The Word Became Flesh

The Word Became Flesh

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

The Incarnation (Part Two)


John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8

Introduction

Last week we introduced the subject of the Incarnation, going all the way back to Genesis, showing that while God the Son had appeared repeatedly throughout the whole Old Testament, until He was actually born as a human, with the express purpose of having a mortal body, so that He could die for us, He could not be the Savior; God’s chosen sacrifice for Sin.

We talked about the concept of the Kinsman-Redeemer, (pictured in the person of Boaz, in the Book of Ruth) who had to:

Jesus became our relative by being born: a genuine human, in a genuine human body, lacking only the sin nature. (Evidently the Sin Nature is passed through the man, as we are all called the “seed of Adam.” But Jesus was born without a human father, as “the Seed of Woman,” sired by the Holy Spirit, and so lacked the inborn slavery to sin—He was Free!) Having that clean Human body, unencumbered by Sin, He possessed the price to be paid. And, finally, He went to the Cross willingly. He told his disciples, “No Man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself.” (John 10:18)

Without the Incarnation, as spelled out in the Scriptures, Jesus could not be our Savior…nor could he be the Messiah, nor the King of the Jews as promised in scripture. But “The Word was made Flesh:” the full, Biblical Incarnation is critical to God’s entire plan of Salvation!

So, we need to consider how that affects our lives. What resources does the Incarnation of God the Son, the Living Word of God, provide for our lives?

The Resources of the Incarnation:

What impact does it have in our lives?

We know Jesus really lived and died, and we know that He really was God in the flesh. So…What now? Is this just “good, fun stuff to know and tell?” No!

The Rebuke of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation, as spelled out by the entire Bible, stands as an eternal rebuke to our wayward hearts, because we have no excuse for our bad responses to our circumstances, or our bad responses to those around us. Our irritations, angers, jealousies, vengeful thoughts, and general self-centeredness have to be set aside if we will embrace the Incarnation of Christ.

His perfect life stands as an eternal challenge to those who follow Him. We cannot surpass Him, but He calls us to emulate Him. Ephesians 5:1 says “Be ye therefore followers (imitators) of God, as dear children.” And, 1st John 2:6 says that he who says he abides in Christ “ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.”

So, when I am finally able to recognize that my anger, my impatience, and my self-centeredness are all sin, what can I do to change it? If I had been able to clean myself up, by my own efforts, by self-abasement, self-flagellation, self-denial, or other religious works of “do-it-yourself” piety, then I would not need a Savior! Paul said, in Galatians 5:21, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness is come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

In fact, Jeremiah 2:22 says that no matter how hard I scrub, and no matter how harsh the cleansing agent is, my sins will still be with me. But Isaiah 1:16-18 says that I can become clean! Psalm 51:7 tells me how: David said, “purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

God has to do the cleansing… the “hyssop” refers back to the Passover, where the blood was struck upon the lintel and the two doorposts, using a bundle of hyssop to apply the blood. The means of our cleansing is still through the blood of the Cross. 1st John 1:7 (speaking to believers only)says that “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.”

In John 13:8, Jesus told Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” Jesus has to do the washing. But then, restored to fellowship, we are free to stand up and walk in the Light with Him again. And that is what we are exhorted to do!

The Exhortation of the Incarnation: Following Jesus

Paul addressed this truth in Philippians 2:5-8

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.


This is the eternal challenge, or exhortation of the Incarnation: Paul first described how we are to live, in verses 1-4,

1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.


Notice what Paul did, here: He spelled out the key issues of self-centeredness and pride, but contrasted then with the Love, and Mercy, and Comfort, and Consolation, and Fellowship, and Unity in Christ, resulting in peace, humility, and unselfishness. Then he capped the argument in verses 5-8 by saying that we are to live the way Jesus demonstrated in His Incarnation:

I have no idea what the future holds for any of us, whether individually, or as a church, but God says that we are to embrace the mindset of Christ, in His incarnation.

Every single child of God is also called to be His full-time ambassador. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called, according to His purpose.”

You know, it is strange: I have never heard anyone quote that verse and then say, “Well, yeah, but I don’t feel called!” Furthermore, we often forget the next two verses which clearly state that if you belong to Him, then you are called! There is no “special” order of believers who are “the called” and others who are just saved, but not called to function. We are all called to grow into the full stature of Christ, to become His hands and His feet in this sin-ruined World, and to offer Him as the living Bread and the Living Water to all who will receive Him. We are all called to offer our bodies a living sacrifice to God, which is called our “reasonable service of worship.”

Answering the Call of the Incarnation

If you can grasp the fact that you are called by God, then the only remaining question is “How will I respond to the Call of God?”

Isaiah responded (in Isaiah 6:8) with the famous “Here am I, Lord, send me!

Jonah, of course, ran away, and tried to hide: God gave him a “free water-taxi ride” back to the beach, so he could reconsider the call.

Balaam obeyed, initially, but then went and acted as a traitor to God’s priorities, trying to make money in the bargain, and sell out the nation of Israel.

Jeremiah was called by God, but tried to beg off, saying he was too young to serve. God told him, “Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee and ordained thee as a prophet to the nations.” And Jeremiah reluctantly obeyed the call. He had a rough ministry, too: very few responded well to his ministry.

Saul of Tarsus got “slapped off his mule” by the vision of Christ and the brightness of his glory: But, when Jesus identified himself, Saul gave the straight-forward reply, “What wouldst thou have me to do, Lord?” He committed himself to obedience, carte-blanche…sight-unseen. He accepted the call unquestioningly and took his marching orders immediately thereafter. He eventually became the Apostle Paul. (Incidentally, the name “Saul” means “asked for:” He was named after the first king of Israel. But he abandoned that name and was called “Paul,” meaning, “little” or “insignificant.” That is an interesting transformation: Paul never sought personal glory or pay for his service: He obviously remembered that it was Jesus whom he served.

So…How will you respond? Like Jonah? Like Jeremiah? Or like Isaiah and Paul? One way or another, each of us have been called to serve the Risen Christ. You have to choose how to respond. God help each of us to consistently respond in such a way as to become the men and women of God we have been called to be.

Lord Jesus, add Your divine Mercy and encouragement to the preaching of Your Word, and raise us up as disciples, honoring you in our lives, acting as your ambassadors, Pouring out your Grace to the World around us.

How Should We Live?

How Should We Live?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 2:11-25 Galatians 5:16-23

Introduction:

We saw last week that there are “changes coming,” for all true believers. No matter who I was in the past, life is not going to be just as it was before. I have a new heritage, and a new Master. It is obvious that things are going to change. So, we need to think about what will change, and how.

We saw last week that there were things destined to be “laid aside and left behind” as we press forward to walk with Jesus. We also saw that there was an expectation that we would begin to display a “family resemblance,” since we have been born again—“born from above,” as some of the passages say—and specifically, we are born into the family of God, as His real children.

Now Peter goes on to admonish and exhort the believers to “live up to” the calling they have received. I can’t lose my position in Christ, but walking with Him does require some attention as to my response to the world around me: without that attention to my walk, I will constantly stumble, and fall back into the mess of my old habits and responses. So, Peter gives fair warning against this trap:

Abstain from Fleshly Lusts

11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

He prefaces it all with the fact that as long as we are in this World, we are literally “strangers and pilgrims:” travelers, nomads…just “camping out,” here; seeking a home not in this world, but in that which is to come. The song, “This World is not my Home” is correct: we are “Just passing through!” But it is so easy to forget that fact. Peter warns us to not forget, but, as strangers and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against our souls.

The goal is that our lives should reflect the truth and grace of God before unbelievers, so that, when they speak evil of us (as He says will happen,) they will eventually have to confess before God that our lives(the Greek word “anastrophe,” translated “conversation,” here, means our “way of life”) and our works actually have shown the truth of our testimony, and that they have rejected and persecuted us without cause…and in so confessing, they will Glorify God in that day—the “day of visitation.” Our reputations should be built upon the truth that people can see in our lives, not just what we say is there. This is the importance of a living testimony, which is expected to agree with our spoken testimony.

If I consider, for a moment, the phrase, “Abstain from fleshly lusts,” I might also step over into Galatians, where the “works of the Flesh” are listed. These are what the lusts of the flesh produce, if I allow them in my life. The word “lusts” simply means “strong desires, and isn’t even always a bad thing, though we use the word that way almost exclusively.

The Lusts Produce the Works (Galatians 5:16-21)

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

I find it fascinating that the “works” (plural) of the flesh (verses 19-21) are listed seventeen strong, with an eighteenth item that is a “catch-all” phrase: “and such like”. The list is literally twice as long as the nine-fold list in verses 22, 23, and that last item extends it to include everything that the human heart can imagine. And it is plural: if I am partaking in any of these, then I am in the flesh; it’s as simple as that. Any one of these marks me as being “in the flesh.”

But the next “list” is half as long, and it is singular: it is not a “smorgasbord” from which you can choose what you would like to exemplify. It is a “nine-fold” fruit (singular), or a single fruit with nine aspects, or characteristics, and all nine aspects, or characteristics, have to be present or it is not the Holy Spirit who is producing it.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Notice that last bit? “Against such there is no law…?” Why is that even an issue? It is because the whole context of the book of Galatians is the separation of Law and Grace. If you are walking in the Spirit, then the Law will have no effect on you because it does not touch the things of the Spirit. That is why God can freely tell us, here in 1st Peter 1:13-15, to submit ourselves to Civil Authority.

Civil Authority

13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

As a general rule, believers are to cheerfully submit themselves to human civil law. Is there a possibility that the law of man can “cross the line,” so to speak, and be in direct conflict with the Law of God? Surely there is! But it is actually pretty rare. Usually civil laws are made to protect the law-abiding people from human predators and to protect their personal rights against those who would take them away. It is a rare thing for the laws of man to require us to do something that is wrong, or to forbid us to do something God says we are to do. But it can happen.

A week ago, we received the news that our governor had mandated “no more than 25 people in church gatherings.” That does not force us to disobey God, though it might have made us work harder to obey Him: we were willing to split the services to keep below 25. But the ruling also said that enforcement was at the discretion of local Law enforcement; so we called the local police chief, to see what he would require, and we were told that he has no intention of enforcing such a mandate, and that if he comes here it will be to worship with us, not to act against us.

So, we obeyed the law, and simultaneously obeyed God. And, in the process, we allowed the local law enforcement to see that we are not in rebellion, which strengthens our testimony with them, whether they are believers or not.

We virtually always have an option to not disobey God, and still be obedient to the law. In the unusual event that there is literally no avenue of escape without bringing down the judgment of an evil, ungodly employer or government, then that becomes our option: we can lose a job, or our belongings or our freedom or even our lives as the final option. Believers have made these hard choices for virtually all of human history.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not go into the furnace because they disobeyed God, but because they obeyed Him. Daniel did not end up in the lion’s den because of dishonoring God, but because of honoring Him. Daniel submitted to every ordinance of Man until the ordinance clearly required him to ignore God, and even then, he was in his own home, praying toward Jerusalem, not out on a street-corner, haranguing crowds of unbelievers in the name of the God of Israel. He was quietly obeying God when they came in and arrested him. We need to keep these examples in mind.

16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

We are truly free in Christ: we are free to serve Him, but we are not free to use our “liberty” as a way to cover sin. We are free to serve and to suffer, as the servants of God. We are not free to use our freedom to damage someone else unnecessarily, nor to express self-will and rebellion cloaked in a show of “piety.”

Honoring Man, while Honoring God

17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

Notice that there was no hint of “backtalk” here: they were to extend respect and honor to all those around them. They were to commit themselves to the Love of the Brethren, in keeping with Jesus’s command in John 13:34, 35, and to fear God above all human authority, and yet, to honor the human government. He goes on to give some examples:

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

Is it possible that we will suffer grief in return for good behavior? Certainly it is! And, if that is what really happens, then God is glorified by that suffering. But if we are “off in left-field” doing things God has warned us not to do, and end up being punished for our misdemeanors or infractions, then it does not honor God…it dishonors Him. I have heard of Christians losing jobs specifically because they are Christians…and, in anti-Christian countries, people are imprisoned or even killed because of their faith. In those cases, they have honored God by their obedience and their suffering.

But when I have also known believers who were jailed for tax-evasion, or theft, or other crimes, they were not suffering for their faith: they were being punished for wrongdoing. And that does not honor God. Is it possible that the government will use your taxes for evil purposes? I can just about guarantee that they will! When Jesus paid taxes to Caesar, was Rome using that money to promote godliness? Of course not! And yet, we are told to pay our taxes, and not be rebels. We are to take Jesus as our example:

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

Whole books have been written about what it may mean to “Follow his steps:” I am not going to spend a lot of time on the subject, but I do think we should at least look at this particular context to see what is in focus, here:

In the first place, the subject in this context is the concept of “suffering for doing rightly.” Jesus certainly did nothing but “good, righteous works,” showing compassion and kindness to the poor, and holding the privileged and wicked religious leaders accountable for their sin. However, this passage is not suggesting that we all quit our jobs, and walk around attempting to imitate Jesus in His earthly ministry: I have no gift of healing, nor of any sort of miraculous sign-gift. So I can’t imitate that portion, but I can imitate His righteousness and I can strive to learn His Word, so that I can offer the same message of Hope which He offered.

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

We can at least see that we are to trust God for justice, not other humans, who are flawed individuals, just as we are. We can also see, obviously, that we are especially to abandon the kinds of wrong behavior that could get us in trouble with civil law, because there is no glory to God in suffering punishment for unrighteousness. Dishonesty and a vengeful, sharp tongue are both mentioned as things Jesus did not exhibit.

But for believers, it goes further, as Jesus judges the hearts, not just the outward actions. There are people who teach that “unless there is an outward action, it isn’t sin.” Sorry…that is simply not true. Every man who is honest with himself knows what it means to “sin in his heart.” And, it is interesting to note that the specific sin Paul addressed in Romans 7 was covetousness! (What part of your body do we use to commit Covetousness?) It is specifically a sin of the heart and the mind! Jesus judges the heart, not just the outward actions!

What is the “Goal” of our Salvation?

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

We are dead to sins, that we should live unto righteousness. That is the goal!

Now, this last phrase, “by whose stripes ye were healed,” is a direct quote from Isaiah 53:5, but the conclusion is strictly New Testament: We could not be “dead to sin” in the Old Testament. But, according to this passage, along with Romans 6 and Galatians 2, we believers during the Church Age truly are dead to sin, as we died with Christ, and the result is supposed to be that because we are alive to Righteousness and alive to God, we should live for God.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

This final passage reminds us that the letter was originally to Jewish Christians: the gentiles were seldom referred to as “sheep,” but the “lost sheep of Israel” was a common theme. In one place, only, John 10:16, Jesus said “16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” I believe in that reference he is talking about the Gentiles who would respond in faith: In the Church Age, there truly is one fold and One Shepherd. The Jews who had strayed from the God of Israel were considered “the lost sheep” of Israel. The Gentiles were simply considered to be foreigners and heathen. In fact, the word “gentile” simply means “heathen.” So these who had once been “lost sheep” of Israel had been returned to the shepherd and “overseer” or “Bishop” of their souls. The word translated “bishop” is “episkopos,” meaning “supervisor” or “overseer.”

We gentiles have been born into the family of God, and He is truly the Shepherd and the Bishop of our souls as well, but we were not the lost sheep of Israel. We did not “wander away from God:” In fact, regarding the lost world, in Matthew 7:23, Jesus said “I never knew you! Depart from me ye workers of iniquity.” He does not say, “I once knew you, but you just wandered off and got lost: too bad!” He says he never knew them. We were born as sinners, just as the lost Jews were born as sinners. That is where we all start out!

This is probably a good time to be reminded of what Jesus says about us who have become His sheep: John 10:27, 28 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them Eternal Life, and they shall never perish.” Also, in John 6:39, he said “this is my Father’s will who sent me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” As a gentile believer, you will never become a “lost sheep.” He will keep you for eternity. You have been placed into a new relationship with the Savior, and it is entirely dependent upon Him, not you!

We are His forever! Now we need to learn to walk with Him!

Lord Jesus, allow us to walk with you and reflect your holiness as a testimony to the world that has rejected You. Teach us to walk in Your footsteps!

Rejoicing in the God of Our Salvation

Rejoicing in the God of Our Salvation

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:5-12

Introduction:

We have begun a study in the book of first Peter, the first epistle of Peter to the scattered Jewish believers, evidently after the persecution in Jerusalem. We saw a strong encouragement in the first five verses, underscoring the security of these persecuted believers, and the fact that their position “in Christ” was permanent. The last thing we considered was a very brief look at the fact that we are “kept by the Power of God unto Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

We need to talk about that idea of “Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time:” Aren’t we saved now; already? Let’s read what it says, and then consider:

5Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

“Tenses” of Salvation:

Notice that it says this salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time.” There are three aspects, or “tenses,” to what we call “Salvation:”

  1. We have been saved from the penalty of our sins. Romans 5:1 says that we have been (or “are”…perfect tense) “justified” (declared righteous) by faith, and that, as a result, we have (present tense) peace with God. This is positional truth.
  2. We are being saved (present tense) from the power of sin in our lives. Romans chapters 6 and 7 point out that while we no longer are slaves to sin, there is a daily battle in progress, and our constant salvation from that power is found in Christ. This is conditional upon our choices.
  3. We will be saved (future tense) from the presence of sin. Revelation chapters 21, 22 tell us of the end result of the salvation God brings: there will be a new heaven and a new earth, in which there is literally no sin, no evil, no suffering. This is positional truth, again.

So the recipients of this letter had been enduring persecution, it seems (which is possibly why they were scattered…compare Acts 8:1, 4.) And they were assured by Peter, that the “last chapter” will bring full deliverance. The words translated “salvation” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament mean “Deliverance.” The words translated “savior” mean “deliverer.” That is why God referred to the judges, leaders, and heroes he sent to “save” Israel from their enemies as “saviors.”

We tend to think of Jesus as the only Savior, because, in terms of salvation from Sin, He IS the only Savior. But the word isn’t always in reference to salvation from sin. It can refer to being delivered from an oppressor, or a danger. But Jesus is our savior in every sense of the word.

Even if He chooses to not spare me from some present disease or danger, He is the Savior. As a rule, every one of us will die of our last illness, if an accident or other calamity does not take us first. All of us face that reality. Hebrews 9:27 says “it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.” But in our current lives, He is our Savior from the penalty of sin, since God’s Judgment for sin fell upon Jesus at the Cross. This is positional truth. Because you are in Christ, you have been eternally saved from the eternal penalty of sin. Jesus said in John 5:24 that you will never again be condemned by God.

He is our Savior from the power of sin as well, according to Romans 7, but that battle is still in progress … and whether I am “being delivered,” in a practical sense, depends on how I am responding to Him. If I am walking with Him, I will be free from the power of sin. If I am not walking with Him, then I will behave as one who is a slave to sin, because in terms of my condition, I have subjected myself to sin instead of to Christ. This is conditional truth.

But in the end, He is our Savior from the presence of Sin. This is positional truth, again, because we are in Him. That is our position. We have been placed there by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus said in John 6:39 that he will not lose any of us, but that He will raise us up at the last day. That is a precious promise!

That truth, alone, is worth our rejoicing. And the people to whom Peter addressed this letter were rejoicing over that deliverance, by faith, in spite of their current distress. We can do the same. As we mentioned last week, from God’s perspective, according to Ephesians 2:6, we are already seated with Him in the heavens! So our eternal position with Him is secure forever!

Rejoicing in spite of Trials

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:

Remember that the reason they were rejoicing was their salvation in Christ. The word, “wherein,” is in reference to the Salvation mentioned in the previous verse. These believers were under intense persecution, not just the normal hardships of life, nor simple unpopularity or public scorn. They were losing their belongings to confiscation, according to Hebrews 10:34 and were in some cases tortured and killed. But their response was to rejoice greatly! They were not just “hanging on and hoping the Lord would bail them out.” Why?

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

The trial of their faith was producing praise and honor and glory to God. This is one of the purposes of trials; the way we respond to the testings can produce glory to God, and reward for us. We can read more about the reasons for sufferings, over in 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11. But look at how Peter described the relationship of these persecuted Jewish believers to their Savior:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. 10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

These Jewish believers had not met Jesus during His earthly ministry: if we are correct that these were the believers from the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2 and those thereafter between chapters two and seven, then they were not living in Israel during Jesus’s life on earth: they had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and heard about Jesus from Peter and the other apostles. There were thousands of people who became believers during that time in Jerusalem. And, when the persecution arose, evidently they headed back to the countries into which they had been driven hundreds of years earlier. And they did not go home empty: they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they carried with them the Gospel of Christ.

Now Peter is declaring the nature of their relationship with Jesus.

  • They have not seen Him, but they love Him
  • They are still not seeing Him, but because they believe in Him, they are rejoicing with unspeakable joy, and are filled with His Glory.
  • They are (present tense) receiving the result of their faith, the salvation of their souls. Here is another example of the different “aspects” of salvation: Their souls were already delivered from the grip of the Evil One, forever. They were looking to Jesus for daily deliverance, but confident in Him for ultimate deliverance.

Peter goes on to remind them that the Old Testament prophets had desired to know what they now knew: those prophets had enquired and searched diligently, desiring to see it, but all they could do was prophesy of the Grace that was to come. None of them knew of the realities of the Church Age. Paul makes this emphatically clear in Ephesians 3:4-6, that the Old Testament believers (even the prophets) did not know about the Church. It was revealed after the Cross, after the resurrection, after the ascension, and after the giving of the Holy Spirit. All of those things were known to the prophets. They also knew about the coming Tribulation and the Kingdom age to follow. But they knew nothing about the Church.

11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

Daniel 9:23-27 is a prime example of a great Old Testament prophet knowing everything before and after the church age, but skipping the Church Age entirely. He described events right up to the crucifixion, and then skipped all the way to the Tribulation! He skipped the Church Age!

Isaiah 53 predicted the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah. He also predicted the judgment that will fall during the tribulation, and the glory of the Kingdom to come. But he didn’t see the Church Age at all.

12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

In Daniel 12: 8, 9, Daniel told the angelic messenger that he (Daniel) did not understand the message. He was informed rather succinctly, that the message was not for him, but for the people of the end times! He was told, in short, to “write it down, close it up, and run along!” I believe that some of the prophecies in scripture are still in that category. There are some that seem impossible today, but that will become plainly obvious to the people at the end of the age. Some have changed in that regard, just in the last 50 years or so. Some in the last 30 years! (I used to wonder how it could be that the armies of every nation would be there to fight against Israel: It occurred to me a few years ago that they are already there! The UN Peacekeepers are comprised of the armies of all the nations! If they turn against Israel, at some time in the future, then that prophecy will be literally fulfilled! Another thing: I used to wonder how it could be that “every eye” would see Jesus at His return. With the advent of the internet and live video of news coverage, it has literally become a reality.)

So Peter underscored this idea, that it was not for themselves, but for us that those prophecies were given. He also reminded the readers later (2nd Peter 1:19-21) that the messages came by the Holy Spirit, not by the desire or the imagination or the “scheming” of the prophets. It was revelation from God by means of the Holy Spirit. And all the apostles and prophets and evangelists who had shared that message with them (the readers) were empowered by that same Holy Spirit. He concludes with a strange comment, that all of the subject of Grace and salvation are “things the Angels desire to look into.” This is a mystery to them as well! They are waiting “on the edge of their seats,” as it were, to see how it will all be explained. And, over in Ephesians 3:8-11, Paul confirms that the entire experience of mankind, and God’s salvation of those who place their hope in Him, (culminating in the Church Age) is specifically an “object lesson” for the holy angels. He says that God’s eternal purpose was that through the Church might be known unto the angelic hosts in the heavenly places, “the manifold wisdom of God.”

I find that idea simultaneously mind-boggling and encouraging. On the one hand, I think “What could the angels possibly learn from our experience?” But on the other hand, knowing that it is so, because God says it is so, makes all the trials seem somehow more worthwhile. Knowing that our hard times are somehow a blessing and an education to angelic hosts that we can’t even see is such a strange thought! But God says it is so, and we can rejoice in that fact!

Joy is a Choice

I am uncomfortable making this statement, because I have had so much failure to rejoice, in my life: I’m guessing it may be rooted in unthankfulness, or unbelief. But we are so ensnared by what the world tells us that we have a hard time looking past what we see with our eyes, and seeing what God tells us is the reality “behind the veil.”

The fact is that these persecuted saints were rejoicing with “Joy Unspeakable!” They were overflowing with joy at the sheer privilege of walking with God, rather than complaining because they didn’t like the circumstances.

I am constantly having to confess unbelief and ingratitude to God, because I am whining about some inconvenience…all things that we call “First-World Problems.” Others in the world are lacking food, water, shelter and safety, and instead of being grateful that I have all of these, I am distressed about some tiny problem and I’m distracted to the point of ignoring God’s provision.

When I open my eyes to God’s provision, it changes my perspective. I know “Joy is a choice.” Joy has to be a choice, because the command in 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 includes “Rejoice evermore!” There is always a possible choice to disobey a command. Obedience is a choice!

But what if all those provisions, the visible, tangible ones, are taken away? That is where faith had better be the real basis of my relationship with God! If I am only thankful when things are the way I want them, then I am guilty of that of which Job was accused by Satan! Satan claimed that the only reason Job responded well to God was that he had everything so easy…he was rich! He had everything! So a test followed! Job lost literally everything, including his health. And his response initially, was to worship God and say, The LORD hath given, and the LORD hath taken away! Blessed be the name of the LORD!” Now, it is true that Job’s attitude began to suffer after some time, and the long argument with his supposed comforters began to produce bitterness in his own heart. But God stepped in and corrected him, while rebuking the others. Bear in mind that Job’s troubles were not because of sin: God says so!

I think it would be good to consider the prophet Habakkuk: He recognized the wickedness in God’s people and pleaded with God to clean them up. God replied that He was sending the Chaldeans (who we call the Babylonians) to punish His people, the Jews. Habakkuk was shocked! He said “But they are even more wicked!” God agreed that they were, and said that He would use them to punish the Jews, but He then would punish Babylon even more severely.

Then, in Habakkuk 3:17-19, the prophet concludes “17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

19 The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.


The things Habakkuk listed were all the things Israel considered to be blessings and provisions from God. And they were all to be taken away, because of sin, in this case. But Habakkuk chose to find his Joy in the Person of the Savior, the God of his salvation. He saw that God was going to lift him above the trials, and “make him to walk in high places” like a sure-footed deer.

And he gave the message to the musicians to make a song about it; evidently so that he and others could sing of the Joy of the Lord! Choosing to rejoice just might include choosing to sing about His goodness! I know it helps me to focus on His goodness when I sing of His Grace and Mercy. Praying and actually verbalizing thanks helps as well. We can choose to do these things!

Lord Jesus, we know that hard times are coming for the world. We ask that you would lift our hearts above the troubles of the World through Faith, and show us your Mercy and Grace, every day. Allow us to shine for you in the darkness of this world.

What Am I Missing?

What Am I Missing?

© Chet Bishop, April 2012 (THCF 4/1/12)

Luke 19:1-44 (whole Passage)

Luke 19: 1-10 (read it)

1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Introduction:

In the parallel passages in the other gospels, we have read how Jesus traveled through Jericho, headed for Jerusalem. We read about the blind men who were healed before and after Jericho…but what happened in Jericho?  A mob of people followed Jesus. They had heard of him, and had seen him heal people. Funny, though, these people were not encouraging those blind men to be healed, but rather were telling them to be quiet. They saw them as a nuisance. Jesus saw them as people—souls whom he created and for whom he was about to die as a life-purchasing sacrifice.

As Jesus passed through Jericho, a man named Zacchaeus saw the mob of people surrounding Jesus as he passed, but could not see Jesus, because he himself was very short, and evidently didn’t even know who he was. He was gripped by curiosity, though, enough to run ahead of the pack and climb a tall tree, because he “…sought to see Jesus who he was…”. This is an odd phrase, and perhaps it is just the King James language for “wanted to see who it was” but it specifically says he wanted to “see Jesus, who he was”. He could have simply asked, as the blind man had asked…but he really wanted to see Jesus, who he was.  I don’t know of anyone else of whom this peculiar statement is made. He had a God-given hunger…I will assume he had heard something of God’s word, simply because he was a Jew….

Remember that there was a whole crowd of people “seeing Jesus” as he walked along. They had seen the healings. But they were missing something.

What about Zacchaeus? Who was he? He was chief among the publicans…a Jewish born tax-collector for the Romans…a collaborator with the enemy. But he wasn’t born that way. He had his training in the synagogue school, his “bar mitzvah”, etc.  It is just that at some point he wandered from the God of Israel, and followed the God of money…he was a rich man as a result. And he had been paying the price for that sin. He was rejected by all his neighbors, so he had no fellowship with them, and no fellowship with his Creator either.

Perhaps the old prophecies that he had memorized in his youth echoed in his mind from time to time, and he wondered if the Messiah would ever come—and whether he himself would even be worthy to own him as his Lord. And then Jesus came to town…. But I don’t want to guess:

Whatever the true background, Zacchaeus climbed that tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “Who he was”. And Jesus saw him “who he was”…and called him by name. Jesus said “Zacchaeus! Hurry down from there…I must stay at your house today!”

What a transformation! Zacchaeus hurried down and received him joyfully. The neighbors (ALL those who saw the transaction) grumbled, saying that Jesus had gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner. (I’ll bet that made Zacchaeus feel great…he was right there…he knew what they were all saying.) But Zacchaeus responded with works fit for repentance. He stood, during dinner, and told Jesus that he would give half of all he owned to the poor, and that if he had wrongly exacted money from anyone he would restore it fourfold. (That made him the best investment in town. 300% return. J)

I don’t know how the neighbors felt about that. I’m not sure Zacchaeus really cared—he was concerned with a relationship with Jesus. And Jesus saw his heart, because He responded in these words: “This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.”

That might have raised some eyebrows too. Paul had to explain the concept later, pointing out that those who were physically the offspring of Abraham were not necessarily the children of Abraham, but that the children of faithful Abraham became so by faith. This man had just demonstrated that he believed in Jesus. Jesus said he had become a son of Abraham. Then (evidently for the benefit of those listening) he stated his purpose in coming. “…the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Zacchaeus had great joy, because his Messiah had come, had called him by name, had eaten at his table, and forgiven him of his sins. As far as we know, he did not see any of the healings. The others did see them, and had walked across town with Jesus. But when Jesus healed the life of “nasty little old Zacchaeus”, they were not filled with joy—they grumbled about the Grace that was extended to Zacchaeus. They missed the joy that was there amongst them—but Zacchaeus did not miss it. He received it. Am I missing the joy that is around me because I am grieved at God’s plans? Do I even have the right to question His wisdom, let alone whether I have the intelligence and wisdom to understand what it is He is doing?

Jesus turned to those who followed and issued the following parable:

A Warning

Luke 19:11-27 (read it)

11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15 And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16 Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18 And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19 And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. 20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21 For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23 Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24 And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. 25 (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) 26 For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. 27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.


This is a warning to all that were following. Most were not believers, even though they were going along with him as he went. Jesus told a parable of a ruler, a nobleman, who went to a far country to receive a kingdom. I am of the opinion that the man in this parable is Jesus Himself. He is going to his Father to receive the Kingdom. Consider the following…the servants are not in danger—the rebellious “citizens” are in serious danger. Even the least faithful of the servants is in far better shape than those enemies who did not want his reign in their lives.

From a human perspective, I understand the feelings of the people. They wanted autonomy. And, from a human perspective there is not much wrong with that plan. However, remember that Jesus is GOD, the Creator, and that he literally owns every atom of which we are made. He literally owns us body and soul—and that was true before we were saved…much more afterward. But he owns the whole world by creation. Now he owns it again by purchase, at the cross. There is no one who can accurately claim to be exempt from his claim on their life. Remember from whence comes this desire for self-will and self-rule: Isaiah 14:12-15.

The servants were each given a responsibility to discharge—some did it well, some did less well, one didn’t try. He lost his reward and the responsibility. The others gained further responsibility as a reward. The only punishment listed here is upon those who were not his servants. So what about that Servant? Since (in this particular parable) he was not in danger of death, what was the cost? He missed his opportunity.

He was given an opportunity to serve, even if in a rather humble way. He chose to reject that opportunity based on his judgment of the Master’s character, and he lost the only opportunity he would have to be rewarded for faithful service. Some of the people there were servants of God. Some were his enemies. Jesus spoke to the whole crowd. All had an opportunity of one sort or another. All had the opportunity to repent, if nothing else. Some had the opportunity for repentance and service, others the opportunity for salvation. Am I missing the opportunities for service? The opportunities to lead others to Christ? The opportunity to draw near to God and be blessed in this life?

Fulfilled Prophecy

Luke 19:28-40 (read it)

28 And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. 29 And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 30 Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. 31 And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. 32 And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. 33 And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? 34 And they said, The Lord hath need of him. 35 And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. 36 And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. 37 And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; 38 Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. 39 And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.


The colt: Much has been made of this situation, but we really aren’t told enough to know how much was miracle, and how much simply the narrative of what happened. I see two apparent miracles… one is that a never-ridden animal usually has a disagreement to work out before becoming a docile beast of burden. It is fitting, though, that none was seen here, because it fits the general pattern: People—humans—and fallen angels are the only things that have ever disobeyed God. The young male donkey was acting exactly as a creature is supposed to act under the hand of its Creator.

The other issue is the fact that the owners let the animal go without an argument. J. Vernon McGee suggests that there had been a prior arrangement made by Jesus, and this was just the outworking of it, and that he had given the phrase “the Lord has need of it” to let the owners know that it was he who sent the disciples. That is sheer supposition. All we are told is that they consented. Both of the above seem highly unusual, and if a person wants to find a natural explanation, that is their privilege. But I really think if one wants to do that, they at least should try to stick to what is actually written, and try not to wander astray. Once a person feels free to inject supposition, then anything is possible.

Further, many have supposed that the same individuals that cried out “Hosanna” in the other Gospels, and “Blessed be the King!” in this chapter, are those who cried out “Crucify!”, a few chapters later. But if you will read verse 37, it says that the disciples were the ones who cried out “Hosanna” and other things, while the Pharisees were disturbed by it. The other gospels say that the whole city was stirred up over it. The Pharisees knew that the disciples were publicly recognizing Jesus as the king. They demanded that Jesus shut them up. Essentially they demanded that He deny the truth of what they were shouting. Far from denying it, Jesus strengthened it, saying that if the disciples were silenced, the stones would cry out. The disciples were rejoicing and being blessed. The Multitudes (folks from Jerusalem) were stirred up and disturbed. The Pharisees were angry. They were all missing the point:

Something was happening! Prophecy was being fulfilled in (at least somewhat) miraculous ways! The particular Psalm that was being quoted here is Psalm 118:25, 26. It is nearly an exact quote, even in English. The word “Hosanna”, in the New Testament, does NOT mean “praise the Lord” or anything like it. It means “Save us now”. That is why Psalm 118:25 says “save NOW, Lord…” That is exactly what Jesus came to do. They were all missing the point; probably even those who quoted the Psalm.

Am I missing the point? Am I out of tune with what God wants to accomplish, so that I can’t be walking in step with Him, and rejoicing at the victories He brings? Amos 3:3 asks the rhetorical question, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (The implied answer being “No!”)

1st John 1:7 states that “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 cleanses us from all sin”. I want to be in constant enough fellowship with God that I can have some sense of where He is going with things. There is a lot of peace and joy in simply watching God at work. I don’t have to “understand everything.”

A Lament

Luke 19:41-44 (read it)

41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, 42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, 44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem stated that because they had “missed the boat” as it were, having failed to recognize their Messiah, they would face destruction from their enemies. This was fulfilled, of course, in AD 70, with the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus. They missed out on the blessing of the promise of God through their willful blindness and pride, and faced destruction as a result.

Don’t Miss Out

You who have trusted Jesus Christ as your savior, who have placed your faith in Hs finished work at the Cross are not in danger of “Missing the Boat”, as those in Jerusalem did. According to Jesus’ promise (John 5:24), if you have heard his word, and believed on Him who sent him, you HAVE eternal life, and can never lose it.

But you can still miss the point of God’s work in your life. You can miss the opportunities for service, blessing and reward. And perhaps saddest of all; you can miss the Joy He offers in the daily relationship with Him.

Choose the path of Zacchaeus and the other disciples. Enter into the Joy of your Lord today— now—not waiting until you die to experience his presence.

The Lord bless you all as you choose to walk with Him.

Believers, Place Your Bets!

Believers, Place Your Bets!

© 4/15/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 2:12-26

Introduction:

We hear a lot of arguments regarding the twin subjects of faith and works. And that is what they really are: twins! Saving faith produces works as a rule. Works are proof of faith as a rule, but not always saving faith: they may only be proof that the one performing the works wants to please God, or even wants to be seen as righteous by his or her fellow-humans.

Here in James, the single verse (26) “26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” is one of the most misused and frequently misquoted passages in the Bible.  Why? Because we tend to isolate that one idea, and thus sever it from the context in which it is given. Let’s back up to verse 12, at least, and see what is being discussed: Remember that James is speaking to believers. “12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Behavior matters!

13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

We all get one chance— one life—during which to honor God, and present our bodies a living sacrifice as a worship offering. Once it is over, only that which met this standard will have eternal value. Usually, we only have one chance to make a “first impression” with those people around us, too. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to be around folks long enough for them to see that we are not “stuck-up” or rude…but if that is what they really thought, when they first met us, they will probably not come back and give us another chance. Does God see us for what we really are, good or bad? Certainly He does! He is not governed by “impressions.” I am frequently amused by married couples’ testimonies that “when I first met ___, I didn’t like….” Their first impression was bad, but they grew to love one another and eventually were married. Their first impression was wrong, but could have cost them dearly. God sees the truth at all times. He is not the one we are trying to impress, or trying to not cause to stumble, or whatever.

As believers, we have already received God’s Mercy, at the Cross: We are in no danger of His changing His mind, and rejecting us. We are sealed in Christ until the day of redemption, according to Ephesians. But we need to reflect that fact, in reaching out to those around us in a merciful way. Can it backfire? Certainly it can! It did for Jesus, many times. After he fed the 5,000, in John chapter 6; the very next day, those he had fed were back for more; but he offered them the Bread of Life instead, and they immediately turned on him and began to argue, in John 6:30, saying “What sign showest thou then, that we may see and believe thee?” (What? He just fed the whole crowd on five loaves and two fishes, and you ask for another sign?)

We have had people ask for money for food, and when we gave it, we saw them immediately head for the liquor store. So, the next time, when someone asked for money for food, we took them to get food. In one case that worked very well…the woman involved was telling the truth: her husband and several children were waiting in an empty lot beside a school, and they were all very glad to see her show up with a large bag full of sandwiches and other food.

But in another case, the fellow asked for food, and we offered to drive with him right then, and buy a meal. He changed his request, saying he needed gas for his car. We offered to go with him to get gasoline…the story kept changing, and we kept offering to meet the stated need, until he was exasperated, and blurted “Can’t you just give me some money?!” He was lying! He didn’t want any of the things he claimed to need. We were glad we had not given him anything, whereas in the case of the woman with the children, we were only sad that we could offer no better help than food.

What is the Connection?

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

We need to see the connection between faith and works, then. James poses the question “Can Faith save?” The real issue is “what kind of faith are we talking about?” Saving faith seems to be the issue, but there are other things we, as humans, call faith.

In responding to this passage, I would like to relate an argument I had with an unbelieving co-worker, nearly thirty years ago: He claimed that he could “create his own reality.” He claimed that his beliefs would control the reality that he experienced.

I replied that he did not really believe that, and that the untruth of his statement was made obvious by how he lived his life: He had to live with the same reality as everyone else. He “placed his bets,” so to speak, upon the realities of this world, the same as everyone else. I said, “If you are in the middle of the road and I tell you a truck is coming, you will get out of the road, just like everyone else. You will not ‘create your own reality,’ in which the truck will somehow not hurt you: You are betting on the reality of death, and saving yourself by moving out of harm’s way.” He had no answer, and the conversation ended. But that same rule is applied here, by James:

What you really believe is revealed by your works. If you really believe your house is on fire, you try to save yourself, your loved-ones and your possessions, unless you are suicidal, and desire to die. Where you “place your bets” is the best indicator of what you really believe.

If you really believe that Jesus is your Savior, your Master and your Judge, then your actions should reflect that, as a general rule. So the logic follows: if you see someone else in need, what you really believe about your relationship to Christ and His lordship in your life will be revealed by your works. (Bear in mind the inherent question, “revealed to whom?” Does God know the truth? Or are we constantly having to again prove to God the reality of our faith?)

The kind of faith that produced a love-relationship with an unseen Savior should also produce a compassionate relationship with the visible people around us with their visible needs. 1st John 4:20, 21 agrees, saying, 2If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

The demonstration of the reality of faith is to other humans, not to God. The kind of faith that does not produce appropriate works is called a “dead” faith. We are commanded by Jesus to love one another…a genuine faith should result in a genuine caring for those around us. We should love one another in practical ways, according to this passage.

And, What if we Don’t?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Such neglect is unprofitable and brings a negative shadow on the name of Christ. If we, as believers, don’t even care for one another’s needs, then how can we say we are “brothers” in Christ? Even unbelievers, as a rule, will care for the needs of their families, though perhaps in poor grace, in some cases. Usually, simple cultural norms will demand that a person care for their own immediate family members. Why, then, would it be acceptable to us to not take care of the believers with whom we share an eternal bond of kinship in the person of Christ? That lack, if founded upon a lack of concern, not just ignorance of the need, would show a non-functional faith, at least, and perhaps would give reason to suspect even the validity of that faith…leading us to verse 17, which is closing in on what we wanted to address in the first place:

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Such faith, that does nothing to move the will, and causes no change in action, is a useless, non-functional faith. Is it valid? Only God knows! You see, this whole passage on “faith versus works” is couched in the question of “How can the World see faith? How can people see faith?”

God could see the faith of Lot, though no human could see it. When I first read the account of Lot, in Genesis chapters 13-19, I would definitely have supposed (in spite of his Godly Uncle Abraham) that Lot was simply an unbeliever, whose sins finally caught up with him. But God says, in 2nd Peter 2:6-9, that Lot was a righteous man! I certainly would not have come to that conclusion by observing his works, because, except for one feeble attempt to save the angels whom he thought were ordinary men, he was pretty much invisible, in terms of faith, because his works did not reveal his faith, as a rule. Even his sons-in-law did not believe him, when he tried to warn them of the coming destruction. So, the next verse makes it clear:

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

A man, a fellow human, can only observe faith in action. We cannot see the hearts of our fellow humans. We can only see actions. God says we need works to confirm who we are in Christ, to those around us. Lot’s life was a wreckage that was not only useless as a testimony to unbelievers, but produced enemies to the seed of Abraham, lasting until today. Lot’s sons (by incest with his daughters) were Ben-Ammi and Moab. The Ammonites and the Moabites were bitter enemies to Israel from the beginning, and they still are, today, as they are the people of Jordan, and the Palestinians. It is a sad thing, but “righteous Lot” left a terrible legacy.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

“Doctrinal soundness” does not replace a living faith. “Orthodoxy” is simply a case of having correct opinions. One can know the truth, intellectually; accept it as fact; be able to recite a catechism or creed, and yet have no personal interaction with that truth. It is certainly possible to have “correct opinions” regarding theology, and still be absolutely an unbeliever.

But remember that James is speaking to believers. All he says, here, is that knowing the fact that “there is only one God” is not the same as having a living relationship with that one God. He gives the example of the demons, who have known God face-to-face, since before the world was created, and yet are eternally His enemies. They know all about the God of the Bible, and are terrified of their coming judgment. We know the bare facts, as we have been told them, but we are indifferent about the coming judgment, and acting as if it will never come.

Genuine Faith will Change Our Life

If our faith is a real, saving faith, it should be changing our motives, and our behavior. We don’t “make that change” in order to “prove our faith.” Genuine Faith changes us, from the inside out, and proves its own validity.

James goes on to discuss Abraham, whom God justified by faith (Genesis 15:6), but whom men justify because of his works. The scripture that says he was justified by his faith, found visible proof in his later works.
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

The word “perfect”, here, means “completed”…fulfilled. If we compare Ephesians 2:8-10, we can see that while we are saved “by Grace, through Faith,” and specifically not through (or by means of) works, verse ten makes it clear that we are “His workmanship, created unto good works, which He has before ordained that we should walk in them.” So the fulfillment of our faith and God’s Grace, in re-creating us in His own image, is that we are to walk in the good works that he ordained for us ahead of time.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Remember that the word “justified” means “declared righteous.” Bear in mind Who it is, doing the real justification, and who the observers are in this context. In Romans 5:1, Paul states that we have been justified by faith, and that, as a result, we have peace with God. So, looking again at verse 18, we remind ourselves that, in this case, the persons questioning our faith are fellow humans. We can only demonstrate our faith to other humans through appropriate works. Our fellow humans “declare us righteous” based entirely on what they can see. So, in verse 24, we are “justified” or “declared righteous,” on the basis of works, where humans are the judges. We were declared righteous entirely on the basis of Faith, where Jesus is the Judge. (We don’t even like to think of Jesus as being the Judge, but He says He is, in John 5:22) Romans 5:1 addresses our justification before God. James 2:24 refers to our justification before Man. Does it matter? You’d better believe it does! (Remember Lot!)

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

It somehow seems appropriate, in this context, to remember that “dead”, in scripture, usually has some sort of “separation” in view. A body, separated from the spirit of the person to whom both belong, is considered a dead body: no longer functional. A faith that is separated from the works that should accompany it, is considered a dead faith…not functional. It does not mean that such a person has never been accepted by God, necessarily. There are examples in the Old Testament and the New Testament, of people whose faith faltered, and their testimony was ruined, and who, in some cases, lost their physical lives because of their subsequent disobedience. (Lot, Balaam, Samson, Ananias & Sapphira, Demas, etc.) But in each case, it seems clear that they were real believers who simply fell into a pattern of disobedience… and it cost them heavily.

Place your Bets!

Remember that salvation tract (The Four Spiritual Laws) people used to hand out, which began with the statement (true, by the way) that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!”? Well, here’s the other side of that idea: “Satan hates you and has a TERRIBLE plan for your life!” Now, if you walk with Jesus, staying close to the Great Shepherd, you need have no fear of the Evil One, at all: He is a defeated enemy. But the Enemy does have an agenda:

  1. Satan desires to destroy your fellowship with God, through distractions, through neglect of feeding on the Word, neglect of prayer, and through overt sin.
  2. He desires to destroy your Joy and Peace, through all of the above.
  3. He desires to destroy your testimony, as bitterness and cynicism begin to replace Joy and Peace, and your works show to others the deadness of your faith.
  4. Finally, if he can draw you far enough away from the Shepherd, he desires to destroy your life, either through the destructive results of the bad decisions made in the flesh or through the consequences of overt sin.

God does not need you to “prove your faith” to Him by works. But your works are the result of what you really believe, and are a pretty good indicator of where your heart really is today. They reveal where you are currently “placing your bets.” They should reveal to you how you are doing, spiritually, and they definitely will let your neighbors, friends and family make decisions about the reality of faith in your life.

Look in the “Mirror of God’s Word, and see yourself! Look at where you are “Placing your Bets,” and see whether that is how God wants you to respond to Him.

So you really believe prayer is important? Then place your bet that way: pray! Do you really believe Jesus is the Master? Then obey Him! Do you really believe you should be feeding on God’s Word? Then do so! Do you really believe you should share your faith with others? Then do so! Where you “place your bets”–what you actually do–reveals what you really believe.

The Lord Bless His Word, and His people as they seek His Face.

The Rapture of the Church and the End Times

The Rapture of the Church and the End Times.

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

Daniel 9:21-27; 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-17; 1st Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; 1st Corinthians 15:50-58; 2nd Corinthians 5:1-9; Mathew 24, 25:31, ff; Revelation 20:11-15, etc.

Introduction:

Several times, recently, a question has arisen regarding the Rapture of the Church, the physical Resurrection of the bodies of believers, and the End Times, as a whole. For this reason, I chose to spend some time on that subject, today.

There are hundreds of verses in a wide range of places in scripture, giving us information regarding these things, so we are only going to touch on the key passages, in this study, but it still involves a good deal of scripture reading, before we begin to discuss particulars. It is important that we hear the evidence before drawing conclusions. We will begin in the book of Daniel, reading the only timeline given in the Old Testament, then proceed to the New Testament explanations:

Daniel 9:21-27

21 Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. 22 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. 23 At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.

24 Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. 25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. 27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

2nd Thessalonians 2:1-17

1Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. 16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, 17 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.

1st Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

(4)   1But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

(5)   1But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.


1st Corinthians 15:50-58

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Old Testament Prophecies

The Old Testament is full of prophecies concerning the Messiah, the end times, and especially the coming Kingdom, and a peculiar thing called “The Day of the LORD.”

In Isaiah 11 and other passages, we see the blessed state of those living in the Kingdom age, and that it is all predicated upon and a part of, the Day of the Lord. In Amos 5:18-20, we see the warning that the Day of the Lord is a time of darkness and death, of destruction and punishment, and terrible tribulation. In fact, the passage in Amos is specifically a warning directed to those who missed the point of the “Day of the Lord,” and thought it would all be blessing.

In Daniel 9, we see a timeline which begins with the command to rebuild Jerusalem (not the temple) and runs through the end of the tribulation, as we see by reading the companion book, the Revelation. The oddest thing about this timeline, though, is the fact that it completely leaves out the Church Age!

Daniel gives a timeline of 70 weeks of years (it literally says “seventy sevens”) starting at the command (given in Nehemiah 2:6) to rebuild Jerusalem, and running into the death of the Messiah, at the end of the 69th week (seven plus sixty-two; I have no idea why it was divided in this way.) That passage describes the death of the Messiah, in Daniel 9:26, and transitions directly to the tribulation period, describing the Antichrist, who makes a seven-year treaty with Israel, and breaks it after three and one half years. We read about that in the New Testament, in Revelation 11-13. Then it describes the fact that the Antichrist will stop the temple sacrifices, and defile the temple, making it desolate. Jesus described this as a future event, in Matthew 24:15, so we know this passage does not refer to the historical event (in 167 B.C.) when the Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes, sacrificed a sow on the altar in the temple. 200 years after that event, Jesus said that the prophecy in Daniel was yet to come!

The importance of the passage should not be overlooked: It not only tells us what is to come, but makes it clear that none of that prophecy involves the Church age at all! The Messiah was to be killed at the end of the 69th week of Daniel. The church age began after the death of the Messiah, at the day of Pentecost, and will end before the seventieth week begins. How do we know?

New Testament Explanations

In 1st Thessalonians, we see a similar timeline, but this one has no clear starting date, just an event which we call the Rapture of the Church (though that word is not used in Scripture, any more than the word “trinity” is used there) and a description of what immediately follows:

1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 describes the Rapture of the Church, and the transformation of our physical bodies, whether we are alive or dead. Notice that it says those who have already “fallen asleep in Jesus will be returning with Him, while those still physically alive will be caught up to meet Him. (1st Corinthians 15:51, 52 underscores this idea, explaining that it will be an instantaneous change.)

But, bearing in mind that the original manuscripts had no chapter and verse divisions, see what immediately follows, in 1st Thessalonians 5:1-11—what had just occurred was the catching away of the Church. What Paul describes next is the beginning of the Tribulation, and he says that this is the beginning of the Day of the Lord! So, what portion of the Day of the Lord could be described as occurring like a “Thief in the Night?” Only the Rapture of the Church! All the rest of it is completely spelled out and multiple warnings are given. But as a householder waking up and discovering that he has been burglarized during the night, the World will see the Church evacuated in an instant, and it will be too late to escape the coming Judgment.

Incidentally, we saw, in 2nd Thessalonians 2:11, 12, that those left behind who have already rejected the Gospel will not get a “second chance to believe,” as suggested by the popular “Left Behind” series. God says that they will universally believe something false about what has happened (we are not told what that falsehood is), specifically “so that they ALL may be damned who believed not the truth” (future judgment because of past unbelief.) There will be millions who do believe during the tribulation, but not a single one who rejected the Gospel before the Rapture will believe it afterward. That is very sad, but absolutely true.

So, giving further thought to the passage in 1st Thessalonians 4, we may have questions about “So…where have the dead in Christ been, up until His return?” To begin with, notice that in 1st Thessalonians 4:14, it says that they will be coming “with Him,” when He comes for the Church. They have not been “waiting in the graves.” Their bodies may be in a grave (or not), but the spirit departed and was immediately with Christ. How do we know?

What about the Dead in Christ?

Turn to 2nd Corinthians 5:1-19, please.

1For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.


Notice that we are assured that when this body is gone in physical death, we immediately will be clothed upon with immortality…some sort of “resurrection body”… in which we will live until our old bodies are also resurrected and permanently glorified at the Rapture of the Church. While we are looking at this passage, please notice that, in 2nd Corinthians 5:1, we are told “…if our earthly house of this tabernacle (speaking of our physical bodies) were dissolved….” It does not say, “…provided your body receives a proper Christian burial,” or any such thing. People whose bodies were burned up in a fire, or eaten by wild animals, drowned, and ultimately consumed by scavengers on the ocean floor…or simply rotted away completely in a grave, during the countless years when there was no modern embalming…are all treated equally.  

God has no problem reconstructing our old bodies in perfect condition, recognizable by all who knew us, thus fulfilling the promises of Scripture. (Also the warnings of Scripture: on the day of the Judgment of the Unbelieving Dead, God will have no trouble bringing them out, to face the Great White Throne Judgment. But the people who are fearful that a missing limb (or a cremated body, or something) will somehow leave them a cripple in heaven are worrying without a cause: this specifies that if our earthly body ceases to exist, we have a resurrection body supplied immediately. And the passage in 1st Thessalonians 4 assures us that all believers’ bodies will be reconstructed or transformed, instantaneously, at the Rapture of the Church.

What happens after that?

There is sometimes also a little confusion, as to what occurs after the Rapture. So, let’s have a look: In 1st Thessalonians 5:1-11, we saw that the Tribulation period will begin with the catching away of the Church, “as a thief in the night.” This is in full agreement with the warning Jesus gave in Matthew 24, where He also said that “these things are the beginnings of sorrows…as of a woman in childbirth…” and that it was to come “…as a thief in the night.”

Notice, too, that in 1st Thessalonians 5:3, it says that “…when they shall say ‘peace and safety’, then shall sudden destruction come upon them and they shall not escape.”

“When…then” is a time clause: so, what is the key in everyone’s minds, worldwide, to achieving world peace? Resolving the Middle East conflict! The conflict around the Nation of Israel, specifically. World leaders for 60 years have tried to “broker” peace in the Middle East. But in Daniel 9:27, we see that the Antichrist will actually make that peace treaty: a seven-year peace treaty. And he will break it after 3-1/2 years! So…when will the world heave a collective sigh of relief and say ‘At last! Peace and safety’? When that treaty is signed…and we will be gone!

A seven year tribulation (Revelation 6-19) will occur, here on earth, in our absence, culminating in the Lord’s Return, the judgment of the Living Nations (Matthew 25:31, ff.) The Kingdom Age will begin after His return, which will last for 1,000 years, but it will end in the destruction of the unbelievers who will rebel at the end of that time, after which will immediately follow the destruction of the old earth, and the Great White Throne Judgment of the unbelieving Dead (all in Revelation 20.) A New Heaven and new Earth will be created (Revelation 21, 22) and the eternal state will begin, about which we know very little detail, except that sin and suffering will forever be a thing of the long-forgotten past.

So…Now What?

I would encourage each of you to look these things up in your Bible, and understand them more thoroughly: don’t just take my word for any of it. God wants you to know these things for yourselves, and to use them to comfort one another: He says so, over and over!

Lord Jesus, help us to absorb the truth of Your Word, so as to be able to find comfort in these troubling times, and not be overwhelmed by fear, anger or depression. Allow us to comfort one another and offer the same comfort to those around us, in the person of Christ.

More “Problem Passages”

Discipleship versus Salvation

Luke 14:26, 27, 33; Luke 9:62 “Ye cannot be my disciple.”

“…cannot be my disciple” Several things listed, none of which have anything to do with salvation…all have to do with priorities, and choices. “Discipleship” means putting the call of the Master above all other concerns.

The God who commands that one love his neighbor as himself, love his brother as God loves him, etc. is definitely not requiring that a disciple not love his family. He only warns that the choice may sometimes be costly.

Think now; in a Jewish society, a patriarchal society, where virtually everything was governed by how Dad and Mom felt about things: what do you suppose their reaction might have been to their son following Jesus? Do you think they might accuse their errant son of “hating” the family? And, in terms of how one made choices, it might look that way, seeing a young man (or woman) turn his back on all he had been taught to love, value, and revere, and walk after an itinerant preacher who was rapidly gaining momentum as a radical.

Being a “disciple” means following after—it means “adhering to the teaching of”, “subjecting oneself to the discipline of”. It means modeling oneself after a particular teacher’s method, lifestyle or whatever is in question, to become as much like them as possible. In the eastern religions this is still a common idea, and every guru has his disciple or perhaps many such.

In the Christian experience discipleship has become somewhat of a lost concept. We still use the word, but it usually has little to do with completely setting aside whatever you did before and completely following the one whose disciple you have become. We have replaced the concept of “disciple” with the idea of a “dilettante”—a dabbler. A “Weekend Warrior:” Someone who lives whatever way they usually do, but on Sunday! vroooom! Wow, listen to those “Christian Soldiers” revving up their “Crusader GT Sports-Utility-Bibles.” Sounds almost blasphemous, doesn’t it? That is NOT how a disciple is supposed to live. We are called to forsake our old lives, and live the way Jesus calls us to live. We are called to live that way every day, not just Sundays; all the time, not just when it is convenient.

Now, is discipleship the same for everyone? No, I expect not. Joseph of Arimathea was still wealthy, as was Nicodemus, when they took Jesus’ body to the tomb. The only rich person Jesus counseled to “give it all away” and come follow him was the rich young ruler whom Jesus knew had a problem in the area of covetousness…the love of money. I wish we knew what later became of him. But Jesus did tell the rich to change their priorities.

Position or Condition:

The issue of Discipleship is not a positional question—Salvation is a positional issue—you are either In Christ or you are not, and it is a permanent crossing-over from death into life—you cannot cross back. Once you have “passed over from death unto life” (John 5:24) you “shall not come into condemnation,” period. From the moment you place your faith in Jesus as your savior, you have eternal life: Jesus says so.

Discipleship, however, is a conditional issue…you can be a disciple and walk away. You can fail as a disciple and still be God’s child. You can fail as a disciple, and be restored to fellowship and service. So, in the Luke passage (and other similar passages), the issue is service, not salvation. If you are not willing to put Him first, and to set aside your own ambitions, goals, dreams, etc., then you cannot be his disciple. Does he still allow his disciples to have fun? Sure! But diversion is supposed to be just that—diversion—not a lifestyle. We have given ourselves over to what we want for so long, in so many ways, that any tiny service seems “sacrificial.” And I know that the desired “balance” is hard to define, but I strongly suspect that none of us have never gotten “too extreme” in our commitment.

Warnings in the Book of Hebrews

Hebrews 2:3

How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation…?”

The context in this case is the whole book of Hebrews…I do not say this facetiously; the whole book seems to address a mixed group, most of whom are Hebrew believers, and all of whom are professing believers; much like the local assembly today.

There is a repeated warning, beginning with this verse (Hebrews 2:3), and gaining strength throughout the book, that those who claim to have placed their faith in the Messiah need to realize this is a one-way street…you can’t go back and “just be Jews” now…that way has ended for you. This is seen nowhere more strongly than in the passage in Hebrews 10:26, where he states that “there remains no more sacrifice for sin…” If the Jewish professing believer decides that Jesus’ blood is not God’s chosen sacrifice, he can’t go back to the Old Testament figure anymore, because Jesus is the One to whom all the figures pointed…he is the real deal! If He is to be rejected, then the figures are of no further value. There is no more sacrifice, as you have rejected the only sacrifice. Jesus is “Plan A”—there is no “Plan B.”

In Hebrews 2:3, however, the warning was against neglecting to actually place their dependence on Jesus as their full and final payment for sin. Salvation is not a rosebush, or a pet goldfish, which, if neglected, will surely die…the only “neglect” that could affect their position (remember that Salvation is a positional truth) is neglecting to enter in at all. It is possible, for example (though highly unlikely,) that Noah could have had a day during his year-long float on the Ark when everything was so calm and normal-seeming that he forgot about the Ark entirely, and neglected to tend to any of the pressing concerns aboard the Ark. The Ark was not dependent upon Noah’s faithfulness, but upon God’s faithfulness. Noah didn’t design it, God did. Noah built it under God’s direction. And the most important thing of all is that God closed the door. If there was anything for Noah to do, it was in relation to the animals, not the Ark itself: there were no sails, rudder, or oars. Noah had no control over the Ark at all! And, Noah was secure even if he totally forgot where he was. (My guess would be that he never did. That had to have been a pretty intense year.)

Can we think of an individual in scripture who did neglect the opportunity to place his dependence upon Jesus, and ultimately failed to do so? In John 13:10, 11, Jesus identified Judas as such a person: Judas was never saved, even though he had been with Jesus, along with all the other disciples. Ironically, he was a disciple, in the sense that he was chosen by Jesus, and he “followed” Jesus. But he never confessed his sin and his need for a savior. He never believed the message Jesus brought, and never was cleansed by His Word. Compare John 15:3. The other disciples were cleansed by Jesus’s Word.

So, in Hebrews 2:3, the warning is to professing believers; that they should not neglect the opportunity to secure themselves in Christ, and step on into a faith-relationship with Christ. I realize there will be many who disagree, and that is OK. Much argument within the churches is founded upon such questions, and I am not trying to further any such arguments, but rather to give some firm footing to the believers.

Hebrews 3:12-14

Interestingly, this one, though it sounds more severe, is actually less severe. Keep in mind that the remote context the writer refers to is the story of the children of Israel, as they were in the desert for 40 years. These people had all been “under the blood of the Passover,” they had all been under the cloud with Moses, and they all had crossed through the Red Sea, and had seen the Egyptians drowned. They had all fed on the manna, and had all been supplied water out of the Mighty Rock (which according to 1st Corinthians 10:4, actually was Christ). I would have to say these folks were all believers, but they still were sinners, and they frequently rebelled (as do I). And God judged their unbelief, in that they were not allowed to enter into “His rest” (the land.) Notice that this verse is definitely to believers—the brethren.

The Land is not figurative of Heaven, but rather the normal Christian Life, here on earth. We are supposed to be living a fruitful life, victorious in battle (no fights in heaven, today, folks…but there are lots of them here on earth….), reproducing spiritually, and honoring the Lord with our lives. But we are all still subject to failure. The Land (the fruitful life of the disciple) is something that Believers desire to enter into on a daily basis. Heaven is something every believer will enter into, ready or not. In Heaven, there is no chance of failure, no further cause of fear. Our sin natures will be gone forever, and we will never sin again. We will be completely like Jesus in character.

Departing from the living God is not something that you can literally do, as a believer, according to Romans 8:35-39 (…remember that you are a created thing—a creature—you cannot separate yourself from Him.) But in terms of fellowship, it is not only something we can do, we do it frequently, because of sin. Most sin is based on unbelief, pride, or self-will. all sin has the capacity to break fellowship. If we allow bitterness to creep in, because of circumstances, then we question God’s character, and the seed of unbelief begins to bear fruit. At that point, we are no longer feeding on the Vine of Christ (John 15:5), and cannot bear his fruit. We will only bear the natural fruit of our sin nature, until we return to fellowship, via confession. (1st John 1:9)

Hebrews 4:1

Therefore, on the basis of Hebrews 3 and all the history to which it referred, Hebrews 4:1 is an admonition to not fail to enter into the rest God still offers. We see in verse eleven that it takes work to enter into God’s Rest! We labor to enter into His Rest. Jesus completed all the work of salvation at the Cross. The Old Testament word “shabbat” meant “rest,” but specifically the “give it a rest” variety… “stop working.” The Jews had to stop working because God told them to do so: Jesus stopped because the work was complete! (Remember? “It is finished!”) So how do we enter into that rest? We enter in by faith, recognizing that the work of salvation is complete, that we have eternal peace with God, and that our position in Christ is secure forever!

Jesus is our rest…our true Sabbath! We do not want to miss out on the day-by-day Peace and Rest of walking with God in Christ. That is the admonition of Hebrews 4:1. But the one that really scares everyone is in Hebrews 6…so let’s go there.

Hebrews 6:4-8

This is a perfect example of a place where it becomes terribly important to read the whole context: When I just read the problem passage (6:4-8) I could easily conclude that it is possible to lose one’s salvation, and, that having done so, it is impossible to be restored. (Many people come to the first of these conclusions, but miss the point of the second.)

But when I begin in Hebrews 5:10 and read through 6:12, I see some serious differences:

The recipients were believers, whom the writer (Paul, I believe) was taking to task for having failed to mature as believers should: he says that they should have been teaching others by now, but instead, he says that they have actually regressed into spiritual babyhood, and need to be retaught, from the beginning. He says they can’t handle solid food, but are reduced to needing milk again.

Then, in chapter six, he begins to state the foundational things they should have already grasped and from which they should be moving on. (All of them sound fairly advanced, from our point of view…but he says those are baby-food!)

Then the writer changes the pronoun regarding whom he is talking about: In 5:11-6:3, the first and second-person pronouns are used, denoting the writer (though he uses the first person plural…perhaps there were others with him?) and the recipients.

But in verses 4-8, the pronoun changes to 3rd person: “those, they, themselves, it, etc.” He describes some person who is evidently not a believer at all, but who has joined with the believers, and has become saturated with the teaching, but has never owned the Savior for himself. He agrees, perhaps, that “Jesus died for the sins of the World,” but can’t clearly state that “He died for ME!” Judas was in this category, by the way, and there have been many other such persons throughout history. Jesus himself confirmed that Judas had never become a believer, in John 13:10, 11.

The description of the apostate in Hebrews 6:4-8, at first reading, sounds like a believer who has failed. But there is no mention of faith…only experience. Remember that Judas was sent out with the other disciples, two by two: he healed sick people! He cast out demons! He may have even raised the dead! He was there amongst the other eleven, and he not only saw the miracles, but was given authority to partake in them! He tasted of the good word of God; he tasted of the powers of the world to come! But he never trusted in Jesus as his own savior. After he left to go and betray Jesus to the Jewish leaders, Jesus told the remaining eleven disciples that “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3) Judas had heard all the same words the others had heard: but he had never responded in faith!

So, what is there in this context that lets us know this is a true understanding? Read verses 9-12! The writer changes the pronouns again, and goes back to “Ye, you, we, etc.” He calls the recipients “brethren,” and says that he is convinced of better things concerning them “and things that accompany salvation” (meaning that what went before did not necessarily accompany salvation.) Then he goes on to assure the believers that God has not forgotten their faithfulness and good works…and encourages them to not be lazy about their relationship with God, but to press on!

There are several other passages the enemy frequently uses to trip us up, but these are a few that are commonly encountered.

We will try to come back and address the remaining “frequently misused passages at a later date.

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.

Dwelling and Abiding

Dwelling and Abiding

© C. O. Bishop January 2019  THCF 2019

(Read aloud) Psalm 91:1 & Psalm 15:1-5 (compare John 15:3-12)

Introduction:

“To dwell”, is to live, or to stay in a place; a “dwelling,” as a noun, is a place where people live. “To abide,” is to remain; to stay, or, in some usages, “to endure.” Sometimes “Abide” and “Dwell” are nearly synonymous.

God used David to make some statements about the verbs “abiding,” and “dwelling:” sometimes they are essentially the same; sometimes one results in the other.

Psalm 91:1 says, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” We might ask, “How do we dwell with God?, and What does it mean, to abide?”

If I were to use contrasting words to point out what the scripture does not say, I could point out that the passage does not say, “He who occasionally visits the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty…”. Nor does it say, “He who goes there seasonally to celebrate a family tradition …etc.” It says that the one who lives with God will find his life overshadowed by the presence of God.

If you want your life to be overshadowed by the Lord’s presence, then you need to dwell where He is. Center your life around his person and presence. Psalm 37:5 says, “commit your way to him.” The result will be that He is the one who accomplishes his work through you.

How do we Dwell with God?

Psalm 15 poses the question, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy Holy Hill?” The issue is, “Who has the right to stand before God on a continuing basis?  Who will God accept as a constant companion?” Amos 3:3 asks a similar question; a rhetorical question: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (The implied answer is “NO!”) So…assuming that I am already born again, if there is a disagreement between me and God…I have to change my mind (repent—metanoia) before I can walk with him again…and before I can “Abide in His tabernacle and Dwell in His Holy Hill”. The result is a lifestyle change. Look at what the psalmist lists as the normal standards for such a person:

  • He that walketh uprightly. This is a general statement about character—all that follows will reflect this reality. You are either walking uprightly, or you are not. There is no middle ground. It is a moment-by-moment reality. Either you are or you aren’t.
  • And that worketh righteousness. This is a general statement about works—good works are the result of righteousness. They can be proactive, overt acts, as well as reactive or passive behavior.
  • And that speaketh the truth in his heart. That is where truth has to begin…being honest with God and oneself. Confession plays into this, as well as how we respond to those around us. It means being sober and honest with ourselves and with others, and with God. Romans 12 speaks of a man not thinking more highly of himself than he ought, but to be sober—to see himself clearly.
  • He that backbiteth not with his tongue. (No gossip or slander. Even when it is true, gossip is wrong.)
  • Nor doeth evil to his neighbor. (No dirty tricks, or underhanded dealings. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. No taking advantage of them, in any way.)
  • Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. (Ever say bad things about other people? Accuse other people? Or join forces with those who do? Do you get offended against someone because of gossip you listened to? Bear in mind that the Scripture identifies the one who is the “accuser of the brethren”, in Revelation 12:10…it is Satan himself!)
  • In whose eyes a vile person is condemned. (This is not license to be judgmental. What do you think of your old sin-nature? Now, there’s a vile person for you! See Jeremiah 17:9 – “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” , Romans 8:7 –“the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”, and Ephesians 4:22 – “That ye put off concerning the former way of life the old nature which is being corrupted according to the deceitful lusts”. While you are there, and considering the enormity of your own fallen nature, however, please read Ephesians 4:24 –“…and that ye put on the new nature, which after God is created in righteousness and true Holiness”…that’s how God sees you.) On the other hand, every unsaved person in the world is already condemned, according to Jesus (John 3:18), so our response to a “vile person” should be to remember they are lost, and extend the offer of Eternal Life to them. Yes, they are condemned…and God wants to fix that! We cannot pretend to fellowship around the person of Christ with an unbeliever, but we can definitely and deliberately extend his forgiveness to them.)
  • But who honoureth them that fear the Lord. (Who do you seek to fellowship with? Who are your friends? Who do you respect…and treat with respect? King Jehoshaphat got in trouble with God because he was making allegiances (friendships) with the enemies of God. He repented, changed his behavior, and God honored him. 2nd Chronicles 19, 20)
  • He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not. (If it turns out that keeping your word is going to cost you heavily, do you keep it anyway? Or do you try to “weasel out,” and make excuses? God is impressed with people who keep their word, even when it hurts. He wants us to keep our word, and take our commitments seriously.)
  • He that putteth not out to usury. (The legal rule on this was that they could not charge interest on a loan to a fellow Jew…the principle is that we are not to profit from someone else’s loss or misfortune. There is not a problem with interest-bearing investments or bank accounts, etc. See Luke 19:23.)
  • Nor taketh a reward (bribe) against the innocent. (The principle, again, is not perverting justice; not subverting the cause of an innocent person, for the sake of a bribe. Bribery is always seen as sin, in scripture. Sometimes a gift of appeasement—a peace-offering— is approved, but never to corrupt justice, or get something by wrong means.)
  • He that doeth these things shall never be moved. (The idea behind this concluding promise is not that the person who walks in persistent obedience to Christ will never suffer misfortune, but rather that he/she will never fall prey to temptation and sin.)

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand: every believer can fellowship with God, but we begin with confession, and follow up with obedience, in order to maintain fellowship. He is not demanding perfection out of us: Jesus did that for us. But He is demanding a willing heart, to learn His ways, and to walk with Him.

John 15:3-12 How do we Abide in Christ?

This passage is usually remembered as being the “discourse of the vine and the branches,” which is accurate, of course, but it seems a little shallow, in terms of understanding, if that is all we see. The issue here is Abiding. We are not talking about vineyards, here. We are talking about the core issue of discipleship—abiding in Christ—walking with Him, obeying him: becoming his hands, feet and voice on Earth. That is what the passage is about. Verse 5 is a key verse, in that Jesus clearly, unequivocally states that apart from Him we can do nothing. Not “less” or “lower quality” or anything comparative in nature: he says, “Nothing!”  Our work is a complete failure if He is not the source. Compare Psalm 127:1 “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Jesus makes it completely clear that this is literally the case.

At the end of John 14, Jesus had left the upper room of the last supper, and was headed for Gethsemane, teaching as he walked. The eleven remaining disciples were with him, as they passed through the ancient vineyards between Jerusalem and Gethsemane. Then, in John Chapter 15, He used the vines as an object lesson:

v.3: He is speaking to believers: “Now ye are clean, through the Word which I have spoken unto you…” He is changing what he said in chapter 13, where all twelve were present and he said: “You are not all clean.” Judas had gone to carry out his mission. He was the only one of the twelve who never owned Jesus as his savior and master. He was never saved, never cleansed. The eleven were cleansed by believing Jesus; by trusting his word. The point I am trying to make is that this passage about abiding is only to believers. This has nothing to do with how to get saved or how to stay saved, but only how to bear fruit as a believer. It is critical that we understand this fact.

v.4: Abiding is necessary for fruit-bearing, as a principle of life—this is true in a vine; and true in the believer’s life.

v.5: Jesus alone is the source of nourishment. Apart from that nourishment, no fruit is possible. (There are two kinds of fruit—spiritual offspring and the fruit of the Spirit. Both are impossible apart from abiding in Christ.)

v.6: A non-fruit-bearing believer is rejected by men (not God). The World (and the Church, sadly) rejects a testimony that does not bring visible gain. This is not a reference to a believer losing his salvation. People reject failure, and brand as failures those who are not bearing fruit. In terms of literal grape-vine branches, such limbs are cut out and burned. The Old Testament man, Lot, stands as a good example of how God sees a non-fruit-bearing believer. There were definite consequences for his sin, and unbelief—yet, in 2nd Peter 2:6-8, God says he was a righteous man. Keep that in mind!

v.7: Abiding produces a productive prayer life. Abiding involves the Word of God in us. (Compare Psalm 119:9-11; Psalm 1:1-6) Bear in mind that it takes active feeding on the Word to have it in us at all. We have to choose to feed the new nature. One result is that our prayer life becomes productive. In 1st John 3:22, John points out that a fruitful prayer life is a direct result of obedience.

v.8: It glorifies God when we bear much fruit. Remember there are two kinds of fruit. One is a daily outpouring of God’s grace through us in what is called the Fruit (singular) of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22, 23—the other is spiritual offspring. (See John 15:16…the fruit of the Spirit is transient, at least from human perspective; sometimes we display it, and when we are carnal we most certainly do not. Spiritual offspring are the other sort of fruit; they are a heritage to future generations. This is the fruit that remains. Compare John 12:24. Jesus was speaking, regarding his own death: He said“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” This is the fruit which is people, born again to eternal life. Jesus died to produce this fruit. We share the Gospel to bear this fruit.)

v. 9: The Agapé love is the key, here. Agapé is the committed love that is characterized by action (1st Corinthians 13) and focuses on the well-being of the recipient, not the source. It was best exemplified at the Cross.

v. 10: How do we “abide in his love?” We do so by obedience to his Word; keeping his commandments—see John 15:34, 35.

v. 11: His commandment, if obeyed, results in Joy.

v. 12: The commandment, of course, is, “Love One Another.”

This applies to the Agapé Love being poured out between believers, but also to the sharing of that love, through the Gospel, with the lost world around us.

Conclusion:

Jesus says if we want to function as his friends, then we need to focus on doing what He commanded regarding the people around us. We must be committed to functioning as the Friends of Christ:

  • Abiding in His Word,
  • Abiding in his Love
  • Seeking to obey His Word.

This is what David was talking about in both Psalm 15 and Psalm 91. Notice that none of it is a “Lone Ranger” experience…it all involves how we deal with people around us. There is no such thing as a Christian Hermit, in God’s economy. Yes, people are a pain…but do you really think they are more so to us than we must be to the Holy God of the Universe, who is truly worthy of perfect obedience? And yet, He chooses to respond to them in Agapé love, but, sadly, we do not.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating: “the Christian life isn’t difficult: it’s impossible if you insist on doing it in your own strength.” Jesus himself says so: don’t fail him by attempting to obey in the flesh. It simply cannot be done. If you do not allow the Holy Spirit to love the unlovely through you, it simply will not happen. God says that your old nature not only is not subject to Him, but it cannot be subjected to Him. (Romans 8:7)Only the new nature, under the dominion of the Holy Spirit, can live in such a way as to please God.

Ultimately, then, the Christian life is a series of choices, moment by moment, day by day: “Will you, or will you not abide? Will you or will you not obey?”

Choose to walk with Jesus: abide in Him, and be the person he has created you to be. What does this look like?

  • You dig into God’s Word, daily, so as to give the Holy Spirit the tools He needs to change your life. Feed on it! Immerse yourself in it!
  • You submit yourself to God through obedience to His Word.
  • You pray for God to make you usable in His service.
  • You pray consistently for the Church and others.
  • You look for (and use) opportunities to share the Gospel with others, so that they may be saved from their sins, and have eternal life.
  • You consistently treat all those around you with the Agapé Love. (1st Corinthians 13)
  • You daily, moment-by-moment, remember that you are an Ambassador of Christ.

By the way, all of us are concerned about the small size of the church today: well, this is how the church is supposed to grow—individual Christians telling others about Jesus Christ— one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. Not just “inviting your friends to Church”, but rather inviting them to Christ; taking personal responsibility for the message that has been entrusted to you. Paul said that he had a debt to all, to offer them eternal life through the gospel of Christ. (Romans 1:14-16

Be the ambassador you are called to be: walking with Jesus, feeding on Jesus, and serving as His hands, feet and mouth. That is what discipleship is all about.

Lord Jesus, fill us with compassion for the lost, and the overwhelming desire to serve you with our lives. Place us into your service and love the world through us.

Born Again! What Now?

Born Again! What Now?

© 2019, C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:23-25; 1st Peter 2:1-5 cp. John 1:12, 13; John 3:3, John 5:24

Introduction:

We often hear people talk about being “born again.” Even secular writers and singers will use this phrase, usually only to describe some sort of life-changing experience or epiphany. But the question we want to address is, what did Jesus mean, when He told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”?

What does it mean when the Bible talks about being Born Again? Is it just religious talk for becoming a church-goer? There was no church, as we know it, in Jesus’ time, so it can’t have been as simple as that. Nicodemus was already a staunch, important member of his synagogue.

How does a Person become Born Again?

In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus that unless he was born again, he could not see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it…and he addressed both ideas…seeing the Kingdom of God, and entering it. Nicodemus had no idea what Jesus meant. Jesus explained that a person would receive eternal life by believing in the Son of God.

In verse 14, He reminded Nicodemus of the mass invasion of venomous snakes threatening Israel, as a judgement for sin, under Moses. God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent (bronze is a symbol for judgment, in the Bible) and to hang it on a pole, up high, so everyone could see it. If a bitten person looked to that bronze serpent on the pole as God’s solution for the snakebite, they would not die.

In verse 15, Jesus concludes that, in the same manner, people who look to HIM as God’s solution for sin, will not die…that “Whosever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” He reiterated that truth in verse 16, saying that This was God’s Love being offered to the whole world. He also pointed out (in verse 18) that whoever chooses to not believe is already condemned, not “waiting for condemnation,” and that the issue is the unbelief. Remember, the folk who were bitten by the venomous snakes were already bitten…and without help they would die. Those who looked to God’s answer to sin, lived…those who rejected Him died.

In verse 36, the writer concludes that, “He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Does that really answer the question of “how” a person can be born again? Actually, yes, it does, but it is spelled out more clearly in John chapter one. John 1:11-13 says that “He (Jesus) came unto His own and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the Sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Now, that passage will bear some examination:

  • Who were these people, called “His own”, who rejected Him? It was the nation of Israel. As a Nation, they emphatically rejected Him, at Jerusalem. Were there individuals who received Him as their Savior and their King? And even some Gentiles who recognized Him as the Promised Messiah of Israel, and who willingly chose Him as their own master and Savior? Yes, of course there were! And those few who received Him are the ones to whom this passage refers! So what does it say about them?
  • It says “to them gave He power to become the Sons of God”
    • The word “power”, in this passage, is translated from the Greek word “exousia”, meaning “authority.” Those who received him were given the authority to do something, much as one who has become a member of an organization has the authority to enter into a secure building where they are assigned to work. But in this case, the thing they are authorized to do is to “become” a “Son of God.”
    • The word “become,” in this passage, is translated from the Greek word “genesthai.” That word, even in modern Greek, means “to be born!” They were given the authority to be born again!
    • And, interestingly, the word translated “sons” is the Greek word “tekna”, which literally means “born ones”…we would say “offspring”. But the Scottish language has a word, “bairns,” which is an exact translation of this word. It literally means “born ones.” There is a different Greek word that means “sons,” in the sense of “heirs.” We will talk about that one a different time.
  • “To them that believe on His Name.”
    • These people are listed as those who believe on His Name. They have placed their trust in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ for their salvation, just as those people who were snake-bitten placed their trust in the power of God and looked to that bronze snake on the pole.
  • Finally, he says that those “born ones” were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
    • Not born of blood: this is not a flesh-thing…it is a spirit thing. Your “blood-line” is not in question. Your spiritual father is in question. At one point (John 8:44) Jesus pointed out that his antagonists, the unbelieving Jews, were not children of God, but of Satan. They were behaving like their spiritual father.
    • Not born of the will of the flesh: this is not the result of two people cohabiting… no physical interaction affects this. And there is nothing “accidental” about it.
    • Not born of the will of man: This is not even human in origin. It is from God.

So the idea of being “born again,” as Jesus expressed it to Nicodemus, is entirely the result of God offering eternal life on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ, to those who receive Him as their Savior. It is completely personal, in the sense that it is not a “group activity.” It is addressed on a one-by-one basis, as each person sees himself or herself as a lost sinner, needing a Savior. The people in Jerusalem, in Jesus’ time, were indignant that He saw them as sinners. They saw themselves as “the best of the best,” and just about as perfect as people could be. And, honestly, Nicodemus was right up there with the best of them…but Jesus told him that unless he became born again, he was lost.

What is the Result of Being Born Again?

We already saw that believing in Jesus as one’s Savior is how one becomes born again. But what is the result?

John 5:24 makes a promise, with no disclaimers, no qualifiers, no “ifs, ands or buts.” Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life.”

Notice that He lists two conditions to the promise:

  1. Hear His Word: You do have to hear the good news that Jesus died as full payment for your sins. No one just comes up and shakes His hand and says, “Hey, I’d like to join your group!” That is effectively what Nicodemus seemed to be attempting to do. But Jesus told him that there was something that had to happen, first.
  2. Believe on the One who sent Jesus. Ultimately, we either place our trust in God’s solution for sin, or we come up with some sort of “do-it-yourself” plan of salvation. God’s solution is the preaching of the Cross: in 1st Corinthians 1:17, 18 we are told that the preaching of the cross is how God saves people. They either believe the message or they don’t. So, if we decide to “circumvent the cross,” and find some other way to approach God, then we are not believing on Him who sent Jesus to the Cross…we are believing that our own wisdom exceeds the wisdom of God.

So, if those two conditions are met: we have heard the message, and we have chosen to believe God, rather than believing some other source, then what does the promise hold for us? The Promise has three clauses:

  1. We have eternal life…that is present tense. Notice that it does not say, “…he that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me will someday have eternal life…” It says “…hath everlasting life!” Now! Not “someday, if you are good.”
  2. We will not ever be condemned by God. This is future tense: He does not say, “…is not condemned now, but, brother, he’d better stay outta trouble!” He says “…shall not come into condemnation!” There are no disclaimers, no exceptions, and no escape clauses!
  3. Finally, he says that we have passed from death unto life. In English, this sounds as though it is a past participle, meaning that something “has happened at some time in the past.” But, in fact, it is perfect tense, meaning that it “happened at some time in the past with permanent results for the future.” In contemporary language, it means “It’s a done deal!” There is no way of becoming “un-born-again!”

These are tremendous promises. There are some who try to short-circuit the promises, saying, “Well, you know, if you continue in sin, God will still reject you!”  Or, they might say, “Well, you are saved by faith, but you are kept by works!”  (I have heard both of these statements.) To say such a thing makes Jesus a liar! He did not offer Himself an escape clause, or any way for Himself to renege on His promise. He made a solid promise, and all He asks us to do is step into the promise, by faith.

And the results are eternal.

What Now?

What do we do once we havebeen born again? Is that all there is to it? “I’m saved, so now I can kick back and wait for Jesus to come?” What does God say that He wants us to do?

Turn to 1st Peter 1:23. We are going to read from verse 23 through into chapter 2, verse 5.

He says that we have been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which lives and abides forever. Do you remember someone referred to as the Word of God? A Person, called the Word of God? If you remember John 1:1, we read there that “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….” and then, in verse 14 of the same chapter, we saw that “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and truth.” So, Jesus is the Word, by whom we have been born again. We heard the Word, received and believed the Word, and as a result, we have been born again, by the Word of God, who is living and abiding forever.

And what does He say to do about that? Read on into chapter 2: he says for us to lay aside our petty gripes, and politics, and hypocrisies, and (see verse two) “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.”

Feed on the Word!

God wants to feed his babies! He insists that they be fed on His Word! That is why we only teach from His Word, here at True Hope Christian Fellowship. His Word is “sheep food,” and we are called to feed the flock of God! But every believer is called to deliberately, and personally go to God’s Word to be fed!

  • If you don’t have a Bible, we will get you one!
  • If you can’t read, then you can go where the Word will be read publicly.
  • If you have trouble understanding, then you must go to where someone will teach you at your own pace, and explain at a level where you can completely grasp it, and continue to repeat it until it sticks!

You, personally, are called to feed on God’s Word. Your teachers are called to feed you, but you have a personal calling to feed on God’s Word…and why? So that you can grow thereby…that you will grow, spiritually, as a direct result of feeding on God’s Word. That you will become stronger, and healthier, and able to feed others, as well.

What are the Long Range Results?

Look just a bit further: verses 3-5 point out the long-range results.

Since we have tasted of the Lord’s Grace, and have approached Him as the “Living Stone” on which all of God’s kingdom is built, we have also become the “living stones” of His temple, throughout the whole world. He indwells us, individually, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

But as a group, He says that we are the Temple of God (1st Corinthians 3:16), and, here in this passage, He says that we are “a spiritual house, and a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ!”

Now, if that sounds mysterious to you, then I’d say that you need to feed on God’s Word until you understand not only what it means, but what your part in that “spiritual house and holy priesthood” really is. What does it mean when it says that you are a priest? What does it mean when it says that you are to offer up spiritual sacrifices? You need to learn these things.

But, right now, the only question you have to ask yourself, is “Have I been born again? Have I really trusted Jesus as my savior? Have I placed my trust in His blood sacrifice as full payment for my sins?”

Then, if you are sure that your trust is in His finished work at the Cross, and not your own works, then the next step is to feed on His word. He commands us to desire the sincere milk of the Word. We will try to whet your appetite, here, but the best way to get hungry for God’s Word is to actually feed on it! The more you eat, the stronger your appetite will grow.

Conclusions and Decisions

When you first heard the news that Jesus died to pay for your sins, you had a decision to make: “Will I believe in Him, trusting in His finished work at the Cross, or not?”

Having made the decision to receive Him as your Savior, you now have a decision to make, every day: “Will I set aside everything else, and deliberately spend time reading God’s Word, so that I can grow…or not?

The results of both decisions have eternal results. The decision to believe the Gospel, and receive Jesus as your Savior resulted in your being born again, eternally secure as God’s Child.

The decision to feed on God’s Word, resulting in the growth you experience here, will allow you to serve, and do the things God has called you to do, here on earth.

And that will result in eternal rewards.

The decision is yours, every day. What will you do?

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to desire to feed upon your written Word, so that we can be molded into the likeness of the Living Word. Raise us up to be the men and women of God that you have called us to be.