What is The Life of Discipleship?

The Life of Discipleship

1st Thessalonians 5:8-11

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.

Introduction:

We tend to distance ourselves from the reality of the Christian Life, We are prone to imagining how the believers at the time of the Apostles must have lived and felt. There is nothing wrong with remembering their circumstances (which much harsher than our own, in most cases.) But we have to live in such a way as to apply these truths today, not just imagining how they might have lived, two thousand years ago.

Be Sober (v. 8)

What does it mean to “be sober,” today? It does not just mean “don’t get drunk,” though it could include that idea. It means to take the Christian life seriously…not as “weekend entertainment,” or as social “gamesmanship.” We are not to attempt to position ourselves as “more pious” than others. (Somehow, “I’m more humble than you” is a contradiction in concepts. Humility would never harbor such a thought. Sobriety instantly recognizes the spiritual trap in the temptation to see oneself in that warped “amusement park” mirror.

Romans 12:3 says, For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

This is the same writer (Paul) using the same terminology. But, in the Romans passage, he begins to explain the idea. “Thinking soberly” is offered in contrast to self-aggrandizement. It means seeing yourself through honest eyes. It means seeing yourself as God sees you.

Sober eyes look at reality and they see reality. They see themselvez neither more highly nor more lowly than simple reality. Sobriety is neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic. It is realistic. And, in light of that reality, we are called to respond to life in a serious manner. We must see it all against the backdrop of the spiritual battle that is taking place. And yet we are called to rejoice in the ultimate victory that Jesus secured for us at the Cross.

Armor (v. 8)

A short version of the Armor of God is mentioned here. But in Ephesians 6:13-19, Paul lays out what he calls the “whole armor of God.” He names seven pieces, making up the whole of that armor:

  1. Belt of truth
  2. Breastplate of Righteousness
  3. Shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of Peace
  4. Shield of Faith
  5. Helmet of Salvation
  6. Sword of the Spirit
  7. Prayer for one another and ourselves.

And, in 2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5, he says that this armor ‘is not Carnal but is mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds.’ Through it, we are to cast down imagination, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. Through it we are to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Our Position (v. 9)

Not Appointed to Wrath

We have a secure position in Christ. The Tribulation (which Paul warned about in verses 1-3 is surely coming.) But we are not going to be part of it. Our suffering, such as it is, will come before that time, and we will be taken out of the World before the judgment of the Daniel prophecy begins. We are not appointed to wrath…why?

We are Appointed to Obtain Salvation through Christ (v. 9, 10)

We who have trusted in Christ in this age are appointed to be taken out of the world, as we saw in the previous chapter: His sacrificial death for us guaranteed that we will be with him whether we are alive or dead. Jesus made the clear promise of this hope when He said, “He that hears my word and believes on Him who sent me, has eternal life,  and shall not come into condemnation, but has crossed over from death into life.” That single promise covers our past, our present and our future!

Our Source of Comfort (v. 11)

Back in 1st Thessalonians 4:18, Paul said, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” Here in 1st Thessalonians 5:11, he repeats the command. But we need to remember the means by which we are commanded to comfort one another. We are not called to simply “pat one another on the shoulder and say, There, there!” We find our comfort in the Person of Christ who is the Living Word of God, and in the Holy Scriptures which are the Written Word of God.

Our Need for Comfort

We live in a dark world: Philippians 2:15, 16 says we are to shine as lights in that darkness, reflecting the “Light of the World” which is Jesus Himself. In John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

“Following Jesus” is what enables us to shine in that darkness. We can shine because we are not walking in darkness…we have the light of life. His presence as the Light of the World is what gives us comfort and direction. If we don’t walk with Him we are in darkness. (1st John 1:6.)

In John 16:33, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have Peace. In the World ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the World.”

How much easier is it to bear up under the load of harsh reality in this World, when we know that Jesus predicted exactly that, and that He offers us the comfort (Peace) of knowing that the victory is already won? Jesus already defeated all our enemies at the Cross!

In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My Peace I give unto you: Not as the World giveth, give I unto you: let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Comfort in Security

And we have the additional comfort of knowing that, even if we “collapse under the load,” and “quit,” in despair, He will not quit, nor will He ever give up on us! Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus said, in John 6:37, “He that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.” And two verses later, in John 6:39, He said, “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” He will cast no one out, and will not lose a single person who comes to Him in faith!

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.”

How did we enter into that relationship?

John 5:24 says, “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.

If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, believing that His blood sacrifice was God’s chosen sacrifice for your sins, then Jesus says you have crossed over from death into life. He says you will never be condemned by God, and that you now have everlasting life. It is a “done deal,” and permanent…as in “Eternal!

Finally, remember Romans 8:38, 39For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God says, no creature (Meaning, no “created thing:” including all the demons, Satan himself, any imaginable physical hazards… and even YOU, as a sinning believer… Nothing! )can separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ. How is that for a foundation for Comfort in Christ?

How do we Comfort One Another?

Notice that the command was not for us to comfort ourselves, but to comfort one another. Are we to also comfort ourselves? Yes, we are to find comfort in the Written Word of God, and then be able to share that Comfort with other believers. (Turn to 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11, please.)

Comforted with the purpose of comforting

2 Corinthians 1:3-11 says, Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.

Paul’s Examples

For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:

But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: 10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; 11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.”

What does it Mean, to “Edify” One Another? (v. 11)

We can easily overlook the last command in verse eleven. It says we are to “edify one another.” We don’t often use that word in English today: but it means to “build up.” (The word “edifice” still means a building, but we don’t hear that word very often, either.)

How do we “build one another up?” (That is what the command actually says!)

When we fellowship with other believers, our partnership with them is not only about common interests, in the natural sense. We need to share with one another regarding the Word of God, and what we are learning from God. We can share our comforts as it says in 2nd Corinthians 1:4. You see, those are the sorts of things by which we strengthen one another and build one another up to be stronger in our faith.

Personal Examples

When Kristen Flemmer admonished me saying, “Never forget the shield of Faith!” she strengthened me! When Chuck reminds me to keep my eyes on Jesus, knowing that Jesus Alone is responsible for the well-being of the Church, he builds me up, making me stronger. He is encouraging me to look and see Jesus at work. Ann strengthens me constantly, simply by her faith, and her constant love and support for me. And each of us can do that for one another.

But, if we are not feeding ourselves on the Word of God , then we will not have much to work with when it comes to strengthening others. We need God’s Word to feed on, to grow, and to mature as believers. Faith in His Word, as a working reality, is what strengthens us against the assaults of the enemy.

Count the cost, but look to Eternal Values!

In 2nd Corinthians 4:17, 18 there is one last thing for us to consider:17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Our sufferings, whatever they are, are temporary. Life is short. Eternity is forever. Last week we mentioned the hymnist Margaret Clarkson, who lived her entire life in pain, from migraines and arthritis. (Her first spoken words were “My head hurts!”) But, as a disciple, she saw that all the suffering was temporary.

Paul tells us to maintain that perspective and know that (though it is beyond our understanding) the eternal weight of glory for having walked with Jesus, is where we need to attach our hope. The afflictions we endure here are minor, compared to the Eternal Weight of Glory to come.

Lord Jesus, please teach us Your eternal perspective on life. Stir our hearts to comfort and edify one another by Your Word and by Your Grace. Amen

What Seek Ye?

What Seek Ye?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 1:35-39

Introduction:

The passage we are reading, in John chapter one, is really about the initial introduction Jesus had with the men who would become His disciples, and eventually His Apostles. So, it may seem a bit of a “stretch,” to apply it to believers today.

But I think it is appropriate to remember that, except for Judas, these men were already believers, as far as we can tell. They believed the Word of God, even if they didn’t understand it all…just like we do. They were only transferring their worship from a distant, poorly understood God, whose judgment they feared, but whom they timidly “loved from a distance,” to a personal, right-there-with-them Lord who they also did not really understand. And they learned to Love Him personally, fiercely: and, in spite of all their failings, He loved them back.

So, let’s read the context: beginning in verse 35: John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples…men who had believed his message of the coming kingdom, and had heard him proclaim Jesus to be the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the World.” We aren’t told how anyone responded to that first announcement, in verses 29-34. But in verses 35-46, we see things beginning to happen: the next day, John the Baptist saw Jesus passing by again, and gave his disciples a bit of a “nudge.” He said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” And that was all it took! Those two men left John immediately and followed Jesus. But Jesus turned around and asked them, “What Seek Ye?” Now, if I had been the one asking that question, my intent would have been to challenge the persons following me to give account for their actions: “Why are you following me?!”

But that does not seem to be Jesus’s intent at all: He was God in the flesh, and He knew their hearts. He knew why they were following Him! So why would He ask? I must conclude that He wanted them to answer for their own benefit: “What am I doing? Why am I following this man? What do I hope to gain by it? What do I hope to learn?

And their answer was a question, as simple as an answer could be…and necessarily vague: they really had no idea what to expect. They simply asked, in return, “Master, Where dwellest thou?

What Questions should we ask?

I think that is an appropriate “first question” for each of us to ask as well, but I think we also should ask ourselves, “What am I seeking?

Why am I seeking to fellowship with God? What am I trying to accomplish? Or, what do I hope to gain? Do I really want to Know Him better, or is this some sort of religious “self-help” experience? Am I just hoping to find some peace and happiness? Am I looking for exciting supernatural experiences? Entertainment? Increased social standing?  “What am I seeking?”

If what you are seeking boils down to a genuine need for a real relationship with Jesus Christ; the Biblical Jesus, who is the Real, Eternal God, living in human form, then the next question truly could echo the Disciples, saying, “Master, Where Dwellest thou?”

“What you are seeking” will direct you to seek in an appropriate place. You have already placed your trust in Jesus as your Savior. But, can you learn how to consciously find His presence on a daily basis and repeatedly come back to that closeness, rather than it being a random experience that “just happens?”

Where does Jesus Dwell?

Looking back in the Old Testament, we have found that every time God showed up in visible form, especially in human form, it was the pre-incarnate Christ. In fact, we were able to determine that the God of the Old Testament who met with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and others, was none other than the One we address as Jesus!

With that in mind, let’s look back and see where He says He dwells:

When Jacob saw the ladder, or staircase, leading into Heaven, upon which the angels were ascending and descending, he thought that he had somehow stumbled into God’s House, the Gate of Heaven! He named the place “Bethel,” meaning “house of God,” and offered God a rock to dwell in. Does that mean that God chose to actually live in that Rock? Nope. Honestly, that whole story makes me feel embarrassed for Jacob. How naïve does one have to be, to consider it appropriate to approach the eternal God, the creator of all things, material and immaterial, and suggest that He might like to live in this rock?

1st Kings 8:27 says that the entire Creation, including Heaven proper, cannot contain God. How much less a human-built structure? Isaiah 66:1, 2 says, “The Heaven is My throne and the Earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath My hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD:” (we will address the rest of this verse in a moment…)

Acts 7:48 confirms that God does not live in temples made by Humans.

But God has chosen to live in a few places: One such place was the Tabernacle we read about in Exodus 25:8…but it was long gone by the time of Christ. Another was the Temple Solomon built at Jerusalem (2nd Chronicles 7:1,) also long gone, by Jesus’s time but rebuilt twice over. And Jesus still referred to the temple proper (as rebuilt by Herod the Great, as “My Father’s House.” And that one was torn down completely in AD 70, leaving no Temple in Jerusalem. So where does God dwell, then? Exodus 19:9 and 2nd Chronicles 6:1 say that God dwells in thick darkness.

Psalm 99:1 says that God “…sits between the cherubim.”  The cherubim to which it refers were the two golden images of angelic beings, that were situated on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, facing one another over the Mercy Seat, so that their wings were touching in an arch over the seat: And God said He sat there! (By the way, that was the only seat within the Holy of Holies: so, when Hebrews 1:3 says that “when He had by Himself purged our sins He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on High…” Where could he sit? In Revelation 7:17, we see the answer: He is seated in the throne with God the Father. The Mercy seat is His place!”

In Psalm 15:1-5, we are told what kind of person can join Him where He dwells: the psalmists asks, “LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy Holy Hill?” At some length, then, He describes a righteous man. But Jesus spoke to the Thief on the Cross, and said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise!” How could such a one be acceptable with God? How could he abide in the tabernacle? How could he dwell with a holy God? He was not a “righteous man: he was in the process of being executed for his sins!

As we readbefore, Isaiah 66:2 continues the question of “where does God dwell,” by stating that all the things with which we might build a house were all created by God, and that none are anything special to Him…but then he says, “…but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my Word.” The thief on the Cross satisfied that description! And with that idea, we are getting closer to the answer!

The Answer Jesus Gave

When the two disciples of John asked “Master (Rabbi…a “master” from whom to learn) where dwellest thou?” Jesus gave a simple answer to a simple question: “Come and see!” That has been His continuing invitation, throughout all the ages: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest! Ho, everyone who is thirsty! Come ye to the waters! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price! If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink! Whosever will, let him take of the Water of Life, freely.”

Did those two disciples know who they were dealing with? Nope. Clearly, they did not: but He invited them to come and spend time with Him, without asking their “credentials.” He did not take them back to Psalm 15 and demand to know whether they were “worthy” to abide with Him. He took them at face value, invited them without further questions of any sort, and they went with Him! Furthermore, it says that they saw where He dwelt, and they abode with Him that day!

If you want to see where Jesus dwells, then walk with Him! Just walk with Him! He isn’t demanding that you “jump through hoops” or “run an obstacle course to get to Him:” He isn’t demanding that you “clean yourself up” before you can walk with Him. He will do the cleansing, as needed, and when obstacles come, He will guide us through that trial. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me!

When we walk with Jesus, we find out where He dwells…and, if we are willing, we can abide with Him that day, just as those first two disciples did. Abide with Him! Stay and learn from Him. Find out what sort of God He really is! Bask in His presence; don’t just “pop in and touch base:” stay there!

When Moses went into the tabernacle to receive God’s instruction for the people, he also had to leave, to go tell the people what God said. But Joshua had been there with Moses, and Joshua was not tasked with telling the people what God said, at that point in his life. Later, he also was called as the mouthpiece of God. But at that time, when Moses left to go do the bidding of God, Joshua stayed behind in the tabernacle, alone with God! That relationship was becoming central to who he was. And, it had permanent impact on his ministry, as he turned out to be absolutely faithful in his walk with God. We only see two times in his life when something wasn’t right, and in both cases, it was because he made a “snap decision” without first consulting God. Both were fairly minor, as such things go, and he was never “rebuked” by God for sin: God only corrected his error and told him what to do next. I can’t help believing that those early times, alone with God in the tabernacle, must have shaped the years to come, and resulted in the fruit we see in his life.

In John 15:4, Jesus said, “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, neither can ye except ye abide in me.” Lots of people try to use this passage to teach that a believer can lose their salvation. The passage has nothing to do with salvation: It has everything to do with fruit-bearing! Joshua bore fruit because he had “abided” with God in the tabernacle. The Disciples bore fruit because they had stayed with Jesus and had been shaped by His presence and teaching. They did not do so because they were great students, or because they were clever theologians, or talented individuals, or well-educated. They were none of the above! Jesus had deliberately chosen very average men to be His disciples: what they had in common was faith. Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.

Those first two disciples had just two things revealed to them:

  1. Jesus was “the Lamb of God,” and
  2. He invited them to come with Him.

They responded in faith: they took that gentle suggestion by John, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus invited them to “Come and see,” they went…and saw! And they stayed with Him.

Where do We find Our answers?

Each of us has had some level of interaction with Jesus: we call ourselves believers because we have trusted in His sacrifice as full payment for our sins. Romans 3:25 says that it was through “faith in His Blood” that we entered into the relationship initially. Each of us has a history, leading from that initial meeting, and resulting in our being wherever we are now: And Jesus is still inviting us to “Come and See!”

So, how do we do that?

Think back to the meeting between Jesus and those first two disciples: What did it take for them to respond? Obviously, they believed what John had told them, and as Jews, they had already believed that the Messiah was coming. But when Jesus invited them to “Come and See,” what did it take for them to respond?

Can you imagine them having said, “OK, maybe later! We were just going off to play games on the computer!” Or, “Let me check my calendar: I’m pretty sure I could “work you in” on Sunday mornings, usually…unless I’m om vacation….” Or, maybe, “I’m pretty busy, but I will try to make time for you someday soon! Thanks for the invitation!” Those are not appropriate responses to the invitation of Jesus, the Eternal King, to spend time with Him in private!

Those two disciples did not even really understand who Jesus was, but they knew they wanted to know Him, and they understood that it required time with Him! I don’t know what they may have had planned for the rest of the day before he invited them over to His place. The scripture says it was “about the tenth hour.” In other words, about four in the evening. What might they usually have done with their evening? I have no idea; but whatever it was, it was set aside as being of lesser importance: Jesus became their priority, from that day forward. (By the way, we can see, by the next day, at least, they were beginning to have some convictions about His identity: in verse 41, Andrew went and told his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah!” But regardless of what they did or did not understand, He had become their Priority!

Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves, “Is He my Priority? Or just my “Preference?” Would I just “prefer” to know Him…if it works out that way, and if I can find time? Or is He my priority, and everything else will be set aside as needed, in order to deliberately spend time with Jesus?

When Moses went back to speak to the people the words of God, does it seem strange that Joshua “failed to attend?” Or maybe he arrived late? Joshua may not really have even noticed when Moses left to go back to the camp. He was hearing the Word personally, not second-hand!

When the two disciples stayed with Jesus, was someone else already expecting them elsewhere? (Remember, there were no cellular phones! They couldn’t “call home” and cancel plans.) We are not given any information about their previous plans: but the fact is, whatever they had planned was completely postponed or set aside. They had found the Messiah! He is where they would be finding their answers, and placing their priorities, from that day forward.

How will You Respond?

If you have “Found the Messiah,” and have received Him as your Savior, and have recognized Him as your Lord, your Master, then shouldn’t your priorities have changed, too, just as theirs did? Shouldn’t you be seeking to spend time with Him in the Word and in Prayer, not just talking, but also listening to Him? Shouldn’t we choose, daily, to walk with Him, and see where He dwells? If He has not become your priority, then perhaps you need to go back and ask that first question again: “What am I seeking?” If Jesus isn’t the One you really want, then something is seriously wrong: Something else has taken first place in your life.

Only you can choose to “dethrone” whatever that “something” is, and to reinstate Jesus as your top priority. He still sends us to work every day: He still has us go to bed at a reasonable time so we can function the next day in whatever way He calls us to serve: But the priority has to be Jesus, or we are not walking with Him.

God help us to see clearly where our lives are headed, and to respond as the disciples did, seeking to “See the place where Jesus Dwells,” and learning to “Abide there with Him!”

Lord Jesus, continue to invite us and quicken our hearts to desire to spend time with You alone, and to see our priorities change as a result. Draw us to walk with You daily, continually, and to learn from You, feeding on Your Word. Make us the disciples You have chosen us to be.

To Whom is the Promise of God Given?

To Whom is the Promise Given?

© C. O. Bishop 2/28/15 THCF 3/1/15

Galatians 3:15-18; compare Genesis 13:15-16

Introduction:

We have talked about the Promise of the Spirit, and our need to embrace that Promise. One thing that has always bothered me, in the following few verses, is that, from my human perspective, it always seemed that Paul was playing a little “fast and loose” with the grammar of the promise of God to Abraham, in Genesis. But I know that this is God’s inspired Word…Paul was doing exactly as he was directed. I also know that God is God, and He certainly has the right to comment on His own Word. So how can I resolve the question?

The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

It recently occurred to me that, in modern times, we have always only had two real sources for the Old Testament scriptures: The Masoretic text (which is Hebrew and Aramaic, and the most recent example at about AD 200)— and the Septuagint (a Greek translation from about 140 BC.)

We might think, “Well…maybe a lot was lost in the Translation!” (as is frequently the case in translations), but this question was checked by hundreds of scholars over the last several hundred years, translating (again) the Hebrew into Greek to see if their translation matched the Septuagint; and, the reverse: translating the Greek Septuagint back into Hebrew, to see if it came close to the original language. All these exercises were done for two reasons:

  1. Believers earnestly want to know what God’s Word really says, and because
  2. Attacks are frequently made by the enemy and we feel forced to defend the Word of God.

Yes, the translation exercises showed the reliability of the two texts. And, in 1948, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves at Qumran, the scholarly elite were filled with Joy; some because they were sure that these texts (including most of the Old Testament, in Hebrew and Aramaic,) would prove the unreliable character of the Bible, and others—believers— because they hoped exactly the opposite. As it turned out, over the years, as these scrolls were painstakingly opened and preserved for posterity, but carefully studied, as well, the scrolls strongly supported the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.

So, What Did Jesus Read? What Did He Quote?

Perhaps the strongest support for the Septuagint is the fact that virtually every single Old Testament quotation in the New Testament, whether quoted by an Apostle or by Jesus Himself, is quoted from the Septuagint… word for word. That is the reason the New Testament (for example) says “a virgin shall be with Child”, when they could have translated the Hebrew to mean “a young girl”. The Hebrew word (“alma”) does mean, “young girl”, but is usually used to mean a young girl who is not married and not sexually active. The translators of the Septuagint understood this, and chose to use the Greek word “parthenon”, which specifically means “virgin”, when they could have used the word “korasion” which simply means a “young girl”.

In light of that, one could either say, from the perspective of an unbeliever, that the translators (all 70 of them) had made a serious error, trying to prove the virgin birth (this was completed 140 years before Jesus was born: the translators had never heard of Jesus), or, still as an unbeliever, that Jesus and all his disciples deliberately chose to use a flawed translation, trying to prove it. Either response relegates the entire New Testament to the trash-heap, as one has to prejudge the translation to be false and prejudge Jesus to be a deceiver.

To a believer, though, this is powerful evidence that Jesus fully approved the Greek translation of His own Word…He quoted it! And so did Paul.  If Paul was the only one who used the Septuagint text, we might be tempted to think he was manipulating the meaning, here. But Jesus was very consistent in its use as well, and with similar results. My conclusion is that there are doctrinal points that were not specific enough in Hebrew, and God has made it clear in Greek. It might, in fact, be evidence that the Septuagint is an “inspired translation”. But all we know for sure is that Jesus used it constantly, as did his Apostles.

So, what is the difference? Does it matter which “Bible” Jesus quoted? I think it probably does! Let’s see what Paul had to say:

The Covenant—the Promise

15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

Paul is appealing to human law: he says, if a contract has been signed—an agreement made—you can’t start “adding things later”, or changing the terms of the agreement. Much more so, the covenant of God: God will not change it, because He is Holy and Righteous, and because it is His Word. We cannot change it because we have no authority to do so. Paul points out that it would violate both the principle of Law and of Promise, to alter a covenant after the fact.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

To whom was the initial promise made, in Genesis 13:15? It was made to Abraham, regarding the land. And, in response to Abraham’s faith, it was extended to a lot of people. But the first giving of that promise was made to Abraham “and his seed”. In normal English, I would have interpreted that to mean his offspring, however few or numerous they may have proven to be. In Hebrew that would seem to be true as well—the words in Genesis 13:15 and 13:16 in Hebrew are identical (“zera”…seed.) As far as I can determine, the Hebrew word for “seed” is used the same as the English word—it could be singular or plural, depending upon the context. But in Greek, there are at least three different forms, and just as Jesus did, Paul was quoting the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

But:  in the Septuagint, the word for “seed” in verse 15 is specifically singular! I looked up the Greek word used in Genesis 13:15 in the Septuagint, and, as a matter of fact, it is the exact same word that Paul used in Galatians 3:16 (“spermati”). I never would have understood this point without God bringing it to light: in English, the plural for seed is not always “seeds”—we say “I set aside 100 pounds of wheat for seed.” And we would mean that this wheat was being saved for planting, not eating. But Paul points out that, at least in this case, God meant the singular—the promised “seed”—the person of Christ.

But the word used in Genesis 13:16 is a different form of the same word, and is commonly used as a plural or substantive, meaning a large quantity (“sperma”), meaning “seed—and lots of it”. The particular promise of the land and blessing, then, was not initially to the whole family of Israel, but to one single offspring: Christ. The specific promise regarding Abraham’s offspring being so numerous uses a different word form.

There is a third form of the Greek word for seed (“spermasin”) that is specifically plural, referring to a numeric plural. That is the one Paul pointed out that God had NOT used. There is no question that Paul was making a valid point; again, because he quoted the Septuagint.

Why does this matter?

To Whom Was the Promise Given?

The initial promise, of course, was to Abraham. But the portion that said, “…and thy seed…” used the specifically singular word for “seed”, and, as we see in Galatians, that particular seed was not in reference to Isaac (who wasn’t born yet), but to Christ.

Since I do not easily read Greek, but rather have to look up every word, as a rule, I would not have caught this detail. And since I don’t even own a copy of the Septuagint, but had to find a copy on the internet that I could read and compare to the Greek New Testament (which I do own), I definitely never would have known that there was a detail I was missing without God commenting on His own Word and showing us something special.

So why is that so special? Because, if the Jews had been correct in assuming that all of the promises were to them because they were Abraham’s offspring, then those promises could not be applied to me unless I became a Jew. In fact, even then they would not apply, because I am not his offspring at all, by nature, and becoming a Jew would not change that. But…if, as Paul states, the promises were to Christ, then they can be applied to me, if I am in Christ.

The promise is both narrowed and broadened in that one explanation: it is narrowed from “all the Jews” to “just the Messiah”. It is broadened from “only the Jews” to “anyone and everyone who places his or her trust in the living Christ.” Paul underscores this “positional truth” in another passage; 1st Corinthians 15:22—“all in Christ shall be made alive”. If you are “in Christ” then the promises will be to you.

Are there specific promises given only to the Jews? Yes, I believe there are. I do not believe that the Church has “replaced” the Jews in the plan of God. Their promises are virtually all physical, earthly blessings. Ours are, without exception, spiritual, heavenly blessings. And a Jew who embraces Christ steps into a new relationship. Just as the Levite, who had no inheritance in the land, but whose inheritance was the person of God and the priesthood of God, the person whose life is hidden in Christ trades the earthly and temporary for the heavenly and eternal.

So; the question Paul is exploring here continues to be the relationship of Law to Promise—Law to Grace—Law to faith. His answer comes in the form of a question: “Which came first?” The answer is that the Promise came 430 years before the Law. His conclusion is that the Law could not change the Promise. By choosing to trust in Christ and his finished work at the Cross, we sidestep the curse of the Law, and embrace the eternal Promise of God. Paul goes on:

17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Paul argues that, if the Law changed the promise in any way, then the promise is broken. But God does not break his promises, and the Law, coming far later, has no authority to change or set aside the promise.

By the way, remember that the Promise was an entirely one-sided covenant made by God…there was nothing for Abraham to do: no further conditions to meet. He had already been declared righteous by God. How? By Grace, through faith; and God made the unconditional covenant of the Promise, with no way for Abraham to fail.

Remember we have talked about how a serious, binding covenant between two Jews was made? The two parties brought a sacrifice, and split the pieces of that sacrifice, and together walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, calling God as their witness that they were bound by the terms of the contract.

But in Genesis 15, God did not allow Abraham to walk with him between the pieces of the sacrifice. He allowed Abraham to see, but not participate, as He himself walked alone through the sacrifices. Does that sound at all familiar? Doesn’t it strike you as significant that Jesus walked alone through all the trial of Gethsemane, the trial and the Cross? Alone, into the Grave, alone in the Resurrection and the Ascension…but invites us to join Him there, by faith? He has invited you to see, but not to participate, beyond faith. You do NOT earn your salvation in any way.

God bound Himself to the Covenant…there was nothing for Abraham to do, to fulfill “his part of the agreement”. It was entirely one-sided! There was no way that Abraham could fail, somehow negating the promise. The condition (Faith) had already been met. Abraham had already been declared righteous, and the Promise was secure. Does that sound familiar? We have already been saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Peace with God has already been established (Romans 5:1) and the promise is eternally secure.

Paul’s Conclusion

18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

If the inheritance was somehow switched over to being accessible through the Law (instead of promise) then the promise would have to be set aside…and it was not. The Law and the Promise are not working at cross-purposes. They are working together.

Paul first points out what is common knowledge—that the Promise was given apart from Law. He pointed out that Abraham had the promise nearly half a century before Law was introduced. Then he concludes that inheriting the promise is also not connected to Law, but to Grace and Faith, just as it was in Abraham’s case.

If you want the promise of God to be applied to your life, look to the one who inherited them all…Jesus! If you have received Him as your savior, then the Promises are already yours, because you are in Christ. But, how do we experience them?

On a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis, we experience the full blessing of God through faith and obedience. We regain fellowship through confession (1st John 1:9), and maintain it by simply walking by faith (1st John 1:7). As the Holy Spirit points out things in our lives that He wants to change or eliminate, we can say, “Amen, Lord”, and give those things to Him as an act of Worship, or we can scream, “NO! That’s my favorite!” and cling to our own way. As we give our lives over to Him, bit by bit, we grow closer to Him; we understand more of His perspective, and we learn to walk more consistently.

A baby learning to walk is very unstable. But eventually he or she learns to walk reliably, and seldom stumbles. This happens through practice, as the child grows stronger and gains a better sense of balance. We can do this, too! We can:

  • Practice confession and obedience—that is how we regain fellowship and walk with God. And it takes perseverance and practice.
  • Feed on the Word of God to grow stronger and healthier.
  • Pray for God’s leading, so that we will be sensitive to His Word.
  • Fellowship with other believers. This is how we learn the joy of walking with God.

Press on, my friends! It is worth it, every step of the way!

Lord Jesus, we ask that we may partake in the Divine Nature through the Promises available to us in You, as we fellowship with You and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. We pray these things so that we might be to your honor and glory.

Embrace The Cross

Embracing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013 THCF 6/2/13

Introduction:

Last week we discussed the tendency that we, as humans, have, to avoid discomfort, and circumvent the Cross, in our dealings with God. As sinners we want to approach God as if we were NOT sinners. As created beings, we want to approach God as if he were a fellow creation, instead of the almighty, holy, all-knowing, all-powerful God of all time and space. God reasons with us, giving us time to repent, but ultimately insists that the only way we can approach Him is through the agency of Christ. Jesus, who is in fact God in the flesh, is our only intermediary, bridging between the whole fallen human race and the Holy God who desires to redeem us.

But let’s say that I have finally submitted to God’s directive; I have humbled myself to realize that I am a lost and condemned sinner, and that I need a savior. I have placed my full trust in Jesus’ blood at the Cross as my only hope for salvation. I have become a child of God! My troubles are over, right?

Well–no. When God redeems a sinner it is by means of the new birth. I gained a new nature, and that new nature is righteous and holy, just like God. But I still have my old nature, and it has had fifty-eight years to practice and grow strong in rebellion and pride and foolishness. My new nature is a baby by comparison. I need to feed my new nature on God’s Word, so that it will grow strong, and I can learn to walk with God. I need to learn Discipleship.

What is a Disciple?

Jesus had a fair bit to say about discipleship: He repeatedly stated the need to count the cost of discipleship; the need to make the person of Christ the central issue in one’s life, and to join him in the journey to the cross. In Luke 9:23, he made the statement that a disciple should “…deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Him.”

Many people have misunderstood him to have said that this is the recipe for salvation. It is not. In John 6:28, 29, the people asked him “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” He answered them and said, “This is the work of God; that ye believe on him whom He hath sent.” So, salvation comes by faith in the person and work of Christ. Discipleship is the logical result of salvation.

What does it mean, then, to “Take up the Cross?”

Remember that the Cross is a means of death, and nothing but that. It is not a pretty decoration, or a piece of jewelry, though we frequently see it that way. It was one of the worst, most cruel means of execution used by the Roman Government. We would find it pretty repulsive if someone today had a little gold electric chair as a piece of jewelry, but the electric chair is quite humane, compared to the cross.

A person who had taken up his cross was a walking dead man–he was headed for a cruel execution. Jesus took up his cross for the joy that was set before him, according to Hebrews 12:2. He did not do it because it was a good religious exercise. He was going there to die, knowing that his death, specifically, would be the satisfaction of God’s Holiness, for the sins of the whole human race. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame…”

All the way through the Bible, the concept of Death has to do with separation of one sort or another. Adam and Eve were separated from fellowship with God the moment Adam ate that forbidden fruit. They were spiritually dead, separated from God. Adam experienced physical death 900 years later, as his spirit and soul were separated from his physical body. All of us have experienced spiritual death, as we are born in that state. Virtually all of us will experience physical death, as it is appointed unto us once to die. But there is another kind of death, called “the Second death.” People who experience what is called “the Second death” are permanently separated from God, in the Lake of Fire. Death always implies separation of some sort, not simply cessation of life. So what does the Cross separate us from?

Galatians 6:14 says that “…the World is crucified unto me and I to the World.” I have been separated permanently from the World, whether I like it or not. Galatians 5:24 says that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. In God’s eyes, at least, the old sin nature is no longer part of who I am. It is definitely still there, but I need to recognize that it is dead to me, and learn not to respond to its clamoring demands. God only wants to fellowship with my new nature…he sees the other as dead. I need to learn to see it that way, too.

Galatians 2:19-21 says “I, through the law, am dead to the Law that I might live unto God. I am Crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if Righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

Our crucifixion with Christ is a fact. It is not something for us to try to accomplish. We take up the cross when we accept the fact that we are separated from the World and from our old self, and choose to live that way. So what does it mean when one talks about “having a cross to bear”?

Is all suffering “bearing the cross?”

In a word; No! We hear people talk about something being their “Cross” to bear. Frequently it has nothing to do with suffering at all, much less suffering for Christ. Just because you don’t like some circumstance does not make it a “cross to bear”. Even if it is genuinely “suffering”, there are many kinds of suffering.

Philippians 1:29  states that “unto you it has been given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for his sake.” So we need to know what that means.

Thirteen reasons for suffering:

As far as I can see from God’s Word, there are at least 13 different reasons for suffering. There may be more, of course; my understanding is limited. Let’s look at the ones I do understand:
In the first place, let’s remember that God is Sovereign: He does not require our approval. His ways are just, even when we don’t like them. God defines righteousness. The evil that is in the world came here as a result of Human sin, not Divine caprice. But it is not always “punishment”, and it is not always “suffering for Christ”.

So, we can begin with:

  1. Consequences of Original Sin. There are bad things happening in the world; it is full of tragedy. The world got that way when Adam sinned. Romans 5:12—“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Everyone experiences some of this, in varying degrees, whether or not they are believers. It has nothing to do with “suffering for Christ”.
  2. Consequences of Personal (past) Sin (or simply error, etc).—there can be (and usually are) consequences for sin, folly or error. This is not punishment per se, but simple consequences. Sometimes the natural consequences for an error are seen as punishment—but punishment implies wrongdoing, and some error is not wrongdoing, but just bad judgment, or clumsiness, or ignorance—all can have terrible consequences. I have a cousin who is missing an arm. He lost it because he fell out of a tree as a young boy, and broke it…and the attending physician did not realize the bone had pierced the skin, and plunged into the soil before pulling back into the flesh—thus infecting the flesh with bacteria that nearly killed him. They had to amputate the arm to save his life, and even so, they nearly lost him. Was it Punishment? No—it was partly original sin—there are terrible bacteria out there (remember the ground was cursed…); bacterial infections can disfigure, maim, or kill a person. It was partly error on my cousin’s part—he fell out of a tree; kids do that. It was partly error on the physician’s part—he was not careful enough in his diagnosis. But possibly, even had they known exactly what they were up against, they may have lost that arm anyway. No matter how you look at it, it is not punishment. But it is also not suffering for Christ.
  3. Consequences of (current) Personal Sin. God may institute chastening in a believer’s life to turn us away from error. It is still not the same as punishment. God says the wages of sin is death—eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. That is punishment. Jesus said (John 3:18) “He that believeth in Him is not condemned; He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten son of God.” We who are believers have placed our trust in Jesus’ shed blood at the Cross: where is our Judgment? At the Cross. Where is our sin? At the Cross. Where is our punishment, our condemnation? At the Cross. But God does chasten believers, to straighten them out. (Consider Jonah: do you think his trip back to the beach was fun?) This can go as far as physical death; remember that Annanias and Sapphira were believers who lost their lives because of sin. This is still not punishment, nor, obviously, is it suffering for Christ.
  4. Training, or testing, in the sense of an athlete, or soldier, or student. God still refers to this as “chastening”, but it is not punishment, nor even as a result of wrongdoing. It is a “workout” given so that we may profit thereby. Sometimes God allows us to go through hard times to develop our faith. James 1:2-4 says “Count it all Joy, my beloved Brethren when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this; that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” God loves us and subjects us to stresses to make us better able to serve, and better able to stand against the evil of the world. (Have you ever noticed that an athletic director or coach never selects someone at random out of the bystanders in the bleachers, and makes them run laps after practice? He only requires that of the members of his team.) Another way to look at the same concept is “pruning”. John 15:2(b) states that a genuine, healthy, live, fruit-bearing branch of a vine may still be pruned to make it more fruitful. This is entirely up to the vine-dresser…God, in this case. We trust his good judgment.
  5. Because it is simply God’s will for us at the time. Job did NOT know what was going on in his life, nor why he suffered the loss of all his possessions, and all his children in a single day. We were given a little peek into what was going on. God did have a purpose, and it had nothing to do with any error on Job’s part, nor, apparently, any need for correction, testing or training (though we could read that into the result). God had his own purpose in Job’s life, and was not required to explain it all to Job. (And he didn’t, as far as we know, unless Job was the author of the book, and God gave him revelation to know what all had happened behind the scenes.) But Job was neither being punished (God says so!) nor was he suffering for Christ, so to speak. It was simply God’s will for him.
  6. Consequences of Personal Righteousness. This is an odd one—we think that if we are doing right, everything ought to go well…and sometimes it does. There is a verse, (Proverbs 16:7) that states, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him”. That is a general truth—in general, that is something we can expect. But if our enemies are God’s enemies, then at some point, we will be attacked for being good. 1st Peter 2:19 “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” Also, there may be advantages to immoral or unrighteous behavior (perhaps a promotion, in an ungodly business world) that we will simply miss out, because we choose to behave righteously. This is the beginning of “Suffering for Christ”.
  7. Suffering for Faith. Being subjected to threat from those around us, and suffering rather than renouncing faith. (This is related to #6, consequences of personal righteousness, but is a little different.) Under genuine persecution, a believer may be offered a chance to recant his faith in order to escape persecution. Refusing to recant, and accepting the suffering, is part of the believer’s lot. During the early days of the church, many lost their lives for that very cause. Philippians 1:29 “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake”
  8. So that we may be a comfort to others. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 (read) Verse 4. That we may comfort others with the same comfort wherewith we were comforted by God.
  9. So that our consolation in Christ may abound. Verse 5. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so may the consolation of Christ abound. We are called to join Him in the fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). But we are to experience the reality of His consolation, as well. (Habakkuk 3:18)
  10. So that others’ consolation may abound through us. Verses 6-7. We can learn from the experiences of those around us. We will not experience everything ourselves.
  11. So that we will learn to trust God, and not ourselves (could be tied to #5, as in Job’s suffering). Verse 9. This is an important one.
  12. So that we as Christians may learn to pray for each other. Verse 11.
  13. So that Thanksgiving may be offered on our behalf. Also verse 11.

Embracing the Cross

I frequently have told my students at work to “embrace reality”. By that, I mean that they should accept the reality of work, the reality that life “isn’t fair”. Sometimes life is hard, but we are to embrace that reality and go ahead and function. That is what maturity teaches us; to accept responsibility and go ahead and function when life isn’t fun.

God wants us to embrace the Cross: we are to accept the reality that we are separated from the World (we no longer can really feel at home here, as we see the monstrous reality of Man’s rebellion against God, and his cruelty toward other creatures, animal or human.)

We are to accept the reality that we are separated from our old sin nature–it is no longer the “real me”. My old desires are a foreign thing, now. They are definitely not the desires of my new nature. Ephesians 4:24 says that my new nature is “…created in righteousness and true holiness”, in the likeness of God. I must accept the reality of my two natures, and daily choose to feed the new nature, and fulfill its desires, rather than those of my old nature. I can never “coast” or “glide”. It is accurately called a “walk”: it demands day-by-day, step-by-step choices, in order to follow Jesus.

One of the things God requires of us is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. That we be concerned with the needs of those around us, as much as with our own needs. That Agapé love that he requires of us is not possible in the flesh, I am convinced. In fact, the whole Christian life is not possible in the flesh. The Christian life is not difficult; it is impossible apart from daily (moment by moment, really) choosing to allow the Holy Spirit to Love and Live through us. But that means constantly embracing the fact that we died with Him, and then allowing Him to live through us.

It certainly isn’t easy, folks. But that is what the Christian life is all about.

Embrace the Cross, and Learn to Walk with Jesus.

Have we Circumvented the Cross?

Circumventing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013

Introduction:

I re-read an old novel a few weeks ago, one that is widely known and appreciated, in which the heroine goes to a tiny Appalachian community (setting in 1912), and is mentored by a Quaker missionary, who has tirelessly worked to gain the confidence of the people, and to bring the love of God into their homes and hearts. (All sounds good so far, right?)

The two women and the various others in the story demonstrate the grace and love of God in their lives, and gradually people are won over, hearts soften, people desire to learn literacy, begin to read their Bibles, and God’s character miraculously begins to show up in people’s lives. That all sounds great, too, right? And it really does…except that, after I had finished the book, and actually began to think about it, I realized there was something missing. The writer had preached the love and grace of God, and had seen transformed lives, and visions of Heaven, even, all without a single mention of Christ! There was no blood sacrifice—nothing offensive about this Gospel, because it left out the Cross, and left out Jesus Christ, entirely. Even the vision of Heaven was without Christ—just a bunch of happy people wandering around playing with babies.

A Bloodless Sacrifice for Sins

You recall the story of Cain and Abel. Most people may primarily remember that Cain killed Abel, which is true, of course. But they forget the root cause: Abel had correctly approached God with a blood-sacrifice for sin, as had been demonstrated in Genesis 3, but Cain had brought a bloodless sacrifice—a worship offering, perhaps, but one that ignored the fact of sin. The sin issue has to be addressed, one way or another, before worship and interaction with a Holy God can begin. God rejected Cain’s offering quite gently, reasoning with him that he (Cain) knew what was required, and that if he did what was right, He (God) would certainly receive him (Cain) as well; there was no respect of persons here.

Cain rejected the plan of God, and, in anger, went and murdered Abel.

Why would he reject God’s plan? Apparently he did not want to confess that he needed a savior. He did not want to bring a blood sacrifice, confessing his own sin…he apparently thought he should be able to address God as an equal. (We are most certainly not God’s equals. We are not the creator; we are the created beings, and sinners, besides.)

But taking it a step further; what if he simply confessed his sin, and threw himself on God’s mercy and Grace, but still brought a bloodless sacrifice? Would that be OK?

No! The Holiness of God must be satisfied, or fellowship can never occur. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  What do you think he was talking about? By acting like Him? By seeing him as a great teacher, and trying to obey his teaching, and follow his lifestyle? Or by admitting that only His blood can save, and that I, personally, need a savior, or I cannot be saved?

Why do we reject the Cross?

Today people reject the cross for a variety of reasons, but all can be traced to two fundamental reasons: They consider it offensive, one way or another, or they consider it utter foolishness, and will not consider the possibility that God’s Wisdom is so far beyond theirs that it seems to be foolishness, simply because they can’t begin to understand it.

They either think it offensive: (a) that a Holy God should require a blood sacrifice for sin (such a heathen-sounding thing!) or (b) that He should consider them a sinner, and that everything they do is tainted by their sin.

Interesting that those are the two grounds for rejecting the Gospel, today— those are also the reasons that were mentioned in 1st Corinthians 1:23. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block (an offense) and unto the Greeks foolishness”. But he went on to say that Christ is the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. In another passage (Romans 1:16), referring specifically to the Gospel of Christ, Paul stated that “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The Power of God! The Gospel is Christ, in a nutshell. And he is the only way given for us to be saved (“…neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12) Has it ever occurred to you that when the book of Romans states that the Gospel of Christ is the Power of God to save those who believe, it is stating an “exclusive” truth? There is no other thing in the scriptures, described as being the “power of God” to save believers; Just the Gospel. There is no other way given by which we may approach God; Just Christ. And yet, as a race, we continue to reject God’s only plan of salvation. There is no “Plan B”. This is it, folks! If you are not specifically preaching the Cross, you are not telling people how to be saved. If you are not specifically dependent upon the Cross, yourself, then You are not saved. There is no other way.

What about the religions (or preachers) that ignore the cross?

When a religion (or preacher) circumvents the Cross, regardless of how nicely they teach the rest of the scripture, what must we conclude? Surely such nice people must have a right standing with God, mustn’t they? Surely if I follow their teachings, I will also have a right standing with God…right? All those nice, pious, gentle, pleasant people can’t be wrong, can they?

Then what about sin? How do they deal with sin?

What do we do with Sin?

There are only three ways that human religions deal with the issue of Sin:

  1. Deny that it exists at all. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad.
  2. Admit that it exists, but deny that it ultimately matters… God is too loving and kind to condemn anyone. Just do your best to live right, and God will accept you.
  3. Admit that it exists, and that it matters (God hates sin!) and demand that the sinner do many good works to expiate all the bad works (penance, alms, service). God will accept you if you do enough good to overbalance all the bad.

Any of those three will result in the eternal loss of the adherent. Your faith will not save you if the object of your faith cannot save you. It matters who you trust and what you believe. If you trust in a crook, you lose your money; if you place your faith in a false God, or a false religion, or a false creed, or false principle, you lose your soul…you are eternally separated from God, in eternal punishment.

Truth is not dependent upon what people believe.

Truth is a fact, regardless of what anyone thinks:

  • Either God is Holy, or He is not.
  • Either He created all things, or He did not.
  • Either Man is a sinner, or he is not.
  • Either sin requires a blood-sacrifice for forgiveness, or it does not. (Doesn’t that sound primitive and gory? Surely we have progressed beyond such savagery… Doesn’t that argument sound familiar? “Ye shall not surely die…” Satan can sound pretty persuasive!) It doesn’t matter what I think about it—it either is true or it isn’t.

There is no middle ground. These are black-and-white issues. Truth does not depend upon public opinion. God addresses each of these questions numerous times in the Bible.

  • He clearly states, numerous times, that He is Holy. He cannot abide Sin.
  • He gives a fairly detailed account of the creation, with many later references to that historical fact, all pointing to the fact that He is the Creator, and has full authority over His creation.
  • He gives a detailed account of how man fell into sin, and many references to that historical fact, all agreeing that Man is a fallen creature, lost, apart from God’s Grace.
  • He demonstrated the blood sacrifice in Genesis chapter 3, accepted a blood sacrifice (and rejected a non-blood sacrifice) in Genesis 4, demanded a specific blood sacrifice in Exodus 12, and ultimately declared Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, in John 1:29, and many other New Testament references. He concludes (Hebrews 9:22) that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”…and that only the blood of Christ can achieve the satisfaction of the Holiness of God. (1st John 2:2, cp. John 1:29)

Now: you can believe whatever you want to about these things. Only you can choose. But if you reject these truths, no one else can take the blame, either. You are fully responsible for your own choice.

Assuming that you have chosen to believe God, and have placed your trust in the shed Blood of Jesus Christ as full payment for your sins, then you have become a child of God, by the new birth. You are responsible to Him, personally. He has assigned you the job of being His ambassador to the lost world. You have been given a message to deliver. Two questions, then, remain:

  1. Do you know what that message is?
  2. Are you willing to deliver it?

Both are a yes-or-no issue, but we recognize that even if our answer is “yes” to both, there are degrees of practical competence involved. How well do I know the message? How willing am I to deliver it? There is always room for growth. We grow stronger with study and practice.

What is the Gospel? 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 states the portions of the message that must be there:

  1. The death of Christ for our sins
  2. His burial (demonstrating that he was really dead, ) and
  3. His resurrection, demonstrating that he really is the savior.

If we leave out this message, or selected parts of it, then we are not delivering the message, period. When one claims to be “Preaching the Gospel”, but is circumventing the cross, they are NOT preaching the Gospel, and may be inviting people to avoid eternal life.

The whole message of salvation is wrapped up in the preaching of the Cross.

Paul’s message:

At Athens, though Paul had been preaching Christ faithfully in the Synagogue and in the marketplace, when he was called upon to speak publicly, he gave a “slick” sermon that has appealed to human reasoning down through the ages, ever since. It was NOT effective then, nor has it been effective when people have emulated it to any degree, since then. People do not come to Christ because of reasoning—they come to Christ because they believe the Gospel; they choose to place their trust in the Blood of Christ. The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect.

Paul left Athens immediately after delivering that sermon (no church was established there), and went to Corinth with a new resolve to “know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified”. He was resolved to “…preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect.” Has it occurred to you that we can “muddy the water” by our meddling with the truth, adding our arguments, our persuasion, etc.?

Paul delivered the message he was given. We need to do the same. Preach the cross of Christ. Do not make the Gospel more palatable by excluding the part people don’t want to hear. That is the part they desperately need.

What would the Passover be without the Passover lamb? Just a skimpy meal? The real Passover saved the believers because of the scarcely dry blood of that lamb, on the lintel and the two doorposts. The Cross, even 1500 years before Christ, was the salvation God prescribed. Do we like that? Not really, perhaps, but it is the simple truth. We cannot save ourselves, and God only offers one way whereby He, himself, can save us.

We either believe it, and are saved, or reject it and are lost. It’s a black-and-white choice.

And, as His emissaries, we either echo that message, offering that salvation to others; or we dampen and water down the message, and condemn our listeners. Again, it is a clear choice.

When we deliver a “comfortable” message, only preaching the goodness and grace of a loving God (which we all want to hear), then we ignore the holiness and judgment of a righteous God, and thus circumvent the Cross. The result is eternal loss. We have made people comfortable in their lost state, and convinced them that there is no need for a savior. Remember that John 3:16 states that “how” God loved the world was that he gave his only begotten son. (“…God so loved, that he gave…” The means of loving was the giving of Christ) Yes, we preach the love and grace of God—but we preach the Cross as the means of receiving that Love and Grace.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul said, regarding this very matter, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for, if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.” If you can approach God just by “being good”, then Jesus died for nothing…he wasted his life, and his death was pointless.

If you preach a message that circumvents the cross, then you declare that Jesus died for nothing; that his death was pointless. And if a church approaches God in that way, it is a false church, and leading its people to Hell. Sounds harsh…but it is the simple truth.

We don’t want to be accused of any such thing. We preach the Cross, and encourage our listeners to place their trust in the blood of Jesus as full payment for their sins. If you desire to be the ambassador God has called you to be, then learn the message, and start learning to deliver it.

God help us all to be the Men and Women of God that he has called us to be.