Christianity 201

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

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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.

September 25, 2016

Holiness, Your God, and You

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

It is often accepted that the person who has confessed faith in Christ has been made holy and that his or her state of holiness will last forever; consequently, not much thought is often given to it. Being holy in God’s sight at the end of a person’s life is extremely important.

The writer of Hebrews has recorded, Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see [put eyes on] the Lord. (Heb 12:14 NIV) Without holiness no one will be in close proximity to the Lord. Since he will dwell in the Holy City, the New Jerusalem and those who are not holy will not make it into the city, they will be separated from him. Each person needs to consider whether or not their state of holiness will allow them into the presence of God or will keep them separated from him.

Holiness  Peter has recorded that we are to be holy just as God is holy. (1 Peter 1:15) ‘Holy’ means “(an awful thing); sacred (physically pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially, consecrated):- (most) holy (one, thing) saint.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #40, hagios) God is morally blameless and so must be those who are to dwell with him.  Paul revealed that God’s adopted children will be in the likeness of his Son (Rom 8:23, 29) and the Son is in the likeness of the Father. (Jn 14:9)

Isaiah had a glimpse of the heavenly realm in which he saw the Lord (Isa 6:1-4) The God of creation was seated on a high and exalted throne with his train filling the temple. Above him seraphs with face and feet covered were flying about. They were calling “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV) Because of God’s holiness the seraphs in his presence dared not look upon him and hid their feet. John has also recorded a vision where four living creatures around the throne never stopped saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” (Rev 4:8 NIV) And the twenty-four elders fell down before him and worshiped him when the creatures gave him glory. These visions reveal a God who is truly awesome and who is to be honoured for his holiness.

God is pure, morally blameless.  When Isaiah saw him he cried, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and living among a people of unclean lips.” (Isa 6:5 NIV) True believers, those who know the Lord, will recognize in their hearts the cry of Ezekiel. How can they be like him?

The awesomeness of God is beyond our comprehension and like Isaiah should draw humankind into a state of reverence and fear. The wonderful grace of God cannot shield the confessor who entertains sin from the reality and awfulness of God’s holiness. The Lord’s grace is intended to prepare people for holiness, to return them to the image of humankind at creation and to the likeness of their creator. God is holy and those who will be privileged to dwell with him must be holy also.  Isaiah was disarmed and defeated before the Lord and so was Paul as he revealed, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death [that brings about death]?” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

Paul was not writing about the physical mortality of his body as some suggest, but his anguish was over the fact that he could not prevent the interests of his body from enticing him to sin which would result in unrighteousness and in his death.  His response was, “Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 7:25 NIV) The rescue that he required was not only from sin but from his body’s interest in sinning.

The interest of Paul was not just in having the record of his past sin cleansed, it was in gaining victory over the body that causes sin in the first place so that he would be holy in his heart, in his mind and in his actions. He is not stating that the righteous life lived by Christ as he walked this earth has become the righteousness that will save him eternally.  Many fall into this error and rest their hope in it, in what the Lord had accomplished in his own body.  To accept such teaching requires a person to abandon much of the gospel of Christ and the truth of the Word.  It allows no value to the provision of the New Covenant or of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But isn’t the believer’s holiness achieved by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness? No!  It is achieved through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

In Hebrews we read, “He sets aside the first [covenant] to establish the second [covenant].  And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:9-10) The words “for all” are not in the original Greek and their inclusion may mislead the reader.  The sacrifice of Christ was offered ONCE and will not be offered again.  Availability to the New Covenant was made once and will not be made again.  Accordingly, the writer of Hebrews has admonished that “[i]t is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Heb 6:4-6 NIV) Following the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, there is a life to be lived and a death to be lived if holiness is going to be achieved.

The person who trusts in the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as his hope for holiness will be greatly disappointed.  This imputation made him or her holy ONCE by cleansing all of their past sins. (Heb 9:15) Following that cleansing holiness is to be attained and maintained through obedience to the Spirit. “Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his 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) “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV)  If the believer’s eternal hope rests in his “sowing,” How is anyone to meet the requirements of God?

August 28, 2016

The Law of the Spirit

by Russell Young

It is knowledge of the working of the law of the Spirit that is the means of the believer’s eternal salvation.  The effectiveness of the law of the Spirit as availed through the New Covenant replaces the ineffectiveness of the law of Moses.  Paul wrote, “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:1-2, NIV)

The “law” must be fulfilled (Mt 5:19) and it can be for those who have confessed faith in Christ and it will be for those who walk in obedience to the Spirit. (Heb 5:9) Christ said that he had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (Mt 5:17) Paul wrote, “And so he 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 8:4, NIV) It is Christ through his Spirit who will fulfill the righteous requirements of the law as he lives in and through the believer.

The Law of the SpiritThe law of the Spirit is the living law.  It is not fixed in stone.  It comprises the dictates and instructions of the Spirit and is revealed as the Spirit leads the believer in God’s light and in accordance to his will.  Because it is so, it need not bring death but life.  Jesus said that “the Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63, NIV) He must be obeyed however, since to knowingly deny his leading results in destruction. “Whoever sows to please the flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:8, NIV) A person’s sowing is serious business and its truth is not overruled by the love of Christ or by God’s grace, and the evil doing of a person following his confession of faith is not nullified by the ministry of Christ on the cross.

The believer’s walk must be righteous if he or she is to avoid judgment and the wrath of God. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “He will punish those who do not know (understand) God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day that he comes to be glorified by his holy people.” (2 Thess 1:9-10, NIV) Daniel prophesied, “But at that time [following the Great Tribulation] your people –everyone whose name is found written in the book-will be delivered.  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:1-2, NIV) Not all will awake to glory even though their names have been written in the book.

The good news for the believer is that Christ is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17) and he has come, by permission, to live his sinless life in the believer just as he did in the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27, NIV) God had tried to have his people achieve the righteousness that would bring him pleasure by starting the human race again with righteous Noah and his family following eradication of life by the flood. He attempted It through the exercise of punishment for disobedience and blessings for obedience, and by providing the written code.  None of these tactics worked because of the evil imaginations of the heart of man. (Gen 6:6) His solution ant that which brings life was for Christ to take the deserved death for all men because of their sin and then to live his life through them.  He is the way, the truth, and the life…and the law of the Spirit.

The law of the Spirit will lead the obedient confessor of Christ’s lordship (the believer) in righteousness and in transformation to his likeness.

The Word presents that faith and belief save.  They do, but that faith (persuasion) must be sufficient that the believer recognizes his or her need and believes strongly enough to obey the law that Christ is presenting to them.  They are to cling to their Lord and to love him with all of their heart, soul, and mind.

The Spirit is to be obeyed; he is not to be denied, quenched, or thwarted.  Those who do not honor his law will find that destruction rests upon their souls. The law of the Spirit sets a person free from the law of sin and death.  It is the law of God and must be appreciated as such. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law (of Moses) so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6, NIV)

July 10, 2016

The Called and the Chosen

•••by Russell Young

An understanding of the difference between the “called” and the “chosen” will bring Biblical teachings into much clearer understanding.  “Calling” can have different applications.  It may refer to a person’s having been called to Christ, it may mean that he or she has been called to endure a specific tribulation (as in the case of Job), or it may refer to a person having been called to a specific ministry according to his or her gifting.

In the parable of the wedding banquet Christ said, “For many are invited [called, KJV] but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:14, NIV) Clearly, more are called to enjoy the wedding banquet of the Lamb than will be chosen to attend.  The difference will be the matter of righteousness.  In the parable mentioned above, the guest without “wedding clothes” was cast out. (Mt 22:12)

The chosen ones are chosen from those who have been called into fellowship with the Lord.  From those who have been invited few will be honoured or chosen for positions of privilege.  Those chosen to attend the wedding banquet will be selected because of their commitment to righteousness.

Who are the “called”?  All have been called to come to the Lord for cleansing, but not all have received the invitation.  As in the parable, God has commissioned His servants to go to the street corners and invite anyone that they can find.

The called who have accepted God’s invitation through confession and repentance are cleansed of all past sins and are given the Holy Spirit that they might walk righteously.  Many teach that once a person is redeemed, his state of holiness or moral purity remains one of consecration forever.  The Bible does not endorse such a view, however.

Peter wrote of the redeemed who have become entangled again being worse off than if they had not known the way of righteousness in the first place. (2 Pet 2:20-21) They are neither morally blameless nor are they consecrated to God, but have chosen to go their own way. The writer of Hebrews has revealed the “impossibility” of bringing back to repentance those who have fallen away. (Heb 6:4-6, NIV) They have been redeemed but have treated with disdain their gifting.

When a person is redeemed, he or she is cleansed from their “past sins;” however, that one’s state of holiness might not last.  There is a walk to be walked and a life to be lived.  John has recorded, “If we claim to have fellowship with him [Christ] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:6-7, NIV) The fellowship that a person is privileged to enjoy with the Lord is dependent upon the nature of his or her walk.  Paul admonished believers not to mock God through living in the sinful nature. (Gal 6:7) The Lord proclaimed that some would be cast from him because they were evil-doers even though they had called him “Lord.” ((Mt 7:21-23)

Paul has reminded his brothers, those who have been called, that they have an obligation to be led by the Spirit and to “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:14, NIV, 4; Gal 5:18)

There are many other passages that imply that not all of the called will be of the chosen.  Those who teach otherwise are offering false comfort, rather than truth, to their listeners.

To re-state the Lord’s words, “For many are invited [called, KJV] but few are chosen.”  Since there are more called than chosen, there are two ways of taking this passage.  That is, the chosen must either be of a group separate from the called or the chosen must be from the group of the called or invited but not all of it.

Called and Chosen

If two different groups are being referenced, it might be considered that some were “called” to be of the family of God while others were chosen.  That is, God might have directly chosen them according to his “foreknowledge” to be part of the family.  In such case, they would have become part without even having had to respond to His invitation while the other group would have been invited (called) but would not have had any hope of being chosen.

The other option is that God had called (invited) individuals to be part of his family but they must respond or accept the invitation.  (They would have had the option either to accept or reject it.)  From these and according to his foreknowledge, or knowledge before having chosen them, and according to his understanding he makes his choice.  According to the love responses of the called, God becomes informed of the confessor’s heart state and of his claim of repentance as revealed through his testimony.  God “knows” or becomes “knowledgeable” of that person’s spiritual disposition.  His Spirit is either being honoured or it is being quenched, denied, and/or blasphemed.  “Forsaking” the Spirit is considered blasphemy (Ezek 20:27) and leads to death.  Regardless, fewer are chosen than are called.

Some accept that by their good fortune and through God’s grace and mercy, he chose them before the beginning of time to be a member of his eternal family; however, this special application of God’s grace is not the teaching of God’s Word.  All have been invited (Rev 22:17; Titus 2:11; Mt 28:19) According to Paul’s teaching, “God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13)

Although many understand Paul’s teaching of glorification to apply to all of those “called,” the passage really only offers hope of glorification, to those “called according to God’s purpose.”

In the parable of the wedding feast, the King had noticed a man who appeared at the banquet without proper wedding clothes.  This man was being disrespectful of the King’s standard of dress and of the King, and failed to acknowledge or to honour him through acceptable presentation.  He had taken no care and had shown no concern regarding the event or the person being celebrated.  He did not show up with an attitude of love or respect for his King but had treated the event and his Sovereign as common and ordinary.  He was thrown outside into the darkness.  The dress required for access to the wedding banquet is a white robe, the dress of righteousness.  Only those so dressed will be chosen to participate in the wedding banquet. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)

 

July 6, 2016

Not Loving the World; Not Being Led Into Temptation

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Greg LaurieAs we did last summer at this time, we’re returning to the devotional website of evangelist and pastor Greg Laurie; today’s devotional is a 2-for-1 special! Click the titles to read at source, and consider recommending this site to people who are just starting out on their devotional routine.

Frenemies with the World

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

The word frenemy is a relatively new term in the English language. A frenemy is neither an actual friend nor an outright enemy. Thus, he or she is a frenemy. My concern is that some Christians have become frenemies with the world.

By “world” I mean a mentality, a system, a way of thinking. The Bible defines the world this way: “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—that is the world.

I think sometimes Christians get confused about this. They think anything that is enjoyable is worldly. But the Bible says that God has given us all things to richly enjoy (see 1 Timothy 6:17). It’s great to enjoy things that are wholesome and uplifting. This is not what the Bible is referring to when it speaks of the world.

The Message says it this way: “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father.”

Little temptations can seem almost harmless, like cute little kittens. But little kittens ultimately turn into cats. And a little temptation can become a full-scale sin. As Christians, we have three enemies we contend with every day: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world with its allure is the external foe. The flesh with its evil desires is the internal foe. And Satan with his enticements is the infernal foe.


The Reward in Resisting

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

I heard about a pastor who was making a hospital visit and parked his car in a no-parking zone because he couldn’t find a parking space. He circled around multiple times, but finally he had to stop so he could go and see the person who had requested him. He decided to write a note and place it under his windshield wiper in case a police officer came along. The note said, “I have circled the block ten times. I have an appointment to keep.” Then, thinking of a Scripture verse, the pastor wrote, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

When he returned, he was surprised to find a ticket under the windshield wiper. At the bottom of the ticket, a note read, “I have circled this block for ten years. If I don’t give you a ticket, I’ll lose my job.” The note ended with a Scripture quotation as well: “Lead us not into temptation.”

Everyone gets tempted, including ministers. No one enjoys being tempted. In fact, we probably would prefer that temptation didn’t exist at all. But the Bible says there is actually a blessing in getting through temptation. James 1:12 says, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

This verse tells us that temptation can be endured: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.” There is no such thing as a temptation that is too hard to resist. God will allow only what you can handle (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).

It is hard to be tempted, but when you resist and get through it, that is a great victory. In fact, there is a reward waiting. There is a blessedness when you have come through times of temptation.

June 12, 2016

The Conscience: God’s Operative Tool

•••by Russell Young

The Word of God often speaks of the need to be led by the Spirit in order for a person to be eternally saved.  How does the Spirit lead?  The answer is that God uses a person’s conscience to guide him or her.  The conscience is really God consciousness within the believer.  Where the conscious is strong, that person has a strong awareness of the presence of God.  Where it is weak, the bearer has only a weak or limited knowledge of God’s presence.

Following the believer’s confession of faith and of Christ’s lordship, the new believer is given the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead in obedience to the Word and will of God.  Regarding the Spirit Christ said, “But I tell you the truth:  It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:7-8, NIV) Conviction takes place through a person’s conscience, and the conviction of the world of sin applies to all sinful activity-its practice in the lost and its practice in God’s children.

Christian conscienceA person’s conscience is his moral consciousness. And the writer of Hebrews has recorded that it is the Spirit that cleanses our conscience or moral consciousness from interest in performing those acts which lead to death. (Heb 9:14)  The result should be that a person’s awareness or consciousness of those immoral acts which might tempt him or her should alert them concerning the danger before them.  The Old Covenant Israelites did not enjoy the privilege of the Counselor to guide them but had to rely upon the law and their own sinful nature in order to live righteously.  They could not do it.  The conscience not only alerts the believer of dangerous temptations but also disturbs him or her when sin has occurred so that the sinner, including the believer, might repent and seek forgiveness for cleansing by the blood of Christ. (1 Jn 1:9)

The Holy Spirit uses the conscience to reveal dissonance between God’s Word and will and the believer’s heart and practices.  Paul was able to boast that he kept his conscience clear. “Now this is our boast:  Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in holiness and sincerity that are from God.  We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” (2 Cor 1:12, NIV) John stated, “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God…because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 Jn 3:21-22, NIV)

The Holy Spirit is active in the lives of believers.  He enlightens them to sin and alarms them when it occurs.  Without his ministry in this regard, transformation into a holy mind and the development of righteous practices could not occur.  When the conscience is troubled a person can know that he or she is acting outside, or about to act outside, the will of God.  The conscience is the warning bell.

The Spirit, or warning bell, can be quenched, however. (1 Thess 5:19) That is, by consciously and repeatedly ignoring the Spirit’s alerts the heart will become hardened to the issue involved and the alert will no longer be heard.  The development of a sensitive Spirit or strong God consciousness is the most important tool the believer has to aid in living a righteous life.

Repeated quenching of the Spirit can lead to the conscience becoming seared; that is, a person’s conscience will no longer work to reveal sin and he or she will a become hypocritical liar.  “The Spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teaching comes through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as by a hot iron.” (1 Tim 4:1-2, NIV) A seared conscience leads to powerlessness, and to an unholy walk and possibly to the abandonment of faith. Special care should be taken not to sear the conscience concerning “pet” sins. The sins that a person has a tendency to rationalize or excuse.  The believer is to be careful to follow the Spirit’s leading if he or she is to remain faithful and develop the holiness that leads to eternal salvation. (Heb. 12:14)

In respect to the Spirit’s leading, it must be remembered that each person is God’s masterpiece or workmanship. (Eph 2:10) He is working to make them a sacrifice acceptable for God’s kingdom. (Rom 15:16) Christ said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10:27, NIV) The Lord’s sheep or children will listen to and follow him, and when they do they will be conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29)

The Spirit uses the Word of God to enlighten the believer in regard to sin and righteous living and the Spirit instructs the conscience.  Those who neglect to bathe themselves in God’s Word will be unable to effectively fight the battle against sin and to achieve his or her necessary transformation.  In his study the believer has a responsibility and the privilege of knowing the heart of God on all manner of issues.  The conscience is God’s operative tool consequently, the believer should develop and protect it.

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