Are You Saved & Kept?

Growing up I heard the preacher say, “Did you really mean it? Or did you just go through the motions?” This phrase referred to what many call the ‘sinner’s prayer.’ For many, this prayer is how you ‘get saved.’ But, is that really what the Gospel is? Is that what the Bible teaches us? If you say the words, are you truly saved & kept? Let’s take a moment to read the Bible and discuss.

He Will Not Forsake His Saints

Of David. Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous. The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance. But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away. The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives; for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off. The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. Turn away from evil and do good; so shall you dwell forever. For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever. The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death. The LORD will not abandon him to his power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial. Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off. I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree. But he passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found. Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace. But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off. The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.”  Psa 37:1-40

“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.”  Gal 3:16

“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”  Gal 3:29

In the third chapter of Galatians Paul clarifies the statement that “this promise is for you and your offspring…” that was given to Abraham. He explains that the Law, with its rituals and harsh penalties was a parenthesis between Abraham—who was justified by faith—and Christ, who ratified the promise made to Abraham as Abraham’s offspring. Thus, only those who believe in the completed work of Christ (the offspring) in the same manner of belief that Abraham did, are considered “in Christ” and thus, righteous.

Those in Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, those who believe God, are given the status of righteous. No works of the Law are added in. No deeds of the flesh can increase the righteousness that is bestowed by God according to His promise. No baptism, no communion, no heritage of believing parents will add or subtract one thread of the wedding cloak of Christ’s righteousness that is given by the Father.

Not Inherit – Those who will not receive the promise

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

John Wesley comments: “Idolatry is here placed between fornication and adultery, because they generally accompanied it. Nor the effeminate – Who live in an easy, indolent way; taking up no cross, enduring no hardship. But how is this? These good – natured, harmless people are ranked with idolaters and sodomites! We may learn hence, that we are never secure from the greatest sins, till we guard against those which are thought the least; nor, indeed, till we think no sin is little, since every one is a step toward hell.”

The context of the verse is Paul being astonished at the wrongs between the congregation, and that the members of the congregation were running to the non-believers and the law to get justice. There is no fellowship, and no wisdom to come from the unbelieving world. The ungodly cannot properly render justice among Christians. We are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers because they have no claim to inherit the things to which we have set our eyes.

The reminder is that if we live in sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality or thievery, etc. we don’t have any part of the Lord. They demonstrate that they have not been washed, sanctified and justified by the name and nature of the Lord Jesus Christ and are not filled with His Spirit. Paul moves on to talk about how we should flee the things that dominate the world. We should only be devoted to God and our actions as offering to the Lord. We cannot offer anything as basic as eating and intimacy with our spouse if either is tainted by the obsessive idolizing of the world.

Slave or Free

Galatians 4:30 draws the comparison of Ishmael and Issac: “But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.”

Those who are of the slave, dominated by the flesh, putting their hope in an imperfect, work-based inheritance, will not inherit the kingdom with those born of the power of God. Those born of the flesh will persecute and ridicule those born of the spirit, just as Ismael ridiculed Isaac. How do we know if we are born of the flesh or born of the spirit?

Those who are born of the flesh will believe their justification is in part or in whole, dependent upon works. It will either be in keeping of the Old Law, doing certain outward things like attending a church, attending all meetings, observing a form of baptism, taking communion, getting circumcised, etc. Those born of the spirit know that outward rituals and religious activity counts for nothing (Gal 5:6).

We have been born to freedom. We do not need to appease God through sacrifices, rituals, etc. But, Paul warns in v. 13, we shouldn’t use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. We prevent that by serving one another in love. When we don’t serve each other in love, encouraging each other, we bite and devour each other. We demonstrate we are not walking by the Spirit (v. 16). Rather, we are walking by the flesh, which is against the Spirit.

How do we know if we’re doing the works of the flesh vs. the Spirit? Paul says this in Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The last part is key: “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” It’s important to note what the ‘such things’ are. They include fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy … Many like to focus on the Big Ones: Sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, drunkenness, orgies … But they only make up 7 of the things that are marked as evidence. The other 8 are largely ignored.

The truth is, they are all intertwined. You can’t be envious and full of jealousy unless you are committing idolatry of the things of the world. You cannot be filled with fits of anger, unless you are given to strife, feel dissension and eager to divide people. This tendency speaks to ones impurity, that they have themselves at the center of their thoughts. Self-righteous people who yearn for positions within authority and the respectful greetings in the public places are, ultimately, sensual since they are looking for the pleasure of their flesh, the pride of life.

Such people are showing that they are dominated by the flesh and are born of the flesh, the slave, and will not inherit the kingdom of God.

What is the evidence of the Spirit? Or, as Paul puts it, the fruit of the Spirit? Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

There are 9 of them. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with all 15 signs of its passions and desires. Paul concludes the chapter by urging us that if we live by the Spirit, we should keep in step with the Spirit (v.25), which is the opposite of becoming conceited, provoking each other and envying one another (v.26).

To keep in step with the Spirit, we must be obedient to Christ. We must adhere to the “narrow way” that is His. We must receive the kingdom of God as a child, with faith that just believes, absent proof (Mark 10:15).

Not everyone who claims to be Christian will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). Those who are disobedient, not doing the will of the Father, will not enter.

The false Christians adhere to a form of godliness that denies the Lord’s Lordship (the Power that canceled their debt. He is the Lord of the Sabbath rest. Their “godliness” clings to the belief that their works contribute to their salvation). They ultimately cling to their self-life. We must say about our self-life, as Peter had said of Christ, “I do not know the man.” (ref. F.B. Meyer). The false Christian doesn’t produce fruit. Fruit should first be defined by the fruit of the Spirit within the believer. The outworking of that fruit is a trail of people who have been changed by interacting with those sojourners who walked humbly in their midst.

The fruit of the Spirit comes about from obeying the words of Christ (Matt. 7:24). Failing to do this, will result in a loose foundation.

We need to know the words of Christ in order to obey them. He said that the meek will inherit the earth. He said we should turn the other cheek when smitten. We should go an extra mile when under compulsion from someone. We should give up our coat, if someone takes our shirt.

The best evidence of doing the will of the Father is to repent. It is the Father’s will that each should repent and believe (repent from dead works that attempt to earn our salvation by being ‘good enough’). It is His will that we turn from the wicked way of the world and live to give Him glory. That is the call for each to obey, primarily. That is the foundation of the one who abides in Christ.

Confidence Before God

Hebrews 10 outlines the basis and the confidence for our salvation: The body of Christ offered once for the atonement of the sins of the world (the only sign of the New Covenant). No additional sacrifice is needed for our sins when we have been forgiven on account of Christ’s covenant ratified in His doing of the Father’s Will that He be the sacrifice for the sins that we could not atone for with the sacrifice of animals year after year. In that single sacrifice, God has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14). The Holy Spirit witnesses the redeemed because they have God’s laws on their hearts and minds (v. 16). God no longer remembers their sins and their lawless deeds (v. 17).

The writer of Hebrews continues that we have confidence on behalf of this sacrifice (v. 19). We can draw near with a true heart of assurance of faith. We will have our evil conscience cleaned, and our bodies washed with pure water (v. 22). We then hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering (v. 23). We stir one another up to love and good works (v. 24) which is the opposite of striving, divisions and dissension. We gather together to encourage each other (v. 25).

The antithesis of this is that we use our freedom from sin as an opportunity for the flesh and go on sinning deliberately (v. 26). If we do that, we’ve revealed that we did not accept His sacrifice, and there is no other sacrifice for us, because we have rejected the only sacrifice that would sprinkle our conscience clean and wash us pure. instead, despite any profession of faith, we should have the fearful expectation of judgment, fury and fire (v. 27).

If someone has done this, they should recall the former days when they heard the gospel and faced struggles and sufferings, things we’re promised if we follow Christ (v. 32). We may have shown growth at first, but if we fall away we prove that we haven’t accepted Christ’s sacrifice and we’re not true converts.

Despite the hard times and temptations, the righteous (those declared righteous by God) will live by faith. The one who shrinks back, the Lord has no pleasure in him (v. 38). The Lord has no pleasure in the one who has not been washed by the sacrifice of Christ.

The proof of salvation is that we do not shrink back from obedience in the face of persecution and we persevere.

Perseverance is not only demonstrated in what we say, for many will say “Lord, Lord!” but have not done the Father’s will. They admit to a creed, they have faith that God is supreme, they believe Jesus died as a sacrifice for sin, but they have rejected it as the only way, either consciously, or in the way they live.

Our faith is demonstrated by the fruit of the Spirit, which draws us nearer to God and we walk in meekness, humility, purity, gentleness and confidence in our Lord. This results in our confession of our hope. Our unwavering hope brings us together with others who share that hope and we encourage each other in the faith & in purity and a good conscience.

Those who are not unwavering in hope, cleansed and pure, but go on having fits of rage, producing division, contention, strife, jealousy, impurity, immorality … they trample the name of the Lord under their feet and by their rebellion will find no other sacrifice able to cleans them.

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God’s Not Mad At You – Or is He?

As a child I remember asking my grandpa if he ever smoked. That. Was. Wrong. If tension were a color, the room turned blistering red. And I ran out of that room to the safety of grandma (who had a secret stash of candy in the linen closet close by).

My grandfather loved me, though I learned never to ask if he had ever smoked (he did, and he apparently really wanted to forget about that habit!). My father loves me, too, though there were times I elicited degrees of wrath with my behavior. As a father who loves his children dearly, I have felt some wrath at my children’s behavior, as well. Most of these instances are directed at a behavior which must stop for the good of the child’s moral development.

Sadly, there are countless cases of “wrath” that are abusive, not corrective. There are some who view all men through a lens of heartbreaking pain and bitter sorrow. Such deep, festering wounds can often be traced back to a father, or other male authority figure who abused his position.

The truth is, we all abuse our positions because we are sinful. There have been multiple times I’ve gone to my children and asked forgiveness for having lost my temper, or snapped off a harsh word or two. I’ve had to ask my wife for forgiveness many times. Bottom line, I’m a man with a sinful nature. My wrath is seldom pure.

As a result, it’s tempting to view God only through the lens of His abundant love, mercy, forgiveness and grace. All of which are true. His mercies are many, His grace is abundant, His love exceeds our imagination. He certainly deals with us all according to His mercy.

In the same way that God’s love is pure, so is His wrath.

Interestingly, by comparison to God, we find that our love is as impure as our wrath.We link our ‘love’ to feelings. We ‘love’ people so long as they please us. We actually have a saying ‘falling out of love.’ God knows nothing of this transient, loosey-goosey love.

In the same way that God’s love is pure, so is His wrath. While we might feel a milligram of righteous wrath at some evil act, we soon hijack that wrath with our own self-righteousness and overreact in a sinful way. See, our wrath–like our love–is tied to our emotions (which tend to be self-serving and prideful). Once the spark is lit, it rages, soon bursting from the furnace and consuming everything (or at least more than we intended).

God’s wrath is not tied to emotion. He’s not like us. His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. When He turns His wrath towards us, it is measured and just. He deals out exactly what is needed according to His purpose. We can trust this.

I’m reading through Isaiah and came across this verse:

“In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.” Is. 54:8

Isaiah spoke to a people who had forsaken God and were about to be taken over by their enemies. He prophesied about their suffering and spoke toward their deliverance. Remember that this book has immediate application to the people at the time. But it also has application on a larger scale to God’s true Israel, the Bride of Christ, the congregation of the redeemed, the Church.

On a personal level, this applies to each of the redeemed children of God. We do, indeed, endure the wrath of God. Except it is in small measure to what the unbelievers will face. It is also confined and brief. God is slow to anger, but quick to treat us according to His mercy. While suffering lasts for the night, joy will come with the morning.

At times, we go through things that have us in despair, like the young wife in Isaiah 54. We feel abandoned by God, forsaken when we are full of youth. We feel cast aside. Our enemies deride us as fools, forsaken by our God. Yet, out of the apparent oppression, through the thick gloom of our sorrow, the Lord rescues us. He lifts us up according to His mercy, His covenant, His grace.

Our part is to confess our sin. We can trust He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. But His mercy and grace are not dependent upon our performance. At times, we may be suffering quite apart from any obvious sin (like Job!). Other times, we may be deep in sorrow because we’ve gone astray in our obedience.

In both instances, we must humble ourselves before God, attest to His glorious character and perfect nature. If we’ve sinned, we must confess.

I like this quote from Matthew Henry:

“It is often the condition of Christian churches and of particular believers; without are fightings, within are fears; they are like the disciples in a storm, ready to perish; and where is their faith?”

We fret at so much. We begin to wonder, where’s my faith? How could God love me if I’m so faithless? We begin thinking God has led us out to the wilderness to die.

Don’t fear, He hasn’t. His overflowing wrath is for a short time, but His love is everlasting!

Is Tragedy From God?

A week and a half ago my family was given devastating news: my oldest daughter was diagnosed with inflamed Bowel Disease. This encompasses Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Both are auto-immune diseases that are considered chronic, meaning they’ll stay with her for her whole life.

When someone receives such a diagnosis it is hard to imagine that God ordained it. In fact, the common response is: This isn’t from God!

They can go into remission, or they can cause damage that could require removal of parts of her intestines. While there’s a spectrum, there are “horror stories” that no one without the disease can truly fathom. When someone receives such a diagnosis it is hard to imagine that God ordained it. In fact, the common response is: This isn’t from God!

In my Bible study I’m in Isaiah 53. This is one of a number of passages that directly point to Jesus Christ. Verse 10 stands out to me: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…” 

It made me think of another who was crushed by God: Job. I just did a study in that book, as well, and noticed a few things:

  • God pointed Job out to Satan: “And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 1:8 ESV. Satan, of course, claims that Job’s only incentive to praise God and turn from evil was due to God blessing his life. Satan challenges God to “stretch out [His] hand and touch all that he has” and then Job will curse God.
  • God pointed Job out to Satan a second time in chapter 2, “”Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Here, God confirms that He struck Job, though He had given Satan permission to take certain things and set limits.
  • Job never attributes his suffering to Satan. He confesses that it comes at the hand of God. In chapter 13, verse 15 he says, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…”

The hard part of faith is recognizing that God is the primary mover in all things. Some quibble that God permits evil, he doesn’t cause it. And, there’s truth in that. God is not the author of evil, but evil serves at the sovereign will of God.

Before I tie this up, I’d like to point out why Job is a significant book to understand in terms of God inflicting suffering on the righteous man. Job is a type of Christ. His character is descriptive of the true righteous one who always turned away from evil and glorified God perfectly: Jesus Christ.

When Christ was born, Satan sought to kill him through Herod. He sought to destroy his sinless nature through temptation. Finally, Satan sought to destroy Christ through pious, religious people accusing Him of blasphemy. Yet it was God who ordained all of these sufferings. God appointed Judas as the son of perdition who would betray the Christ into the rulers’ hands. God appointed the suffering on the cross, though Pilate had been inclined to let him go free. Jesus confirms that it is the cup prepared for Him by the Father.

She urged Job to let go of his worship of God as the benevolent, righteous and true God to whom our worship is due. She urged him to truly blaspheme God’s nature by turning his back on God and conclude that He must be a horrid being, devoid of love.

Do you see the parallel with Job? Job lost his family, his wealth and his health. Satan was prevented from killing him, though he likely wanted to. The righteous are an offront to Satan because they offer true worship to God, which is right. Then, Satan sought to disrupt Job through his wife and his friends. His wife urged him to curse God and die. It wasn’t merely a word of cursing that she advised. We like to think that a momentary curse is what is meant, but it is much worse. She urged Job to let go of his worship of God as the benevolent, righteous and true God to whom our worship is due. She urged him to truly blaspheme God’s nature by turning his back on God and conclude that He must be a horrid being, devoid of love.

Job’s response was that she spoke as the foolish women. He challenged her, “Shall I take good from the Lord, and not evil?” Job 2:10 ESV.

Both Job and Jesus suffered under the hand of God. Certainly, there is suffering in the world because of sin. Suffering offers powerful testimony to the existence and pervasiveness of sin. Without sin, Jesus would not have suffered on this earth and had to die on the cross. Since Job is a type of Christ, without sin, Job would not have had to suffer under the hand of God. There would have been no evil to deal out in God’s sovereign plan.

The difference between Job and Jesus lies in the sinless perfection of Jesus. While Job admits that he’s sinful, he contends that he didn’t do anything against the Lord (such as harbor blasphemy and rebellion) that deserved the suffering he endured. Jesus, on the other hand, was sinless, yet endured 32 years of suffering within a sinful world in rebellion against Him. He then endured the hateful words, the beatings, the spitting, the whipping and the humiliation of the cross … for our sin.

When we suffer a chronic or terminal illness, or when we suffer tragedy in one form or another, we have a choice: Do we say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord?” Or do we side with Job’s friends, and the Pharisees that evil events and tragedy in this life are evidence of God’s displeasure at us?

Do you see that when we view God as one who weighs our good and bad deeds, then deals out in sudden retaliation, or seems to “catch up” with a wicked person, we’re saying something about God’s Name, or Nature. We’re suggesting that God is punishing sin through cancer or heart disease, or tragedy instead of dealing with us according to His mercy and offering us His grace.

As with all of these topics, this line of logic comes with a caution. There are instances where God does inflict suffering on people for their sin in this life. But that serves His purpose and His glory. For instance, the people of Israel were hauled off to Babylon and suffered at the hands of their enemies more than a few times. This was to turn their hearts toward God. And when they called out to the Name of God (that He is good, righteous, perfect, loving…) He would restore them and heal them.

The trial of Job, and the suffering of Jesus hold lessons for us. Job came through the suffering and learned greater humility than he had before, thus glorifying God. Jesus suffered for the sin of the world, purchasing a people for God’s glory, confirming God’s righteousness, justice, love, mercy and grace.

The Gospel is about God’s glory, not our value. If suffering speaks loudly to the presence of sin, the Gospel shouts even louder for the presence of God’s love. We read in Hebrews about how Abel’s blood cried up to God regarding sin (11:4), yet Christ’s blood speaks louder for Grace (12:24).

Our suffering in this life serves God’s glory. When we suffer thorns in the flesh, we learn to endure and confess the Lord’s greatness while others would abandon the faith. Though others may urge us that our suffering is some random thing that God didn’t send, we can say, “though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”

And Jesus was poor, a man of sorrows, stricken and despised during the years of His life. Anyone who tells you differently is reading from a different Bible and you should avoid them.

By God’s grace, He can heal any sickness that’s given. Like the man born blind from birth (not due to sin of his own, or his parents, see John 9:1-3). Though, as in the case of Paul, some thorns are not removed. They’re given to us that God’s grace might be more fully shown to the world.

There are plenty of “life coaches” or motivational speakers who meld the Bible to their positive, empowering platform for success. But they’re false prophets. The world loves them. People speak well of them and they’re sought out for counsel because they give good words. Jesus doesn’t play that game. Jesus speaks of a comfort that rests in the glory of God, not our material comfort.

God controls the afflictions we suffer and designs them for our good. That good is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And Jesus was poor, a man of sorrows, stricken and despised during the years of His life. Anyone who tells you differently is reading from a different Bible and you should avoid them.

Does this mean we don’t pray for my daughter’s restored health? No. I pray that daily. We are encouraged to bring our requests before God. And we wait on Him for our provision. He’s blessed us with great medical care. We have been blessed with an early diagnosis and prompt attention. We’re blessed to live in a country that has access to a lot of food. There are those who go into complete remission of the disease. I believe that, too, is the work of God for His glory. But if we relegate bad things to some random evil over which God is helpless to change, we’d be maligning His character and disparaging His name. We must take the good from the Lord, as well as the evil. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

 

Can I Make The Bible Say What I Want?

I suspect there’s a common misconception that someone can make the Bible say what they want it to say. Actually, there’s a lot of truth to that. We see it so often, it probably doesn’t even register as an event to us anymore.

We hear TV “evangelists” howling about how we should give money–not time, prayer, labor, but MONEY–in order to see the blessings of God and it sounds normal. Another “leader” in the church pulls some verse suggesting a blessing and then promises the thousands in attendance that God wants their lives to be filled with luxury NOW!

Continue reading →

What Is The Fear Of The Lord?

If your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? That’s a gem everyone has heard at least once in their lives. Rhetorically, I hope. The answer is obvious–“Heck no!” Because we’d be crazy to leap to our deaths. We fear death.

For some reason, though, Christians want to re-define “fear” when it comes to fearing God. I’ve heard it said that the fear of the Lord is “reverential awe.” Which is fancy for saying, “really amazed.”

Some believe that at His return, the world will tremble in fear–or amazement– at the goodness of God. It’s a nice thought, but the Bible doesn’t support that view.

I won’t get into a deep study of all the uses of fear in the Bible, but the Greek word (NT) is phobos or phobeo. Not too hard to see where we get our word phobia or phobic. In Hebrew the word was yira, or mora. Regardless of the language, the words convey an emotional response ranging from unease to stark terror, or trembling reverence. Context around verses provides whether it is someone “striking terror” or someone “filled with dread,” or someone “falling on their face in fear.”

One thing is certain, if we experienced any of the fear associated with God, we wouldn’t be talking about it in a den with cups of joe.

Here’s something interesting, though. In doing this word study I found that the Old Testament was filled with “fearing God.” God asserts His omnipotence and men are taught their place in Creation. I’m brushing with broad strokes here.

When we get to the New Testament, there are more verses telling us to “fear not.”

Those opposed to the whole “fear thing” might be cheering and high-fiving right now. But not so fast.

Those verses are correcting God’s people’s view of fear. Since the whole Bible is good for instruction, reproof and godliness, we need to take it as a whole. We tend to fear things in this world. We fear the unknown. We fear dark corners, under our beds, or the lump of monster that’s slithering from our closet at night. We fear a bad review at work. We fear sickness or car repair costs.

Yet God tells us not to fear for what we should wear, or what we will eat, or where we will live. God knows our needs!

Yet, we’re also told to fear the one who has power over not only our body, but also our souls! We are reminded in Hebrews that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God! Paul tells us in Philippians to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

We should fear … but we should fear rightly. If you make a practice of sinning, you should fear (but you probably don’t). If you have turned from a life of sin, accepting God’s grace in Jesus’ sacrifice, you should NOT fear condemnation, or death. Rather, we should fear offending God’s love for us.

To use a simple, yet relatable example, imagine a husband is out with the guys. He’s having fun at a restaurant, or bowling alley … and a girl he knew in high school sees him and they start chatting. Suppose the husband’s wife–who realizes he forgot his wallet–heads to the restaurant/bowling alley to deliver the billfold. Just as she walks in, the little tramp puts her dainty little hand on her husband’s chest, tosses her frosted locks back and laughs through her pearly white teeth, batting her eyelashes.

Just then, the husband catches sight of his wife at the periphery of his sight and feels heat race up his neck to his face, the other woman’s hand burning a hot spot on his pectoral muscle.

At that moment, the husband’s mouth dries up, his eyes widen and he stammers with cold, tingling fingers, trying to explain the innocent coincidence that resulted in this scene.

The fear he feels is not terror of condemnation because he wasn’t unfaithful. Being fully devoted to his wife, he just happened to bump into a woman he knew. Being polite, he engaged in small-talk. But, being sensitive to the love-bond between he and his wife, he realized how it could look, and the pain it might cause.

Granted, this is a bit embellished. In a healthy relationship, there wouldn’t be such melodrama. But, using absurdity to illustrate a valid point, we should have the same fear with God. For us, however, we could fill in the story. We’re often caught texting someone we shouldn’t (using the example above). Or we get as close as we can to flirting with another god, if not starting to go steady. We grow disillusioned with God since he doesn’t fit what we’d like Him to be, and we play the field of worldly ideas.

We should fear. And that fear should drive us away from those other gods and back toward the One who loves us.

For those who have rejected God’s love, they’ve rejected His rightful claim on them. And they should fear condemnation, which is coming at a time they won’t expect.

Out With the Old

As our glittery 2018 glasses land in trash bins and we sweep up the streamers from the floor, many have resolved to cast off the old and put on the new. 2018 will be a fresh start. New wine must not be placed in old wineskins! Let’s leave the past and press on toward the future. Great! We’re off … but we don’t want to strike out on the path only to realize we’ve left our GPS. As Christians, we have a Great Commission, but we still need the Bible. Today, having a firm understanding of the Bible is more dire than ever, and I’ll explain why.

It strikes me that when Paul and the other Apostles wrote their letters to the various groups of Christians, they weren’t always “preaching to the choir.” What they wrote came across as controversial. As a matter of fact, they simply carried on the example set by Jesus. Far from being a winsome, charismatic speaker, Jesus offended a lot of people. More than once people sought to kill him. Not so coincidentally, the same thing happened to the Apostle Paul.

Turns out, people don’t like new wine. Or new wineskins. They like the comfort of the old ways. And that’s bad.

Except, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we get that itch to have something new. We’re tired of the old lessons and we want that word of encouragement. This desire for mercy and grace is good, so long as it’s coming from a place where we recognize how hopeless we are before a Righteous, Good, Loving and Holy God. It’s good when we turn in endless thanksgiving to God for His sacrifice on our behalf through His son, Jesus Christ. It’s good when we understand that only Jesus’ righteousness covering us makes us acceptable to God and that apart from that, we have nothing to offer.

Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians when he says in 3:6: “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The “letter” refers to the Law of Moses, which condemns us before God. We can’t keep that Law. And even if we try to keep it, if it’s done apart from faith (like Cain) it’s not going to be accepted.

Believe it or not, there’s controversy around this verse. Some point out that Paul is showing that the Old Testament Law, the old Covenant is abolished. Others point to the words of Jesus that not one letter of the Law will be abolished and that He came to fulfill the Law. There are those who believe we need to follow all the letter of the Old Law in order to be pleasing to God, though we are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

I’m not going to deal with that controversy here.

There are still others who take that last part, “the Spirit gives life,” and contrast it with the Bible, or even doctrine. So, the “letter” means verses in context, discussions over a proper interpretation, etc. while the “Spirit” refers to less tangible things like the way we feel about people, the way we behave, etc.

It is certainly important that we behave in humility and love to everyone. But that’s not what Paul is referring to in this passage.

Some may take the “Spirit” and use it for the idea of new prophecy that people are allegedly getting. This is a dangerous trend that is nothing new. People claim that “God told them something” apart from the Bible, or “the letter.”

This is when we strike out and forget the GPS or our directions. The path ahead is exciting. We see a bright, new adventure spread out before us. We could certainly throw the map away and see where things take us. And for a while, that will be fun. But, when we get lost, we’ll probably get cranky and lose heart.

Paul wasn’t telling the Corinthians that they should toss out the Old Testament and just follow “The Spirit.” We need to understand what Paul meant by that phrase. In John 6:63, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

The words of Jesus are spirit. We believe the writings of the Apostles are words from Jesus, as well. Thus, they are spirit. While some claim that God hasn’t closed off direct revelation and that there are “New Apostles” getting “new words” from God, we are commanded to “test the spirits” to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). So, whether you’re one who believes in new prophecies or not, we are commanded to be discerning of things people say.

That includes me, and this blog. I don’t want people taking what I say at face value. I want anyone who reads these words to search things out for themselves. We grow in our faith by encouraging each other to good works and a proper understanding of God’s word and who He is.

And we can’t do that if we toss out the Bible as being our GPS.

All You Need is Love

Love is the universal language, right? I suspect everyone would agree that it is what we need most. Love. It conquers all. Men will know us by our … love. The most important thing for a child’s development is … love. By a show of hands we could call this meeting to a close, all agreed. Except, we’re so bad at it. If we know the answer, why can’t we solve the problem? Maybe because we don’t actually understand what love really is.

To understand love, we can turn to Romans 13, or 1 Corinthians 13, both of which address deep love. In Romans Paul shows that true love is demonstrated by obedience to the Law of God. We cannot commit adultery, kill, steal or covet if we love God and love those around us. Such love will guard us from breaking the commandments. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul expands on all the things love will and will not do: It’s patient and kind, it doesn’t envy, it doesn’t boast, it doesn’t get prideful, it doesn’t think the worst of people. It seeks good for those around us, even our enemies.

In 1 John, the book’s whole emphasis is on love. We must abide in love, which demonstrates we abide in Christ. This is demonstrated in that we love other Christians (our brothers). Ultimately, though, the love of God is defined by John in that we keep God’s commandments, and His commandments are not a burden to us (1 John 5:3).

These statements from Paul and John relate back to the teachings of Jesus. He taught that if we love God, we will keep His commandments. One commandment is to love the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who loved Jesus, loved God. Those who rejected Jesus as Lord, rejected God and had no love.

Perhaps this is why our world lacks true love. It has rejected the Lord Jesus Christ. Since we need love, we turn to the imitation and counterfeit love. We turn to winsome, self-gratifying love. This is charity, good deed doing, hugging and expressing nice sentiments.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Except that it is the superficial love of a world devoid of the real thing. The divorce rate is high. Couples who once professed love for each other end up on the edge (if not over it) of hating each other. The phrase is, we fell out of love.

This is a sign of the rot that is in us from birth: Sin. The symptom is unfaithfulness. Because of it, we leave our first love and give ourselves to emotional (if not physical) prostitution. Spiritually we do this by seeking another word from God apart from the Bible. Or we start elevating a pastor or Christian celebrity above Christ. In essence, we deny Christ. Some deny Christ on the cross, claiming He was never crucified, or that he died as a man–with the spirit of God no longer on him, or that His death wasn’t payment for sin, but an example of sacrifice. All of this pulls us away from the truth, and away from real love.

The Bible has a couple of terms for love: Agape and Phileo. Agape love is an action. It is the love personified by Jesus on the Cross, paying the penalty for His enemies while they spit upon Him. It is a love that we’re called to as Christians toward God first and toward other Christians and all those around us. Phileo is a brotherly affectionate love. It is the bond between David and Jonathan. It joins with agape in providing the feeling.

We like feeling. TobyMac has a song, “Feel it” in which he declares “That’s. How. I. Know.” Unfortunately, that’s not found in the Bible. 1 John doesn’t have a verse that says, “by this will you know that you are saved, you’ll feel it.

We know we’re of God because we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That’s first. In obedience, we love all those around us, particularly Christians, as we would love ourselves. Don’t misunderstand that last part. God isn’t slipping in a “You gotta learn to love yourself, child!” It means that we would provide for ourselves, seeking safety, food and shelter, so we should do the same to all those around us. Even our enemies.

But, if we seek the welfare of those around us, but do not love Jesus Christ, our love is self-centered and odious. If we sacrifice our lives in service for others, but we’re not loving God and abiding in Him, we’re like a banging gong.

All we need is love. God is love. So, really, all we need is God. And He has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ whom we should love above all others, obeying all He said.