Christianity 201

April 19, 2018

Utter Mess, Utter Grace

by Clarke Dixon

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– Ephesians 2:1-8 NRSV

According to the apostle Paul we were all once in an utter mess, and in fact some people still are. While events around the world may confirm for us that yes, some people are in an utter mess, methinks there are many would say “others yes, but not me.”

Imagine, for example reading Ephesians 2:1-3 and then saying to a non-Christian friend that you just learned that they are ’dead in their sins’ (verse 1), or a follower of Satan (verse 2), or ’children of wrath’ (verse 3). Many fine folk would, I think, say something like “well that does not sound like me, I feel quite alive thank you, I have never been involved in Satan worship, and if there is a God I should not be judged by such a God for I am basically a good person.” How do we reconcile what we learn from scripture about our fallen nature with what a lot of what people think and feel?

First, you don’t need to feel dead to be dead. This mention of being dead takes us back to the story of the fall in Genesis. God said to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b,17 ESV). Now we know that on the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit they did not die, but on that day we can say that death entered into the world, death becoming their inescapable future and a sure bet. In this sense when we are without God today we are “dead in our sins,” it only being a matter of time before death catches up to us.

Nor do you need to worship Satan to be listening to his voice. Again we go back to the story of the fall where we find the serpent tempts Eve, not to worship him, but to stop trusting God. Most people would never admit to worshipping Satan, but when pressed, might admit to not trusting God.

But what about the unbeliever who seems to be perfectly moral, in fact more moral perhaps than most believers; can we really say they are “children of wrath” deserving of what is commonly known as hell? According to the Bible you are either a child of wrath (Ephesians 1:3), or a child of God (see John 1:12). Many would like to say that by their moral actions they show themselves to be closer to being a child of God than a child of wrath. But this is like saying that a pregnant woman is a little bit pregnant, or very pregnant. I have heard and used such expressions but of course one is either pregnant or not. You are either a child of wrath or you are a child of God, you cannot be somewhere in between. Further, the symptoms may not be a good indication of truth.

There was once a show on TV chronicling the stories of women who gave birth despite not noticing any indications or “symptoms” of pregnancy until the last minute. You could say that with my middle-aged-spread — which began in my 20’s! — I have more symptoms of being pregnant than what some of those women experienced! What matters is not the symptoms, but the truth. And it does not matter how righteous or moral a person appears to beall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Consider the righteousness of Adam and Eve. When they were convicted of sin and banished from Eden they had no prior history of sin, and in sinning had not harmed anyone directly, nor done anything that most people might consider “immoral.” What they did was fall short of the glory of God, trusting the words of Satan over God, and so became children of wrath.

However, verses 1-3 are not the main point of our passage. They are verses that some will not get past in their denial of their need for a Saviour, but they are not the main point. Here is the main point: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV). This passage is not really about sin or death or hell, but is about God’s grace, mercy, and love. No one need fear hell for anyone can trade in their status as a child of wrath for a new family tree, becoming a child of God and recipient of his grace though faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

We can imagine God’s grace and our faith like this: we are stuck in quicksand and there is no way out. However, God reaches down and lifts us out in the palm of his hand. God’s love, initiative, and reach to rescue is the grace by which we are saved – we would be sunk without that. Our trust which keeps us in his hand is the faith through which we are saved – we’d jump back into the quicksand without that. What most people do not realize is that while we are alive we all, everyone included, experience a measure of God’s grace. That we can live at all, breathing, relating, enjoying life is a sign that we are experiencing God’s grace. God is under no obligation to grant us life but he does so as a sign of grace. This should help us to understand what we know of as hell. We tend to think of hell as punishment reserved for those who have done evil things to other people, making salvation and hell a matter of morality. Many naturally consider murderers as deserving of hell, but regular law abiding folk as not for example. But in the Bible, separation from God (hell) does not come just because one deserves it. It also comes because one desires it. Having experienced God’s grace by breathing some will curse the God who gave them breath and say “I don’t need you.” Having experienced the grace of God through loving and being loved, some will curse the One who has loved them the most and say “I don’t want you.” And so some choose to jump out of the hand that has been holding them, the hand that is ready to save them if only they will turn to in repentance, and not away from, the Giver of Life.

We have all at some point been in an utter mess, dead in sins, under Satan’s influence, and children of wrath, but utter grace is there for anyone who will take and trust that nail-scarred hand reaching for us in grace.!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Today’s post is from Clarke’s archives and was originally written in April, 2013.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 19, 2017

The Nature of “Gift” Concerning Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Communication between people in any language is difficult. Everyone interprets the written and spoken word according to his or her understanding and experiences. It is even more difficult to translate from one language to another. Many words have more than one meaning so the nuance of the original intention must be as carefully preserved as possible. Unfortunately, many translators have become interpreters. That is, they apply their understanding as ideas are processed from one language to the next. In the procedure many concepts may not maintain the thought that the original speaker had intended.

Consider the Greek word “charisma.” It was in common Greek usage before being adopted and understood in the English language. It is a noun having the idea of “personal charm or magnetism,” “the ability to influence without the use of logic,” or in Christian context alone, “extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit.” (English-Ancient Greek (to 1453) Dictionary) It is worth noting that “charisma” referred to an ability that a person had to influence another without logic but according to his or her personal charm or magnetism. Of course, common usage of charisma has the same meaning today.  Not all people have the same ability of persuasion; hence, it might be accepted that a person has been gifted with the ability to persuade others.

Biblical writers have also used “charisma” to convey understanding. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift (charisma) of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Rom 6:23 KJV) Translators have used “gift” for charisma to convey an idea. In staying with the Greek understanding the passage might have been written, ‘the influence of God without logic but according to his persuasion or personal attributes is eternal life through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.’ Or, ‘through the extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit is eternal life through Jesus, our Lord.” That is, it is through the attributes of God, his ability to attract and persuade that through using his Son he provides eternal life.  The “persuasion” and “influence” of God comes through the Holy Spirit. ‘Charisma’ does not possess the idea of a gift or something that was handed over to be received other than the Holy Spirit. The word “charisma” is used today. We do not say that we give ‘charisma’ at Christmas.

When the wise men visited Christ at his birth, they brought “gifts.” The Greek for “gifts,” used in this case, was doron, which according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary means “a present; specially a sacrifice: –gift or offering.” (#1435) When Christ spoke of the fact that fathers give good gifts to their children, the Greek word doma was used, meaning gift or present. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” (1 Cor 12:1 NIV) The Greek does not include the word “gifts” but reads, “about [the] spiritual, I do not want you to be ignorant.” Young’s literal translation reads, “about spiritual things.” A few verses later he presents, “There are different kinds of gifts” In this case he uses charisma, but it can be translated as endowments or qualifications again referring to attributes.

Regardless of how “charisma” is represented, eternal life comes through Jesus Christ, our Lord; he is the source. The writer might have omitted “our Lord” in his writing but its presence is significant.  “Lord” means “supreme authority” or “master.” Although some might restrict “Lord” merely to a title of respect, it is more significant in its proclamation. The persuasive power of Christ as lord, master, and supreme authority is the means of eternal life. Such thinking contrasts with the idea that the ’package’ of eternal life has been handed over as in the presentation of a gift. The writer of Hebrews has confirmed that Christ is “the source of eternal salvation” for all who obey him. (Heb 5:9). The writer does not allow that the Lord’s crucifixion provided eternal salvation but that it comes through his life –Christ as Spirit, (2 Cor 3:17, 18; Col 1:27; Rom 5:9─10) — lived obediently through the believer. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “[F]rom the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13 NIV)

Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship (masterpiece NLT)…” (Eph 2:8─10 NIV) In this case “gift” is translated from the Greek doron  meaning a gift or present. This might be considered a summative statement. Since the ministry of Christ is the “source” of salvation, and because his incarnation, sacrifice and life were through provision by God alone, eternal salvation can be considered a gift, but this is so because the believer has become God’s masterpiece, conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29) People cannot achieve their salvation by their own works or practices due to their evil natures; they cannot overcome their death sentence, nor can they transform themselves into becoming an acceptable offering. (Rom 15:16) The intervention of God through his provision is required. “Everything we need for life and godliness” has been provided (2 Pet 1:3), but not life and godliness. A proper response to God’s charisma is needed for the person who seeks God’s kingdom.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book 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

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

November 29, 2017

Credited With a Status We Didn’t Earn

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our fifth visit with Juli Camarin at JCBlog.net. Click the title below to read at source or click this link and navigate your way back through the whole series (so far) on Romans. I loved the phrase in what follows: “Credited with a status of always having obeyed everything He said.”

Credited as Righteousness—Romans 4:4-5

“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5)

Anyone who works at job knows that the paycheck that comes at the end of the week isn’t a gift. It is the exchange given from the blood, sweat, and tears that come from being employed. We give our time, effort, skill, and passion to our employers, and in return they give us money.

This is a good system in the workforce, but a bad deal when it comes to an arrangement with God. As Paul notes later on in the letter, the only wage we’d earn on our own merit is death (Rom. 6:23).

However, the contrast to working and earning something from God is to trust in His grace. The beautiful result is that we, too, (Like Abraham in this example) will be credited with righteousness.

That’s right, credited with Jesus’ perfect and sinless record.

Here’s the good news—We don’t have to be good or have it all figured out! Trying to only excludes us. As Paul points out, God justifies the wicked and in reality, we all fall into that category.

It’s an either-or scenario. We can work at trying to be good, do the right things to earn something from God (death), or we come to Him just as we are (wicked) and be credited with a status of always having obeyed everything He said (justified).

It takes a lot of faith to trust God’s good intent toward us without offering anything in return. But the payoff is huge—We are credited with righteousness.

Where are you trying to earn God’s favor? Where could you take a step back and simply thank Him for it?


In an article based on the verse immediately prior — “What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3) — Juli noted:

When God started making promises to Abraham, he was a wanderer without a home, and without an heir. Then God visited him and started making outlandish declarations.

And what’s amazing is that these promises had absolutely no requirements on Abraham’s part. He was simply to sit back and enjoy these blessings…

…Today, where can you trust God? Is there a promise in scripture that God has made that you need to act on?


Our bonus music today is Abraham by Phil Keaggy from his second album, released in 1976.

 

July 21, 2017

Liberty to Pay it Forward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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This is our third time at Inspire a Fire and this time around the writer is author and pastor Josh Clevenger. Don’t miss the second-last paragraph. It’s short but crucial to understanding what God expects.

Liberty in Christ

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Galatians 5:1 NLT

God’s gift is free and has no blind spots in the contract.

Believers have been set free from the bondage created by the Law of Moses. The law was unable to make anyone righteousness and was flawed because it only exposed humanity’s weaknesses. When Jesus died on the cross, He died to fulfill what we couldn’t through good works and sacrifices.

Christ-followers have been given righteousness through Jesus Christ. We have the ability to be at rest with God, satisfying the struggle for God’s approval once and for all. We don’t have to offer anything to God to be received as worthy. The process was simplified to one basic element: Christ alone.

Believers don’t—and can’t—add to the salvation equation. We have to believe Jesus Christ is. When that is established, salvation is given freely. We aren’t required to give anything because the debt is too great for us to pay. God saw our inability to be righteous apart from His intervention and provided His Son as the bridge between us and Him.

Believers don’t have to earn anything from the Lord. Trying to earn His approval underestimates what Christ did on Calvary. Our society associates the term free with cheap. Salvation was not cheap, because it cost God His Son.

We can express our gratitude to the Lord by loving others in the same way we are loved by Him. The Lord does not require payment. He just wants us to spread His love to those around us.

Do not be yoked again to fear or shame. Be set free from false obligation, and be united in the Lord to know your freedom in Christ.

 

May 30, 2017

It’s More Than a Word

Today we’re paying a return visit to Elsie Montgomery who, as I’ve said before, is one of the most faithful devotional writers I’ve encountered here.  The topic I chose from the many great articles I skimmed is a topic that is covered here by other writers, but there are different interpretations out there as to how sanctification takes place in the life of the believer. Since C201 is a “devotional potpourri” I decided to add Elsie’s voice to the many other articles here dealing with righteousness, holiness and sanctification.  Click the title below to read at her blog, Practical Faith.

Sanctification is more than a lofty theological word…

Today’s devotional reading tells of three errors concerning the doctrine of sanctification. Boring? Not at all when I explored the meaning of this term and studied the biblical definition.

One of my dictionaries says that sanctification means “the state of proper functioning” or to set a person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. If I made a pen, I’ve set it apart to write. In the theological sense, God designed me for His purposes, and He set me apart to live accordingly.

Another dictionary links sanctification to active trust and obedience, citing 2 Corinthians 7:1 which tells me to perfect holiness out of reverence for God, and be diligent to be what He has called me to be. (See 2 Peter 1:10)

However, neither the devotional or the dictionaries bring out an even more amazing truth. While no one can set themselves apart for God and no one can keep themselves in that place apart from the presence and work of Jesus Christ, yet because Christ lives in me, I am already sanctified . . .

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31, italics mine)

God has already set me apart, declared me holy. The issue is learning how to act like it, to behave according to what I already am! This is something like enlisting in the armed forces. When a person ‘signs up’ they become a soldier, but it takes months of training before they act like it. In the case of Christians, we are set apart by God right from the start, then spend the rest of our lives learning how to behave as a sanctified person.

This is God’s grace, yet is often a struggle. Paul describes the struggle and the grace . . .

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14–25)

Those three errors in the devotional include

  • mixing works and grace in a human effort to become sanctified,
  • becoming sinless by a ‘second work of grace’ which is totally contrary to Scripture (see 1 John 1:8), and
  • trying to separate oneself from sin using rules.

All three errors happen to those who do not realize or accept that in Christ Jesus, Christians are already sanctified. Again, we just need to learn how to act like what we already are.

Perhaps this doctrine is too outrageous. Perhaps it is dismissed because we tend to evaluate ourselves by our performance rather than by what God says. Perhaps we humans want to contribute to our holiness so add works and rules to what is needed for spiritual growth. Whatever the reasons, none of those errors bring us closer to what God intends. He wants me to trust and obey Him — and He supplies everything I need to do that. A walk of faith with obedience does not make me more ‘set apart’ for God; it simply declares that I already am!

 

Jesus, just as Your kingdom is already here but not yet, so also is my sanctification. You are it! You live in me and You are my perfect holiness right now. In You, I am all that the Father intended. The process of shedding the stuff that is not like You is a challenge, often painful, and yet You are the One who bursts forth in my life. I can no more make it happen than a caterpillar can will itself into a butterfly. All I can do is trust and obey, and You do the wonderful work. What a glory. What a future hope! Thank You!

May 20, 2017

Who is God?

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
~ A.W. Tozer

This week I got to enjoy a fascinating interview on The Phil Vischer Show with John Mark Comer, author of the book, God Has a Name. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of this book and reviewing it on Thinking Out Loud.

He went on to elaborate that your thoughts about God will define your life; shape your destiny. The hosts bantered with him for a few minutes, and then he got to the meat of the interview and the heart of the book; namely that it is commentary on Exodus 34:6-7 which is “the most quoted book in the Bible by the Bible.”

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

He said that it’s interesting that when God describes himself, he doesn’t use the words we would use — omniscient, omnipotent, etc. — but first he tells his name, but then he describes his personality; his character traits; he provides a highly relational description.

Of this passage, Matthew Henry wrote:

The Lord descended by some open token of his presence and manifestation of his glory in a cloud, and thence proclaimed his NAME; that is, the perfections and character which are denoted by the name JEHOVAH.

The Lord God is merciful; ready to forgive the sinner, and to relieve the needy. Gracious; kind, and ready to bestow undeserved benefits. Long-suffering; slow to anger, giving time for repentance, only punishing when it is needful. He is abundant in goodness and truth; even sinners receive the riches of his bounty abundantly, though they abuse them.

All he reveals is infallible truth, all he promises is in faithfulness. Keeping mercy for thousands; he continually shows mercy to sinners, and has treasures, which cannot be exhausted, to the end of time. Forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin; his mercy and goodness reach to the full and free forgiveness of sin. And will by no means clear the guilty; the holiness and justice of God are part of his goodness and love towards all his creatures.

In Christ’s sufferings, the Divine holiness and justice are fully shown, and the evil of sin is made known. God’s forgiving mercy is always attended by his converting, sanctifying grace. None are pardoned but those who repent and forsake the allowed practice of every sin; nor shall any escape, who abuse, neglect, or despise this great salvation. Moses bowed down, and worshipped reverently.

Every perfection in the name of God, the believer may plead with Him for the forgiveness of his sins, the making holy of his heart, and the enlargement of the Redeemer’s kingdom.

bold face emphasis added

John Wesley’s commentary on this passage:

And the Lord passed by before him – Fixed views of God are reserved for the future state; the best we have in this world are transient. And proclaimed the name of the Lord – By which he would make himself known. He had made himself known to Moses in the glory of his self – existence, and self – sufficiency, when he proclaimed that name, I am that I am; now he makes himself known in the glory of his grace and goodness, and all – sufficiency to us. The proclaiming of it notes the universal extent of God’s mercy; he is not only good to Israel, but good to all. The God with whom we have to do is a great God. He is Jehovah, the Lord, that hath his being of himself, and is the fountain of all being; Jehovah – El, the Lord, the strong God, a God of almighty power himself, and the original of all power. This is prefixed before the display of his mercy, to teach us to think and to speak even of God’s goodness with a holy awe, and to encourage us to depend upon these mercies. He is a good God. His greatness and goodness illustrate each other. That his greatness may not make us afraid, we are told how good he is; and that we may not presume upon his goodness, we are told how great he is. Many words are here heaped up to acquaint us with, and convince us of God’s goodness.

1st, He is merciful, This speaks his pity, and tender companion, like that of a father to his children. This is put first, because it is the first wheel in all the instances of God’s good – will to fallen man.

2ndly, He is gracious. This speaks both freeness, and kindness: it speaks him not only to have a compassion to his creatures, but a complacency in them, and in doing good to them; and this of his own good – will, not for the sake of any thing in them.

3dly, He is long suffering. This is a branch of God’s goodness which our wickedness gives occasion for. He is long – suffering, that is, he is slow to anger, and delays the executions of his justice, he waits to be gracious, and lengthens out the offers of his mercy.

4thly, He is abundant in goodness and truth. This speaks plentiful goodness; it abounds above our deserts, above our conception. The springs of mercy are always full, the streams of mercy always flowing; there is mercy enough in God, enough for all, enough for each, enough for ever. It speaks promised goodness, goodness and truth put together, goodness engaged by promise.

5thly, He keeps mercy for thousands.This speaks,

    1. Mercy extended to thousands of persons. When he gives to some,still he keeps for others, and is never exhausted:
    2. Mercy entailed upon thousands of generations, even to those upon whom the ends of the world are come; nay, the line of it is drawn parallel with that of eternity itself. 6thly, He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin – Pardoning mercy is instanced in, because in that divine grace is most magnified, and because that it is that opens the door to all other gifts of grace. He forgives offenses of all sorts, iniquity, transgression and sin, multiplies his pardons, and with him is plenteous redemption. He is a just and holy God. For, 1st, He will by no means clear the guilty. He will not clear the impenitently guilty, those that go on still in their trespasses; he will not clear the guilty without satisfaction to his justice. 2dly, He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children – Especially for the punishment of idolaters. Yet he keeps not his anger for ever, but visits to the third and fourth generation only, while he keeps mercy for thousands – This is God’s name for ever, and this is his memorial unto all generations.

To hear the interview with John Mark Comer, go to this link and fast forward to 21:51. Because of time constraints, I wasn’t able to transcribe more of the interview, though I listened to it as I was posting these more classic commentaries on these verses, but I can’t recommend the interview enough. I hope we’ll get to the book itself in the future. (If anyone wants to do a summary transcription of the interview, we’ll definitely print it here.)

 

 

March 22, 2017

I Now Live in a New Family

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are again paying a return visit to the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. As I’ve stated before, she is one of the most faithful writers online, now in her 11th year of daily devotional studies.

I am adopted

Before believing in eternal life, I had to believe in eternal condemnation. Who needs salvation if there is no consequence for sin? Yet my condemnation was not ‘in place’ because I believed it, but because of the family line to which I (and everyone else) belongs.

As described in Romans 5, eternal condemnation began when sin began — through Adam. Sin results in death — which is separation from God, and because all humanity comes from Adam, then all are born into sin and separated from God. This is called spiritual death. We still walk around, but are dead to God and ignorant of sin. We needed a measuring stick and the Law of God did that, making us aware that we fall short.

Yet because of God’s great love and grace, He offered redemption — a free gift to sinners. This offer came through the righteousness of another man, Jesus Christ. Just as those in Adam were condemned in sin, those in Jesus Christ are made righteous in Him.

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18–21)

Salvation is about a change in family, about being taken from the line of those descended from Adam and placed in Christ, adopted into the family of God. This is something only God can do and did do because of His great love for us:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)

Living in the family of eternal condemnation is made evident by lifestyle. Sinners sin; it is as simple as that. Law reveals and defines the sin, but sin was there before the Law was given. People murdered people before God said it was not lawful, and people hated God before He told them “No other gods.”

Jesus came to take away that sin and enable sinners to live righteous lives. God actually made a trade; He put our sin on Jesus, and put Jesus’ righteousness on us:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This incredible swap means that I now live in a new family, the family of eternal life. That change is made evident by a lifestyle change. While not perfect in practice, I have a new identity; I’m no longer ‘in Adam’ but ‘in Christ’ and rejoice that God has adopted me.

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:4–10)

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Dear Jesus, God imputed Your righteousness to my account as He imputed my sins to You. You became responsible to the Law of God for my sin, took its penalty and died under His wrath. As my sin was made Yours, and Your righteousness was made mine, so also were the rewards of Your righteousness given to me. This is substitution and astonishing grace. Because of it, the Father sees me in You, not in Adam. I am a new creation and a member of Your eternal family, loving that which once didn’t matter, and hating those things I once loved. The more I hear this incredible Gospel, the deeper it sinks into my heart and flows out into my life. This too is amazing grace, grace that I cannot earn or deserve, only respond to in grateful obedience. grateful obedience.

January 1, 2017

Accomplishing Your New Year’s Resolution

resolutionsby Russell Young

Blessings to you in the new year! Many welcome the new year with resolutions and great intentions.  Research shows that most resolutions will not be realized.  The University of Scranton has stated that 39% of people in their twenties will achieve their resolution each year while only 14% of people over 50 years of age will achieve theirs. Perhaps greater success is achieved by younger people because of the nature of their resolutions, that habits are more entrenched in older people, or it may be that younger people are more determined to achieve their resolutions.  Regardless, change in behaviour is difficult to accomplish.  Some changes require the development of a completely different perspective, and all require motivation. Resolutions are not made concerning a single happening, but are intended to alter a developed pattern of action or attitude; they have become patterns because they have brought satisfaction or pleasure to the person who has adopted them.

Paul has shed some light on this aspect of the human condition. Although many accept that eternal salvation comes from pardon for sin, it really comes from the product that the Lord is able to accomplish in the transformation of a person; it is the result of sanctification by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5─6; 2Thess 2:13) making the believer a sacrifice acceptable to God. (Romans 15:16) A person’s transformation/sanctification requires a great deal of work and power.  Paul addressed the dilemma that he faced concerning his own inadequacy in the taming of his body.  He wrote: “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death (that causes death)? The flesh is weak! 

Paul followed up his predicament with its solution. “Thanks be to God—through Jesus our Lord!” (Rom 7:21─25 NIV) “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son…” (Rom 8:3 NIV) The reason why human resolutions and the laws of God are often not fulfilled is because their completion rests in a weakened sinful nature. Resolutions are made with good intentions but the weakness of the flesh often dooms people to failure.  Those who resolve to adjust their habits intend to do so…they want to keep their resolutions; the body just does not accommodate.

Try as one will the realization of a resolution cannot often be accomplished without divine help.  If the believer is being impressed with the need for change, the prompting for change probably came from the Holy Spirit. Change is not easy and should not be accepted as being easy, but it can be done.  Victory lies within the grace and power of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the believer’s commitment to honour the Spirit’s calling.  It is often the lack of motivation and the weakness of the flesh that brings failure.

The Spirit is Christ in the believer (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18) and he will lead and empower for victory, but those seeking victory must engage the battle with him. Prayer and commitment to honour the Lord through the successful completion of a resolution can never be abandoned. To do so means that the “believer” has fallen under the slavery of the weak, old nature and has relented to serving the flesh rather than God’s Son. If a person relies on his or her own strength for victory, they will revert to the old nature and to old patterns.  Victory demands a struggle with an objective, a determination of the will, and the power provided by the helper, the Lord.

Resolutions can fall into many categories but often they are related to expressing love and kindness toward a family member or brother in the Lord, or they may relate to gaining victory over habits that are offensive to others.  They may involve better financial management necessitating a reduction in love for the world and the things in the world.  They may also be related to issues of forgiveness.  Many resolve to treat their bodies with greater respect in some manner. These are all issues that deal with the development of the righteousness for which we hope. (Gal 5:5) They are issues important to Christ.

Since righteousness is not a trivial matter, neither should be the believer’s approach to its development.  Even in matters that might seem trivial, the faithful will bring their need before God in prayer, with commitment, and in expectation. Christ said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me…” (Jn 10:27 NIV) It is through the practice of obedience that victory can be gained. To hear requires listening. The voice of God often comes through the quiet whisperings of a person’s conscience and the one seeking success will not dismiss these.  The Word promises that believer will not be faced with temptations from which a way out will not be provided, and states that he or she will not face temptations that are not common to man. (1 Cor 10:13) Even though a resolution may not seem to require victory over a “temptation,” it may have been induced through an issue that the Spirit has brought to mind and he is always ready to help the humble and submissive to enable victory over any issue that is in keeping with his will for that person.

New Year’s resolutions are important to the one making them and they may be important to God. Self-discipline and the leading and the power of the Spirit can assure that they are realized.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

December 17, 2016

What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

NIV Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”


NIV Luke 19:27 [Parable; rich man speaking]“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Today we pay a return visit to the video series Seven Minute Seminary at Seedbed.com. This video is 3½ minutes long and features Dr. Ben Witherington. Have your Bible or Bible software/app handy while you’re listening.

What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

What happens to those who never hear the gospel? It’s a fair question to ask, and Christians throughout the centuries have answered it in different ways. In today’s Seven Minute Seminary, Dr. Ben Witherington tackles the problem by drawing a parallel to how God will deal with his people Israel at the end of the age, a theme treated in Romans 1.

How we answer this issue, sometimes framed as the destiny of the unevangelized, remains consistent with the consensus of historic Christianity and Scriptural teaching if we acknowledge that Jesus is the means of salvation—whether a person has explicit knowledge of Jesus and the gospel (exclusivist or restrictivist view) or whether a person has faith based on God’s general revelation made available to everyone (inclusivist view). On the other hand, the pluralist view, asserting that Jesus is just one of many ways to God, should be rejected (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5-6).

Several challenges present themselves for each view. For those who argue that a person must somehow hear the gospel in order to be eternally saved, they must answer how exactly the saints in the Old Testaments will attain life everlasting (see this thought experiment by Roger Olson). Furthermore, they must deal with the fairness of their perspective. For those who affirm an inclusivist view, they must struggle with maintaining the centrality of repentance and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in salvation, and the urgency of missions around the world. In the end, our Father, who has a holy and loving character that we can trust, will ensure that all is made right.

People of note throughout church history who taught inclusivism: Justin Martyr, Ulrich Zwingli, John Wesley, C. S. Lewis, Clark Pinnock.

More Scripture to consider: Psalm 19:1-4; Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 16:19-31; John 1:9; 9:12; 10:16; Acts 14:17; 17:26-27; Romans 1:20; 10:9-18; 1 Timothy 2:4; 4:10; 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 9:27.

See also: “What Happens to Those Have Never Heard the Gospel? How Prevenient Grace Makes a Difference” by Brian Shelton.

View the growing playlist of Seven Minute Seminary.

 

November 17, 2016

Who Needs Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

  • How dare you call me a sinner?!
  • How dare you think you are better than me?!
  • How dare you think that, if such a thing as heaven exists, you are worthy and I am not?!”

This might be the kind of thing we hear from people as we share the Good News that Jesus came to save sinners. Good news, but with the bad news that you are a sinner. This also might be the kind of thing someone might not say, but that we imagine they will, so we shy away from sharing the Good News for fear it will come across as bad news. Let us consider a time “sinners” are the focus of Jesus.

The Pharisees came to the disciples with a question about Jesus: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16 ) A good question considering the likelihood the people Jesus is friendly with would not be welcome in the local synagogue, never mind the Temple. Why is Jesus eating with these types? The answer is twofold.

One reason is so obvious we can easily miss it; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because he invites them to do so. This is made clear from the preceding verses.

As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” Mark 2:13

Levi, also known as Matthew, would have been collecting taxes on behalf of Herod Antipas, who would have been ruling by the power of, and on behalf, of Rome. This would make Levi one of those guys you do not want to be associated with if you have any desire to be truly Jewish and truly holy. At least according to the Pharisees. But this is the kind of guy Jesus invites to follow him.

The second reason is just as obvious; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because they accept the invitation. Notice Levi’s response to the invitation: “And he got up and followed him.” Mark 2:14. And then notice something about the tax collectors and sinners surrounding Jesus:

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. Mark 2:15

Although Levi gets a specific invite to be a disciple, there are many tax collectors and sinners following Jesus around. They want to be with him. These are the kinds of people Jesus eats with because these are the kinds of people that want to be with him.

We see these two reasons reflected in the reason Jesus himself gives as to why he is eating with these sinners:

17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:17

Jesus comes to call the sick, and the sick respond to the call. Jesus comes to bring grace and healing to sinners, and sinners know they need grace and healing. Now notice how annoying these words of Jesus are for the Pharisees. They do not see their need of Jesus, but Jesus is clearly telling them that they do. But are they not the righteous, therefore not needing Jesus? Consider that the Pharisees would have known well the verses from the Old Testament that Paul brought together in his letter to the Romans:

What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin,
10 as it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.”
13 “Their throats are opened graves;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of vipers is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  Romans 3:9-18

The Pharisees would likely have agreed with Paul’s summary of the above: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). They would have agreed about the need for God’s saving work in the lives of the sinful. But they also would have thought that if God was coming to save, they would be the insiders looking out, not the outsiders looking in. They would be eating at the table of God’s representative, congratulating themselves on how deserving they were of such an honour. But if God’s salvation activity is in Jesus, they are the outsiders looking in on tax collectors and sinners, the least deserving of society, sharing at the table with Jesus.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

So what are we to say to those offended by the bad news part of the Good News? To those who would object to being called “sinners”? To those who would object that we Christians in no way deserve the hope of heaven any more than anyone else?

We say

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

We spend time with Jesus, not because we deserve to, or because we are better, but because He invited and we know our need of him, just like the sick know their need of a doctor. And he invites you also:

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20


All scripture references are from the NRSV. Read more of Clarke’s Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons at this link.

July 28, 2016

The Least of the Apostles, Chief of Sinners, but Blameless and Righteous

The question is first posed at the blog of Columbus Bible Church:

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”  (1Tim 1:15)

In 1 Timothy 1, Paul says that he is the chief of sinners, but in Philippians 3, Paul indicates that he was blameless concerning the righteous of the law.

“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”  (Php 3:4-6)

How can both of these be true? … [Click the above link to continue reading…]

There’s also a contrast going on between the ritual law and the moral law. Aldopho Serralta points out:

There are many Christians who do not understand correctly what Paul said in Philippians 3:4-6, so they believe he was a perfect man before he became a Christian. This is one of the times where the brothers can see the difficult way of talking of the Apostle to the Gentiles. When what Paul says seems to go against what the rest of the Bible says, we need to find its logic and not believe blindly and without due analysis what he says. In Philippians 3:3-6. Saint Paul says something that cannot be true: that he was blameless.

 4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.                                                                                         (Phil 3:4-6)

If we were to interpret what Paul says without analyzing it, we could reach the false conclusion that Paul was faithfully obedient of all of God’s law, and therefore was irreprehensible. This would happen if we don’t realize that what Paul says here goes against what the Bible says in other passages. The Bible says that there has been none righteous, not one; therefore, Paul can’t say he was blameless. We need to understand one of two things: either Paul is lying or we have to look for what it is he wants to say with the word “law“.

He says that as to the justice that is in the law, he was blameless. Evidently, Paul was not going to lie; therefore, he is talking about the ritual law, of which he was blameless, because as a Pharisee he would make every effort to comply with all the rites, traditions and ceremonies, besides tithing the rue, the dill, the cumin, the mint, etc..

We need to only slightly reason to realize that Paul cannot be talking about God’s law regarding human behavior, because in the same passage he confesses to being a persecutor of the church, like most Pharisees. They murdered Christians without a previous trial, or with rigged trials, and that is not obeying the law of God. They brought in false witnesses, as we can see in Acts 6:13-14 in Stephen’s case and that is against God’s law for human behavior.

Paul himself confesses in Acts 26:10-11 that he forced some prisoners to blaspheme. A man that acted as such could not be a faithful follower of God’s laws for human behavior, but merely a faithful follower of the ritual law. Thus when Paul speaks, and in such it seems to contradict what the rest of the Bible says, we have to analyze what he says. That is the problem with the brothers who misunderstand Paul, attributing to him the abolition of God’s law for human behavior… [you’re encouraged to continue reading…]

The question is then repeated at Bjorkbloggen (in Swedish and English; scriptures are KJV, look them up in an easier to read translation if you prefer):

Romans 7:14 But I am carnal, sold under sin

Romans 8:6 For to be carnally minded is DEATH 

Hmm, was Paul BOTH carnal and not carnal at the same time, or is he saying the he is carnal and therefore spiritually dead OR is he saying that he was FORMERLY carnal and sold under sin? I’d say the latter.  Paul also said:

 I Cor. 15:34 Awake to righteousness, and SIN NOT 

Romans 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Paul is saying that if you obey sin it leads to DEATH (and naturally spiritual death since all people will die physically whether they sin or not). If Paul was the chief of sinners while writing Romans, it must mean he obeyed SIN and served two masters! The Bible is clear about that  sinning and serving two masters will send a person to hell. So Paul wasn’t saved while writing Romans? How can a person be the chief of sinners and BLAMELESS (which Paul says he is) at the same time? To me that is a Bible contradiction. Paul identified himself as a sinner but the context reveals he was talking about his life BEFORE he came to salvation.

1 Tim. 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Tim. 1:12-16).

When Paul wrote ”I was before a blasphemer and a persecutor” it shows he is writing about the time when he was unsaved in his past. He also said ”I acted ignorantly in unbelief”. Paul is not speaking of the normal Christian life and when comparing with context it’s apparent that Paul didn’t keep on doing those sinful things, as he frequently taught against.

Just a few verses later Paul warned Timoty to have a GOOD CONSCIENCE. He said ”18This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck”. If Paul was the chief of sinners also as a born again christian, then how could he possibly have a good conscience, and how could he possibly expect Timothy to have a good conscience if he fails himself? Can someone be a chief of sinners with a good conscience before God?

Acts 23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

Acts. 24:16 And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men.

Rom. 9:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost

2 Cor. 1:12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

2 Tim. 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day

Hebr. 13:18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly

Would Paul exhort others to stop sinning when he himself was carnal and sold under sin? Paul says sin dwells in him (Romans 7:17, 20) and he says he is a wretched man (Romans 7:24). Can a person have sin dwelling in him at the same time as he is free of sin? Wouldn’t this be a clear contradiction? Did the chief of sinners write the major part of the NT and ask his readers to stop sinning and to not be hypocrites at the same time as HE was the biggest hypocrite? Paul’s desire is to find someone who can free him from his sins which lead to death (Rom 7:24), and he makes it clear in Rom. 8:2 that the fight he had in the flesh belonged to his former life.  Right after he describes his bondage to sin and the law before he was saved, he says, ”There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” He also said ”IF YE LIVE AFTER THE FLESH YE SHALL DIE. Based on Paul’s own words a person who sins is SPIRITUALLY DEAD, so clearly Paul could not have been the chief of sinners when saying this.

He is speaking in the present tense, but at which present time? Paul is using a mechanism of literature called, Past Perfect with Present Perfect tense. It is when you speak of past events as if it were present tense. There is a transition by first speaking of the past, transferring in present perfect tense, then shifting it back to the actual present…  [I hope you’ll click that link and continue reading…]

 

July 7, 2016

The Judgement of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I Am The Lord•••by Clarke Dixon

If you have been reading along in Ezekiel during our series you may have noticed something about chapters 5 through 7. God seems, well . . . how shall we put this, . . . quite judgemental. Some would say the judgement of God is quite brutal. Some would say unfair even. Many look at God’s judgement to come at Christ’s return in much the same way. Should we ignore Bible passages about the judgement of God? Should the judgement of God give us reason to disbelieve? Quite the opposite, by looking more deeply into the judgement of God we gain some clarity about God and humanity. Let us consider what we can learn from Ezekiel 5-7.

The judgement of God is an expression of the faithfulness of God. The language of Ezekiel chapters 5-7 reflects the language found in the covenant promises of Deuteronomy chapter 28 and Leviticus chapter 26. There we find promises of things going well for the people if they keep the covenant and of things going rather poorly if not. God’s people ought not to have been surprised that they stood under judgement, for God is faithful to His promises. Looking ahead to the judgement to come, God will be faithful to His promises, all of them, even the ones we may not like.

The judgement of God demonstrates the patience of God. Some Bible scholars see in the instruction to Ezekiel to lie down for 430 days in chapter 4 an allusion to the 400 or so years that God had put up with His people since Solomon built the temple. Reading about that era in the Bible you do get the impression that they were less than impressive in their loyalty and commitment to God. In bringing judgement in Ezekiel’s day, and not before, we must be impressed at the patience of God. He is still patient:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

The judgement of God reflects the reality in the hearts of people, and not some arbitrary punishment in the mind of God. The judgement we read about in Ezekiel chapters 5 through 7 reflects the situation on the ground. It is entirely fitting:

According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them. Ezekiel 7:27

Let us take as an example one of the most striking and brutal verses about what the people in Ezekiel’s day will experience in the judgement:

Surely, parents shall eat their children in your midst, and children shall eat their parents; I will execute judgments on you, and any of you who survive I will scatter to every wind. Ezekiel 5:10

The thought of cannibalism is horrid enough, but one’s children, or parents?! To understand this, please realize that we do not have a command of God, such as “as punishment parents must eat their children and children must eat their parents.” Rather, this is what the Lord knows will happen when He judges the people through the siege of the Babylonians. When the food becomes scarce, as happens for an extended time in siege warfare, the strong will eat the weak to survive. The strong, adult parents, will prey on the weak, their young children. The strong, adult children, will prey on the weak, their senior parents. In doing this the people have sunk very low and have wandered very far from God and from His law which was given to protect the weak and vulnerable from the strong, which was given to nurture love within families and society, which was given to provide proper guidance on morality including evil practices like cannibalism. In experiencing judgement, the people harm themselves by their own will having wandered far from the will of God. This is not God’s idea, this is what is in the hearts of the people.

When we think of the judgement to come, people will sometimes say things like “the punishment of hell does not fit the crime of disbelief.” However, here again we see that the judgement reflects what is in the hearts of people and not some arbitrary punishment in the mind of God. While the language of hell throughout the Scriptures paints a vivid picture of an experience no one would ever want, there is something approaching a clear definition of it in 2 Thessalonians 1:9:

These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 2 Thessalonians 1:9

The experience of hell is an experience of separation from God. When someone experiences separation from God at the coming judgement, they will be experiencing something they have not yet experienced, but have been ‘living towards’. When people have been rejecting God in their lives, in their minds, in their hearts, then will come a day the Lord will allow them to actually experience what they have wanted all along. The coming judgement will reflect what is in the hearts of people, and not some arbitrary punishment in the mind of God.

The judgement of God shines a light on the grace of God in Christ. The brutality we find in the language of judgement in a passage like Ezekiel 5-7 really impresses upon us how contrary to God’s nature sin really is. Sinful people and a Holy God necessarily mix like oil and water. Actually worse, because at least oil will sit on water. When we speak of Jesus dying on the cross for us, we often put it in a way that could be summed up like “Jesus took a bullet for us.” This is not deep enough. He did not just die. He bore our sin. He experienced the full weight of the judgement of God upon sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Let us be reminded of the coming judgement:

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15 (emphasis mine)

That should be us! But in receiving Christ, we experience grace, the judgement having been experienced by Jesus at the cross, our names having been written into the “book of life”. The judgement of God shines a light on just how astonishing the grace of God in Christ really is.

The judgement of God sets the record straight. Chapters 5 through 7 conclude with words we find throughout the passage, indeed throughout the whole prophecy of Ezekiel:

And they shall know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 7:27

If there was any doubt before, through judgement the record has been set straight. People may hear of the judgement of God, whether in Ezekiel, or in passages that speak of the judgement to come and say “God’s judgement is unfair,” or “God’s judgement is brutal”. On the coming day of judgement the record will be set straight and we will all be able to say “Your judgement, Lord, is excellent.”


Read this at source; then navigate to find other titles in the Ezekiel series from Summer 2016

June 27, 2016

The Psalms as a Microcosm of Biblical Theology

In this simple fractal, each individual section encapsulates in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of the whole.

In this simple fractal, each individual section encapsulates in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of the whole.

Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. In preparation, I read several of the recent devotionals there on the Psalms. Click the title below to read this one at source:

Go And Sin No More

Today’s Passage: Psalms 49-54

It seems to me that all the theology of the Bible is found in these Psalms. Take for example Psalm 49.

Psalm 49:7-9 ESV
“Truly no man can ransom another,
or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
and never see the pit.”

You and I cannot save ourselves or anyone else. Even if you and I sacrifice our life for the transgressions of someone else it is not enough to save them; our very life is not valuable enough to pay the high price required by sin. These verses tell us that in man there is no hope. Of course, that is not the end of the story. You see, while man cannot save himself, God can and does save man. God can and did pay the price required of sin.

Psalm 51 illustrates this fact perfectly. Remember back in 2 Samuel when David took another man’s wife and then had that man killed? We all know that by God’s standard both acts were heinous. What you may not have considered, however, is that as king, David was above reproach. In fact, what he did in this instance was not really an unusual act for a king of that era. By the human standards of the day, outside of God’s law, David didn’t do anything wrong. God’s standard, of course, is a different matter entirely. There is scriptural evidence to suggest that David was being eaten up by his sin prior to Nathan’s confronting him; it bothered him and he became quiet and withdrawn.

I think one of the things that has bothered many of us who have read about David, is that he seems to be such a great man of God and then, seemingly out of the blue, he commits two horrendous sins in succession. How can a man with such a close relationship with God, who clearly loves the Lord and has shown time and again an ability to deny his own self-centered desires in order to be true to God’s standard, drop the ball in such a catastrophic way? “He didn’t just tell a little white lie to keep from hurting someone’s feelings; he committed adultery and murder!”

Do you know how you can tell David loved God? His sin bothered him. When Nathan confronted him with his sin, he could have, like any other king of the day likely would have, had Nathan killed. Instead, David confessed his sin. You see, if you are God’s man, sin will bother you. If you are God’s man He will discipline you. If you are God’s man you will confess your sin from a broken heart with true regret and remorse. In verse 1-6 of Psalm 51 we find David’s confession. He admits he has fallen short of God’s standard and that he needs to be forgiven.

A man that does not belong to God does not feel he needs to be forgiven for his sinful behavior. How can one who feels they have done nothing wrong desire forgiveness? How can forgiveness be given if it isn’t requested? David is God’s man even though he sinned. And that is my point about the theology we see here in the Psalms. David, a hero of the Bible, is not good enough to save himself. Even with all of his great works and great Psalms of praise, he cannot save himself; he falls short of the mark and deserves the pit. What hope do you and I have if even one like David is not good enough? Our hope is the same as David’s; it is the fact that God convicts us of our sin and enables us to perceive our guilt. Our hope is in the fact that He loves us enough to discipline us and provide cleansing for us as a result of our requesting forgiveness. Listen to David’s words:

Psalm 51:7-12 ESV
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

You see, David knows that God must do the work of salvation. God must cleans us and renew our spirits within us. Now I found a couple of more verses in this Psalm fascinating.

Psalm 51:16-17 ESV
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

God has developed an entire system of sacrifice; burnt offerings and wave offerings and peace offerings and the like, but David says God will not delight in that sacrifice or he would give it. He says that the burnt offering is not enough. The sacrifice that God requires is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart. I worry about those that seem to come to God too easily. Is their spirit really broken? Do they really have a broken and contrite heart? It is not for me to say, but either it is or it isn’t. If they are not broken by their sin, how can they truly ask for forgiveness? We tend to say that all you have to do to be saved is accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. This is, of course, true, but a little over simplified. There must be confession and a changed heart. You cannot simply take Christ on as some kind of cosmic insurance policy without any sense of remorse or brokenness; it is not a sincere request.

As I did the dishes prior to sitting down to write this post, I listened to a song performed by Bob Carlisle entitled “We Fall Down”. It is the story of a man who trudges his way past a cathedral every day as he drags his wares to market. As he passes the cathedral he imagines how wonderful it must be to live in a place where you are warm and well fed and the burdens of the world are shut out. One day a priest passes by and the man asks him what it is like to live in such a place. The priest replied “We fall down, we get up. The saints are just the sinners who fall down and get up.”

We have to be careful about getting our theology from pop Christian songs; far too many of them are a little off, and one might find things in this song with which to disagree. Still the idea that the saints are just the sinners who fall down and get up is pertinent to what the lesson of David teaches us. When we accept Christ we are “reborn”; we are new creatures; the old is gone the new has come. Our problem seems to be we don’t understand the power of the new creature and we have phantom sensations that remind us of our old selves. I’ve heard it said that an amputee will often have a sensation that the removed limb is still attached. The limb is gone but the mind, for some reason, gives the sensation that it is still there. I think we can get that same kind of sensation after we have had the old self removed.

What this phantom sensation means is that we might, from time to time, fall down. The question here is what are you going to do once you’ve hit the floor? Will you deny your sin, or will you confess your sin and ask for forgiveness? The enemy is a dastardly creep. He will encourage you into a stumble and then condemn you in an effort to keep you down. David has shown us the proper response. We must confess, ask for forgiveness, and get back up and on with being a man of God. We will have to live with the consequences of our sin as David did, but we must rise in the victory already provided by Christ, go, and sin no more.

Have a blessed and righteous day!

June 24, 2016

A Life Without Stress

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. Romans 5:4 NLT

We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair. 2 Cor 4:8 HCSB

That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:10 NIV

We usually dig into Bible exposition and related texts and somewhat avoid illustrations, but sometimes it occurs to me that God has built into nature many teachable lessons that we ignore at our peril.

Biosphere 2Recently a mailing from Brent Hackett at Our Daily Bread Canada* contained a story I simply could not forget:

A number of years ago I read about an experiment performed in Arizona
with an environmentally controlled climate that was maintained inside
a specially constructed dome. Called Biosphere 2, the ambition of the
project was to copy our planet’s life systems as a prototype for a future
colony on Mars.

However, one of the most profound discoveries had nothing to do with
a new way of farming land. Rather, the discovery brought to light how
important the role of wind is in a tree’s life. The trees in Biosphere 2
grew more rapidly than they did outside of the dome, but they toppled
before they reached maturation. After the scientists reviewed the root
systems and outer layers of bark, they realized that a lack of wind in
Biosphere 2 caused a deficiency of stress wood. Stress wood helps a tree
position itself for optimal sun absorption and helps trees grow more
solidly. Without stress wood, a tree can grow quickly, but it cannot
support itself fully. It can’t stand up to normal wear and tear and
survive. The trees needed some stress in order to thrive.

Similarly in our life, God allows us to experience stress for a reason. We
need to grow strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. If we
were to live our lives in a perfect environment, we might grow, but we
would have a spiritual deficiency. Thankfully, we are different than trees.
We do have the ability to grow, but we also have the ability to enjoy a
relationship with our eternal God.

One of the hardest things for me is to be able to accept stressful situations as a gift from God. I simply do not bear stress well.

In Phillipians 4, Paul writes,

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

The illustration of the stress wood in the trees really impact me this week. Paul learned the secret of contentment in the middle of those times the winds are blowing because he understood the principle he states so clearly in Romans 8:28, which J.B. Phillips translates as

Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.

This the promise we are given, that God, who sees the events in our lives beyond the constraints of linear time by which we measure things is orchestrating a beautiful symphony of goodness.

Not seeing that in your own life? I know. It’s difficult. We can give intellectual assent to God’s goodness, but not want the winds to blow.

But today’s illustration powerfully reminds us that given a life without stress, we would eventually just topple over.


Christianity 201 is mobile friendly; if you’re traveling bookmark the site and check us out on your phone or tablet.


Brent Hackett provided us with links to two articles from which he derived his information about stress wood, Discover Magazine and Wikipedia, from which we got the pic of Biosphere 2.


* For American readers, here’s the link to Our Daily Bread USA.

June 4, 2016

More on the Sin/Repentance Cycle

Today we continue our two-day visit to Steve Fuller’s Living by Faith blog. There is a link to part one in his text below if you missed it yesterday. Or, you can also check out the 14-min video post on The Danger of Continuing in Known Sin. To read this one at the blog, see comments others have posted, or link to the blog’s forums, click the title below.

Can I Deliberately Keep Sinning and Still Be Forgiven? (Part Two)

Lavish Grace

In my last post I described the lavish grace that’s ours in Christ — grace which forgives, justifies, frees, adopts, and keeps us persevering in faith until the end.

But then I raised the question — does this grace mean someone can deliberately keep sinning and be forgiven?

And I showed how Hebrews 10:26 answers that question —

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Two Crucial Phrases

Don’t miss those words “go on” and “deliberate.”  The author is not saying that if you entertained a lustful thought yesterday, then you cannot be forgiven.  Not at all.

If you respond to that lust by turning to Christ, confessing your sin, and trusting Him to forgive you, help you, and satisfy you — then you are not “going on sinning deliberately.”  And you can be assured that you are forgiven.

But if you respond to that lust by anticipating the next lust, planning the next lust — then unless something changes you are “going on sinning deliberately.”

And — unless something changes — you will not be forgiven and you will face God’s judgment.

So — Is This You?

People are different.  Some have tender consciences, and can think every sin means God won’t forgive them.

Others have hard consciences, and are certain God will forgive them even if they go on sinning deliberately.

This passage is directed towards those with hard consciences.  So is this you?

Is there some clear biblical command which you are knowingly and willfully disobeying?  Consider — are you going on deliberately in —

  • Sexual sin?
  • Lying to someone?
  • Not forgiving someone?
  • Loving money more than Jesus?
  • Racism?

Remember — we are talking about “going on” in sin “deliberately.”  So are you going on in some sin without confession, without repentance, without crying out to Jesus for help?

If so — then unless something changes “there no longer remains a sacrifice” for your sins  (Heb 10:26).

Tenderizing Tough Consciences

God had the author of Hebrews write this warning because He loves you.  He wants you to pay heed to this warning so you will not face His judgment.

And to tenderize your tough conscience, God gives three pictures of what you are doing when you go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth.

These three pictures are given in v.29 —

How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

First Picture

… the one who has spurned [literally: trampled upon, stomped on] the Son of God …

God the Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory, and the exact representation of His nature.  The Father loves His Son passionately, exuberantly, joyfully.

But — to save us from our sin, God the Father nailed His own Son to the Cross, had Him suffer on the Cross, punished Him on the Cross.  The only reason we can be forgiven is because God the Father was willing to punish His own Son for our sins.  Oh, we should thank the Father, and honor the Son!

But if we respond to this by going on sinning deliberately, then we are spurning — trampling upon, stomping upon — the Son of God.  Imaging pulling the Son of God down from the Cross, throwing Him on the ground, and stomping on Him.

You don’t want to do that.

Second Picture

… and has profaned the blood of the covenant…

As the Son of God died, He shed His own blood for us.  His blood is the blood of the covenant, which frees us from sin’s power progressively now — and completely in heaven.

There’s nothing as ugly as sin, as hateful as sin, as dangerous as sin.  And it’s glorious news that the blood of the covenant frees us from sin.  Oh, we should love the blood of the covenant!

But if we respond to this by going on deliberately in sin, continuing knowingly in sin, then we are profaning the blood of the covenant — spitting on it, desecrating it, mocking it.

You don’t want to do that.

Third Picture

and has outraged the Spirit of grace …

Because of the blood of the covenant, the Father gives us the Spirit of grace — the precious Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit loves the Son who has died on the Cross and poured out the blood of the covenant.  And the Spirit’s passion is to glorify Jesus, honor Jesus, magnify Jesus.

He does this by revealing to us the glory of Jesus, pouring into our hearts the love of Jesus, and strengthening our faith in Jesus.  Oh, we should love the Spirit of grace!

But if we go on sinning willfully — trampling underfoot the Son of God and profaning the blood of the covenant — then we outrage the Spirit of grace.  The Holy Spirit becomes furious — angry — outraged.

You don’t want to do that.

Take This Seriously

So if you are going on sinning deliberately, please take those pictures seriously.  You have been —

  • trampling underfoot the Son of God
  • profaning the blood of the covenant
  • outraging the Spirit of grace

And that’s why — if nothing changes — you will face God’s judgment forever.

But It Doesn’t Have To End There

Let’s say you have been going on sinning deliberately.  You’ve trampled underfoot the Son of God, profaned the blood of the Covenant, and outraged the Spirit of grace.

So what if right now you fall on your knees before Jesus Christ and say “I’m sorry.  Help me.  Forgive me.  Change me.”  What will happen?

The One you’ve trampled underfoot will love you — forgive you — embrace you.

The blood of the covenant you’ve profaned will wash you — change you — free you.

The Spirit you’ve outraged will comfort you — strengthen you — fill you.

So turn to Him now.

 

 

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