise by faith, and received eternal life through our Savior. We are also invited to embrace His righteousness by faith, and to see our thoughts, values and behaviors change. As they change, and as we learn to walk with God, we will find that He also continually reaches out to us, to steady us in our walk, and to encourage us to “climb higher”, grow stronger, etc. As we “draw near to Him” on a character plane, He draws near to us, not by changing His position, but by reaching out to us, and helping us along toward Himself.

Proverbs 2 (and, I strongly recommend that you read this, slowly, meditating on the meaning) describes the relational efforts involved with “drawing near to God.” It seems to involve much time in God’s Word, much time in Prayer, and a good deal of soul-searching, for lack of a better word. It is not an easy process. It takes effort!

This part of the Christian life is entirely conditional.  None of the walk of faith is guaranteed to us, except the result of obedience, which is eternal reward. Although the promises of God regarding salvation itself are only conditional upon faith, and the truths regarding the believer’s new position are dependent only upon that position “in Christ”, it is entirely possible to live one’s whole life as a believer, and never learn to enter in and enjoy a close walk with God. In fact, tragically, it is quite common.

All of God’s blessing and relational joy is available to all believers at all times, but none of it is guaranteed, without the deliberate choice, on a moment-by-moment basis, to walk with God. The problem is that it involves a constant battle: our old nature, the Flesh, is not at all in agreement, and the World constantly works to distract and dissuade us, while Satan finds ways to trip us up. (See James 3:15, where these three sources are named.)

How should we respond to knowing that we are NOT walking with God?

James makes it clear that it is far beyond “sobering” to discover that all your investments, so to speak, have been wasted: Knowing that all your life is being wasted, and that your hope of eternal reward is vanishing, should bring total remorse and repentance! Remember that “repentance” means a change of mind. We are to drop our old pattern of thinking, realize what it has cost us, and adopt a new outlook, causing a radical change in our behavior as well.

Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

Repentance (Greek, metanoia”…meaninga “change of mind, resulting in change of behavior”) has to result in humility, sufficient to cause us to let go of our old priorities, and begin to seize upon the priorities of God. And He says that if we choose to humble ourselves before Him and change our priorities; then He will reach out to lift us up, and honor us in His way, instead of whatever manner we had been attempting to satisfy our own desires for fulfillment. That may seem a hard choice to make, but it is a good one.

We might take this as meaning to “lift us up” in terms of help, in hard times, and, indeed, it could include that. But, consider Stephen, who had already been walking a humble, Spirit-filled life, and was faithfully serving the poor as described in Acts chapter six; but, as he was being falsely accused (chapter seven) the scripture says he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and his face was literally shining, so that he resembled some heavenly, angelic creature: Then Jesus met Him at the Father’s side, by standing, thus “exalting him in due time” (1st Peter 5:6). But his enemies were still allowed to stone him. He was exalted in that he was martyred. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15) He was not “helped” as we would seek help: being rescued from pain or death, shame, or some financial misfortune.

There are no promises of health or wealth, or physical safety and comfort for Church-age believers. Quite the contrary: Philippians 1:29 plainly states that “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” This is not a comfortable thought, perhaps; but please bear in mind that we have already been joined with Him in His death, His resurrection, and His ascension: He has assured us of our position with Him for eternity. We are also to expect a certain measure of His suffering as a part of our position in Christ.

To me, the rich promises of the blessings of simply walking with God far outweigh the certainty that there will be rough times. When Psalm 15 was written, the battles were quite real and physical. The blessings of God were in focus in that Psam, so fully that the stresses of daily life were completely off the table…not even being considered. The Psalmist wanted to walk with God, not just be saved. He wanted to dwell in God’s Holy Hill, in the Holy Place with God, not just visit there, once in a while.

I think it is fitting that believers today, indwelt by the Holy Spirit should desire that closeness even more, and seek His face even more earnestly.

Give this some thought, and re-examine the scriptures we have read. Ask yourself where your focus really is, and how it might look different if you were walking by faith, and dwelling in the Holy place with Jesus.

This is a matter of continuous re-examination and continual attention. It isn’t something we can “do once” and be done with it. It is a practical outworking of our real life in Christ.

Blessings upon you as you seek His face.


“Unanswered” Prayers?

Practical Holiness and Unanswered Prayers

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:1-7

Introduction:

We often wonder why our prayer life seems ineffectual, and either bemoan that “God doesn’t answer,” or cynically declare that “prayer makes no difference, because God will just do whatever His plan was, anyway.” Both ideas are wrong, and the truth is more related to the character of our relationship with God than it is anything else. James begins by backing up and asking a rhetorical question, and then answers it, and begins to build upon the answer.

Human Sin

1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Here, the “you” (plural) to whom James speaks, is the whole human race. There had been no instance (at that time) of literal wars happening between believers, though it has happened more recently. But the history of the human race is absolutely riddled with warfare, raids, murders, enslavement, etc., in every nation, and in virtually every culture, at one time or another. And James recognized the source of the problem: that, far from being just some “force of nature”, or “artifact of human imperfection”, those wars and evil behaviors specifically come from our sinful desires.

Whether the desire is for political ascendancy, more land, more power of any sort, natural resources, or any other thing, the fact is that we, the human race, are willing to commit violence to satisfy our desires. That forces the other party to commit violence in defense: they really have little choice. But invariably, they end up wanting revenge, not just defense. So the cycle goes on, and repeats itself. If we want to see the original source, we can read Isaiah 14:12-15. There we see how Lucifer, the “Light-bearer,” through his desire for power and glory, became Satan, the “Adversary.” We have adversarial relationships with one another because of our sinful, selfish desires, and, ultimately, we, as a race, are adversaries of God thereby as well.

Romans 5:10 agrees with this idea, stating that we were enemies of God (prior to being saved) and that Jesus died for us while we were in that status, not after repentance or because of some “pre-christian” status. (There is no such thing as a “pre-christian,” by the way. We start off as enemies of God, and, if we die in that position, we are eternally lost. If God can bring us to repentance then we make a full transition to being children of God, and are credited with the righteousness of Christ.)

So, this passage tells us why the state of man is so filled with violence. God made a point of this clear back in Genesis 6:12, noting that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence. He also stated, (Genesis 6:5) that every thought of the imagination of man’s heart was only evil continually. “Well (we may protest) that was before the flood. We are all sprung from Noah, today!) So then, after the flood, things should have improved, right? Let’s see what God said: (Genesis 8:21) “…the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” The only people present were Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their respective wives! Eight persons comprised the world’s entire population! And God said they were full of evil!

So…if that is the state of man, what chance do we have for improvement? On our own effort? None at all! That is why Jesus became a human being, lived a perfect life so as to qualify as our redeemer, and willingly became our blood-sacrifice at Calvary. He did this so that we could be born from above…born again, with a new nature, which is capable of living for God. What about that old nature? It is still there, otherwise all the warnings of the New Testament would be pointless, as believers would be incapable of sin!

But the truth is that our old nature is completely incapable of being transformed, healed, or salvaged. It is not only corrupt but it is still actively being corrupted. When we sin, we feed our old nature, and it is strengthened. But our new nature is completely holy, like the One who created it. So we are left with a perpetual fight to maintain a Christian life.

James knew all of this, but rather than go into detail explaining it to fellow-Jewish Christians, he built on their knowledge of the Word, and moved forward. (We Gentiles frequently have to go back and read the Old Testament Scriptures in order to catch up.)

Unanswered Prayer

3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When we think of prayer, our opinions may run everywhere from “prayer is a waste of breath, because God is just going to do what He wants to do, anyway” all the way to the idea that God is a “celestial vending machine” who will give us whatever we ask for, if we either ask often enough, or ask with the right formula, or something. Both of those ideas are sadly mistaken, though both have elements of truth.

God does commit Himself to righteousness, and to His own perfect plan, though His plan may seem chaotic to us. We need to realize that what seems rather random and directionless, to us, is actually quite controlled, but so unimaginably complex as to easily evade our understanding. We humans can create machines, computer programs, to produce “random” numbers, but the fact is that they are simply taking whatever micro-millisecond that the computer clock is at, at the moment you give the command, and applying an extremely complex formula to that number, so rapidly that we cannot hope to follow it. Since we have no way to know the exact time we gave the command, and no way to track the math, the resulting number seems completely random to us, but, in reality, it was completely planned: we are just unable to see the plan.

Isn’t it odd that we are willing to entrust our lives and money and health to a computer, designed, built and programmed by humans, who, in turn, were programmed by their own sin, but we are not so willing to trust the God who designed and built us, though He is not contaminated by our sin? Give that some thought!

Prerequisites to Answered Prayer

Over in Hebrews 11:6, it says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” We have to begin with the conviction that God exists, and that He is good, beyond comprehension: that He is the creator and designer of all good, and that even the evil in the world is not “outside” His oversight.

We live, today, in the ruins of what was created a perfect world, but which was devastated by sin: we live with the evidence of that destruction all around us: even in the majesty of the peaks, where we see the layered sediments as mute testimony of the flood, and the broken, ragged ridges; evidence of the continental breakup still in motion today. So, within the wreckage of “life after the Fall of Man” we need to realize that God’s ultimate good is still in control, but there are still the ugly realities to deal with: life in a fallen world; life with fallen humans as our fellow-travelers. When we pray, we need to realize that sometimes the things we want are not in keeping with a greater plan of God.

Therefore, we are admonished over in 1st John that there are some prerequisites to answered prayer:

  1. We, ourselves, have to be in obedience to God, so that we are not already at cross-purposes to His sovereignty. (Yes, it is not only possible to be at cross-purposes to God, it is so common as to be nearly universal. 1st John 3:18-24)
  2. We have to ask in accordance with His revealed will. (1st John 5:14, 15) This takes some study and growth, on our part, to even know, as an over-arching concept, what that will is, let alone His will for any given matter. But God does reserve the right to reply in one of three ways:
    1. Yes,” which is what we always want.
    2. No,” which is what we really mean, when we claim that “God didn’t answer me!” or,
    3. “Wait,” which is very commonly perceived as “no;” but we need to be patient and find out whether our petition has been denied for cause, or simply deferred because a better occasion is coming soon.

So, how does God see our Allegiances with the World?

Finally, here in James, we see that we frequently are turned away because of wrong motives. The wrong motives, whatever the reason, would automatically place us in the category of “not praying according to God’s Will.”

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Remember that we all begin as the enemies of God: Romans 5:8-10 made this clear. So, having been born again, and no longer being citizens of this world, we need to change our allegiances, as well. It is not that we are not to befriend the people of the world…Remember? “God so loved the World….” But we are to sever our allegiance to the world’s system of thought, and its values and morals.

The people in the world, every single one of them, are created in the image of God, and are precious souls for whom Jesus has already shed His blood. And yet, even there, we are encouraged to make friends of God’s friends. King Jehoshaphat, in 2nd Chronicles 19:1-3, was rebuked for having allied himself with King Ahab, an evil man, in a war (previous chapter.) God eliminated Ahab through a “random” arrow, but Jehoshaphat had survived the battle.

On his way back home, a prophet, named Jehu, met him on the road, and delivered God’s rebuke. The alliance was the issue; the military partnership with a nation that was already at odds with God. We are not to make alliances or partnerships with people who are at cross-purposes against God. 2nd Corinthians 6:14-18 spells this out very clearly: we are not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers. (This includes, of course, the partnership of marriage. Believers are not to knowingly marry an unbeliever. Have there been people who were tricked into believing that their intended spouse was a believer, only to discover later that it was a lie? Certainly there have been, and God knows that. He addresses that elsewhere.)

This caution against “Friendship with the World” in no way cancels our “debt” to those around us, to offer the love of God, and the Gospel of Christ. (Romans 1:14-16; 13:8). Most will reject the Gospel, and we know that, but we still have the obligation to make the offer of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins to those around us.

But, if we continue to embrace the world’s way of thinking, then, at least at a functional level, we are still behaving as the enemies of God. This is the practice and mindset that we are to abandon, wholesale, and avoid completely. The attitude and arrogance, and duplicity of the world, along with its constant message of self-importance and self-will, is completely repugnant to God. We need to guard against being drawn back to those values. When we find that we are setting aside known directives and values of God in favor of what seems appropriate from a human perspective, then we have already crossed the line, even if we think we are doing something “good.”


Grieving the Holy Spirit

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

I am given to believe that the “Spirit,” here, is the Holy Spirit (in spite of the lack of capitalization in the KJV): and that the desire the Spirit has, is for us to learn to devote ourselves completely to God. We tend to only see the word “lust” as referencing sexual desire, but it actually means any strong desire, and not necessarily even an evil desire. Our own spirit is never said to “dwell” in us, as it is truly part of who we are (body, soul, and spirit, see 1st Thessalonians 5:23.) Since that is the case, then I do not see this as our own human spirit, since the Holy Spirit is said to dwell in us, and as the third member of the Godhead, He certainly has some strong desires where God’s Will is concerned. Over in Galatians 5:17, it says that “the flesh (old sin nature) lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh…” In that context, at least, the spirit in question is definitely the Holy Spirit. I believe it is, here in James 4:5, as well. But even if that is settled, and if I am correct, I still have to decide what the “desire” of the Holy Spirit is, for us:

In the Old Testament, God claims to be a “jealous God,” desiring his people to serve Him alone, and not go after other gods. In fact, he refers to this sinful practice as spiritual adultery. He considered Israel to be wedded to Himself, and, as a husband, He was jealous of her attention to the foreign, false, evil gods of the nations around her.

We, as the Church-age believers, are called the “Bride of Christ.” Is it surprising, then, that the Holy Spirit jealously calls us to separate ourselves from our old ways and walk with Him alone? Specifically, that He calls us to drop our “friendship with the World”, and draw close to the Lord who bought us out of slavery to sin? I think it is perfectly understandable, and right. In Ephesians 4:30, we are cautioned to “…grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” If we are grieving the Holy Spirit by our attitudes, our actions, or our allegiances, then we definitely should not expect that our prayers will be received as we want them to be. The Psalmist (Psalm 66:18) says “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” It does not say that He cannot hear, but that He will not hear us.

How can we overcome this pattern? Humility!

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

This is a hard passage to apply: we never like to admit to ourselves that we are “proud people.” But, when our pride is causing arguments, division, and a stiff-necked disobedience, then we are not in a condition to be blessed by God. Instead, He has to resist us at every turn. The scripture never lists pride as a “positive” trait. It sometimes lists it as an “ordinary” thing, for example, he mentions a strong man glorying in his strength, but even then, he cautions that it is a temporary, fleeting glory. Pride and self-will are, simply stated, in opposition to God, so He has no choice but to oppose us, and resist us, in our pride. If we want to enjoy God’s Grace, then we need to willingly humble ourselves, so that He does not have to do it, teaching us humility the hard way.

The next verse is easy to misunderstand, as well:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

This verse must be taken in its entirety: Satan is not “afraid of believers.” But He cannot stand before God. So, a believer, not only indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but also in submission to Him, and thus able to resist Satan, is not just a helpless sheep, ready to become the prey of Satan, but, instead, is a powerful partner of Christ, and is at least dangerous to the plans and programs of the evil one. Consider a wild animal…a coyote: though he is unafraid of a horse alone, when it sees the same horse with a man in the saddle, he runs for cover. It isn’t the horse that frightens him; it is the man directing the horse that is dangerous. The coyote knows that people are his enemies and that they are quite able to kill at a distance.

When we are in submission to God, we are dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. But without that first clause in verse seven (submit yourself therefore to God,) the second clause would be a laughable fallacy. In our own strength, we cannot resist the evil one. We are automatically submitted to him, in fact, when we are not submitted to God.

We only have two natures: Either we will submit ourselves to the Lord Jesus, and see His power working in our lives, or we will, by default, submit ourselves to the evil one, and we will increasingly see him damaging our lives, our testimony, and our happiness.

Where are you now?

There is no middle ground: when we were unbelievers, we thought that we were “free” from the influence of either God or Satan. Indeed, we counted ourselves the “masters of our fates, and the captains of our souls,” as the poem “Invictus” boasts. But we were deceived, and, in fact, were completely, blindly, under the sway of the evil one. We had no conscious knowledge of our plight, and we thought that we were free. Now we have freedom to choose, but there is still no middle ground. We will either serve Jesus, consciously, and willingly, or we will serve Satan, unconsciously, and whether we like it or not.

I frequently think of Samson: Because of his inconsistent, continually “sloppy” walk with God, in spite of the fact that he was a genuine believer, and a man of God, who is even listed in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith, he ended up being physically blinded, and working as a prisoner and a slave, under the Philistines, his mortal enemies. A believer today can end up being spiritually blinded, and working for his great enemy, Satan…and not even know that he has again become a slave to sin.

All I can do is look and see where I am: what does the fruit in my life look like: am I being a blessing to the people around me; and am I a “fragrance of Christ,” or am I a curse and a stumbling-block? Do I pray for them with an honest heart, desiring the best for their lives, or am I mostly praying for them to change, so I will be more comfortable? Do I see the people around me as precious souls for whom Jesus died, or do I see them mostly as an irritation, causing me inconvenience and distress? What are my real motives in life? Are they the same as those Jesus displayed, or are they self-centered, just like those of the World?

These are things we can think about, as we examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word. These are the things we need to consider, when we question the effectiveness of prayer, and when we wonder where our joy in life has gone.

Please consider carefully, and choose rightly how to respond.



Practical Christianity

The Practical Outworking of God’s Word

© C. O. Bishop, 3/1/2020

James 1:21-27

Introduction: Receive the Engrafted Word

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

To receive the Word with meekness, implies obedience. The word translated “meekness” carries the idea of “being yielded”…we need to yield to God’s word. We are to adapt our behavior to match what he says: not the other way around. We need to see ourselves and our lives through the filter of God’s Word, and lay aside the things that render us unclean and unable to serve. God uses clean vessels through which to pour his Grace. We want to be those clean vessels.

God’s Word is the only means by which any of us have been born again. His Word is also the only thing that can salvage the wreckage of our sin-riddled lives and allow us to live for His glory. A few weeks ago, we saw in 1st Peter 1:23 that we have been born again by the Word of God. In Psalm 119:9 we see that His word is the way to cleanse our lives. In 2nd Peter 1:4, we see that through the “exceeding great and precious promises” in His Word, we are to be “made partakers of the Divine Nature.” All of these require actually yielding to Him, and obeying His Word…receiving it with meekness.

We try so hard to “do things for God,” but the fact is, he simply wants freedom to use our lives. Remember, now, as we read this passage, that the epistle is clearly addressed to those who are already saved. The letter is to believers! So, how can he say “…the engrafted word which is able to save your souls? We must remember that, according to the promise of Christ in John 5:24, though each of us has been (past tense) saved from hell (the penalty of Sin) and will never (future tense) be condemned, we are each still needing to “be saved (present tense)” from the power of sin in our lives…today! And the day is coming when we will be saved from the presence of Sin, with God, in eternity!.

Salvation has three tenses:

  1. I have been saved from the penalty of Sin, and have crossed over from death into life.
  2. I am being saved from the power of sin in my life, as I daily walk with God in obedience.
  3. I will be saved from the presence of sin, eternally, when I leave this world.

God says that His Word needs to grow in me as a grafted twig or bud. If it cannot bond with my unbelieving heart, then it will not have the intended effect. It will not cleanse me and “save me” from the power of sin in this dark world. I need to receive the Word and allow it to actually change my desires, and my thoughts, so as to change my behavior. This is not “self-help”…we are incapable of helping ourselves in this arena. God has to do the helping—we have to receive the help and allow it to work in us.

Men and Mirrors

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Much has been made of the fact that the Greek word here, for Man, is not “anthropos”, simply meaning “a human,” but “andros” meaning specifically a man. I don’t want to wax eloquent about men and mirrors, but I will observe that, in my own life, I am frequently unaware of how I look. More than once I have arrived at work, and someone has smiled and said, “You haven’t looked in a mirror today, have you?” And they were right! I had dressed in the dark, hoping not to awaken my wife, and I had hurried off to work. Did it shame me that my hair was in complete disarray (or whatever else had caused the smiles?) Nope. I was simply amused, just as they were. So maybe, at least in my case, the quips about “men and mirrors” are correct.

If there is a mirror, I will quickly take stock, but, just as the scripture suggests I might do, I walk away and forget about it. Apparently this sort of attitude is more common among men than it is among women, and was common in the first century, as well as today.

So, using this object lesson, God says, “Don’t do that!” Do treat His written Word as a mirror: Look into it to see what God wants changed in your life, but then remember those things when you walk away. Don’t forget what you saw there! Incidentally, though it is true that, in the physical world, mirrors are used for everything from periscopes, to microscopes, telescopes and lasers, not to mention inspection mirrors and rear-view mirrors, the primary use for a mirror, worldwide, among ordinary people, is to examine ourselves; to have a look at how others must see us, or to see something from an angle otherwise impossible. (In fact, missionary friends have told me that in the African country where they worked, that was a peculiar problem on the roads, because all the drivers turned the rear-view mirrors so that they could look at themselves, instead of looking at the road behind them. In that particular case, this was the wrong use of the mirror!)

Keep this idea in mind, as you read God’s Word: aim the mirror at yourself! (That is the correct use of this mirror!) Don’t use it to examine or inspect someone else, as a rule. Let them look into the mirror for themselves. We usually have enough problems of our own to deal with, that we shouldn’t try to correct everyone else.

Watch your Mouth!

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

There are lots of times when a Christian would be better off to keep his or her mouth shut. Perhaps this is just regarding things in general that would be better left unsaid, or things that are matters of idle curiosity, but questions that would not be profitable to ask, possibly because to do so would be meddling in someone else’s private matters. Perhaps it is about speaking unkind words that would cause hurt, or engaging in sly humor which would arouse suspicion of evildoing, where, really, none existed. We easily fall into the trap of “shooting off our mouth.”

It seems, however that this verse is specifically in relation to a person who “puts on a good show of piety,” but ruins it all by what he says. The Greek word translated “religious,” is “threskia” and this is the only place it is used. The Greek word translated “religion” is “threskos”and is only used in four places, one of which is translated “worshipping”…and in that context, it refers to the worshipping of angels…not a Godly worship at all. It was strictly a human (and erroneous) practice. The other three places it is translated “religion,” and it is always in reference to human “practice of worship and/or piety:” not necessarily God-ordained in its entirety, though it may have its roots in God’s Word. And, in this passage, it is clear that it is quite possible for one’s “practice of worship and/or piety” to be erroneous, and empty: fruitless…“vain.”

I knew a fellow, at work, twenty years ago, who was very outspoken about his Christian faith: he wore brightly-colored t-shirts, every day, with intensely evangelical (and very good!) messages emblazoned on their front and back. But he shouted constantly, cursed frequently, and he had a violent temper, to boot. I cautiously tried to warn him about his mouth, on one occasion, and he cut me off, saying, “You can’t judge someone by the things they say!”, so I shut my mouth; but I walked away thinking, “Actually, Yes, you can!” Well, the fact is, the whole crew of fellow-workers around him had already recognized the emptiness or “vanity” of his “religion”. Finally, in the darkness before work, one morning, he attempted to force a situation in the parking lot, arguing over a parking space he considered to be “his” space (it was not.) The conflict erupted into a fist-fight, and he was fired: he lost his job completely…and no one missed him!

He had a terrible testimony. He actually may have been a genuine believer; but he had a bad lifestyle, and a bad mouth, which made everyone around him reject his message.

He deceived himself that his outbursts of anger, and his foul mouth were acceptable…and that no one should “judge” him for such things. But according to the book of James, he definitely should have expected them to judge him by his words and behavior; not just by the message on his nice-looking t-shirt. Despite the fact that he probably was a real believer, the outworking of his faith (whatever it really was) turned out to be unprofitable: fruitless…vain. (Not “non-existent;” just empty and fruitless…vain talk.)

So, what kind of behavior befits a real believer? One thing, according to James, is going out of one’s way at one’s own cost, to meet the needs of those who, through no fault of their own, have deep needs. And another is avoiding doing (or even being involved with) the things that would bring shame to God. Here is how James puts it:

27 
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

The result of a genuine relationship with God, then, should play itself out in a changed relationship with those around me. It should result in my meeting the needs of others, and thinking less about my own desires, comfort and convenience. It should also result in my moving away from the World’s way of thinking, and becoming increasingly aligned with God’s way of thinking. The sinful behavior patterns and vices of the world should begin to drop away, if the relationship with God is solid.

(Remember that thing about “the engrafted Word?”) When you graft a rose twig (for example) into a hawthorn rootstock (and yes, that will work) that twig has to take hold and grow with the hawthorn rootstock to survive. But no matter what the rootstock may bear in terms of leaves, fruit or flowers, the rose twig will only bear rose-leaves, rose-blossoms, and rose hips. It can do no other! If the fruit in your life is not in keeping with God’s Word, then His Word is not what is producing the fruit. It is as simple as that! The “engrafted Word” has to produce Godly fruit: the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of a cleansed life. The fruit of other souls being brought to Christ.

Practical Holiness

Notice, too, that all the issues, here, in the Book of James, have to do with practicality: how does my faith work out in my everyday life? What effect is it having on people around me? What evidence is there from a human perspective, that I am even a believer?

I remember seeing a poster, more than forty-five years ago, asking “If Christianity were suddenly made illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” It is an odd way to present the idea, but it is a good question: “What evidence is there in my life, to show other people the reality of Christ?” God knows the truth of my heart-condition, but the question remains, “Is it evident to anyone else?” This is the repeating theme of the Book of James.

Remember that in Genesis 3:7-21 we saw “two axes” of relationships: the horizontal axis, in which it is possible to simply “look good” to other humans, and the vertical axis, in which God sees us as we really are. (Remember, the sewn-together fig leaves (their own works) covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve from a human perspective, but they were still utterly naked before God: He had to clothe them through the blood of a sacrifice which He himself made. There’s a strong parallel with the Gospel, right there! God gave His Son to save us from our Sins!)

But there is another side to that idea: On the vertical axis, I have been (past tense) declared righteous before God on the strength of that blood sacrifice at the Cross. (Romans 5:1) Now He wants that freely-given imputed righteousness to be (continuously) lived out in a practical form of holiness, so as to be a testimony to other humans, on the horizontal axis. The new life in Christ is supposed to change me, from the inside out, and affect those around me in positive ways, as a result.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) That is how the Christian Life is supposed to work.

Lord Jesus, make the engrafted word a living reality in each of our lives, so that you are free to use our lives daily to glorify yourself, and to reconcile lost souls to yourself through the sharing of the Gospel.


Good News…and Bad News

There’s Good News…and Bad News!

© 2013 C. O. Bishop THCF 9/15/13 Revised 2019

Introduction:

The phrase, “there’s good news…and bad news…” has come to be a frequent joke in our culture. It invites the listener to reply “Ah…give me the bad news first…” (Or, in some cases they want the good news first.)

But the reality of any Good News is that it virtually always implies the possibility of some contrasting Bad news. For example, “Well, the good news is that I found a job…” What’s the bad news? Is it only the fact that the speaker was previously unemployed, or is there some hidden feature of the new job that the listener will not like? Is it a split shift, extremely low pay, long commute, or what?

We mentioned some time ago, as a real-life example, that there was an antivenin developed in Australia that covers about 85 different kinds of venomous snakes. Wow! That’s great! So, what’s the bad news? Obviously, Australia has about 85 different kinds of venomous snakes! (Actually, it turns out there are far more: about 140…so, it was really bad news!)

What’s the Bad News and Good News for Believers?

So, what is the “bad-news/good-news” issue for believers? The good news is that there is lots of it; so much good news that we haven’t even learned it all. The bad news? It is that we have to learn that good news so that we can make use of it. A friend of mine, not a believer, made the comment “You can only connect the dots you have.” That is a fairly profound statement. It really applies to nearly every aspect of life. In 2 Peter 1:4, it says thatGod has given us “exceeding Great and Precious Promises” by which we are told we can “become partakers of the Divine Nature.”  Wow! That is good news! How can there be bad news in that verse?

The bad news is that largely, either we are ignorant of those promises, or, worse, we are ignoring them. You can only connect the dots you have. Jesus said (John 14:26) that when the Holy Spirit came (remember he was speaking to his disciples before his crucifixion) that He (the Holy Spirit) would teach them all things, and “bring to their remembrance” all things whatsoever He (Jesus) had taught them. Can I apply that promise to myself? Yes, in a limited sense: limited only because I do not have to wait to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer at the moment of salvation. But the “catch” is this…if you never allow Jesus to teach you anything, because you are too busy watching TV, working on projects (guilty, Lord!) or socializing, working, whatever…then the Holy Spirit doesn’t have much to work with. He can’t “bring to your remembrance” things you have never learned. There is no promise that God will mystically reveal all things to each of us individually. Quite the opposite: He has revealed himself through the Written Word, for over 3,500 years of history, and commands us to go there to learn from Him.

Notice that when Jesus addressed the issue of spiritual thirst, he did not say, “Thirsty? Just stay right where you are, and I’ll bring you a cold drink!”  No! In John 7:37 he said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink!” If you want wisdom, you go to God and get it. If you want peace, you go to God and get it. In fact, virtually all the “exceeding great and precious promises” alluded to in 2nd Peter 1:4 are such that they require the believer to seek the face of God in order to appropriate those gifts.

Hebrews 11:6 states that “Without Faith, it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” If you want a relationship with God, it requires some diligence. He requires that you come to Him, personally, to receive his blessing. That is not the same as just attending church, by the way. Any unbeliever can attend church. But only a believer, who has not only been born again, but who has currently confessed his/her sins (1st John 1:9), and is deliberately seeking fellowship with the living God (1st John 1:7; “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his son, cleanseth us from all sin.”) Only that person can enter the Holy Place by way of the Person of Christ (Hebrews 10:19, 20; “having therefore brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh…”), and approach the throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16; “let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”).

Yes, the privilege is there for each of us who has received the Lord Jesus as our Savior. But it takes work to use it effectively.

The Good news is that we have that privilege of approaching the Throne of Grace. The Bad news is that we don’t use it much. Our relationship with God is supposed to be a very personal thing… and by that I do not mean “private,” so much as underscoring the fact that it is the Person of Christ we are relating to; not just a concept. So, as we are reading His Word, we can talk with him about it, and ask for insight, confessing that we really don’t understand much about it. We can study his Word, knowing that we have an assignment to apply it, as his ambassadors.

If I am assigned a job at work that requires some study, then my reading is not casual, nor is it just “skimming” to get the gist of a story, but it is focused, and intent upon learning my new job. Part of our new relationship with Jesus is the fact that we have a new job. How are you going to respond to the new assignment? Are you taking it seriously, and striving to learn how to faithfully discharge the new responsibilities? Or are you just kicking back, watching the clock, and waiting for the lunch whistle? Do you even have a clear idea of what the job entails, and where to find the instructions as to how to perform your duties?

What is your assignment, anyway?

The New Assignment

When Jesus left this world, his last words, repeated several times in different locations, and different circumstances, were “Ye shall be witnesses unto me…”; “Go ye therefore and teach…”; “Go ye into all the World, and preach…”, “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” 

When a human supervisor gives an assignment, we take heed—we take steps to get it done, knowing that we will be held accountable for how we spend our time. Usually, too, with human supervisors, we are held accountable for the results. But in the case of our assignment from God, we are only being held accountable for the obedient response, not so much the result. Jesus did say that the Father is glorified when we produce fruit. It is evident that he was speaking of the fruit of saved souls and changed lives, because he specified that the fruit would remain. But Jeremiah, who saw very little fruit in his ministry (possibly only two people), had a much better walk with God than did Jonah, who unwillingly instigated a huge revival in Nineveh.

Consider, too, that when a human loved one, or a close friend, dies and makes a dying request—a “last request”—we consider it a priority to go and complete that request if it is at all possible. Jesus gave His last request about five times. Is that request a priority, to you?

Our instructions regarding that task are fairly simple—go tell people the Good News regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and the fact that His blood completely paid for the sins of the human race. The Good News that any person who will place their faith in Him can have the free gift of eternal life now, today, not waiting, while doing religious things until they die, hoping they can be “good enough” to receive eternal life. Eternal life is a gift; not a reward.

You know how you received Jesus as your Savior, or you certainly ought to; and you can tell that much, at least. You can learn a few key scripture verses to show a person, so they can see for themselves, in the Bible, how to be saved. And, the fact is, you can tell them that “there is Good news…and Bad news.” That is a concept they can relate to: they run into it often, in daily life.

Good news and Bad news of the Gospel

The bad news is that the whole human race is guilty before God, and headed for destruction. The Good News is that Jesus has purchased a pardon for the whole human race, with his own blood, at the cross. God’s righteousness is satisfied with the sacrifice Jesus offered. The work is done!

Let’s look at two scripture passages, both spoken by Jesus:

John 3:17, 18 “For God sent not His Son into the World to condemn the World, but that the World through Him might be saved. He that believeth in Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Can you see some good news in that passage? God did not send Jesus here to condemn us! That is good news! The bad news is that we are already condemned as a race, because of sin, and even though Jesus fully paid for the sins of the whole world, the current condemnation remains because we have not placed our trust in the name of Jesus. So, there is good news and bad news…both very simple and clear.

How about this one: John 5:24 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my words and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

There is a lot of Good news in that one: it says we can have eternal life now (notice the tenses in this verse). It says “has everlasting life,” not “will have”. It also says that the person who has received this promise will never be condemned (that’s future tense.) It also says that the person who has received this promise has passed from death into life (in English that reads as if it were a simple past participle, but it is actually even better—it is “perfect tense”, meaning that it is an event that occurred in the past, and has permanent future results.)

So where is the Bad news in that verse? The only bad news is that if you have either not heard the Gospel, or, having heard it, you have not believed it, then the three “good news clauses” of that promise are not yours. You do not have eternal life, you are still under condemnation, and you have not crossed over from death to life.

Isn’t that a pretty simple concept? Can’t we offer it to those around us? It seems to me that it is so simple we have no excuse not to do so. So: if the message is that simple, why are we given a whole New Testament from which to learn the job?

Laboring to Rest

Remember back in the book of Joshua, when the people were to enter into the land? These folk were the offspring of the ones who had not entered in, because of unbelief, and God had referred to that entering in as “rest”. He said they “could not enter into his Rest, because of unbelief.” The land was the rest, in that context. The land was given to the next generation of the people of Israel, but they had to fight every step of the way to lay hold of it! People frequently misinterpret this “crossing over the Jordan” as being analogous to dying and going to Heaven. It is not at all referring to heaven. Heaven will be the cessation of all strife: the Promised Land had to be fought for, to gain entry at all, and then they had to fight to take possession of every hill and valley, after they entered!

We have been given a whole New Testament because the majority of it is telling us how to live as God’s people. The “job” itself is fairly simple. But how to live in such a way as to consistently honor God, and to walk in constant fellowship with the living Christ, is anything but easy. There is a battle going on, and the enemy does not want us to enjoy our “rest” in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 says you have already been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. But Ephesians 6:10-18 says if you want to experience those blessings in this life, you have to deliberately engage in the spiritual battle that surrounds the Christian reality. We are to feed on the written Word; feed on fellowship with Jesus the Living Word, and to live by faith, obedient to the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 4:11 says that we are to “labor to enter into His rest.” That is the character of the Christian life: laboring to enter into rest. Jesus completed all the work of Salvation at the Cross, and He offers us tremendous blessings. But it will take continuous work to see the full blessing of God in our daily lives. Why continuous work? Because it is an uphill battle. Our old sin nature is still with us, and the World around us is still at odds with the purpose of God, and Satan is still alive and well on planet Earth. The Christian life isn’t difficult; it’s impossible, unless we allow Christ to live through us. And to do that requires a constant struggle against our old sin nature.

But Galatians 5:16, referring to that old sin nature, makes it clear that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfil the desires of the flesh.

Just take it one step at a time. Seek the Face of God, through Bible study and Prayer. Learn the job: read your “Employee’s Manual” (meaning your Bible, of course), and take seriously the living trust that has been given to you, to tell others about Jesus.

Let’s start becoming the Men and Women of God that we are called to be, serving as the ambassadors He has ordained us to be. This is the Call of God for every believer!

Lord Jesus, draw us into a closer, more personal relationship with yourself, and allow us to see the people in the World around us through your eyes: to see all of them as precious souls for whom you died. Fill us with the Love of God, so that we overcome our reluctance to share your gift of eternal life with others. Make us fruitful in your Grace, in Jesus name.


Black and White—or Shades of Gray?

Black and White—or Shades of Gray?

© C. O. Bishop 2012. THCF 11/18/2012 revised 2019

Introduction:

We are presented with so many choices in the world today; some of them clearly good…perhaps some clearly bad, but very few regarding which we can say “This is ultimate Good—there is no evil in it!” When we read the news, we are hard-pressed to tell who are the heroes, and who are the villains. When elections come around, we feel that we are offered only a chance to choose between deeply flawed individuals, neither of whom is clearly a “Good Choice”, but of whom neither is so clearly a bad choice that everyone sees it that way. Few today are even willing to admit there is such a thing as intrinsically “good or bad; right and wrong”. We are expected to see everything through the lens of public opinion, and its collective “morality” or lack of such.

What about History?

In the beginning, God presented things to Adam in a world of living color—thousands of varieties of plants, all of which were edible and healthy; a host of animals, none of which were dangerous; and only one rule; but that one rule was Black and White: obey or don’t. Live or die.

We may scoff at such a story from our “so-sophisticated,” modern point of view, but the fact remains that there are only two possibilities regarding that story: it is either true or it is not. My believing it does not make it true—your disbelieving it does not make it untrue—it is either true or not true, on its own merit. This statement is applicable to every bit of God’s Word, the Bible.

The Creation story is either true or untrue. If we hedge, and say, “Well, it’s partly true…”, then we are really conceding that it is a lie… no better than folklore, or mythology. Or we must declare ourselves wise enough to discern which parts of the Bible are true, and which are not.

When Noah entered the Ark, there were only two locations: inside or outside. All inside the ark were saved by virtue of their position inside the Ark. All outside were doomed by virtue of their position outside the Ark. Nothing else really mattered at that point… the folk aboard the Ark might be seasick, terrified, regretting the choice to go aboard, afraid of the dark, the noise, the movement—but they were safe, whether they felt safe or not. Those outside might be educated or ignorant, noble or base, old or young, sick or healthy, strong or weak—but they were all doomed. The matter was essentially reduced to “Black and White” by their own choices.

The Genesis Flood either covered the whole earth or it did not—the Biblical account is either true or it is false. The continents either broke up after the Flood, with human witnesses, as recorded in Genesis 10, or it did not. The Biblical account is either reliable or it is not. Isn’t it interesting that Moses recorded the fact, after the breakup of the super-continent by about a thousand years; about 1500 years before Christ…and modern science took until the last century or so to even notice it, and until the last fifty years or so, to prove it!  But it was recorded by human witnesses when it happened, according to Genesis 10:25.

Either Moses took the Israelites, 2-1/2 million strong, across the Red Sea, as Exodus 14:29 says, with the waters “a wall to them, on the right and the left”, or he did not. And either the Egyptians were drowned by the returning waters, or they were not. It is a “Black and White” choice.

Either God has shielded Israel during the last 4,000 years of history, or He has not. The attempts by enemies, to wipe them off the face of the earth, have been plentiful…and have failed every single time! These things all can be checked in secular history. Humans like to put a “naturalist” spin on things, and “explain” God out of the picture…but the Bible has an immaculate track-record of historical accuracy—and of prophecies being fulfilled to the letter.

So, What about Prophecy?

The prophets are very clear regarding the nature of God’s Word—it is either true or it is not:

When the prophet Elijah, in 1st Kings 18, gave his challenge to the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah, he did not offer any middle ground. He said, “…if Baal is God, then let him be God! If Jehovah is God, then let him be God…don’t hesitate between two decisions! Choose a side! Make a choice!”

He gave the 850 men who claimed to be prophets of their Gods the first opportunity to prove their actual status as the mouthpieces of a deity: they ranted and chanted, pranced and danced, cut themselves and howled to their God. But there was no answer! The test had been agreed upon: the real God had to send down fire and burn up the offering. And their Gods didn’t seize the opportunity! There was no answer! When Elijah finally took his turn, he called once, and God answered in a torrent of supernatural flame that burned up the stone altar as well as the offering. There was no middle ground. Either God would respond, or he would not. But He did!

The prophet Micaiah, in 2nd Chronicles 18, effectively gave himself a death-sentence, when he prophesied the death of King Ahab. He was immediately put in prison, to await the return of the angry king. The king disguised himself and went into battle incognito, but was killed in spite of his deception. He never came home to carry out his wrath. There was no “gray area:” either an angry king was coming home for vengeance, or a dead king had fallen under the wrath of God.

When Jehoshaphat was king in Jerusalem, according to 2 Chronicles 20, he was given notice that an invading army (several nations together, actually) was about to attack. He knew he was not able to defend against such a host, and went before God in the temple to ask His protection. He called on all of Judah to fast and pray with him. A prophet (Jehaziel) was sent to tell him the news that God was taking full control of the battle—the king and the people of Judah were not required to fight, but only to watch. Jehoshaphat believed God, and responded by banding the people together, with the temple singers in the lead, praising the beauty of holiness. When they began to sing, God ambushed the invading army, and they began to fight amongst themselves, with the supernaturally-complete result that not a single one of the invading troops survived the melee. Now, if the prophecy had been false, Judah would have been doomed—they had no “plan B”. They were utterly dependent upon the promise of God. Either the promise was true, or it was false. “Black and White!” But, like the God who gave it, the promise was good!

What about other Choices?

Before he died, Joshua told the people to make a choice—to follow the Lord or not—but that he and his household would follow God. There were only those two choices. The decision was Black and White.

In the instances we already listed, the men and women of God chose to trust God’s Word, and obey. They were declared righteous by faith, but their faith resulted in obedience, and, in those particular cases, obedience saved their lives.

We can trace through the Biblical history and see that Israel, as a nation, was constantly faced with Black and White choices which they inevitably blurred into Shades of Gray…and when they did, they eventually were confronted by God with the fact that they had simply chosen to disobey. There were no “Shades of Gray,” except in their own imaginations! They deliberately blurred the truth until it was unrecognizable by reasonable people, and then they loudly advocated a “progressive” path away into darkness, idolatry, rebellion, and spiritual blindness. (Does that sound familiar? Have we seen a nation doing something similar today?)

But think back: who was the first to “blur” the Black and White Truth of God’s Word into a multi-shaded gray mirage that turned out to be a deadly lie? It was Satan, speaking through the serpent in the Garden: He said, “Hath God surely said….?” Then he misquoted the truth so as to “paint it gray.” Eve tried to answer truthfully, but she was not familiar enough with God’s Word to give a clear answer. (We are not told why Adam did not speak up, though he was evidently there, too.)

But, once the doubt had been sown, the Deceiver proceeded to flatly contradict God. The trap was set: the two innocent people must either retreat into God’s Word, and walk away from the temptation, or continue to flirt with death. They did not flee to God: they believed the tempter, and chose to disobey God. And we see the results daily in the news and in our own lives, today.

So, with what choices are we confronted, daily, in our lives today? They really can be just as “Black and White” as the choices we have listed, if we see them in the light of God’s Word. Sometimes they certainly seem to be in various shades of Gray—but are they really?

Some Choices are very clear:

  • Either Jesus’ blood is sufficient payment for my sins or it is not.
  • I will either place my trust in His atoning death, burial and resurrection or I will not.
  • Either God has established one way of salvation through Jesus Christ (as Jesus himself so clearly stated) or He has not.
  • If there truly are “many ways to God,” then Jesus is not even one of the ways, because He himself said that there is only one way, and He himself is it. There is no plan B! So that would make Jesus a terrible liar, and not even “a” way to God.

Isn’t it interesting that Adam and Eve had only one way they could disobey God and be lost… and that ever since that moment, there has only been one way to obey God and be saved?

What about my daily decisions as a believer? Well…I will either love my neighbor as myself, or not. I may choose to see it in a whole spectrum of “Shades of Gray,” but God calls it Black and White: I either commit myself to the good of those around me, or I choose to ignore them, and meet my own needs to the exclusion of theirs. Does that enslave me, then, to the whole of humanity? Are my needs to be completely ignored; never to be considered? The answer to both questions is “No! I am to serve God, and to be available for His use at all times. When he says “go” I must be listening—when he says don’t go, I also must be listening. God does say to feed his sheep. He does not say “break down the fence and invite a herd of wild pigs into the garden.” In fact, he gives certain boundaries to giving, and to service. We might see that as “Shades of Gray”, but the real question is still Black and White: “Will you—or will you not—obey God?”

For example: when God says that you should daily be feeding on His Word, and desiring the sincere milk of his Word, and maturing to feed on the strong meat of His Word…hiding his Word in your heart, that you might not sin against Him…do you choose to daily feed on His Word, and work at memorizing at least some key passages? Regardless of the reason why; if you choose not to do so, you are choosing to not do what He said you needed to do. That is a Black and White decision. One by one, day by day, we set aside the choices God asks us to make, and we use up the time He has given us in which to serve Him.

Sometimes it may be difficult to know exactly what to do. We tend to say, “Well, now, there is a ‘shade of gray’ for you!”—but is it? If both choices are potentially good, then perhaps it really echoes the host of “living-color” choices that were offered to Adam. He had millions of things he could do, and was given a free choice as to what he wanted—except in that one forbidden thing. We are given countless choices, too—and many of them are perfectly acceptable. God does not dictate a single path as “His will for the believer.” He gives a general direction, and, if we are willing, He will frequently lead us step by step—but if we are refusing to do the things he commanded…which are NOT optional, then why should we expect the “direct leading of God” in the comparatively inconsequential things of life…or in anything at all, for that matter?

If you know that God has commanded you

  • to study your Bible,
  • to pray continually,
  • to rejoice evermore,
  • to give thanks in all circumstances, and
  • to offer eternal life to those around you, by sharing the Gospel with others:

and you are not doing those things, then it seems a bit unreasonable to expect God to lead you step by step in the regular and common trials of life. You already demonstrate that you really are not interested in His will. You would like to know it, so that you can consider doing it, but you are not committed to doing it no matter what it may be, because you are not doing the things you already know are his will. You have “painted” them all in Shades of Gray, and are choosing not to see the Black and White issues of God’s authority. I know this, because I have done it too!

What about Repentance?

How can we change our patterns, then? Are we doomed to continue our bad choices? God says that we can start with confession. 1st John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That’s pretty Black and White, don’t you think? If you see that God is correct in pointing out the error of your ways, then agree with Him! That is what confession is! Agree with God, concerning your sin, and accept his forgiveness. Then begin again to search his Word daily, to feed your new nature on the sincere milk of God’s Word; to pray continually, and to apply the scripture to your daily life. God is pleased by the mere effort, and will meet you in your attempt, and help you to walk with Him.

Conclusion:

Down through all the ages, God has called for his people to turn to him in prayer, in repentance, in confession, and renewed obedience. He is still calling today: Don’t be distracted by the World around you. In 1st John 2:15-17, God says “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.

Whether you know it or not, the world is passing away, and the only thing that will stand is God’s Word, and those who believe it. The only thing that is eternally relevant is his Word. The bottom line in our choices must not be “is it convenient, is it financially or socially profitable, is it popular, etc.”, but “Does it honor God?” And, “Is it in keeping with my God-given job as an ambassador of Christ?”

Please think carefully about the choices you are making. They are not really Shades of Gray. Some choices are “living color”, as God has given you free will to choose most things in life. But the rest of them are Black and White!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes, and allow us to see the clear choices you put before us every day. Help us to choose to serve you with our lives, and not to be deceived by the Enemy.


The Call of God

The Cleansing and Call of the Servant of God

© C. O. Bishop, 6/29/2019

Isaiah 6:1-8

Introduction:

Last time we met, we discussed the coming Judgment, and how it will affect Jerusalem, particularly; but how it will affect the Gentile world as well. The scripture transitions directly from God’s pronouncement of Judgment upon Jerusalem, Judah and Israel, into the cleansing and call of Isaiah the Prophet. We find this passage exciting because it gives a glimpse into the unseen world of angels, and to the throne of God. And we ought to find it so—it is exciting. But there is much to learn here, too.

This is apparently the personal call of Isaiah. It would be nice if everyone got this sort of dramatic call, I suppose…but we shouldn’t get clamoring too much to get what Isaiah got—tradition says he was executed, by being cut in half under a crosscut saw. The prophet’s life was not easy. Most of us have simply the general call of God’s Word (which He says is personal to all those who believe) and we have the Great Commission, which is also to all Church-age believers.  Isaiah did not have those things, so he got what he got. Let us learn from it what we may.

How did Isaiah see the Lord?

1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

In verse 1, we get the time-frame—“the year that King Uzziah died” (in some passages he is called King “Azariah,” too, so don’t get confused if you run into that name). So, in the year King Uzziah died (approximately 758 BC), Isaiah saw the Lord. Notice it is NOT all caps—this is the Hebrew word adonai, meaning “master,” or “lord.” It was definitely God he was seeing, as the next verses will make clear (God the Son, in fact, as we learn in John 1:18), but the reference in verse one says that He was the Lord— the Master— and it has not yet mentioned His name. It describes Him as being seated on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. We need to see Him this way! Primarily the fact that He is “High and lifted up!” We have been taught to see Jesus as our “buddy,” or our comforter, and protector, and, He is all of those, but we tend to forget the fact that He is the Almighty God who created us, and the Judge of all the earth, who is above all, and who knows all, and who understands the real thoughts of our hearts, not just the ones we pray. We need to see Jesus in his supremacy!

How do the Angels see Him?

Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Verses 2 and 3 tell of angelic creatures called seraphim (plural of seraph, which means “burning one.”) This is the only place they are even mentioned, but they are evidently powerful spirit-beings, angels of some sort, worshipping God, and yet unable to look on His face.

They hid their own faces (and feet—what is that about?) and cry out… what? “Love, love, love, God is Love”? No! So powerful are they, that their voice moves the doorposts of the temple, and fills the house with smoke: and, yet, what do these mighty six-winged creatures see as the primary attribute of God? What impresses them so, that they hide their faces and cry out one to another exclaiming about it? His HOLINESS! (“Holy! Holy! Holy, is the LORD of Hosts: the whole earth is filled with His glory!”)

It is interesting that in our culture we have focused on the Love of God to the exclusion of His holiness, His righteousness, and His judgment…which may explain why we do not fear the judgment of God, nor worship Him for His righteousness. We fail to understand the enormity of the Grace of God, because we also fail to understand the Holiness of God, and the depth of our own depravity and sin. How can we see Grace as a marvelous thing, when we take lightly the Holiness which calls for justice, and the sin which calls for judgment? If we take sin lightly, then we must also take Grace lightly.

How can we turn this around?  How can we regain a proper view of the attributes of God, the Creator and Judge of all the earth—The Ruler of the universe, both seen and unseen? The only way I know is to go to God’s Word and continually see Him as the Master, High, and lifted up, then confess our blindness and foolishness, and pray God will open the eyes of our hearts.

Self-Judgment

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

What was Isaiah’s response (verse 5) to having seen God? Did he start a televangelism program, and strut around on a stage, telling everyone what a wonderful experience it was, and describe in great familiar detail all that he saw, and all the intimate things God told him? Did he boast of his own special relationship with God, as witnessed by his vision? No! He cried out in fear, knowing that he was a dead man, because he, an unclean sinner, had seen God. This is the true response of those who have seen themselves in the light of who GOD really is…they drop all pretense of personal worthiness, as they are completely overwhelmed by the Holiness of God.

It is interesting too, that what Isaiah was most concerned about at that moment is the fact of his “unclean lips”—now, I don’t know specifically what he was guilty of, but I know that I fall down in that area, too. I frequently say unwise things. And James 3:2-12 tells me that the whole human race has the same problem.

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Evidently it is a more serious matter than we tend to think it is, too—in Proverbs 6:16-19, God lists seven things He hates—and three of them have to do with the mouth.

16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaks lies
  • He that sows discord among brethren

Notice too that it isn’t just what comes out of the mouth, but the root of the matter, which is our corrupt heart: “A heart that devises wicked imaginations…” Give that some thought: What comes out of the mouth reveals that which is in the heart. Jesus said that, too: (Luke 6:43-45)

43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

We may make our excuse that “we live in a corrupt world,” and that “we are constantly affected and influenced by what is around us:” Remember that Isaiah lived in a sinful world, too, just like you and I. But God could still cleanse him and use him. He can do the same with you and me!

God’s Cleansing

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Remember that Isaiah was already a believer. He had depended upon the blood-sacrifices, as God’s chosen means by which he could be saved. This traces all the way back to Genesis chapter 3, and the covering God provided there, and to the Passover Lamb, under which all of Israel huddled, to be saved from the Judgment of a Holy God. So this passage is not about Salvation: it is about the sanctification of a believer.

Verses 6 and 7 say that an angel flew with a coal from the altar, and laid it on his mouth. Remember that the altar was where God’s chosen sacrifices died. Compare it to the Cross of Christ, where God’s Chosen Sacrifice died, once for all time: Has God been allowed to cleanse your mouth, via the Cross? Is the truth of the Cross having enough effect in your life to transform your speech? To eliminate gossip, foolish talk, coarse jesting (Ephesians 5:4)—and cruel, mocking comments? Perhaps the cutting humor that we call “banter” might be displeasing to God. We certainly don’t see Jesus talking that way.

Consider how a “coal from that altar” might affect you. In Isaiah’s case, it purged his sin; whatever the sin of his mouth was, God said he was cleansed by the coal from that altar. Shouldn’t it do the same for us, who are actually indwelt by the living God? So far as we know, Isaiah did not have that privilege. We need to allow the Cross of Christ to cleanse our hearts, and change what comes out of our mouths. He said He came to save us from our sins; not just from the penalty of our sins. Shouldn’t His blood begin to cleanse our thoughts and words, as well?

God’s Call

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Then, Isaiah heard the call of God—not before. If you want the call of God in your life; if you wish to be used of God in a meaningful way, first allow the Cross to cleanse you, transform you, and prepare you for service. Verse 8 says Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (A little glimpse of the Trinity there, see it? “Who will go for Us?) Isaiah didn’t wait to ask what the mission was—he wanted to be used by God, and he immediately volunteered.

This is the kind of volunteer God wants and can use: one who has come to the Cross for cleansing, and who does not ask what the task might be before deciding he wants to serve the living God. He chooses service, and then asks “What would you have me to do, Lord?”

How About You?

Is your life something that God can use? And if not, are you willing to confront that fact at the Cross, and repent? Are you willing to drop all reservations and ask God to make you usable? If you are, then the path to fruit-bearing is open to you. If not, then the path to fruit-bearing is filled with obstacles, and you cannot expect to see God use you. God uses those who are willing to be cleansed, even though they live in a sinful world.

God’s service has the reputation of paying low wages. In Hebrews 11, God lists the “heroes of the faith,” but he reserves his highest praise for those who lost everything in His service, and were left destitute. He said “the World was not worthy of them.” It is true that sometimes the “wages” in this world, for serving the Living God, seem paltry. We look at the lives of the various prophets, and see that they were not only not wealthy, they were not even comfortable, as a rule. We have to consider the end of the story, though. In both the case of the “successful” sinner, and the case of the impoverished servant of God, the apparent prosperity or lack thereof is fleeting, when compared to eternity. Think of Lazarus and the rich man, in Luke chapter 16: Which life would you rather have? We want to have it both ways: we want to be prosperous in the World, and prosperous in ministry. It isn’t impossible, of course, but it is truly uncommon; as the World rewards its own, as a rule and we no longer belong to the world. Jesus said “If the world hates you, remember that they hated Me first.”

(John 15:18-27)

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. 23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

So we needn’t expect the world to reward us for behaving like Jesus…they hated Him, and will hate us, too, for belonging to Him. Remember who you belong to; remember who you serve. We are not supposed to be looking to the World for approval, or recompense; nor, especially, for direction, or guidance. Our Master is the Living God, just as Isaiah’s was, and all the prophets. And, no, the “salary” in this world may not seem particularly impressive: But the “retirement” is literally “Out of this World.” We live in hope of eternity, not a comfortable, easy life, here.

There is no question whether you are called to serve God. Every single believer has that calling. How do I know?

Romans 8:28-30 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

The only question is whether we will choose to heed that call. What can we do, then, to choose the calling of God?

Choosing the Calling of God

Repentance means to “change one’s mind.” We need to change our minds regarding our life expectations, and what we call our priorities. We need to change our minds about who is really in charge: If Jesus really is your master, then His priorities should be your priorities.

Jesus said, in John 14:21, He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” So, if you place yourself into that promise, by choosing to live in obedience to Jesus’s commands (love God, love one another, offer that love to those around you…etc.) then Jesus has promised to make Himself known to you on an ongoing basis. If on the other hand, you choose your own priorities over His, then He will seem quite distant, and your vision of His will may become so dim that you no longer are sure of the path before you.

Begin by confessing where you really are, in your life: Go to God’s Word. See His Holiness. Confess your sins, and receive His cleansing. Then; allow Him to make you useable in His service, not holding back for the sake of security and comfort. Truly, the rewards are worth the hardships.

Lord Jesus, give us the Wisdom to understand your word, to confess our sins, recognizing that we have no worthiness in our own flesh, but to hear your call, and respond in faith, saying, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” We desire to walk with you, in fellowship, and in service. Please draw us into that reality, so as to glorify yourself in us.


Making Informed Choices

Making Informed Choices

© C. O. Bishop 3/2019 THCF 3/17/2019

Isaiah 1:27-2:5

Introduction:

We have begun walking through the book of Isaiah, and we have seen the Righteousness of God and the coming Judgment on Sin. We have seen that the book is primarily directed to Jerusalem and Judah, though there is later mention of all of Israel, as well as a number of named Gentile nations, and even the whole world as it will be affected by God.

It is difficult to keep things separate, and to see that the warnings and the promises, here, are not to the Christians in the United States, but to God’s chosen people, the Jews. However, as we read carefully, we can at least see which portions should apply to us, in such a way that we can use God’s written Word to change our lives.

The following three points, though directed to Jerusalem, can be applied to our individual lives, in a limited sense.

  1. The Coming Judgment,
  2. Our Ultimate Exaltation, and
  3. God’s Invitation to Practical Holiness.

Coming Judgment

27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

Zion (God’s spiritual name for Jerusalem) will be redeemed with Judgment…and her converts with righteousness. This may reflect upon the means by which God will purify Jerusalem during the coming Tribulation. But it could also be a prophecy concerning the Cross: It was through God’s righteous judgment being poured out upon Jesus, at the Cross, that we have been redeemed. And, due to His righteousness being imputed to us by faith (just as it was to Abram, in Genesis 15:6) we believers now have a right standing before God. That is good news for believers. But He goes on to say what will happen to the wicked, in verse 28.

28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

This could have referred either to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, under Nebuchadnezzar, or to the ultimate destruction of the lost at the Great White throne Judgment. In the immediate context, verses 29-31 are definitely addressing the specific sins of Judah, in their idolatry;

29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.

It specifically refers to being ashamed of oak trees in verse 29. The oak groves in Europe were often places of heathen worship in many cultures; and, in the Middle East, the groves were specifically shrines to the goddess Asherah. So the reference is again to their idolatry; the groves and gardens of their shrines… And God says their judgment is definitely coming (verses 30, 31.)

It is interesting, too, to see the change in pronouns, here, where it says that “they” (3rd person plural) will be ashamed of the oaks which “ye” (2nd person plural) have desired. Usually, that is an important thing to notice, as it may indicate to whom a promise or warning is being delivered. If this refers back to the context of verses 27 and 28, then possibly it means that the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 will be ashamed of the idolatry of the “transgressors and sinners, and they that forsake the LORD” of verse 28.

I suspect that is the case, here, as the ones against whom he is leveling the charge of idolatry, in this passage, are the ones upon whom the judgment is falling, while the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 are evidently a different group, possibly far in the future, as Judah is reclaimed by God. He switches the pronoun back to “ye”, in verses 30 and 31, as he issues a final judgment against the idolaters:

30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.

31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

He uses the image of their idolatrous objects of worship (the oaks and the garden shrines) to predict their demise: he says they will end up like a dead tree, and a dry, shriveled garden. He goes on to say that the best among them will be as weak and combustible as tow—the loose fiber from which cheap rope is made—and that they will burn together with a fire which no one will quench. This does sound more like the Great White Throne judgment, because it ends in unquenchable fire…but the immediate fulfillment was coming soon, in the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been destroyed many times in history, but God keeps bringing the city back to life. As we get to the latter part of the Book of Isaiah, we will see just how thoroughly God will ultimately restore Jerusalem.

Ultimate Exaltation

Chapter 2

1The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

Verse one reminds us (again) who these prophecies are about: Judah and Jerusalem…not the gentile nations.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

Verse 2 begins with a prophecy of the Last Days. Notice that it speaks of the exaltation of Zion (v.2)—this will only happen during the Millennial kingdom…so when we back up and look again at chapter one, I would say that at least some of the previous verses must be a long-range look at Armageddon, and the whole tribulation, not just the (much sooner) Babylonian captivity which was also coming. The Temple mount, itself, will go through some physical changes, as we shall see, further on. All the nations of the world will come there, in peace. Jerusalem will be literally the capital city of the whole earth.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Further, then, we see an international desire to walk with God (verse 3), and God (in the person of the Messiah) will be ruling personally from Jerusalem. The result (verse 4), will be genuine world peace, for the only time in the planet’s history.

There is no question as to when these particular things will happen, given the rest of what God has revealed it the whole of Scripture. Throughout the book of Isaiah, however, there will be short-range and long-range prophecies, intermingled. So we need to keep our eyes open, so to speak, as to when they are to be fulfilled. This one is definitely an end-time prophecy.

We look forward to that time, as well, as the Church, knowing that Israel will be reinstated as the recipients of God’s blessing, and that Jesus, the Messiah, will reign over the Earth, from Jerusalem.

We know that we are not Israel, but rather, are the Church, the Bride of Christ. We do not know what is in store for us; as He said, “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what the Father hath in store for them that love Him.” So, we wait in hope, knowing our bridegroom is coming soon.

We know that the world faces judgment for sin for rebellion, for cruelty, for hatred…but we also know that our judgment for the same sins was poured out upon Jesus at the Cross. We do not look down our noses at lost sinners, because we know that except for God’s Grace at Calvary, we would be there, too…headed for hell.

So, since we see the coming judgment, and know, at least a little, of our coming exaltation with Christ as His Bride, perhaps we ought to take seriously the invitation which the LORD next offers to Judah: He makes an invitation to Practical Holiness…to walk with God.

Invitation to Practical Holiness

O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

On the basis of this prophecy, (verse 5) the house of Jacob is being invited to join the Lord in His light (cp. 1 John 1:7, Amos 3:3), and to walk with Him. When we read a parallel passage in Amos 3:3, we see that fellowship between any two individuals is only possible through agreement. (“Can two walk together except they be agreed?”) When there is a disagreement between me and God, the fault lies with me, not God. For us to agree, I have to change my mind (Greek, metanoia—change of mind—repentance.) I have to confess, and I have to walk in HIS light…not the other way around. (Notice, again, the change of pronouns: “come ye, and let us walk” the one issuing the invitation intends to walk beside the ones invited.

1st John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” (ALL sin.) What does it mean, then, to “Walk in the Light, as He is in the Light?” Jesus may have given us a hint, in John 14:21He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

What is the prime commandment from Jesus? “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34, 35)  So, what might be a good litmus test, for believers? The Agape love is the main test we are given. In fact, it is the test by which the world is to judge us.

Over in Romans 13: 8-10, the apostle Paul confirms this, saying, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

That is a pretty firm, clear statement! The problem we have as modern Christians, is that we have no idea what that Love entails. We think it has to do with an emotional response, when it is nothing of the kind. When we read 1st Corinthians 13, where the Agape love is defined, we see that every single one of the descriptors has to do with actions…not feelings. It is doing, for the other person, what is truly in their best interest, and the things that most honor God.

The things we read just now in Romans 13 are all things to not do, because they would not be agape love. They all also happened to be things from the Mosaic Law, which Paul chose to illustrate his point that the fulfillment of the commandments is to be carried out by “walking in the light”, and “loving one another.”

This is not a return to legalism, as some would portray holiness: it is an invitation to a life overflowing with the goodness of God. God said “Be ye holy as I am Holy.” If that is a command to be as free from sin as He is, then the only way it could happen was that my sins were purged at the Cross. But if it is a reminder that, when He bought us with His own blood, he bought our entire lives, and that we are now set aside for His purpose and His pleasure, then it stands as a constant call to be alert to God’s direction in our lives, and to respond to Him in Joyful obedience.

I want my life to have eternal value. I am aware that Jesus said “…apart from me ye can do nothing.” So, unless I respond to Him in such a way that He is free to use my life as He wishes, then my efforts will essentially be wasted. Remember, He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much…” He said, “…apart from me ye can do nothing!”

The invitation was to all of Israel, in verse 5, here—that’s who the “house of Jacob includes. But Jesus said “come unto me, ALL ye that are heavily laden.” And the implication, there, is the same as here: we, too, are loaded down with our individual propensities for sin, whether overt or covert, and we also utterly fail to approach the holiness of God. That is why Romans 3:23 says “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That is also why Jesus said “and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL men unto me.” (John 12:32) And the invitation He gives is to “Whosoever will.” “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely…” (Revelation 22:17)

Are you willing to take God up on that offer? Do you see the coming judgment and desire to be sheltered in the Grace of God? Then the invitation is to you, just as it was to Israel. We are not promised the land, but, even better: we are promised a place with Jesus, wherever He is.

All He asks us to do, is to confess our sins to Him, and then accept His free forgiveness: then we can choose, moment by moment, to walk with Him. When we fall, we confess, we rise up, and we walk again. He has called us to walk together with Him in the light.

Let’s strive to choose daily to walk in that freedom and holiness.

Lord Jesus, free us from the bondage of our sin and our fleshly desires. Raise us up to walk with you in the light of your Word, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Make us the reflected lights in the World around us, as you have called us to be.