Christianity 201

September 19, 2019

Settling In as Christians to the New Normal of a Post-Christian Society

by Clarke Dixon

Should we, who are Christians in North America, still be bothered with Christianity when most North Americans are not? If so, should we be bothered by those who could not be bothered with it? There is a new normal in Western society, marked by a move away from traditional Christian beliefs and values. Should we just go with the flow and melt into the new normal of society? Or should we resist the changes, kicking and screaming all the way? How do we as Christians respond to the new normal?

Assimilate, or Be Different?

Daniel and his friends, from the Book of Daniel, would have faced similar questions. Daniel was facing a new normal:

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. 4 “Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.” 5 The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.
6 Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names:
Daniel was called Belteshazzar.
Hananiah was called Shadrach.
Mishael was called Meshach.
Azariah was called Abednego. Daniel 1:3-7 (NLT)

Daniel and friends were likely overachieving teenagers, perhaps as young as 14 when they were taken captive. They were born Jews in Judah, but now they are being educated in, or more accurately, indoctrinated into, Babylonian ways in Babylon. With three years training, which of course would include training in Babylonian religious ideas, and with name changes, they were facing a pressure to assimilate. They were to become model Babylonians. Should these teenagers even bother with trying to be Jewish? After all, their new normal seemed like a pretty good gig, including the finest food!

Daniel made a decision:

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Daniel 1:8 (NIV)

Biblical scholars are divided about what exactly was wrong with the king’s food, whether it was not “clean” or had been used in idolatry, but we need not be caught up in that discussion. What is important is that Daniel decided that he was not going to be assimilated, he would be different! He might be learning to speak like a Babylonian, but he will be Jewish.

Where did Daniel’s resolve to remain Jewish come from when becoming a Babylonian might seem to be an enticing and easy path? Daniel and his friends knew something very important. Despite everything, God is still God.

The opening verses of Daniel highlight this fact:

1 During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. Daniel 1:1-2 (NLT emphasis added)

Due to circumstances, king Nebuchadnezzar, or the gods he worshipped, may appear to be in charge. However, it was God, described here as Adonai, meaning ‘lord,’ who was really sovereign over the situation. Since God is still God, Daniel resolves to be different.

God is still God today. Jesus is still Lord. Since God is still God, do we, who are Christians, have the same resolve as Daniel to be different? Is there something different about us that demonstrates that we have not wholly been assimilated into society around us? Perhaps church attendance is one thing, but is that it?

If we resolve to be different, then how will we relate to those who are different?

Since God is still God, and since Daniel resolves therefore to be a God-fearing Jew, what will that look like in Babylon? How will Daniel relate to the Babylonians? Will he fight them? Will he lead a movement against them? Will he be confrontational at every opportunity? Will he refuse to serve the king because he serves the King of kings?

We are told what Daniel does:

18 When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. Daniel 1:18-19 (NLT)

Jewish Daniel served the Babylonian king. In fact we will discover, as we keep reading, that Daniel will spend his whole life serving the current king, the next king, and even the king of the next empire to seize power. Daniel’s life is marked by serving people very different from himself. Daniel is different, but he also fits in. His attitude is not one of confrontation, but of servanthood. He does not come across as a warrior for God, but a servant of all.

How do we relate to the society we find ourselves in? How do we relate to people who may have quite different beliefs and values from us? God is still God, so we can be resolved to not be assimilated. But are we therefore to be warriors in a fight to the death? Or are we servants, like Daniel and his friends, and like Jesus? Are we to be confrontational at every opportunity? Or do we have an attitude of servanthood? Let us remember that Jesus came, “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Daniel and his friends served the Babylonians, and quite well, we might add:

20 Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom. Daniel 1:20 (NLT)

Daniel and his friends will be known as different, but not because they say they are, so much as because they really are. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, not in the shouting out of the recipe.

In our being different, is the proof in the pudding, or the shouting out of the recipe? Are we different in ways that matter? Not in being overtly and overly religious, but in subtle and important ways, things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23), which are the fruit of the Spirit? If we are truly different, and genuinely serving others, people will ask about our faith. We will have opportunities to speak about it, there will be no need to shout about it.

Daniel resolved to be different, to not be assimilated, to not become a Babylonian. But then he did not live in a Jewish bubble either. He had no plan to destroy the Babylonians. Rather, he served the Babylonians as someone who feared God and loved people. Can we serve our fellow North Americans as God-fearing, people-loving people?

(This post is part of a series on Daniel which begins here.)

August 12, 2019

On Sanctification, Holiness and Goodness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Twice a year we visit the blog of K.W. Leslie and I always know I’m going to end up reading four or five articles and then having to make a hard choice as to which to include. In the end I chose the one below, but was equally torn between this one and this one. References to KWL are the author’s own translation.

Holiness… versus goodness

SANCTIFY ‘sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ verb. Set apart as holy.
2. Have blessed, made legitimate through a religious sanction, or made to seem legitimate through custom and tradition.
3. Purify from sin.
[Sanctification sæŋ(k).tə.fə’keɪ.ʃən noun, sanctifier ‘sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ(.ə)r noun.]

I bring up the popular definition of sanctify because I wanna point out what we English-speakers mean by sanctification, is not what the scriptures mean.

I’ve read loads of Christian books about sanctification. Been reading one in particular lately. The author goes on and on and on about sin, and how it taints humanity, and how Christians ought not do it. (And, well, duh.) But the more he writes on the subject, the more obvious it becomes he’s addressing his own particular hangups. Certain sins he finds really nasty, so he spends a lot of time really pounding away at those sins like a carpenter trying to put thin nails into thick wood: Stop doing those things! You’re making baby Jesus cry.

Thing is, he’s not actually talking about sanctification. He’s talking about goodness.

Christians mix the two ideas up all the time. Seriously, all the time. I challenge you to find a writing where the author recognizes there’s a difference between the two. And there is a difference. Holiness is about being set apart for God’s purposes. Holy means we’re not like anything else. It’s definition #1, and only definition #1. The other definitions are the product of Christian popular culture… which is perfectly happy to settle for mere goodness.

God tells his kids, “Be holy because I’m holy.” Lv 11.44-45, 1Pe 1.16 God’s different from everything else, and if we’re following him, the natural consequence is we should be different from everything else. But when the LORD said this in the scriptures, he wasn’t talking about goodness! Check out the context:

Leviticus 11.43-47 KWL
43 “Don’t pollute your lives with any swarming vermin.
Don’t be ritually unclean with them, or be made unclean by them.
44 For I’m your LORD God. So sanctify yourselves! Be holy because I’m holy.
Don’t make your lives ritually unclean with any vermin which swarms the earth.
45 For I’m the LORD who brought you out of Egypt’s land to be God to you:
Be holy because I’m holy.
46 This law is about animals and birds,
every living soul in the waters, every soul swarming the earth:
47 Separate between the ritually unclean and the clean,
between living things to eat, and living things you don’t eat.”

Yeah: He was talking about the kosher rules. About ritual cleanliness. Not goodness, not sins: Food animals versus vermin. Because people of other nations eat any animals they please, with no thought to anything but their taste buds. And God doesn’t want his people to be like any other nation. He wanted ’em unique. He still wants us unique. Holy.

Christians who teach on sanctification, zero in on being good. That’s not nothing. We oughta be good. God is good, so we should be good like he is, and when we’re not, we clearly aren’t following him. I’m certainly not saying God’s okay with evil! But goodness is only a fruit of sanctification. It’s not the same thing.

So if we’re gonna be holy, we have to be more than merely good. We gotta be different.

Nazirites.

The reason Christians focus on goodness so much, is for much the same reason as this author I wrote about. Sin offends us. It offends God too, but God’s way more patient and forgiving than we are. God wants everybody to repent and be saved, 2Pe 3.9 and is willing to put off judgment so he can save as many as he can. Whereas we humans, especially those Christians who write popular books on sanctification, wouldn’t mind so much if God judged and smited away. Right now.

Hence their books on goodness. And in order to not sound like crazy legalists who threaten everybody with hell unless they behave themselves, Christians insist it’s not about legalism: It’s about holiness. We’re not threatening anyone with hell; we’re just reminding people God hates sin and expects better of his kids. So stop sinning, dammit!

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with telling Christians to be good. Nothing wrong with telling everyone to be good. But when the scriptures describe people getting holy, it talks about stuff like this:

Numbers 6.1-8 KWL
1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to Israel’s sons.
Tell them when a man or woman makes an exceptional vow, a separation vow, to separate themselves for the LORD:
3 They separate from wine, liquor, wine vinegar, malt vinegar;
no drinking any grape juice, no eating fresh grapes or raisins.
4 All the days of their separation, they don’t eat anything made of grapevine—seeds to skin.
5 All the days of their separation vow, no blade comes to their head till the days of separation to the LORD are complete.
They’re holy: They let the hair on their head grow.
6 All the days of their separation to the LORD, they don’t approach a soul who dies.
7 Their father, their mother, their brother, their sister:
They don’t make themselves ritually unclean for them when they die,
for the separation to their God is on their head.
8 All the days of their separation, they’re holy to the LORD.”

The word for “separate” is נָזַר/nazár, which technically means “unprune,” like a grapevine grown wild… or like someone who doesn’t cut their hair, groom their mustache or beard, or keep their eyebrows from growing together. Unpruned, in ancient Hebrew, became a synonym for “unlike everybody else,” or separate. And a person who took this vow of separation was called a נָזיִר/nazír, or in English, a Nazirite. Notice the conditions of this vow, the way you made yourself particularly holy to God… was by swearing off four things which aren’t sins. In fact it’s really inconvenient when you do abstain from them:

  1. No alcohol.
  2. No grapes.
  3. No haircuts or shaving.
  4. No coming near dead bodies.

If you broke your vow ’cause somebody died (and the way the LORD phrases it, it likely wasn’t by accident), you had to wash yourself as part of your usual ritual purification from touching a dead person, but now you also had to shave your head, shave your head again a week later, perform a ritual offering, then start your vow all over again. Lv 6.9-12 All the time you abstained till then, didn’t count.

These vows were temporary. When the time was up, you went to temple, brought ritual offerings for sacrifice, shaved your head at the temple door, and burnt your hair in the sacrifice. Nu 6.13-20 That way, commentators figure, you can’t keep your hair as a souvenir, and show off how you were once really dedicated to God. The hair growing at this very moment out of your head was the only token you got.

Apparently Paul participated in this ritual too, Ac 21.23-26 to demonstrate he still followed the Law, rumors to the contrary aside.

And certain people in the scriptures appear to have been lifelong Nazirites. Like Samson, Samuel, and John the baptist: They never cut their hair, never shaved, never touched grapes or alcohol or dead bodies. (Samson broke a few of these, but he was a sucky Nazirite.) Again, none of these practices are, ordinarily, sin. But if you promise God not to do something, breaking your promise is sin, so these things become sin to you. Jm 4.17

Still, y’notice what made a person Nazirite, and holy, wasn’t simply being good. Nazirites were expected to be good, but everybody was expected to be good. Being specially dedicated to God involved more than goodness. It was being unique. Nazirites were different from anyone else. Couldn’t drink what everyone else did. Couldn’t deal with death, even though everybody must deal with death at some point. Couldn’t trim their hair; they had to look weird. Nazirites had to stand out.

And that’s what true sanctification entails: Standing out. Not just being good; of course we’re to be good. But if you wanna be holy, you have to stand out. Can’t be like everyone else. Can’t just be good.

How? Well, you could become a Nazirite of course. But the scriptures don’t offer Naziritism as our only option. God ordered various people to make themselves holy to him in various ways. Basically he customized each individual’s relationship with him. He still does. So if you’re talking with God on a regular basis (as all of us oughta be), it makes sense to ask him how he wants you to stand out. How should you be holy to the LORD? He’ll tell you.

Holiness can take all sorts of forms, and I’ll discuss a few of ’em in other articles. But mere goodness isn’t one of these forms. Goodness is the bare minimum of how we as humans oughta live, and if all our sights are set on is goodness, we’ve set them far too low.

July 30, 2019

Putting God’s Grace in Perspective

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Russell Young

  1. God’s grace is person specific and not blanket in nature. It does not rest on the community of a denomination but in the heart of the believer.
  2. People have been called to be holy and to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. The achievement of these objectives is accomplished through a personal relationship with Christ and must be worked out.
  3. The Lord determines the person and the manner to which his mercy and grace will be applied.
  4. God’s grace makes provision to escape judgment but does not eliminate it.

The Word of God has been presented as his truths to humankind. For millennia scholars have tried to understand its contents and from those the Lord’s expectations for the salvation of a people. Teachings concerning God’s grace have become foundational to the many denominational perspectives that have emerged.

God’s grace is just that, his graciousness as he applies it to individuals. Unfortunately, many people have limited their understanding to Christ’s sacrificial offering permitting the gaining of God’s heavenly kingdom through the imputation of his righteousness.

According to Strong’s Greek Dictionary, charis, the Greek from which grace has been derived, means, “graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude):—acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace(- ious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank(-s, -worthy).” (#5485) God’s grace is his graciousness as applied through his divine influence upon the heart with its reflection in the believer’s life. Of course, the extension of God into the human heart is a gift; It is neither deserved nor can be earned. However, although God’s grace is his divine influence, it does not directly gift the believer with eternal salvation which is accomplished through obedience (Heb 5:9) to his divine influence (Rom 15:16; Gal 6:7−8), teaching believers to live “upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:12) They must work out (complete, finish their salvation. (Phil 2:12)

Many will quote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in (through) Christ Jesus or Lord.” Careful study of the word “gift” needs to be given in this passage. Although “gift” has been presented as the English translation of the Greek charisma, in ancient Greek it meant, “An extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit; the ability to influence without the use of logic; personal charm or magnetism.” (Glosbe, Ancient Greek (to 1453)) “Gift” was added to the definition following 1453. It is God’s influence through the Holy Spirit, Christ’s “personal charm and magnetism,” that has attracted people—believers—to follow his leadership that will bring about a person’s eternal salvation.

God’s revealed plan is to have a holy nation and a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9), a people conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29) He is making a nation of those whom he finds acceptable to dwell with him. (Rom 15:16) Since people have been unable to achieve his righteous requirements due to their weakened sinful nature (Rom 8:3), God has sent his Son into the world to accomplish his purpose in their lives. (Rom 8:4) It is in this aspect, his divine influence, that his grace is realized. He delivers the willing from their evil imaginations and practices and transforms them into an offering acceptable for his kingdom. (First, he had to release them from the death that they had earned and from covenant law that presented his righteous requirements, so that they might be given the Spirit of promise. (Gal 3:14))

God will not select his people from a specific denomination, but from those individuals in many denominations who have met his requirements. They will have been persuaded by the attractiveness of his message and of his being and will have willingly followed his leadership. They must believe sufficiently (have enough faith) to cling to and to obediently follow him. (Jn 10:27)

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thes 1:8) Of course, those who do not know Jesus cannot be persuaded nor can they believe to the extent that they obey his gospel. “Know” however, has a deeper meaning. It means to understand or to appreciate the heart of Christ.

The Lord is changing individuals and those who will find a place in his kingdom will establish a committed and loving relationship with him; the accomplishment of becoming an acceptable offering is not a direct gift but is achieved by his grace as he, as Holy Spirit, helps the believer in his or her transformation. The need is not merely a pardon for sin; it is a changed heart. Each person will stand naked before the Lord, except for the covering of their righteous deeds. Each person will stand before him, not robed with their denominational teachings, but by themselves with their exposed hearts and on that basis will face judgment for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

God’s grace does not allow escape from the judgment seat of Christ, but it allows the believer to prepare for it. Of course, his graciousness (grace) is revealed through the many acts of his blessings upon a person’s life, as well.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

July 29, 2019

What Does it Mean to be Pure?

We often highlight devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. You’re encouraged to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings. There are two inter-connected devotionals today.

One Thing I Do

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” 
—Matthew 5:8

To be pure in heart almost sounds angelic. Many may think it implies perfection or refers to someone who is tremendously giving, always does the right thing and is noble in their cause. This is where we fall off the rails, because we know our hearts are not pure. Thankfully, perfection is not what Jesus is talking about in the sixth beatitude.

To understand what Jesus means by pure in heart we need to define what is meant by “pure.” Although Jesus probably spoke Aramaic during His time in this world, the New Testament was recorded in the Greek language, which was a language of international commerce and trade. Hence, Bible translations mostly take from early Greek manuscripts. There is no exact equivalent between Greek and Aramaic, or even in English, for these vocabularies. A word in Greek has a specific meaning to the Greek mind, but may have a different meaning to the English mind. The Greek word for “pure” that Jesus uses here is katharos, which does not mean pure in the sense of perfection, but pure in the sense of being undiluted, not mixed with anything. For example, wine that is not diluted with water would be a katharos wine.

The heart is the seat of our personalities. It is where the mind, emotions and will come together to form the real person. Our thoughts, emotions, aspirations and desires are filtered through our minds and settled into our hearts. This is why Paul tells us, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:10).

To be pure in heart is to narrow our interests down to the interests of Jesus Christ, which opens them up to all that is the purpose and agenda of heaven. Paul tells us, “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul is not saying 25 things that he dabbled in, but one thing he will do. Paul’s exhortation did not mean he was boring without a wider interest in business, family or hobbies. Rather, Paul is implying, “In the midst of my business, family and recreational life, there is an undergirding, ‘this one thing I do’ that is the backbone and the spinal cord of everything in my life.” Of course, there are other aspects of our lives that we are involved and dedicated to doing but it all flows out of this “one thing I do.”

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, grant me a pure heart that focuses on You and Your agenda in every area of my life as the “one thing I do.” Thank You, Lord.

Pureness of Heart

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  —Psalm 51:10

When we have made up our minds that our position is going to be one of “pureness in heart,” we begin a pursuit of pureness. It is not a passive acceptance of “que será será”—“whatever will be, will be”—by letting others think what they will because God will love us regardless. A pursuit for a pureness of heart is to enter every aspect of our lives, which is probably best described as being single-minded to the will and purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Book of Acts records Paul as a tentmaker, where he supported part of his ministry by making tents. He also had a great interest in people from different cultures and backgrounds. Because of his interests, he gained a clear perception on what a predominately pagan world believed in, and related to them from their viewpoint by finding the bridge that would unite them to the gospel.

We all have different lives, but similar to Paul, the undergirding premise is that we bring the life of Christ into all we do. We live in an overwhelmingly secular world where truth has become subjective and bringing Christ in sets us apart from the norm. Jesus was radically set apart from the norm, not only in Jewish religious beliefs, but also to the entire Gentile world. He is the truth, not subjectively, but objectively. Pureness of heart is a pursuit, whereby we allow the truth within us, which is Christ Himself, to become the source from which our attitudes and behaviours derive.

James tells us, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). The devil believes things with his mind but the significance is not there for his heart because to believe with the heart is to surrender and recognize that God is God. Everyday we fight a battle with our hearts. This is why David writes, “Teach me Your way, Lord, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.”

(Psalm 86:11). We cannot allow ourselves to be pulled in two directions, because in a divided heart, the secular issues will always swallow the sacred issues.

An undivided heart is a pure heart, and to pursue a pureness of heart means surrendering all that we are to seek Jesus. Sometimes we talk about Jesus coming into your heart but that is not found in the Bible. Yet, when we talk about Jesus coming into our hearts, we are asking for Jesus to become the center of our being, right into the heart of everything that we are. Are we ready to pursue a pureness of heart?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I surrender my heart in pursuit of a pureness of heart. Help me to be single-minded and focused on Your will and purpose. Thank You, Lord.


Because we often get first time readers, every so often I like to review our purpose statement:

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!


July 27, 2019

A Humble Self-Opinion

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A few weeks ago someone asked me online if it was appropriate to ‘like’ their own social media posts. I suggested that it seemed a bit narcissistic. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines narcissism as, “extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance : marked by or characteristic of excessive admiration of or infatuation with oneself.”

In contrast, Paul reminds us in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” NIV.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 6:2, “When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” NLT

Back in March we introduced you to a reading drawn from a posting of seven chapters of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, posted by Random House at the link in the title below, where you can read all 7 chapters. This book is an all-time Christian classic if you haven’t read it. I have made only one editing change, taking out the use of numbered paragraphs (which I believe cause readers to rush through the material) and substituting each new section with the first sentence in bold type.

Having a Humble Opinion of One’s Self

Thomas à Kempis; 1380-1471; Wikipedia

Everyone has a natural desire for knowledge but what good is knowledge without the fear of God? Surely a humble peasant who serves God is better than the proud astronomer who knows how to chart the heavens’ stars but lacks all knowledge of himself.

If I truly knew myself I would look upon myself as insignificant and would not find joy in hearing others praise me. If I knew everything in the world and were still without charity, what advantage would I have in the eyes of God who is to judge me according to my deeds?

Curb all undue desire for knowledge, for in it you will find many distractions and much delusion. Those who are learned strive to give the appearance of being wise and desire to be recognized as such; but there is much knowledge that is of little or no benefit to the soul.

Whoever sets his mind on anything other than what serves his salvation is a senseless fool. A barrage of words does not make the soul happy, but a good life gladdens the mind and a pure conscience generates a bountiful confidence in God.

The more things you know and the better you know them, the more severe will your judgment be, unless you have also lived a holier life. Do not boast about the learning and skills that are yours; rather, be cautious since you do possess such knowledge.

If it seems to you that you know many things and thoroughly understand them all, realize that there are countless other things of which you are ignorant. Be not haughty, but admit your ignorance. Why should you prefer yourself to another, when there are many who are more learned and better trained in God’s law than you are? If you are looking for knowledge and a learning that is useful to you, then love to be unknown and be esteemed as nothing.

This is the most important and most salutary lesson: to know and to despise ourselves. It is great wisdom and perfection to consider ourselves as nothing and always to judge well and highly of others. If you should see someone commit a sin or some grievous wrong, do not think of yourself as someone better, for you know not how long you will remain in your good state.

We are all frail; but think of yourself as one who is more frail than others.

 

 

March 26, 2019

The Folly of Complacency

by Russell Young

The Lord and the gospel writers have addressed the need for believers to be participants in the accomplishment (completion) of their own salvation (Phil 2:12), active in kingdom building (Eph 2:10; 1 Cor 3:14), and true to Christ through the representation of his likeness within them. (Mt 9:16; 1 Pet 2:12) They have also revealed consequences for those who are complacent or “lukewarm” in their walk.

The Lord chastised the church in Ephesus because they had forsaken their first love (Rev 2:4) and cautioned the Laodiceans for being “lukewarm.” (Rev 3:16) In the parable of the sheep and the goats the Lord presented that the goats would suffer eternal punishment for failing to provide for the needy (Mt 25:45−46) and in the parable of the ten minas he revealed that while the faithful servant would be put in charge of ten cities, the servant who had done nothing with his single mina would have it taken away. (Lk 19:26) He also admonished his servants to be dressed, ready for service and to keep their lamps burning and stated, “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.” Lk 12:47−48) Paul spoke of the fire that will test the quality each person’s work and that although a person’s contribution to the kingdom may be burned up, he or she would be saved but only as one “escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor 3:15)

Confessors may not only be complacent regarding service but may be indifferent concerning righteous practices. Believers have been called to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” in order to have life. (Rom 8:13) Paul has presented that confessors should not be deceived because those who are immoral or impure will have no inheritance in the kingdom of God (Eph 5:5), that those who sow to please the sinful nature instead of the Holy Spirit will reap destruction (Gal 6: 8), and that believers have become “slaves to righteousness”. (Rom 6:18)

The hope of every believer rests in a loving and committed relationship with Christ. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) Relationships need nurturing and attention. Believers must “know” God—know his heart, mind, and will—if they are to avoid destruction. “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) They are confessors who did not commit to “knowing”—assuming his heart and mind–and obeying Christ as their lord. They had allowed themselves to be complacent in their walk and relationship while the Lord’s intent was for them to be far from that state. Eternal salvation comes through obedience (Heb 5:9) and love for God requires obeying his commands. (Jn 14:21)

Unfortunately, the gospel that is often presented does not speak of obedience or faithfulness. It doesn’t mention judgment or accountability. It doesn’t require commitment to love and faithfulness. The consequence of the modern gospel is the birthing of weak and anemic babies who are being permitted to remain babies without having to undergo the often-painful measures needed to attain maturity. (Heb 5:14)

Christ did not come with the limited purpose of offering himself as a sacrifice for sin. He also came to transform hearts and lives so that those “in him” would be enabled to do the “good works that he had prepared in advance for [them] to do.” (Eph 2:10) His life is to be evident in all who claim his name. They are to be his hands, feet, mouth, and heart to the people around them. They have been called to be righteous in their actions (Rom 6:18) and productive in their lives—to be found honoring his call for obedience. As Son of man, the Lord was active and driven to honor his Father, and as Christ, the Holy Spirit, he determinedly pursues personal righteousness in his own. He was not complacent as he walked this earth and will not accept complacency from his brothers and sisters.

Pastors and teachers often strain to convince their congregants to become more active in ministry while at the same time offering assurance that their hope has been secured with a place waiting for them in God’s heavenly kingdom. Confession of faith may save the confessor from his or her pasts sins (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) but it will not gain them eternal salvation which comes from a committed and obedient walk with the Lord (Heb 5:9) and through a humble and loving relationship. There will be no room in God’s kingdom for those who entertain a life of complacency. At the final judgment all will be accountable for things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10), and their fate will depend on that which is written in the books (Rev 20:12−13), the testimony of their lives.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

February 28, 2019

Jesus Measures Output, Not Input

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NIV.Matthew 15.10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” …

17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” [also found in Mark 7:17-23]

Once again we’re back with Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well. These days my oldest son attends that church, making him the third generation in our family to have some connection there. The title which I gave this piece — not the one in the link below — just came to me as a very concise way of summing up what Jesus said in the above passage. Overall, Pastor Reimer goes beyond the often heard line of ‘having a purpose in life,’ and defines what’s needed as a “holy purpose.”

Purpose

A lawyer once asked Jesus to identify the “great commandment in the Law”. Jesus responded: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The Old Testament statement, from which He was quoting, used the word “might” rather than “mind”. The point is we must love God with the totality of our being. The heart is fundamental to life itself. The soul is the fountain of emotion, passion and personality. The mind is the place of reason, understanding and will. And might combines the whole being into something active, strong and enduring.

Every faithful follower of Christ must purpose in his/her heart to love the Lord God with such determination and commitment. It is to be the very motive and focus of godly living. It is the foundation upon which life with its multiplicity of activities is to be built. Our relationships, thoughts, words, work, pleasure, learning, must all flow from, display and enhance our purpose to love God. That must be our unique and distinguishing feature.

Do not think for one minute that such a path is easy. Challenging such a holy purpose is the world, the flesh and the devil.

Never underestimate the impact and influence of the world upon us. Jesus’ great prayer for us is instructive. “But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world even as I am not of the world. I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Beware of the subtle attraction, allure and demands that draw us away from God and into the ways of this world’s systems. The hugely enhanced communication of our day tends to flood our minds and hours with images and influences that are destructive.

Even more deadly than the world is the flesh. Hear our Lord’s assessment: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.” A poet explains: “God, harden me against myself, this coward with pathetic voice, who craves for ease and rest and joys. Myself, arch-traitor to myself, my hollowest friend, my deadliest foe, my clog whichever way I go. Yet one there is can cure myself, can roll the strangling load from me, break off the yolk and set me free.” Only the liberating work of Christ and a learned obedience to the gracious voice of the Holy Spirit can save us from self!

And then there is the devil. That roaring, devouring lion, that angel of deceptive light, wants his way with us. He is a liar, an accuser, a murderer, a god of darkness, despair, doom and death. He would ensnare us were it not that Jesus has defeated him, put him to open shame by the victory of Calvary. Praise God forever that “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.” Exult with the Apostle who said, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

If you would love God with your whole being, immerse yourself in His love- letter to us, the Bible. Cultivate the beauty of His presence by prayer, hymns, obedience, thoughts, fellowship and conversation. Let His Spirit pour out His love into your heart. He will control you, speak to you and lead you into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. What a life-changing purpose by which to order our lives!

 

 

November 12, 2018

The Bridegroom Prepares the Way for the Bride

Today we’re paying a return visit to Dylan Tarpley at the blog One Thing. He’s currently working his way very carefully through Song of Songs, with several blog posts devoted to a single verse. Click the title below to read at source.

Hephzibah | A Bridal Paradigm

Growing up in church, I only remember hearing people talk about God as a righteous, angry judge. While this is certainly a part of who He is, that is the only side of Him that I ever knew. This only produced fear, guilt, and shame in my heart. No matter how often I heard about how God was angry with my sin, it never seemed to help me grow out of the sin patterns that were in my life. I just ended up like Adam who tried to cover his sin and hide from the presence of God.

For others, God is a distant being that is uninterested and not involved in their lives on earth. He spoke the earth into existence and then sat back as it took its course. In this view, God has no interaction with us on earth.

While there are many facets of who God is, I believe that the most paramount way to view God is through the eyes of a bride who is passionately in love with her Bridegroom King. While God may act as a righteous judge who is angry because of sin, He is also a tender Father who longs to walk with us in the cool of the day, just as He did with Adam in the garden.

As a young man, I remember being afraid that my dad would get mad at me. This had a measure of impact on the way that I behaved, but for the most part I just kept doing the same things. I would just try to hide it from him. There came a transition though as I grew in maturity to where I was no longer afraid of him being angry with me. Rather, I actually wanted to please him. I wanted to make him proud of the decisions I made. I assure you that one was much easier than the other, and made for a much better relationship between us. I have found this in marriage as well. Your marriage will always be a struggle if you are constantly afraid that your spouse is going to leave you or be angry with you. However, I have found marriage to be easy as long as you are in love. The same is true in our relationship with Jesus. We must mature to a place where our obedience is no longer only motivated by fear, but instead by love. This is the only way to experience true holiness.

It’s easy for most people to recognize their affection for God. In one sense, it is easy to love God. He’s holy, He’s perfect, He’s beautiful. What is perhaps more difficult is for people to understand God’s affection towards them. We find this in the beginning of the Song when the Shulamite begins to explain to the Beloved, “I am dark!” This type of thinking has caused many people to reject the love of God in their lives because of a false humility and a faulty way of thinking that says they are dark in the eyes of God.

As we watch Jesus prepare for His ministry on earth, there is an interesting transaction that takes place between Him and the Father. In Luke 3, the heavens are opened and the Father declares, “You are my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” Even Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, had to be baptized into beloved identity before operating in the fullness of what was intended for Him. We must begin to ask ourselves, if Jesus needed to receive affirmation from His Father, how badly do we?

David modeled this in his life as the man after God’s heart. After living in a compromised state for some time in Ziklag, God delivers David from harm and David’s response is profound. He says in Psalm 18:19, “He delivered me because He delighted in me.” If we are honest, none of us would respond this way. We would put ourselves in some sort of Spiritual time out where we would make ourselves suffer for awhile, beating ourselves up because of our mistakes. Not David though. He was so rooted in beloved identity that even in a season of compromise, He was confident that God delighted in Him.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is found in Isaiah 62:4-5

You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,
And your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.

What a promise! There are two words that I want you to focus on: Hephzibah and Beulah. Hephzibah means, “My delight is in her.” Beulah means, “married.” Many of us are content with the idea that He no longer calls us forsaken or desolate. We’re simply happy with the idea that He has forgiven us. Jesus longs for much more though. He does not simply want to bring you out of your desolation, He wants to give you a new name called “Delightful” and “Married.”

The entire story line of the Bible was built around a Bridegroom preparing a way for His bride. What if I told you that there was more to this journey than only going to heaven, but that Jesus died so that He could marry you here and now? It sounds too good to be true, huh? I agree, and that’s the best part. Dr. Brian Simmons has an interesting commentary on Jesus’ declaration on the cross, “It is finished!” Did you know that it was possible that Jesus actually says, “It is finished, my bride!” Jesus declared that it was the joy set before Him that empowered Him to endure the cross. You were that joy. As He was beaten and tortured, He was filled with the joy of one day being married to you.

I am praying this prayer tonight, “Jesus, sing your song of love over my life. Baptize me in beloved identity. I want to know how You feel about me.” I encourage you to begin to meditate on this idea that Jesus died, not only so that you go to heaven when you die, but that He could be married to you, today. You are always on His mind. I want you to get alone with Him and allow His love to wash over you as you begin to feel His affection for you as His bride. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

October 23, 2018

Have You Really Repented?

by Russell Young

Have you repented? Do you repent when convicted of sin? Christ taught, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk 13: 3, 5) Repentance results from feeling sorrow, regret, or contrition for the injury done to God and should be accompanied by the believer’s intent not to repeat the wrong.

Voicing sorrow without feeling its presence is not repentance. Unfortunately, many are invited to “accept” Christ without ever appreciating the holiness of God or the fact that they have done anything to offend him. Their response to the evangelist is often based on the promise given that upon compliance to his or her call those responding will be assured of an eternal hope. Consequently, the hope is accepted without any contrition or recognition of personal unrighteousness.

God always requires repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the provision of an eternal hope. Acknowledgement is needed since without it the confessor remains in his or her own pride and wilfulness and lacks awareness to change ungodly practices. It is a mistake to think that God will overlook unrighteousness and those who teach such will one day be accountable to their holy Creator and God.

Paul wrote, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” (2 Cor 7:10─11) Has your sorrow brought alarm or concern? Are you eager to clear yourself? Are you earnest about righteous living? Godly sorrow and repentance produce the heart attitude that engenders the repentance that leads to salvation. Have you ever repented for the pain that you have brought to the heart of God (Gen 6: 6)? Do you repent when evil has once more grabbed your attention or has invaded your heart?

The holiness and sovereignty of God must never be forgotten. Failure to repent of acts that are hurtful to him displays blatant disregard for his being and majesty. The haughty and prideful attitude that rejects repentance will not be passed over. Many times the Israelites were commanded to repent of their evil ways and often times they were enslaved because of their failure to walk humbly before their God. The LORD’s chastisement through withholding blessings was frequently experienced because his chosen people had failed to acknowledge his authority through disobedience to his laws, decrees and regulations. When truth dawned, it was often followed by repentance as revealed through the wearing of sackcloth and covering with ashes, followed by prostration before their sovereign God.

Repentance was never intended to be a one-time event. The Lord admonished his Jewish listeners to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt 3:8; Lk 3:8 Italics added) and Paul described his ministry in the same manner. “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 Italics added) His portrayal of what he was about seems quite different from that which is often attributed to him.

Failure to repent of on-going sin is arrogance and disregard for God’s holiness. The Lord condemned the church in Sardis as having “a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” He told them to “Remember what they have received and heard; obey it, and repent.” (Rev 3:1, 3) He condemned the church of Laodicea for its lukewarmness and commanded them to be earnest and repent. (Rev 3:19) He also commanded his disciples to wash one another’s feet—to cleanse them of the day’s sins—so that they may have a part with him. (Jn 13:8) John wrote, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 Jn 5:16) And, John wrote “If we confess our sins, he is just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)

Repentance leads to restoration and when the need to repent is realized by many it may even lead to spiritual revival. God is sovereign and will punish those who disregard his holiness. Speaking through Isaiah the LORD said, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isa 66:2) Unfortunately, current presentations of God’s grace and mercy have brought God to the familial human level and have engendered the absence of sorrow, regret, or contrition for acts that are offensive to our holy and sovereign God.

Teaching about the need for repentance seems to be disappearing with the result that the hope of many will prove false. Repentance encourages the discontinuation of offensive practices and the conformation of believers to the likeness of Christ, which would make them an offering acceptable to God. (Rom 15:16) The Lord’s teaching should be taken to heart: “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41) In the end, all people will be subject to the judgment of the sovereign and holy God for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

Repentance should be the response of a convicted heart, a heart that appreciates the nature of God and his place as sovereign of his creation, including humankind. It acknowledges hurt done to the One who is establishing his eternal kingdom and it recognizes the need for personal righteousness as accomplished through obedience (Heb 5:9) to their loving Savior and Lord. It comes from a humble and contrite spirit.


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

October 2, 2018

Murder in the Early Church?

Honestly, in all the years I’ve studied the Book of James, I never really picked up on that word: Murder! (Yikes!)

Today we’re back with Peter Corak who we featured here in a Sunday Worship column a year ago and who has been very faithfully writing excellent devotionals at My Morning Meal since November, 2009. Click the title below to read this at source and then use his archives menu to find other material.

More Grace

His letter is written to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” So James’ epistle was penned for believers but with a particular Hebrew flavor. Maybe not surprising given that it’s thought this could be the first NT book written, and thus written to a church that was still largely Jewish.

So it’s for those who are born again. Those who are new creations in Christ. And maybe that’s what makes the opening verses of chapter 4 a bit disturbing.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:1-4 ESV)

What? Quarrels? Fights? Murder? And all this among the believers?!? Say it ain’t so!

What happened to “and all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44)? Or, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own” (Acts 4:32)? Even if you understand that James isn’t referring to murder in the literal sense but in the Sermon on the Mount sense, that of intense anger towards someone (Mt. 5:21-22), you’re still asking yourself, what’s going on?

What could so corrupt the unity of the Spirit believers were born again into (1Cor. 12:13, Eph. 4:1-3)? What could so mar the testimony of love for one another that Jesus said would mark His disciples (Jn. 13:35)?

Two things, apparently. Passions at war within us, and love for the world around us. Evidently a lethal combo for the church being the church.

The nature of the flesh is to want. To desire what it thinks it must have to be satisfied. What it feels it needs in order to experience pleasure. And when someone else has that something, there can be a tendency to turn on that person. Either out of jealousy, or of trying to compete for it. Cue a catalyst for conflict.

And what feeds the flesh? The world. The system of values, priorities, and prizes that man has built up for themselves in order to satisfy “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1Jn. 2:16). The world feeds the flesh. And flesh wars against others driven by flesh. And then you have quarrels, and fightings, and murders . . . oh my!!!

What’s the answer? Stop it!!!

It’s that simple, says James. Stop coveting and start praying, asking for what you think you need. And if you don’t get it, then know that you ask amiss.

What’s more, stop befriending the world (by the way, that’s not BFF type of befriending, that’s getting into bed with type of “friends” . . . you adulterous people). For to befriend the world is to set yourself up as an enemy of God. Why would believers hang the enemies flag in front of their homes? Oh yeah, the flesh!

Ugly mirror to be looking into this morning. Bitter food to be chewing on. But thank God for the word but.

But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

(James 4:6 ESV)

More grace. Greater grace. Larger grace. Stronger grace. That’s the grace our God dispenses . . . and dispenses freely and abundantly.

And it’s available to the humble. To those who look in the mirror of Scripture and see their own reflection in the twelve tribes of the dispersion. Who refuse to say, “Not me! That’s someone else,” but know the battle between the flesh and the Spirit is their daily reality. Who, by the Spirit’s enabling power, say, “No!” to the flesh, and “Forgive me” to God. Who preach the gospel to themselves — the blood’s power to forgive and cleanse, the empty tomb’s power to allow those once in bondage to the flesh to live in newness of life. To believe in, and avail themselves of, “but He gives more grace.”

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

(James 4:10 ESV)

Yes He will.

Because of more grace. And that for His glory.

Amen?

September 25, 2018

The “Life” of Christ: The Mystery that Gives Hope for Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) This is a profound statement that presents the means to eternal salvation. The “way” and the “truth” are very straight-forward but understanding “life” has been confused and this understanding makes all the difference.

It is readily accepted by believers that Christ lived the sinless or perfect life and met God’s righteous requirements as outlined in the law. Although this is true, the Lord’s accomplishment of the law in the body of Jesus is not the fullness of “the life” that is needed to complete the believer’s eternal salvation. The Lord’s sacrificial offering is only the beginning of “the life” of Christ that saves. By faith or persuasion, believers must appropriate his life as the Holy Spirit which is Christ in them. (The category of “believer” applies to those who believe to the extent that they obey. See Heb 3: 18─19.) The nature of our service through the law has changed to service through the Spirit. “But now, by dying to what once bound us (the sinful passions aroused by the flesh), we have been released from the law and serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6)

The sinless life of Christ is imputed for righteousness (Rom 4: 11, 24) that the confessor might be redeemed from his or her burden of sin and its accompanying death. Those who remain in Christ (Jn 15:4, 10) will enjoy the promised hope, however to remain in him his “life” must be lived by those who call him Lord. The state gained at redemption does not meet God’s righteous requirements in full, nor does the life he lived in his flesh fully represent “the life.” The sinless life of Christ provided propitiation for sin bringing the old or first covenant to an end by meeting its requirements. It justified the believer and made provision for the New Covenant, however, Paul taught that “more” was needed to avoid God’s wrath. (Rom 5:9─10)

The life of Christ makes the believer competent to satisfy the New Covenant through his living indwelling presence. This is the life that provides “eternal” salvation. Many confessors are going to suffer judgement for failing to have grasped this truth. Paul wrote: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Note that the believer’s hope is Christ’s indwelling presence. Paul also made the relationship between “the Lord” and “the Spirit” clear to the Corinthians. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (from the law). 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 3:1718 Italics added) The Lord is the Spirit! It is the resurrected life of Christ as Spirit that is “the life” of which he spoke, the life that provides hope and the life that fully meets God’s righteous requirements. This truth must not be confused.

Paul addressed the importance of being Spirit-led. He stated that the righteous requirements of the law are fully met, not by the life of Christ in the body of Jesus, but by those who live according to the Spirit and not according to the sinful nature. (Rom 8:4) A person who has the Spirit can either live the life of Christ in him or her through obedience to the Spirit or they can deny his life and live according to their sinful nature. To further establish the importance of this life, Paul told the Romans, “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:1314) Hear this! The believer needs to do something to live. He or she must quench the body’s sinful practices through the Spirit of Christ. A person’s escape from the first covenant and the promise of sonship depends upon honoring the life of Christ as Spirit. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18)

The atonement that justified and redeemed the believer upon confession of faith was precisely so that past sins could be cleansed and he or she could be gifted with the Spirit to make available “the life” of Christ. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:13…14)

Once redeemed the believer must still meet God’s righteous requirements. “The law of the Spirit of life” sets people free from “the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2) Although the Old Covenant Law no longer applies to those living in obedience (Heb 5:9) to the law of the Spirit of life, the law of Christ still applies. Paul stated that having been freed from the law (Old Covenant) he was “not free from God’s law but [was] under Christ’s law.” (1 Cor 9:21) Christ’s law is dynamic and living and requires ears to hear the Spirit’s call. Many are unaware of God’s requirement or of their need. Those who thwart, deny, or quench the Spirit are preventing Christ’s ministry on their behalf. Through his life as indwelling Spirit he has come to enlighten, lead, and empower for victory over temptations and unrighteousness making them “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16). Paul admonished the Philippians to “continue to work out (katergazomai– “to work fully”, “to finish”) your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12─13)

All will be subject to judgment or reward (2 Cor 5:10) at the judgment seat of Christ for the way they have allowed his life to manifest itself in them. “[H]ow much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.” (Rom 5:10) Eternal salvation belongs to the faithful, and obedience is the practice of faith as allowance is made for the exercise of his life in the believer.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here alternate Tuesdays.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

August 14, 2018

Enter the Most Holy Place

by Russell Young

The writer of Hebrews taught about the activities of the Most Holy Place. The heavenly system of worship was represented by the tabernacle practices. God had revealed to Moses that the sanctuary was “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” (Heb 8:5) Moses had been commanded to make everything according to the pattern that had been revealed to him on the mountain. Consequently, the functioning of heavenly operations is revealed in tabernacle worship.

Priests regularly entered the outer room to carry on ministry. They offered animal sacrifices to provide atonement for sin on behalf of the people as they came forth and made their needs known. “But only the high priest entered the inner room (the Most Holy Place), and that only once a year and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7) Christ is the believer’s high priest.

Since we have been given confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through our dwelling in Christ availed by his body, we can draw near to God with a sincere heart and in the full assurance of our faith. Our hearts have been sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and we have had our bodies washed with pure water. Not only should we have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, we ought to enter. It is in the Most Holy Place that Christ ministers and believers have been invited into his presence. The writer has encouraged, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (Heb 5:16) He recorded these words after reminding his readers that nothing in creation is hidden from the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The “time of need” is when we are facing or have given in to temptations; when we need strength for victory or when we have sinned. He is able to sympathize with our weakness (v 15) because he faced all the temptations to which we are subjected and did not sin. He knows all about the body that brings death and will be merciful to the contrite in heart because he understands the attractions of the flesh.

Christ is the believer’s helper and advocate; however, the one seeking him must “approach,” or be active in the pursuit of forgiveness. John has written, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Christ is for us but failure to confess and repent shows disregard for the holiness of God and deliberately continuing to sin is disrespect and defiance. Deliberate sinning will not be forgiven (Heb 10:26); it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Num 15:30)

All sin is offensive to God. Paul taught, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23) Although many think that this does not apply to confessors, preceding this statement Paul addressed the need of those seeking holiness and eternal life (Rom 6:22) to be slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:18) and slaves to God. (Rom 6:22) Sinning is being a slave to sin (Jn 8:34) which leads to death. (Rom 6:16) John has written that, “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning,” and the Lord taught that being a slave to sin results in removal from the family. (Jn 8:35)

The encouraging truth is that sins committed in ignorance will be mediated by Christ as high priest. Just as in Jewish tabernacle worship, a person cannot offer a sacrifice or seek forgiveness regarding a sin about which he is unaware. The Most Holy Place can be entered by those needing to be cleansed from known sin. In relation to the need for continued cleansing, before his crucifixion the Lord washed the disciples’ feet. When Peter objected the Lord cautioned him that without feet washing Peter would have no part with him and further explained that “the person who has had a bath [been washed in the blood and cleansed] needs only to wash his feet. The whole body is clean.” (Jn 13:10) The feet are the part of the body that became dirty or soiled throughout the day; just as the feet become dirty, the body may give in to sinful temptations in the course of the day. The Most Holy Place can be entered to accomplish needed cleansing in the pursuit of holiness.

Christ is our mediator, he knows the weaknesses of the flesh, but he also knows the heart attitude of those who are “lukewarm” or rebellious and who are unwilling to engage the battle for righteousness. His mercy and grace will not apply to those who defiantly continue to sin and who defy his sovereignty and lordship. Everything that is needed for life and godliness has been provided (2 Pet 1:3) and a godly life is expected. The Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18) indwells believers and leads and empowers for righteousness. He also knows the commitment each has made to honor the one whom they had covenanted to be their Lord. (Rom 10:9) In the end, he holds the keys to death and Hades (Rev 1:18) and his judgments will prevail.

Those going before the throne of grace in the Most Holy Place need to appreciate that the only offering acceptable to God is one without blemish. Peter admonished, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to [a new heaven and a new earth], make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with [God].” (2 Pet 3:14) Peter was requiring something of believers. They were to walk circumspectly. They were also to confidently enter the Most Holy Place as needed for purification. Paul said that we are to “continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) Believers are to walk humbly before the Lord and to pursue righteousness. Paul admonished his readers to “do everything without complaining or arguing, so that [they] may become blameless and pure children of God without fault…” (Phil 2:14)

Believers need to appreciate that Christ ministers in the Most Holy Place and that he desires for them to enter and to have their feet washed; however, they must humbly and confidently enter that most sacred realm. As he told Peter, those who reject the washing of their feet will have no part with him.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

July 30, 2018

The Lord’s Refining Ministry

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

There is great neglect in the church when it comes to recognizing both the need for transformation through personal refinement and of its means. Many see their acquisition of an eternal hope having been accomplished by Christ on the cross with this being the end of the matter; however, Paul spoke of something more. “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 Italics added.) “More” than justification through the blood of Christ is needed to avoid the wrath of God. That “more” is accomplished through Christ’s life in, and on behalf of, the believer. Paul taught of a great mystery that had been kept hidden, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col1:27) Apparently, the “mystery” remains a mystery to many. Perhaps this is so because teachers want to attribute the believer’s eternal salvation to Christ’s sacrificial offering alone. Christ, however, rose from the dead, has been given to the confessor as Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18), and is continuing his life in those who have covenanted his lordship. (Rom 10:9) Through his presence in the believer, he offers himself so that they, too, might live a righteous life and might be refined and conformed to his likeness.

The prophet Daniel spoke of the believer’s refining. “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand but the wise will understand.” (Dan 12:10 Italics added) Because a person has been pardoned for sin does not mean that all dross or impurity has been removed from his or her person and practices. Redemption from existing sin (Heb 9:15), resulting in justification, has been provided so that the Spirit might be given (Gal 3:14), enabling refinement. (Gal 5:5) Paul wrote that redemption of the body allows the believer to become adopted by God. (Rom 8:23) Only by such purification can a person be conformed to the likeness of Christ. The Word often equates the application of great heat to gold as the means of burning off the dross and impurities within it and applies this metaphor to believers.

In their blindness many do not see their impurities or their need. The Lord admonished, “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21) Paul wrote that he was given the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16) In addressing the church of Laodicea the Lord required of those who thought that they were wealthy, but who were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked because of their “lukewarm” deeds, “to buy from him gold refined in the fire, so that they could become rich.” (Rev 3:18) Many in in the church of Laodicea were under the impression that they were wealthy when it came to their spiritual position. They were in the church, doing church things but their commitment to righteousness was “lukewarm.” His admonition was “to buy” from him gold refined in the fire so that they might actually become rich, and white clothes (righteousness) to wear to cover their shame, and salve for their eyes so they could truthfully see him. It is purity in heart–being refined–that has great value.

How does a person “buy” gold from Christ? To “buy” means that a transaction needs to take place where one item is traded for another. What did the Lord expect of these people? The only thing that they had to offer was themselves and their acts. The Lord followed his condemnation by stating, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (v 19) They needed more. They needed to be “earnest” in their walk, to pursue cleansing from impurities, to accept discipline, to repent of their sinful attitudes and ways.
Daniel has revealed that at the time of the end a two-step purification process would take place. People would be made spotless and then refined. The sacrificial offering of Christ made them spotless but did not refine their hearts, attitudes, and practices.

Paul told the Corinthians, “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body,” (2 Cor 4:11) and went on to say, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16) A need exists to be renewed inwardly.

According to Paul, slavery to righteous practices leads to holiness. “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,” (Rom 6:19) and added, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Rom 6:22) He also taught, “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope,” (Gal 5:5) and stated, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8:13) Slavery is not passive; a slave must obey, and eternal salvation comes through obedience (Heb 5:9) for the refinement of the body and for service. All who do evil will be weeded out of his kingdom. (Mt 13:41)

Eternal salvation requires both redemption and refinement, the “more” that Paul spoke about to the Romans. The church has come to understand the blessed ministry of Christ through the redemption offered by his blood, but it has had difficulty discerning the need for purging sinful practices as accomplished through the Lord as Spirit, the need for engaging the Lord’s refining processes.


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

July 17, 2018

Seeking God’s Righteousness

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. They live in desolate circumstances. 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 confessor’s 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 6:78) And, “He will punish those who do not know (appreciate) 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 1:89) God expects his people to walk fearfully before him, to be righteous in his sight. The believer is to be a slave to God. (Rom 6:22) Righteousness must be lived.

James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (Jas 5:16) He did not say that the prayers of “Christians” are powerful and effective but that 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 promised: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) He was referencing a person’s needs–food and clothing. These are provisions granted those seeking to live righteously and who are seeking God’s kingdom. Ignoring conviction of sin is not living righteously and quenching the Spirit keeps people 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. He does not bless the confessor who craves the things of this world or who pursues them but honors the person whose heart is established on righteousness, on him, and on his kingdom purposes.

The Lord 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) David had felt abandoned following his act of disobedience. His bones felt dry. Although we would not like to admit it, confessors 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. The righteous can suffer in pursuit of holiness as they are refined. Those who are walking with Christ, even though enduring tribulations will never feel abandoned but will recognize his presence and peace.

David repented and found joy again. In fact, God described him as, “a man after [his] own heart.” (Acts 13:33) 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 his “unconditional love.” He demands righteous practices from his people and blesses those who forgo sin and pursue his kingdom purposes. The LORD has said, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isa 66:2)


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

 

June 6, 2018

Continually Killing the Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’re returning for another visit with Elizabeth Prata who writes at The End Time and while normally by not including pictures or graphics we encourage you to click through to read at source, this one didn’t make sense without the pictures! So we’ve offered you another article by her at the bottom of this one, to encourage you to send some internet traffic in her direction.

Entangled in sin

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1)

We have a sin-nature. Everyone born after Adam (except Jesus) inherited it.Before salvation when we flowed along with everyone else int he world who wasn’t saved, we never noticed it. After salvation when we turned 1280 degrees and faced the full brunt of the flow of the world’s enmity against God, then we felt it.

We feel it every day inside of us. Paul certainly did. In Romans 7:15 he pleaded out loud,

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

And he definitely had been a Christian a long time and had lots of practice at it.

Believers can never conquer the sin nature. We can subdue it, wrestle with it, have some small victories over it. It might retreat to a dark corner of the heart for a while until a more opportune time, but we can’t be victorious over it.

With the Spirit’s help we can grow in righteousness, putting the squeeze on the remaining space in us that the sin-nature has to make room for. It might shrink back, but it can never leave us. Why?

The sin-nature is part of our flesh. Like this:

We can chip away at it, but the sin-nature remains an integral part of our biology.

After the resurrection when Jesus gives us new bodies in eternity, and we are glorified with no sin particle left in us, we will stand tall and proud, trophies of His glory. Like this:

Our roots in Christ, our sap His righteousness, our leaves His mercies, beautifully made and reaching for the Son.

Until then, we continue killing the sin in us-

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)


Go Deeper: As promised in the introduction, here’s another post by Elizabeth which I selected for us today: Do Believers Need the Gospel?

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