Christianity 201

September 23, 2017

The God Devised in Our Own Hearts

Last year at this time, we were introduced to the devotionals by David Guzik the host of Enduring Word, the daily radio program of Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara. Click the title below to read at source.

Making God in Our Own Image

“Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi…So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.” (1 Kings 12:30-31, 33)

After the days of King Solomon, the twelve tribes of Israel divided into two kingdoms. The first leader of the northern kingdom was a man named Jeroboam – one of the more interesting and tragic figures of Israel’s history. Jeroboam was anointed and called by God, but very quickly became more interested in holding onto power than in honoring the God who gave it to him.

When Jeroboam led the 10 northern tribes in their rebellion, he wanted to break every tie with the southern kingdom of Judah. However, the city of Jerusalem was in Judah – and it was to that place that all the children of Israel were commanded to bring their sacrifices. Afraid to allow his people to visit Jerusalem and Judah, Jeroboam set up his own altars at the cities of Dan and Bethel.

The Bible simply tells us, “Now this thing became a sin.” It was a sin when Jeroboam suggested it, but it was more of a sin when the people followed it. The people were so attracted to the religion of Jeroboam that they went as far as Dan (at the far north of Israel) to worship at the shrine of the golden calf there. Today, you can visit Israel and the site of ancient Dan and see exactly where the altar and golden calf stood.

Jeroboam went even further; “he made shrines on the high places.” He made more places of worship than the main centers at Bethel and Dan. These high places were even more convenient for the people.

Then he abolished the priesthood that God commanded, he “made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi.” Jeroboam rejected the commandments of God regarding the priesthood of Israel, and established a priesthood of his own liking.

Jeroboam arranged for a special feast to be held “in the month which he had devised in his own heart.” This is a good summary of Jeroboam’s religion – it was devised in his own heart. Jeroboam is an example of those who create their own religion according to their own taste.

For the most part, the world today believes in the religion of Jeroboam. Not necessarily his particular expression of golden calves and high places, but a religion created according to its own taste. You could say that Jeroboam believed in “Jeroboamism” – it was all devised in his own heart. He was his own priest and created his own theology – basically, he created a god in his own image.

The tendency to do the same is in us all, but fortunately God has revealed to what He is like – He tells us in the Bible. We come to realize that my opinion about God isn’t any better or worse than that of anyone else – but what God says about Himself in the Bible reveals to us the God who is really there; not just the figment of my imagination or the creation of my own heart.

It is up to each of us to carefully examine our own idea of God and ask: “Did I make this myself or does God Himself tell me this in the Bible?” At the end of it all, all the gods we make in our own image are illusions – the God of the Bible is the one who is there, He is not silent, and He is the one who can rescue and help us.

March 19, 2017

The Wrath of God

by Russell Young

Even though it is not popular, consideration needs to be given to the issue of the wrath of God. The Word presents it as being a reality and the experience that some must face. The church needs to be more forthright in dealing with the consequences of disobedience and defiance, and of the rejection of God, both of which have consequences.

The redeemed belong to Christ; they are his servants and he is their sovereign. He has purchased them with his blood. Consequently, he cannot be accepted as savior without being accepted as their sovereign and lord. Believers are not permitted to live under their own rule. A condition of salvation is the declaration that Christ is Lord. (Rom 10: 9) Christ queried some of his followers, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46 NIV) Paul wrote: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 NIV) Being saved from God’s wrath is a process undertaken following a person’s “reconciliation” to God and it comes through “the life” of Christ. Christ in the believer is his or her hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

Contrary to some modern theological teaching, reconciliation to God does not prevent God’s wrath. Paul wrote that the manner of a person’s living was important. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV)

Contemporary Christian music along with much teaching has emphasized and exaggerated the “freedom” and “unconditional love” that exists for the confessor. (There is a distinction between a believer and a confessor. A believer recognizes God’s sovereignty in his or her life and obediently responds to his calls.) Reconciliation to God is for gaining forgiveness for past sins, those that had separated the sinner from God and from certain death, allowing him or her the promise of the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) It is living through the Spirit that prevents the visitation of God’s wrath.

Many proclaim that the Lord in his mercy and grace has released confessors from both judgment and negative consequences. After all, they would say, all sins have been forgiven so there is nothing to be judged. Careful reading of God’s Word makes it clear that it is all sins committed while under the jurisdiction of the first or old covenant from which they have been released, not the sins that follow, unless they are confessed. “[H]e has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15 NIV; 2 Peter 1:9) The Lord has given all confessors everything they need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3) and it will only be through neglect or rebellion that sinning will be continued, prompting his wrath.

As servants, all of those who have pledged his lordship will one day be rewarded for their obedience or suffer wrath for their disobedience. Not only will confessors be judged by Christ, so will all of humankind. (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Pet 4:17) Those who have honoured his calls upon their lives will be rewarded while all others will suffer destruction from his presence, either outside the walls of the New Jerusalem or in the lake of burning sulphur. Many will quote John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) Of course, this is true but the promise belongs to those who believe (are believing).

Belief is revealed by adherence to that which a person claims to believe. In the case of eternal salvation, the avoidance of God’s wrath is revealed as coming through obedience. The writer of Hebrews stated, “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed. So you see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18 NIV) It is through lack of obedience that judgment will come, failure to honor Christ as lord. “He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know (understand) God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess 1:7─8 KJV)

The church has failed to ring the alarm concerning the visitation of the Lord’s wrath through the judgment to come, and its avoidance through the practice of personal righteousness. The admonition has been given for believers to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling so that they might become blameless and pure. Fear is a great motivator, just as is love. When John wrote that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18 NIV), he was talking about perfect obedience since those who love God obey him. Paul cautioned the Ephesians not to be deceived by empty words for because of immorality, impurity, and greed God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Eph 5:6)

Despite modern theological presentations, God’s wrath will be visited upon those who have pledged Christ’s lordship and have not lived it. God’s grace is evidenced in his workmanship (Eph 2:10) as the Lord transforms the obedient into his likeness; his wrath will be based on a person’s ‘doing’ (Jn 5:28─29), on the rebellious and disobedient who resist his transforming work.


Russell Young is a Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

September 8, 2015

Old Testament Provides Examples of What Not To Do

Today we pay a return visit to Juli Camarin at JCBlog. The article is long, but there is good insight here. Click the title below to read at source and look around the rest of the website.

A Textbook Example of What Not To Do

Do you ever stumble across an odd statement while reading your Bible and think, Are you kidding me?

This happened to me this morning. I was reading the account in Numbers where Moses struck the rock and water came out. This account is actually the second time in Israelite history this event has occurred—and check this out—it happened at the exact same place as before: Meribah, which means “quarreling.”

The first account of getting water from the rock was shortly after the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. But the second account that gave me pause happened a generation later. Same place, same situation, but this time this generation had grown up in the desert and grumbled and complained to Moses about not having water.

This is what they said:

“If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:3b-5).

Sounds like a classic rant, doesn’t it?

“We’re going to die of thirst!”
“It would have been a lot better to die when our parents died!”
“Moses, admit it…you’re trying to kill us!”

The Israelites had fallen into a textbook example of a loose tongue backed by charged emotions…I know I’ve been there…(just ask my husband).

Here are the laments that stopped me cold: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:5).

That is an odd statement coming from a people who grew up in the wilderness eating quail and manna. Of course, there are no grains, figs, grapevines, or pomegranates because they are wandering in the desert!

Come to think of it, when had they ever had figs, grapes, or pomegranates? And why were they complaining to Moses about there not being any at Meribah? It’s the wilderness after all! Makes me scratch my puzzled head:

  • Do you know where there are figs, grapes and pomegranates? Egypt.
  • Do you know who came from Egypt? Their parents.
  • Do you know why that entire generation died in the desert? Because they were faithless.

Their parents’ generation was a textbook example of what not to do. They grumbled, complained, and continually tested God. But you know what? Let’s cut them some slack because they grew up as slaves and didn’t know any better.

But their children, oh, their children should have known better! They were never slaves, as they had always been free.

They had always lived under God’s provision. He went before them in a pillar of fire. He fed them for forty years. He protected them from every single enemy that tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. And most amazingly, during their entire time in the desert, their clothing and shoes never wore out!

This generation was familiar with the miraculous ways that God provides. On top of that, they had this amazing promise from God of a permanent home in Canaan. This was their time to shine!

And yet their main complaint was about their lack of figs, grapevines, or pomegranates…echoing their parents. How disappointing!

Don’t get me wrong—there is nothing wrong with knowing where you come from and remembering the trials and situation you’ve survived to become who you are. It is part of your story and is therefore worth sharing.

But sharing becomes dangerous if we use those things as an anchor to keep us chained to our past rather than walking full of faith into the unknown with the knowledge that the future is full of God’s promises waiting to be unlocked.

Here is an important truth: God will be faithful to you regardless of whatever situation you presently find yourself. So why not trust Him to lead you through it?

This is where I truly believe the Israelites went wrong. They were longing for something in the past, and they kept looking back to what was known rather than looking forward to what was promised!

God was angry with them because they could never quite accept that He had a good plan even though it was unfamiliar to them within their life experiences up until that point. Because His plan was unknown, the Israelites clung to what they remembered and taught their children to do the same, and they all bought into it—hook, line, and sinker.

The Book of Hebrews calls this behavior disobedient unbelief! (Heb. 3:18-19).

So here they are in the exact same place as their parents when they came out of slavery and they are facing the exact same problem. But instead of remembering how God provided water from the rock for their parents’ generation, they longed for figs, grapes, and pomegranates. In other words, they yearned for Egypt, even though that meant slavery.

I call this behavior insane! I read this and thought, Are you kidding me?

They remembered their bondage in Egypt through a different lens than the reality of what actually was. Slowly throughout the years, this fantasy became preferable to wandering in the desert. But the real tragedy in all of this is that their disobedience and hardness of heart blinded them to the real freedom God desired to give them in the future.

Imagine what would have happened if the older generation had only focused on what they were looking forward to: if they spoke about the Promised Land and how it flowed with milk and honey reminded each other that God had promised that land to Abraham. They would have convinced themselves that God would be faithful in bringing them into that land.

I imagine that their children would have shown up in Meribah and announced that this was the last water stop before Jericho! (Oh, the irony, as there was no water anywhere!).

But the entire generation that wandered and died in the desert only spoke of Egypt. They spoke so well of it that their children held onto the hope of having figs, grapes, and pomegranates from a master’s table rather than having their own land, their own vineyards, and God’s best for them. Sadly, this is true because they had never been taught any better!

Friends, we need to evaluate our own lives:

  • Why are we clinging to the past?
  • Why are we focused on our solutions to our problem rather than on the faithfulness of God in the midst of our problems?
  • When was the last time we spent a moment reflecting on the promises found in scripture? And if we know them, do we really believe them?

From the example of the Israelites, we see how harmful this type of thinking is! Not only did it keep them out of the rest God planned to bring to them (Heb. 4:6) it also taught their children to do the same! And the scary thing is that we still behave like this!

  • How many of us are resting in God’s promises, actually resting, which means at peace in the midst of turmoil?
  • How many of us are confident about the future, even when the past and present are less than ideal?
  • How many of us are drowning in circumstances instead of looking to the author of solutions?

If the Israelites are the textbook example of what not to do, then let’s learn from their example and try something different.

September 27, 2013

Punished For Sin, Punished By Sin

Romans 1

In addition to preparing these daily readings, and keeping up with the writings of others at Daily Encouragement, I’m trying to start my day with my copy of The Voice translation of the Bible. Today I decided to read through Romans.

Romans 1 is often invoked in the context of some current issues that are causing the influence of the broader culture to encroach on the Church. Without engaging that today, I simply want to share something that appears in the supplementary “transition passages” which are added as amplification to the text.

The focus verses are:

18 For the wrath of God is breaking through from heaven, opposing all manifestations of ungodliness and wickedness by the people who do wrong to keep God’s truth in check. 19 These people are not ignorant about what can be known of God, because He has shown it to them with great clarity. 20 From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible; and it voids the excuses and ignorant claims of these people 21 because, despite the fact that they knew the one true God, they have failed to show the love, honor, and appreciation due to the One who created them! Instead, their lives are consumed by vain thoughts that poison their foolish hearts. 22 They claim to be wise; but they have been exposed as fools, frauds, and con artists23 only a fool would trade the splendor and beauty of the immortal God to worship images of the common man or woman, bird or reptile, or the next beast that tromps along.

24 So God gave them just what their lustful hearts desired. As a result, they violated their bodies and invited shame into their lives. 25 How? By choosing a foolish lie over God’s truth. They gave their lives and devotion to the creature rather than to the Creator Himself, who is blessed forever and ever. Amen. 26-27 This is why God released them to their own vile pursuits, and this is what happened: they chose sexual counterfeits—women had sexual relations with other women and men committed unnatural, shameful acts because they burned with lust for other men. This sin was rife, and they suffered painful consequences.

28 Since they had no mind to recognize God, He turned them loose to follow the unseemly designs of their depraved minds and to do things that should not be done. 29 Their days are filled with all sorts of godless living, wicked schemes, greed, hatred, endless desire for more, murder, violence, deceit, and spitefulness. And, as if that were not enough, they are gossiping, 30 slanderous, God-hating, rude, egotistical, smug people who are always coming up with even more dreadful ways to treat one another. They don’t listen to their parents; 31 they lack understanding and character. They are simple-minded, covenant-breaking, heartless, and unmerciful; they are not to be trusted. 32 Despite the fact that they are fully aware that God’s law says this way of life deserves death, they fail to stop. And worse—they applaud others on this destructive path.

Chapter 2: 1 So you can see there are no excuses for any of us. If your eyes shift their focus from yourselves to others—to judge how they are doing—you have already condemned yourselves! You don’t realize that you are pointing your fingers at others for the exact things you do as well. There’s no doubt that the judgment of God will justly fall upon hypocrites who practice such things. Here’s what is happening: you attack and criticize others and then turn around to commit the same offenses yourselves! Do you think you will somehow dodge God’s judgment? Do you take the kindness of God for granted? Do you see His patience and tolerance as signs that He is a pushover when it comes to sin? How could you not know that His kindness is guiding our hearts to turn away from distractions and habitual sin to walk a new path?

I’ve included a rather healthy section of this here; it is the set-up for the section that follows where Paul speaks of the wrath and judgement of God, the same wrath that one denomination wanted excised from a popular worship song.

It’s interesting that the section in chapter one appears in the past tense. Maybe that’s why the people who created the chapter breaks chose to put what follows after verse 32 of chapter one into a new section.  But it’s interesting to look at some of those phrases in the present tense, for certainly these things continue today:

  • God gives them what their hearts desire…
  • They give their lives to the devotion of the created…
  • God releases them to their own vile pursuits…
  • They choose sexual counterfeits…
  • Their sin is rife…

So what are the consequences. Ultimately, Paul is going to talk about the eternal consequences; the aforementioned outpouring of God’s wrath; but it was this transitional sentence that struck me that I want to leave us with:

Paul sounds a sober warning. God’s wrath is here; it is not some far-off future event. Paul says that God’s wrath is already at work in the world in what is effectively God’s “hands-off” policy. God, he says, steps aside and gives us over to idolatry, sexual sins, and depraved minds. Human sin and depravity are both its cause and effect. You see, we are not only punished for our sins, but we are punished by our sins. If God’s salvation consists essentially of His presence with us, then His wrath consists of His absence or separation from us. The bad news is this: God’s wrath is real. Without the good news of Jesus, no hope exists.

 

It looks like this bookstore has a huge section devoted to Romans, but in fact, it's in Montreal where in French, Romans means 'novel.'

It looks like this bookstore has a huge section devoted to Romans, but in fact, it’s in Montreal where in French, Romans means ‘novel.’

January 11, 2013

Watch Out for Idolatry

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This is a recent article by Dane Gardow from the website Truthsource.net, Be On Guard Against Idolatry.

1 John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

By the grace of God my soul lately has been grieved and burdened in waging war against a vicious onslaught of idolatry. God has been faithful to maintain me through the midst of the struggle and gracious to cover the times of failure. As I was reasoning within my mind one day, seeking to justify a passion gone apostate, I came to a significant realization that I would do well to remember. My reasoning—devilish, indeed—was that I was not embracing “sin” as others were…I was not indulging in, say, immorality or drunkenness. But this led me to ask the following question, and praise be to God that I did: “And what, exactly, is sin?” I thought to myself. Immorality and drunkenness are definitely sins, no doubt, but they are not all what sin consists of. I was being led to believe that I was free to indulge in my heart’s desire because it was not on par with gross sins like theft, murder, or adultery. This, however, is the very thinking employed by Satan and championed by Pharisees.

Sin is disobedience against God; it is lawlessness. And the same God who forbids us from committing murder and adultery also commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This, indeed, is the greatest commandment. Yet I was not loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I was not loving Him more than that to which I was being drawn, and that right there is sin. May we not forget that seeking to justify such treasonous affections whilst condemning outward sins is an exceedingly dreadful beginning of a hellish path toward self-righteousness.

You don’t have to commit adultery, murder, or steal to commit sin. Idolatry is sin, as well, and a terrifying one, as the others and even more so, since it is generally far more subtle than the rest. Idolatry is found in the same list Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, a list of sins for which the judgment of God is threatened. Elsewhere Paul declares with absolute certainty that aside from out and out immorality, no idolater will have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph. 5:5-6) and that God’s wrath is not only coming upon those who practice immorality and impurity, but also idolatry and covetousness, as well (Col. 3:5-7). We can be so inclined to minimize subtle, idolatrous passions, but the apostle Paul and the rest of the inspired writers make no such categorization anywhere in Scripture.

With that said, let us be on guard against entertaining vain thoughts against God and Christ. When we desire something more than Christ, that is sin. That, in fact, is the root of all sin. All people sin because they desire something more than Christ. This is that corrupt spring that has plagued the sons of men and from which all manner of sin springs forth. We fool ourselves thinking we are not sinning—since we abstain from blatant, outward sins—as we demonstrate more love toward something than Christ.

When we violate our conscience, that is sin. If we are convicted against something, but we go on to pursue it because, after all, it is not a vice like immorality, we are in grave sin. Paul tells us in Romans 14:23 that what we do must proceed from faith because “whatever is not from faith is sin.” Though a particular activity may not be sinful in and of itself, since God has commanded us through His apostle not to violate our conscience, that activity becomes sinful in the specific case in which we are convicted against it. Often we try to reason our way around this when we are convicted against a certain activity by appealing to facts such as 1) that it is clearly not a sin or 2) that other genuine Christians are free to participate. But, as Paul says, “we are condemned if we partake” because we do not do it from faith (Rom. 14:23).

We need to be ever on guard against such subtle sins as these, as I have come to realize recently. There is a reason why the last verse in the apostle John’s epistle contains a warning against idolatry. Let us take heed:

1 John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.