Christianity 201

June 18, 2017

What Happened to Fearing God?

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by Russell Young

On the Exodus Moses told Israel, “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees…” (Deut 10:12 NIV)

Fearing the Lord had, and has, a purpose, and the need is very much relevant today. Moses’ sought Israel be ever cognizant of their God and of his sovereignty, power, and authority so that they might live righteously before him. The requirement to walk humbly and obediently before God is an “expectation” because it is natural acknowledgement of the glory and worth of God in the lives of his created ones. The God of the Israelites is the same God who is to be honoured today and his being and expectations have not changed. God is God and he is to be worshipped according to his majesty and his glory. To not fear the Lord is to fail to recognize the power and authority that is his. He created for his good purpose and he will achieve his purpose regardless of the imaginations of people. Those who do not make use of his provision through humble submission will not find a place in his eternal kingdom. The hope given mankind and the opportunity to miss the mark should cause fear throughout humankind.

Fear is a motivator. Fear of the consequences of breaking man’s law compels people to strive to follow laws. Proverbs declares that fear causes evil to be avoided. “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through fear of the LORD evil is avoided.” (Prov 16:6 NIV)

There does not appear to be much “fear” of God throughout his creation today. It is to be expected that those who do not accept the reality of God would not fear him, however, is fear of transgressing his rule being evidenced in churches? When God is presented as something that he is not, idolatry is taking place. Could idolatrous understandings have destroyed fear of God? Many who claim to love him and who are relying on his grace to provide for their eternal hope have abandoned any measure of fear as live their lives on their terms.

The misapplication of God’s grace has obfuscated the Lord’s requirement for obedience and has eliminated concern for righteous living and the coming judgment; consequently, fear of God has been replaced with an understanding of freedom that allows the “believer” to live as he or she wishes without consequence. God’s admonition to fear him in order to avoid sin’s practice and rebellion against his righteous requirements has not changed regardless of the deceptions that have invaded the gospel. (Gal 6:7─8; 1 pet 2:17) The writer of Hebrews has stated, “[H]e became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) and that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10 NIV)

Relief from God’s laws, statutes and everlasting covenant has never been allowed by Christ despite man’s teaching. Judgment remains for those who rebel. It is through the practice of obedience that God will determine the humble hearts that please and honor him. In fact, it is the LORD’s prophecy that the world will be destroyed because of rebellion against his laws, statutes, and everlasting covenant. (Isa 24:5) Christ did not come to do away with the law (Mt 5:17), but to fulfill God’s righteous requirements as embodied in the law through his indwelling presence as Spirit. (Rom 8:4) Those who would honor God will humbly and fearfully seek to obey his Spirit.

Some will quote John’s writing, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn 4:18 NIV) Caution must be taken not to apply a personal definition of ‘love.’ Love is made complete by those who live in God, those who are like him. (See v 16, 17) Those who walk in the light need not fear, but those who walk in the freedom that they have granted themselves need to be concerned; they need to ‘fear’ God and the judgment that will rest upon them. (John’s writing deals with a person’s perfect love for God and should not be taken to reference the love that Christ has for the believer.)

John spoke a great deal of the necessity of obedience to the commands of Christ as the expression of one’s love. (Jn 14:21, 15:10; 1 Jn 2:3, 5:2, 3; 2 Jn 1:6) His teaching did not rest in an emotional response to Christ but required the validation of love as evidenced through a person’s practices. Christ said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” (Jn 14:21 NIV) And, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” (Jn 14:23 NIV) Perfect love means perfect obedience and the one who accomplishes this need not fear judgment; however, peace should be far from the hearts of the disobedient.

Paul admonished the Philippians, and those of this generation, to “work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12 NIV) Deceptive teaching has removed fear and concern for sinning from the hearts and minds of many people. Consequently, unexpected judgment will visit those who had failed to see God for who he is and had not recognized his expectations. Failure to admonish believers to fear God and to walk circumspectly before him has greatly weakened the testimony of churches as the righteous bodies that claim to present Christ to the world.


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

 

June 11, 2017

Becoming Like Christ

by Russell Young

How does a person become like Christ? John wrote, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn 3:2─3 NIV) John’s teaching is that “we shall be like him.” Many accept, and have been taught, that the “we” refers to all who have made a confession of faith, those who have been identified as “believers.” However, “believers” are those who obey the commands of Christ. John completed his thought by adding, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Common teaching allows that Christ, by his mercy and grace, has done all that is needed to prepare the confessor for a place in his kingdom. There is no miraculous purification or soul transformation when this life ceases; the believer is to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. It is for the sake of holiness and for the hope of being sanctified by Christ and made “an offering acceptable to God,” (Rom 15:16 NIV) “to become blameless and pure” (Phil 2:14) that God requires obedience to Christ. The Word reveals that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14) and that it is righteous living that produces holiness. (Rom 6:19) “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (NIV)

John’s teaching that “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is,” is the understanding that needs to be grasped. Our earthly understanding of Christ remains ‘foggy.’ Paul wrote, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12 NIV) One day the obedient will see him free of the distortions of word and mind.

The reality is that unless the believer becomes holy through slavery to righteousness they will not see him or know him. They cannot conform to his likeness. To “see” means “to gaze (i.e. with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable)” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #3700) It will be those in close proximity to Christ who will have the advantage of enjoying his image; they will see him and know him

During their earthy life believers have been called to be like Christ. Those who take this call seriously have learned to cast aside destructive practices. Paul wrote, “You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:23─24 NIV) All who claim the name of Christ are to conform to his nature. Unless the confessor is changing in the attitudes of his or her heart, he or she is not a “believer” and will one day face the wrath of God since the hearts and practices of humankind are not acceptable to God. In Genesis it is recorded, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth.” (Gen 6:5─7 NIV) It is the heart of people that needs to be made acceptable to God. Holiness is not a gift to believers beyond their redemption. One’s body is to be “offered in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

If the “imaginations of the thoughts of one’s heart” are, and remain, offensive to God he or she will never achieve the glory that he offers. Knowing Christ through the Word and the revelations of his Spirit and through obedience to his commands (the application of his mind) allows believers to become transformed. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18 NIV)

Becoming like Christ depends on one’s willingness to allow him to transform one’s heart and practices through his Spirit as he or she walks this earth. Those who have been led to holiness will achieve a state of glory far beyond their understanding. To accomplish this requires a humble and obedient walk with Christ as Lord, and requires suffering as evil imaginations are purged. God is to be loved with all of one’s heart, mind, body, and soul as evidenced in a person’s practices. Paul wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom 8:18 NIV)

Believers will be truly like Christ in matters of the heart and mind. They will be able to fellowship unashamedly with God and with others. They will bring joy to his heart instead of pain. While on this earth the beauty of that relationship cannot be known because purity and holiness in people and relationships does not exist. Concerning the New Jerusalem, Paul wrote, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and he will be their God.” (Rev 21:3 NIV).



Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and 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

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

May 27, 2017

Jesus: His Three Count Case Against the World

A year ago here we introduced you to Jean’s Gospel, a series of teachings which appear on Michael Newnham’s blog Phoenix Preacher. Today we looked at a few of Jean’s more recent writings and chose this one to share with you. Click the title below to read this at source:

Jean’s Gospel: The Advocate

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:5-11)

When Jesus said, “I am going to him who sent me,” the disciples did not grasp the full significance of His departure. They understood only enough to cause them sorrow. His leaving would end their hopes that Jesus would establish a visible kingdom and government on earth. Moreover, Jesus had just finished preparing the disciples for the rejection and persecution they would receive from the world. Could they accomplish their commission without Jesus physically with them?

But just moments earlier Jesus had told the disciples they would accomplish greater works than He “because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Now He adds: “it is to your advantage that I go away.” Jesus was not leaving them alone. When He returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them as their Helper, Advocate and Comforter. The disciples would be the instruments of the Holy Spirit, and He would guide them into all truth.

Christ’s kingdom will remain and grow, but as a spiritual kingdom: “he will convict the world.” His kingdom is not a government constituted in worldly fashion by human wisdom and power, but a government of the Holy Spirit, in which Christ rules invisibly, not with bodily power, but through the Word alone. The Church proclaims Christ, His Word and His kingdom to the world.

But first Jesus had to return to the Father: “if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” Jesus had work to finish, in the flesh, as the world’s High Priest, by offering himself as the perfect sacrifice and substitute for the sins of the world. Thus His route to the Father would take Him to Calvary, to a sepulcher, to His resurrection, to His ascension and finally to His exaltation at the right hand of the Father.

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:8)

Pilate and the Jewish leaders thought they could convict and put an end to Jesus and His followers, but actually the Holy Spirit, through the office of preaching, would take the initiative, reverse the roles, and convict the whole world – rich and poor, strong and weak, kings and slaves, that the world is in the wrong before God. The world will be compelled to hear the Holy Spirit’s case against it regardless of rejection, threats, intimidation or persecution against Christ, His Church or His preachers. No one will be able to escape sin, death and hell, nor enter heaven, who does not hear and submit to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes His case against the world in three counts: concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Count #1: “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;” (John 16:9)

Because it does not believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin.

When Paul preached in Athens, he accused the Greeks of “ignorance” concerning God (Acts 17:22-31). God is not “an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to God. If “sin” is defined as “missing the mark”, then one always will miss the mark if one is ignorant of the target. Unbelief in Jesus is the chief sin, because Jesus is the image of God and without belief in Him one is ignorant of God.

Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15); “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3); “Whoever has seen [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Only with belief in Jesus can one begin to fear, love and trust God; only then can one begin to live according to God’s will and commandments.

Belief in Jesus, that He is the Son of God, who has made satisfaction for our sins, who died and was raised for our justification, etc., falls outside of empirical knowledge and human wisdom, so none of us acquires a belief in Jesus through human means. The Holy Spirit must convict the world of who Jesus is and what He suffered in our stead, and of His victory for our benefit. He who does not believe in Jesus cannot be rid of sin nor escape the wrath of God, because he has no forgiveness and abides under condemnation.

Count #2: “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;” (John 16:10)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world that Jesus is righteous and the world is unrighteous, because Jesus goes to the Father and the world sees Him no longer.

Jesus is the One of whom the Father said: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) It is Jesus of whom David was speaking: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’ ” (Matt 22:44). By His going to the Father, the Holy Spirit convicts the world that Jesus alone is righteous.

On the other hand, there is no righteousness on earth. As God warned Moses: “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). David also wrote: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Ps 143:2).

Therefore, man cannot obtain righteousness by his own efforts; he must clothe himself in the righteousness of Christ through faith in the Gospel. As Paul wrote: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:8b-9).

Count #3: “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:11)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world of God’s judgment in favor of Jesus and against the world. He will testify that Christ’s death and resurrection prove that Jesus defeated the powers of sin, death and Satan. By His victory, Satan is judged and condemned. Anyone who shares the unbelief of Satan is similarly judged and condemned.

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37)

The Holy Spirit has two offices. With the Law He performs His alien work which is to convict and condemn the whole world. With the Gospel He performs His proper work which is to comfort and make alive. “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6b).

What is the Father’s desire for everyone who receives the Holy Spirit’s verdict? Quite simply this: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Amen.

 

May 14, 2017

Contending for the Faith

by Russell Young

Believers are not called to a relaxed, passive life. They are called to fight, to contend for the faith. Jude wrote, “I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3 NIV) To contend literally means, ‘to compete for a prize, and figuratively means, ‘to contend against an adversary.’

Jude was encouraging believers to contend with “godless men, who change the grace of our God into license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:4 NIV) That is, he was encouraging them to fight against those who misrepresented God’s grace allowing believers to feel free to engage in immoral acts. Giving this freedom was the result of allowing them to deny, reject, or disavow the sovereignty and lordship of Christ. Christ never lived, tolerated, or taught the allowance of immorality but condemned it. There are many today who preach Christ as saviour and reject the need to honour his sovereignty and lordship in their lives. Jude presented his admonition to contend for the faith to those who are “kept by Jesus Christ”, to believers.

The church has not done well at contending for the faith since the grace of God has been promoted as being a gifting that pardons all godless behavior that arises from the believer’s “doing” or practices, which results in freedom from judgment even for defiance of the Lord’s (Holy Spirit’s) right to their lives. The widely-promoted definition of God’s “sovereign grace,” as meaning ‘pre-creation election,’ has eliminated the need to recognize the practical lordship or sovereignty of Christ in the “believer’s” daily life; thus, it maintains that he or she will not suffer harm for any immoral behavior or unrighteousness of heart. Such teaching automatically gives license for ungodliness. However, Paul taught that God’s righteous requirements were accomplished through obedience to the Holy Spirit. “[H]e condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV)

The church has not contended for the faith, but has endorsed the freedom derived from definitions of “belief” and “grace” that have given “licence” for immorality. Such allowance has been given to build numbers in the kingdom of God and to dispense with the need for personal righteousness. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Lk 16:16 NIV) It must be appreciated that no one can “force” or crowd himself into the kingdom. Entry comes through Christ alone as revealed in the truths of his Word; no one can enter without having satisfied the “righteous requirements” of the Law…not one “stroke” can be left out.

Why has the church not contended for the faith? The message that God’s “sovereign grace” has met a person’s needs is both appealing to teach and to receive. It seems, as well, that as people flocked to press their way into the kingdom, or were attempting to be pressed in by evangelists, proclamations of such hope became popular and its presenters were to some extent idolized and copied. Their gospel, even though not that of Christ, has become accepted.

Why have the students of God’s Word not raised a hew and cry about neglect of the need for repentance and the development of righteousness and holiness? Those who love the Lord and his gospel need to listen to Jude and make their voices known. Long-accepted teaching that licences the “believer” to fearlessly neglect the Lord’s sovereignty in life and that gives licence to ungodliness needs to be re-examined and rejected.

Paul taught that in the last days people would have a “form of godliness but denying its power,” and cautioned them to have nothing to do with them. (2 Tim 3:5 NIV) The “power” is the Holy Spirit (Christ in you) and his power for achieving a sanctified life is often ignored and its necessity denied. Paul also cautioned Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim 4:3 NIV) Has this time come? In these, Paul also proclaims the failure of the church to contend for the faith.

The LORD prophesied concerning the end times through Isaiah, “The earth mourns and dries up, and the crops waste away and wither. Even the greatest people on earth waste away. The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left alive.” (Isa 24:4─6 NIV) God will bring his wrath on humankind in the last days, not because they have rejected his “grace,” but because the earth’s people will have rejected his government…his laws, statutes, and everlasting covenant. His prophesy should not be taken as referring to the non-confessing people but to all people. By the end a great deal of teaching from “learned” men and women will have set aside the need to satisfy God’s laws, statutes, and everlasting covenant. The licence of which Jude spoke will have been fully realized. If God’s requirements are not made know, those who are seeking him will miss the mark.

The Lord said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Matthew records this admonition as follows: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:13─14 NIV) If an “effort” is required, its reality must be made known and not left hidden behind the curtain of God’s grace.

Believers must appreciate that their time on earth needs to be given to “contending for the faith” and the building of the kingdom of God. Judgment will befall those who neglect the service to which they have been called and for which they have been gifted. (1 Cor 3:14) That “contending” needs to be with those who have not heard the gospel, with those who have heard a misrepresented version of the gospel, and with those who are actively misrepresenting the gospel.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and 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

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

April 2, 2017

Sin Separates

by Russell Young

David wrote of the agony of his soul and pleaded for the Lord’s mercy to be restored after his adultery with Bathsheba. He knew that he had transgressed God’s law. He knew that God desired righteousness. He wanted joy and gladness to be restored to him through a pure and cleansed heart. (Ps 51) His sin had brought him unrest, sleepless nights, and separation from the closeness that he had enjoyed with his God. Sin separates; it did then and it does today.

Many suffer from the same discomfort that plagued David. Their lives have become empty and unfruitful for the kingdom. They even find it difficult to bless their families or their friends. It is easy to get caught up in disillusionment and loss of hope when God seems quite distant and prayers are left unanswered.

Modern teaching would dismiss the possibility of a spiritual separation from God. Those teaching would cover sin with God’s grace and “unconditional love.” However, the Word reveals that destruction can come from sinful practices. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God will not 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) And, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8─9 NIV) God expects his people to walk fearfully before him, to be righteous in his sight. The believer is a slave to God. (Rom 6:22) Righteousness must be lived.

James wrote, “The prayers of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (Jas 5:16 NIV) James did not say that the prayers of “Christians” are powerful and effective but that their efficacy rests with the righteous. John taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) The grace of God provides all that is needed for life and godliness and the Lord’s blessings rest on those who are seeking his kingdom and his righteousness through an obedient walk.

The Lord has made many promises to the righteous. Matthew has recorded his words: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33 NIV) These things are food and clothing. They are fruits of seeking to live righteously and of seeking God’s kingdom. Some do not consider that their favorite sins are keeping them from enjoying the fullness and richness of God. Believers are cautioned against loving the world and the things in it. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 NIV) Those who are surrounded by riches feel entitled to pursue them. In God’s sight such interest is sin. Believers are to perceive the world as from mountaintop to mountaintop with the world in the valley below. The Lord does not bless the one who craves the things of this world or their pursuit, but honours the person whose heart is established on righteousness, on him, and on kingdom purposes.

This truth needs to be taken seriously. God does not bless those who defy him. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Pet 3:12 NIV) David had felt abandoned following his act of disobedience. His bones felt dry. Although we would not like to admit it believers can be too ready to excuse ungodly thoughts and actions especially considering the wickedness about them. God is not so generous, however. That lesson will be learned through his punishment and discipline either today or at his judgment seat. Distress in life is not caused by sin alone; however, those who are walking with Christ, even though suffering through tribulations will never feel abandoned but will recognize his presence and peace.

David repented and could find joy again. In fact, God described him as, “a man after [his] own heart.” (Acts 13:22 NIV) Believers are to be men and women after God’s own heart. They are to enjoy fellowship with him, never feeling the dryness in spiritual life that comes from separation. The point is that God does not bless wickedness regardless of the utterances of those who would profess otherwise. He demands righteous practices from his people and blesses those who forgo sin and pursue his kingdom purposes.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and 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

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

March 24, 2017

Examine Yourself

Last year at this time I introduced you to a new online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. This weekend we’re going to share two other authors from the site. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and then use the navigation bar to check out the rest of the website.

The Man in the Mirror

by Billy Alexander

Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40).”

Bucknell University did something interesting recently. They covered all of the mirrors in the residence hall with construction paper to block reflections in what they called, “No Mirror Monday,” as part of a program to promote “body positivity” and “self-love.” (1)

At a surface level, the idea is to ignore the body shaming of the world and to promote positive self-esteem among the student body. However, in essence it is an effort to cover up the truth and confronting the truth of the image we are presenting to the world. In a spiritual sense this is a daily practice of many in the world. They do not merely go out unaware of their physical appearance but they ignore that their character is spotted by many stains (Psalm 73:6, Romans 1:28-32).

Men are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) but because of sin and “self-love” that image has been marred and disfigured grossly. To be certain, we must all have a proper love of self (Matthew 22:39) but to promote this without looking in the metaphorical mirror is dangerous. The Scribes and Pharisees dressed themselves up in false humility and appeared to be the most religious and righteous men on earth. But Jesus rebuked them for not examining their inner flaws, saying that they “cleanse the outside of the cup and dish but inside were full of extortion and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25-28).” Jesus told them that they were blind to truth or their actual appearance before God. The Lord cautioned that on Judgement Day “many” will be shocked to find that they will be cast away from Him forever (Matthew 7:21-23). How else could they be unaware of their unsightly appearance to the righteous Judge unless they ignored their visible spots and blemishes?

Jesus continued on to tell us that the wise are those who “Hear and Do” what He instructs (Matthew 7:24). James expands on this notion by saying, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was (James 1:23-24).” This is the state of those who hear the Bible and do not put the precepts into practice. What of those who fail to hear what the Bible says (John 12:48)? They have covered up the mirror of the soul (Hebrews 4:12) and go about blind to their true condition. We must all seek to see ourselves as God sees us.

Imagine failing to look in the mirror and going in for a job interview with a stained and untucked shirt, disheveled hair, and spinach in your teeth. Would you really ever dare such thing before a person who could determine whether or not you gain a job? Yet so many are heading into a much more fateful appointment (Hebrews 9:27) without ever laundering their garments and preparing properly (2 Corinthians 13:5).

If we allow Him to do so, God seeks to restore all of us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). “The Bible itself functions as spiritual direction, for as we read it prayerfully we are being formed more and more into the image of Christ. (2) Jesus is Himself the image of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3) and has made God visible to us all (John 1:18). As we examine His character and model and follow Him we become partakers of the divine nature forsaking the habits of the self-seeking world (2 Peter 1:4). Look deeply into the perfect law of liberty Christian. Day by day the wrinkles, stains, and scars are fading and the high definition image of God is being perfected in you. As we look into that mirror and see His image there is no shame in that.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).”


  1. http://libertyunyielding.com/2017/02/27/bucknell-u-promotes-positive-self-image-covering-mirrors/
  2. Richard J. Foster, A Celebration of Discipline, HarperCollins, 1978, p.187

March 4, 2017

Maintaining a Distinct Identity

Distinct Spiritual Identity

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

I started thinking about this yesterday in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:

Ex. 11:6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)

But I believe the underlined section in Ex. 11:7 above reverberates throughout Israel’s history. If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors.

Of course, the mark of being God’s people today is not about dietary or clothing laws, though some people would quite susceptible to falling back into such regulation. Instead, we’re told,

“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples–if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NET)

and

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: … he emptied himself… he humbled himself… (Phil 2: 5, 7, 8 CEB)

At the blog Steve’s Bible Meditations, Steven C. Mills writes about God’s Distinctive People (click to read in full):

You can’t be a child of God and a child of this world!

When your allegiance is with God and you belong to Him, He makes a distinction between His people and those who are not. His people receive His protection. God rescues His people! God redeems His people!

Exodus 12 describes the Passover process by which God rescued His distinctive people from the firstborn death plague: “The Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you” (vs. 12;23). Because Israel was God’s chosen people, God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt and, consequently, rescued His people from the plague.

So, the designation of Israel as God’s distinctive people was grounded in God’s redemptive act of the exodus of Israel from Egypt. God rescued Israel from the grip of Pharaoh! God redeemed His people!

The Apostle Peter reiterates that even today the distinction of being God’s people is the result of receiving God’s mercy.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB).

Now, God is still in the rescue business today. He still delivers His people from the grip of this world. And, when God redeems you, you become a distinctive person because He sends His Spirit to dwell in you.

The Spirit helps you maintain your distinctiveness by consecrating you to God and His way and strengthening you to remain separate from the world and its ways. And then the Spirit empowers you to proclaim God’s redemption to others!

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself.. (Psalms 4:3, NASB)


Related posts at C201:

  • Looking at the Amish (August 5, 2010) with song Refiner’s Fire by Brian Doerksen
  • Set Apart (February 14, 2013) with devotional by Charles Price

February 26, 2017

The Continuing Sanctification of the Believer

by Russell Young

The Word of God speaks of the need for believers to be continually sanctified. Those who will dwell in his presence must be holy. (Heb 12:14) Although the believer was cleansed of all sin through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness at the time of confession of faith, Paul spoke of the need for him or her to be “kept” blameless. In his benediction to the Thessalonians he wrote: “May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV)

Since all people are prone to sin, a person’s sanctification must be maintained. The writer of Hebrews has recorded that “Since that time (when he offered himself as a sacrifice) he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:13─14 NIV) Accordingly, a process has been revealed as necessary since he refers to those “who are being made holy” as being perfect forever. Perfection has a condition attached.

The Lord spoke of the necessity of continued cleansing when he washed his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:8) and told Peter that unless he washed his feet, Peter would have no part with him even though he had had a bath; had been cleansed all over. Christ often spoke of the need for obedience which is part of the sanctification process. (Mt 7:21, Rev 22:14 KJV, Mt 28:20, Lk 11:28, Jn 8:51, Phil 2:12, 2Thess 1:8, 1 Jn 2:5) Sanctification is the absence of sin and “being kept blameless” is achieved through righteous living and through fulfilment of the law. John wrote: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” (1 Jn 3:4 NIV) A few verses later John wrote that “No one who lives in [Christ] keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6 NIV) All of this is to say that personal and eternal sanctification will not be achieved by Christ without the confessor’s ongoing involvement. It is thorough voluntary submission to Christ that identifies the confessor as a believer, and through which eternal salvation is achieved.

A great misconception has invaded some of the church–that Christ will unilaterally sanctify the confessor. A person’s failure to humble him/herself through obedience will ultimately result in eternal separation from the presence of their God and Creator.

Paul wrote to the Philippians “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2 12─16 NIV) Paul taught that the law–God’s standard of righteousness–was accomplished by the Spirit. “And so [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV) That is, God’s righteous standards are to be achieved through the way a person lives.

God, the Spirit, can sanctify the believer “through and through” and can keep a person’s spirit, soul, and body blameless at the coming of the Lord provided that one is willing to be led, willing to be obedient, but being sanctified requires submission to the Lord, the one who accomplished it for himself and who is prepared to accomplish it for the believer. “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey-whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death or to obedience which leads to righteousness.” (Rom 6:16 NIV)

Popular Christian music readily praises God for all that he has done and for the redemption that Christ has accomplished through his sacrificial offering; however, the Lord’s continued work in the believer must also be appreciated by those who look forward to his coming and to their continued sanctification. His ministry in partnership with the believer has not been completed but is ongoing and essential for one’s eternal salvation. The Holy Spirit was given for that very purpose and he must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) The thought continues to persist that Christ has done all that is required. He continues to enlighten, to lead and to empower the believer for victory but the victory over sin must still be fought if a person’s sanctification is to be completed.

February 4, 2017

Discipline Hurts But We Should Embrace It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our fourth time linking to the writing of Michael Kelley at Forward >> Progress. He consistently produces a quality of writing that is such a good fit for readers here. You can send him some link love by clicking the title below and reading this on his blog. Follow him on Twitter @_MichaelKelley .

3 Reasons to Love Discipline from the Lord

Discipline is painful.

We have known that to be true for some time, haven’t we? When you look back at your childhood, your fondest memories are probably not those involving the discipline of your parents. Similarly, we don’t take pictures of our kids when they are in time out or being sent to their room. That’s because no one likes discipline at the time. At its core, discipline means something is going wrong in your life, and someone is stepping in to help you correct.

This is not punitive in nature; discipline has a greater goal in mind. Of course, as we grow older, discipline becomes less and less something that is done to us, and more and more something we must take up on our own. We must discipline ourselves to read the Bible and pray. We must discipline ourselves to physically exercise. We must discipline ourselves to put down the bag of Cheetos. But even though we make that shift to self-discipline, it’s still painful in the moment. This is what the writer of Hebrews acknowledges to be true in Hebrews 12:11:

“No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

But his acknowledgement of the general unpleasantness of discipline comes not in a discussion about the way we discipline ourselves, but in the way we react to the discipline of the Lord. For while we might outgrow the discipline of our earthly parents, we never outgrow the disciplining arm of God. But even though discipline is not enjoyable, part of growing up in Christ is not only accepting the discipline of the Lord, but actually growing to love it, painful though it might be. And if we look a little earlier in this passage, we see why:

“Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).

1. The Lord’s discipline means we are His true children.

Sometimes the temptation for us, when we are undergoing the discipline of the Lord, is to think that it’s evidence of His lack of love. The Bible tells us that the opposite is actually true. The fact that the Lord disciplines us is the evidence of His love for us – it’s one of the ways we know that we are truly His children.

Think about it for a minute. Let’s say there are a hundred children on a playground, and as you look across the landscape you see a group of kids doing something dangerous. Not dangerous in the sense that someone’s going to be permanently disfigured, but unsafe nonetheless. Now you might be compelled to step in, but then again, you might say to yourself, Those aren’t my kids. There are a bunch of parents out here, and so I’m going to mind my own business. But your posture completely changes when your own child is involved, simply because that is YOUR child. And as your child, it is your duty to intervene for their welfare. Chances are they will look at you as someone who has spoiled the fun, but you know better. You are acting for their good. In a similar way, God intervenes with His discipline because He is our Father. We aren’t somebody else’s kids – we are His. Because we are, He is compelled to act.

2. The Lord’s discipline means He is actively involved in our lives.

As a parent, I know that discipline is difficult. It’s not only difficult because it takes an emotional toll on you as a mom or dad; it’s difficult because to discipline well and consistently you have to actually pay close attention to your children. You have to know them, and know them well. You have to know who their friends are, what their activities are, what they’re doing on and off line, and a host of other things. Parental discipline necessitates a very active level of involvement on our part.

The same is true with the Lord. When we experience the Lord’s discipline, we can know that He is not some distant deity with only a passing interest in our comings and goings. We can know instead that He is intimately and specifically involved and concerned with the smallest details of our lives, so much so that He is willing to step in and exercise His power if it means helping us grow in holiness.

3. The Lord’s discipline means He is deeply committed to us.

Oh sure – we don’t have to discipline our children as parents. It would certainly be easier in a way. But we choose to discipline our children because we are deeply committed to their well-being. If we were not, then we would not be willing to put ourselves through the near constant exercise of correction and training. Such is the case with the Lord.

Jesus did not die so that we could go our own way. He died so that we could do and be all that our good Father intends for us to do and be, and the primary thing He intends for us to do and be is holy. He is deeply, deeply committed to this, even when we are not. This is because He knows that ultimately, holiness is for our good and everlasting satisfaction in Him. And as a perfect Father, He will settle for nothing less, even if it means the road to get there is difficult for us.

So, Christian, perhaps today you sense the disciplining hand of your Father upon you. It does not mean He has abandoned you or ceased to love you. Quite the contrary. It means you are His true child. It means He is actively involved in your life. And it means that though in this moment, you might not be committed to your own holiness, God is. And so we can love the discipline of the Lord, for we can trust the discipline of the Lord:

“Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead” (Hebrews 12:12-13).

January 7, 2017

Horrified at His Unworthiness

Something different today, a recommended website that’s new to us, Life Reference. Writer Don Merritt is working his way through Luke’s gospel, so to read more in the series, or bookmark the site, click the title below.

Calling Disciples

Luke 5:1-11

Luke’s account of the calling of Peter, James and John as disciples differs in many ways from the accounts of Matthew and Mark; I’ll let others speculate on the reasons for this and try to focus on what I see as the really instructive part of Luke’s account. Please read these verses, if you haven’t already, and let’s talk…

…OK, now that you have refreshed your recollection of this account, did you notice Peter’s reaction when Jesus caused his nets to be so overloaded with fish?

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (5:8)

Doesn’t that remind you of Isaiah the prophet?

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah 6:1-5

This is from the passage that describes the call of Isaiah to prophesy to the people; do you see the similarity in his response to that of Peter when he saw how amazing and holy Jesus was, that He knew just where to cast their nets for a record catch? Isaiah was accepted for service and went without hesitation:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:6-8)

Like Isaiah, Peter was horrified at his unworthiness to be in the presence of the Son of God, yet in Luke 5:10 Jesus reassured him, and they dropped everything and followed Him without hesitation. You might also take a look at the call of Moses in Exodus 3 and Gideon in Judges 6.

It would be quite normal for any of us to realize that we are neither qualified nor worthy to serve our Lord; we are all sinners after all. Yet none of the “greats” of Scripture were any more perfect than you or I, and when reassured, they followed God’s call. Each of us knows that our sin has been taken away by the blood of Christ, and each of us has every right to seek His loving arms… and each of us has received His call to follow Him.

Will we follow the example of Peter, James and John?


Ever broken up a small tree or sticks and been aware of the green color inside? Green shows that there is (or at least was!) life inside. That’s why we highlight scripture here in green. To show that while the words of the various writers whose material we borrow are helpful and instructive, it’s God’s Word that brings life.


C201 is always looking for new sources of material. Feel free to refer sites to us — use the contact page here, or Twitter — or even your own writing. We’re also looking for associate editors who can supply us with suggestions on a regular basis.

December 10, 2016

Your Smell – Part Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the second two.

Your smell affects others

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

The fragrance that comes from your life affects three people, according to Corinthians. Let’s look at the first of these three this morning.

First of all, God smells you
“We are to God the aroma of Christ”. How awesome is that – when God leans over and sniffs us living our everyday lives, He smells the incredible fragrance of the beauty and righteousness of His Son, Jesus. You may say, “But you do not know what I did this week”. My response is that you need to know that, according to God’s word, your life is hidden (positioned in) Christ and when God smells you, He smells the fragrance of Jesus and of His finished perfect work of redemption.

A great comparison is found in Genesis 27:27, in the account of when Isaac blesses his son Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac was blind by this time, and knew His sons by touch and their distinctive smells. Jacob, acting on the plan of His mother, wore the smell of His brother to get his father’s blessing, and it was because of that smell that Isaac was convinced he was with Esau, not Jacob, and blessed him. (Read the account. It is a good read.)

Genesis 27:27, NKJV
And he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him and said: “Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed”.

The smell that is upon your life is the smell of the Son He loves and the field (life of His Son) that He has blessed. How awesome is that! When you approach God you smell like Jesus. Also, you need to know that, unlike Jacob, this is not a con but rather an intention of God, because it is He who positioned you in Christ. Don’t feel like a fraud, like Jacob did, because you’re not. Your scent is the result of His intent and it is He that coated you in the Son of His delight.

Because of this you can again today approach the Father, knowing that His approval of you is established in Jesus. You can, as it invites us in Hebrews, “approach Him with boldness of faith.”

Know that the Lord your God loves the smell of you…

…Two groups of people are mentioned in the above verses, and two distinctive smells. If we let them follow their natural order I think we may be able to see that God intended both smells to exist and play their part.

Those who are being saved
Corinthians says that we are the smell of death among this group. Death? One way of looking at it could be that our lives should smell of the death we have experienced in Christ. When people (church folk) get to experience our aroma they should smell the scent of the death we have died in Christ on us. It is that divine death that separated us from everything we used to be and so liberating and enabling us to be the brand new creations we now are. They should smell the death of such things as selfishness, pride and other scents that were once common to us and also that there is a new creation smell to us now.

• Those who are perishing
Our aroma among the unsaved should be one of extreme life. When unsaved people get a whiff of us they should be overwhelmed by the scent of resurrection and new life that comes from every pore of who we are. Remember that through new birth (death, burial and resurrection) we have been made alive together with Him and so our lives should smell of life, not like the musty corridors of religion. Let’s face it, the smell of life is so much better than the smell of death. Life is more likely to attract followers than that of death. What would you follow?

As we move forward to possess our day let us be conscious of the aroma our life is giving out to the world God has called us to change.

December 9, 2016

Your Smell – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two more titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the first two.

What do you smell like?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

A better way of saying ‘smell’ would be to use the word ‘fragrance’, or ‘aroma’. Paul’s challenge to us is this: What aroma or fragrance is coming from our lives as we live them out daily?

God’s plan was that our lives would “spread everywhere the fragrance of Him”. Is that what your life smells like today? When people get a whiff of your life do they smell the scent of grace, and the aroma of someone who knows Jesus?

This is a good challenge for each of us to consider and, as with many things, there is a natural and a spiritual reality to smells and people. We can compare them both to make a point.

All of us have experienced, or been exposed to, at one time or another, a person passing us with a nice scent – maybe an expensive perfume or after shave. It’s also very likely you have experienced the smell of someone passing near to you with bad BO (body odor). Have you ever sat in the same room or enclosed place with someone who removes their shoes and they have really unpleasantly cheesy-smelling feet? Yep, we have all experienced both.

Naturally, our lives can release a smell or a fragrance that is either pleasing or not-so-pleasing to the senses of others, and spiritually this is a reality too. What does your Christianity smell of today. Smells are very interesting things. They can attract people or repel them depending on what type of smell they are. When people encounter you do they smell the sweet perfume of knowing Jesus or the odor of religion, with all its various scents of law and legalism – or worse, the pungent stench of hypocrisy?

We shouldn’t have to struggle to daily release the sweet scent of Christ from our lives, but simply remember that it is the natural reaction of His life resident within us.

Again, look at the natural body as an example. The reality is that whatever is in you, or put into you, can play a large part concerning the odor that comes from you. One of the times that I took Gina out to eat, I ate a very large chunk of garlic without realizing it was raw. By the end of the night it was manifesting its odor nicely from every pore in my skin and, by the next morning, had contaminated every inch of who I was – especially to my family who sadly had to experience my breath.

The fragrance of your life should be Christ-like in its scent simply because of two things:

• Jesus now lives in you. You are not a hotel He visits but rather His home (place of residence). He does not pop in and pop out when He feels like it but never leaves according to His promise. Christ in you is the hope of Glory but also so the source of the pleasing fragrance that comes from your life.

• You realize and accept that your life is now His home and, as you do, you daily yield and submit everything you are to Him. The fragrance of His life comes from every part or through every pore of who you are.

Also, while we talk about the principle of “what goes in affects what comes out”, it is important that you be daily feeding your life the stuff that you want your life to be smelling of. For example, if you keep feeding your life the law of Moses then it will be the law of Moses that you smell of. Feed your life daily the truth and grace that comes through Jesus and you will love the way your life starts smelling, and so will others.

Bless you and consider again the One who has now become the very contents of your life. Let His life flow out of you again today.

May our lives today release wherever we go that sweet aroma of Christ in us. May that smell attract people to follow Him.

Be smelly, in the right way!

 

November 4, 2016

Advocacy: Joining Our Voices With Those Whose Cause Is Important

Today we’re paying a return visit to writer Dr. Gregory Crofford. His blog is titled “Theology in Overalls – Where Theology Meets Everyday Life” and in the article we’re using today, we see that intersection of theology and practical concern, or as some would say, the meeting of orthodoxy with orthopraxy.

Click the title below to read this at its source.

Holiness as compassionate advocacy

When asked the nature of holiness, John Wesley (1703-91) often pointed to Mark 12:28-31. All of the commandments are summed up in just two: Love God and love your neighbor. This love is the essence of holiness and it is the foundation of all compassion.

In recent years, we’ve spoken of compassionate evangelism. Now it is time to lift the banner of compassionate advocacy. Advocacy is concerned for social justice. As such, it is hardly a distraction from Gospel work. Rather, it is part-and-parcel of the church’s holistic Good News. In his article, “Social Justice in the Bible,” Dominik Markl notes:

Prophets such as Isaiah and Amos raise their voices on behalf of the poor and the marginalised, those belonging to the ‘weaker’ social groups. God himself prescribes a brotherly and sisterly social order in his Torah, and, in the same divine wisdom, Jesus develops a Christian ethics of love.

Those who are not followers of Christ will judge those of us who are by how we treat people who have nothing to offer in return. Right now on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota, a few thousand Native Americans – water protectors, as they call themselves – are peacefully resisting the construction of a pipeline across their land. Their concern is that the pipeline is to pass under the Missouri River, potentially fouling its waters with oil in case of a spill. This is hardly an imaginary threat. On July 1, 2011, such a spill polluted the Yellow Stone River. So muscular has been the response to the current standoff in North Dakota that Amnesty International is sending human rights observers.

Why should followers of Christ care? The simplest answer is that we should care about what Jesus cares about. Isaiah 42:1-4a (CEB) is a prophecy of the coming Messiah:

But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He won’t cry out or shout aloud or make his voice heard in public He won’t break a bruised reed; he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice. He won’t be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land.

As a nation, we’ve done a lousy job of co-existing with those who were here before our European forebears arrived. We haven’t cared much for these “faint wicks” or about justice in our dealings. But what about the church, particularly the Wesleyan-holiness tradition that I call home? If we are about making Christlike disciples – and that is a crucial task – then we need to cast a broader vision of what being Christlike means. It is more than abstaining from sins that defile us; it is also about coming alongside the weak and the oppressed in their time of need, standing with them in their fiery trial like Jesus stood with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 4:25). How can we read a passage like Isaiah 42 then yawn as if nothing is happening in North Dakota?

Perhaps our inaction stems in part from few of us ever being water deprived, yet water security is a growing issue around the world. Drought can drastically alter how we view this precious gift. When I visited the city of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September 2015, they were suffering an extended drought. The missionaries with whom I stayed sometimes had to decide whether they would wash the dishes or wash themselves. Thankfully, we prayed for rain and God answered our prayer. I went away from that stay taking water a lot less for granted.

Neither do the Sioux take water for granted. They cannot drink oil nor bathe in it. You need water for that.

Some churches are speaking up. Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church issued a statement last August in support of the water protectors. In his statement, he noted the theological importance of water in Scripture, including it being the baptism symbol of new life in Christ. I commend Bishop Curry for speaking up, but it makes me wonder: As holiness people, where is our voice? If the essence of holiness is love of God and neighbor, then here is a clear-cut chance to show a historically mistreated people that we care. These are our neighbors. Where is our love?

I’m glad that God is raising up around the world a generation of believers for whom justice issues are Gospel issues. May they be patient with us who have been around a bit longer, we who have been slower to see that holiness is both personal and social. And once we’ve seen, may the Lord move us to compassionate advocacy.

October 30, 2016

Living in the Desert

spiritual-desertby Russell Young

The desert is a dry lifeless place.  It is uncomfortable and fails to yield fruit. Not many would choose to live there and yet the LORD led the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years to humble and to test them concerning obedience to his commands. (Deut 8:2).  They had proclaimed their right to his blessings when they applied the blood of the Passover lamb to the lintel of their doorposts in Egypt.  They had made the proclamation that they belonged to Israel and that Yahweh was their God.  Of the 600,000 men who had left Egypt all except for two were to die in the desert. Because of their disobedience and rebellion God had said, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” (Num 14:20─23 NIV)

The Israelites began the journey with the intent of finding God’s “rest” but were unable to find the land of plenty. Those who call themselves “believers” should recognize that they, too, are on a very similar journey.   They have left Egypt—this world—and have begun the journey to find rest from their labors.  God’s rest can be entered today, (Heb 4:7), although few would acknowledge that they are living in a state of rest; their situation might more fully be depicted as a desert.

Many struggle with their faith. They know deep down in their hearts that God is there.  They have heard many promises from his Word, yet the life promised them has escaped their experience.  Disillusionment creeps in, followed by doubt.  Is God real? Is the Bible truth? Does God care for me? Why am I not enjoying him? Yet they clutch to the assurance of their “saving faith” and dare not let go. Life continues to be a struggle.  The realities of providing food, shelter, and clothing for family, and the pressure to meet wants causes stress, frustration, and conflict. Pressure is increased by requests to contribute in some way to the church.  Their life has become busier and even less fulfilling.  Not only is peace lacking but guilt has become their constant companion. They dutifully journey to church each week and seek some confidence in their belonging by taking on responsibilities as time and opportunity permit. The source of power and freedom, however, has yet to be learned and that power and freedom has yet to be appropriated. Their experience does not measure up to the “truths” promoted by those more informed in God’s Word.

On the outside, all looks in order, but on the inside they feel empty. Many “believers” live this life of dissatisfaction. Although they would dearly like it otherwise, they know the futility of their efforts and may even feel that they have been abandoned by God, the one they desire to please above all else. They know that God has promised peace and rest for the faithful. Why has such a life evaded them?  They are living in the desert!

Like the Israelites, believers today are on the great journey to Canaan.  The journey, if they are trusting and obedient, will take them from where they are to where God wants them to be. It demands the faith and trust of a child, faith that is beyond a person’s common understanding of faith.  It demands faith that has been learned by experience to trust that God knows what is good for them.  It demands contentment with provision that is often less than that which is the common experience in today’s affluent western culture.  God was not happy about the complaints that the Israelites had made concerning lack of water and food and he is not happy about our complaints, voiced or otherwise, concerning lack of the things we feel are deserved or needed.

Completing the journey demands recognition that those who claim the name of Christ do not reside in this world and its interests have not hold on them. They do not have time for them or need of them.  They are merely passing through this world as aliens. (1 Pet 2:11) The journey demands the willingness and trust to allow God to be on the throne of their lives to find enjoyment in him.

Those who are caught up in the desert will live a dry fruitless life.  Like the Israelites they will yearn for the vegetables of Egypt and for what they see as their food–the wants of everyday life—being met through slavery to the world.

Faith demands that, for the most part, we depart from the known and the demands of the flesh, and live by promise in the unknown. It demands that the priorities of our lives change, and it sees wealth as being eternal rather than temporal.  It requires a transformation of focus to obedience and contentment in the blessings granted through righteous living and an understanding and a recognition of the sovereignty of God. Decisions are no longer the believers to make; their path is no longer theirs to direct.

The Israelites grumbled and complained.  Their minds went back to Egypt and all that was available in that evil country and they died with corrupted hearts and in discontentment.  Believers today have been commanded to learn a lesson from them.  There is only one way to escape the desert and that is to prove the faithfulness of Christ in their lives so that they might follow him and be lead to the place of rest. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hen 5:11 NIV)

The desert cannot be left without a heart that is obedient to Christ and is content with his determination of its needs, the situations which would shape and form the believer’s heart and soul for eternity. “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 NIV)

The desert is a place of testing. Those who left Egypt except for two failed the test.  Their hearts were fixed on that place of slavery.  Like them, many of this generation will never leave it but will find their end in that dry, fruitless place, discontented and disillusioned.


Further reading: Today’s graphic image comes from an article What To Do When I Am Spiritually Dry? at the blog, The Reluctant Skeptic.


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

September 26, 2016

The Manner in which Holiness is Achieved

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Russell Young [Note: This is part two of two]

The provision that has been made for the believer to achieve holiness needs to be clear to those who would desire to dwell in their God’s presence.  Christ offered himself on the cross so that believers might be freed from the law (Gal 5:18) which brings kills and from sins committed while under its jurisdiction. (Heb 9:15) Upon the believer’s confession, pledge, or promise that Christ is and will be his lord, he is given the Holy Spirit so that he might honour his pledge, maintain the newly provided state of holiness, and practice it in life. He cannot walk righteously in his own strength and wisdom but needs the power and enlightenment of the Spirit for such a task. The Holy Spirit ministers in the believer as he or she responds obediently and uses his power to fight the temptations that would led him or her to sin.

Paul’s teaching to the Romans clarifies the means of freedom from condemnation: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:1-2 NIV) The law of the Spirit of life is the living law or command of the Spirit.  It is revealed to each individual according to his or her need of the moment.  The imposition of the law of the Spirit may be different from one person to another depending on the sanctifying work that the Lord is engaged in on behalf of the believer.  The law of sin and death is the Old Covenant law. The righteous requirements of God have been revealed in the Mosaic laws and by the prophets; however, Paul has said that, “[f]or what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met is us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3-4 NIV) The weak flesh of humankind, the body of death, has prevented God’s requirements from being achieved so the presence of Christ in the believer and the personal revelation of his living law in the heart of the believer is to be the law to be obeyed.

HolinessPaul’s teaching is not that there is not condemnation for those who have confessed Christ but none for those in Christ who are walking according to the Spirit. These are the believers who are living out their confession, pledge, or promise that Christ is lord. They are practicing faith in Christ.

Those who have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ (Heb 10:10) must persevere (Mt 10:10; Rev 3:10; Heb 3:14) with the Spirit in order to maintain through practice that holiness legally applied to them. They can only accomplish this if they are washed daily through repentance and confession of sin (1 Jn 1:9) in order that they might be transformed in heart, mind and body to the likeness of the Son of God.

Holiness is not something that is handed over to the believer–Paul taught that righteous practices lead to holiness, (Rom 6: 19, 22); it is developed in co-operation with the Spirit and the believer has a part to play as old habits and practices are cast aside and a new mind and heart are developed.  Accordingly, Paul has revealed that each believer is “God’s workmanship” or “God’s masterpiece.” (Eph 2:10 NIV, NLT) It is the Lord, through his Spirit, who transforms the believer; however, the believer must respond in obedience to the Spirit’s leadership.

Some are of the opinion that the believer is not expected to be holy because he or she cannot accomplish such a requirement; however, Peter has taught that “[God’s] divine nature has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) We cannot accomplish the holy state that God requires for his presence, but Christ in us can. The only way to miss the mark is to rebel against the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18) The practical holy state is gradually developed or put on as the believer lives by the Spirit.  “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Gal 5:5 NIV)

The Spirit does not cleanse the believer from his sin, he only makes him or her aware of it and enables him with the power to gain victory over it.  Should the believer sin cleansing will come through repentance and confession as the blood of Christ is applied. (1 Jn 1:7)

Is the righteous life and holiness difficult to achieve?  Christ said that his burden was light.  It does take an ear sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, the maintenance of a clear conscience, and a commitment to love and honour Christ until the end, however.

The victory that brings holiness has not been won by Christ but can be for the one who is willing to live under his lordship. No one should be cavalier about his or her tendency to sin but should be prepared to work out his own salvation through fear and trembling. They should know and see God as did Isaiah and John.

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