Christianity 201

June 21, 2020

God Does Not Reveal His Blessings All at Once

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today again we have a new author to introduce. Sophia Lorena Benjamin is a blogger, author and mother of two kids. She likes encouraging, inspiring and motivating others through writing fiction novels and Bible based inspirations. Her blog is The God Minute but also contains some longer items, such as today’s devotional. Click the header which follows to read this at her site. You can also experience an expanded version of today’s teaching as an 11-minute video at this link.

Uncover the Hidden Blessing

These are the last words of David recorded in the Bible:

The inspired utterance of David, the son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High. [2 Samuel 23:1]

While reading this verse, a few questions came to my mind.

‘Why does the passage highlight “son of Jesse”? Why did God inspire the writer to specifically mention this? Why not just say “King David?

To me that would have been a stronger, more powerful description.

I kept going back to the text. That is when the understanding came. Jesse, the father of David needed to be mentioned, as a memorial, particularly because these were going to be David’s final words on earth.

Going a bit back, chapter 15 of the book of Samuel narrates how God was displeased with King Saul for his disobedience and tells Samuel that He has chosen a future king to replace Saul and asks him to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. Only, God does not tell him which son.

Sometimes, precious blessings are hidden, and God does not reveal them in one go!

When the day of anointing arrived, Jesse showcases all his sons except David.

At first glance, Eliab, the oldest son of Jesse catches Samuel’s eye, he is an impressive young man. Looking at this tall and handsome man Samuel thinks this must be God’s choice for King. But God reminded Samuel that God’s anointed is not chosen because of physical attributes but that He bases His decisions on inward character and the  person’s heart. Samuel tells Jesse that none of the seven sons he presented are chosen and asks Jesse if he has any more sons.

Then, David, the youngest son of Jesse, who was taking care of the sheep is called and the spirit of God tells Samuel, Anoint him, he is the chosen one’.

The day David killed Goliath; Jesse had actually sent David to deliver food for his brothers. Up until that day, David’s own father had absolutely no idea that David was the chosen one of God.

You can be someone special yet remain insignificant for a prolonged period of time.

This reminds me of Abram before God changed his name to Abraham. In Genesis chapter 15 when God decrees a blessing over Abram, he is troubled and reasons with God that any blessings and wealth may not do much good as it will all be inherited by his servant. This was the time when Abram was old in age and childless.

Physical attributes often do not reveal the hidden potential that God can see.

God assures Abram that his own son would inherit the blessings and promises to bless him with children as many as the stars in number.

The Bible says Abram believed God which is accounted to him as righteousness which qualifies him to be holy.

God makes a big deal of ‘believing.’

In John chapter 1: Verse 45-46:

Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Nathanael’s response is filled with remorse. He believes that Nazareth is hopeless and nothing good can come out of a town with such low social status. But that was not the truth. Because while the people nurtured negative thoughts about their surroundings, God always had their town in His mind. God had chosen Nazareth as the birthplace for Jesus.

God chooses the least likely to accomplish His most important work.

What is our call to action?

Maybe you are like David, humble beginnings, no one realizing or willing to believe that you are chosen and gifted with the ability to make a difference. They are seeing you outwardly. The truth is, God is looking at the heart.  He looks at what you are on the inside.

Maybe you are like Abraham, blessed in one area and lacking in another. But God knows your specific need.

Maybe you are like Nathanael, feeling frustrated about your city, nation or circumstances. But know that God is mindful of you and each of your circumstances.

It is time to:

– Find truth, in the Word of God.
– Get closer to Jesus.
– Receive a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit.
– Know that God has a unique purpose for your life.
– Decree that there is uncommon favor reserved for you.
– Believe that in the middle of difficult situations are great opportunities.

Are you ready to uncover hidden blessings?

I look forward to your comments.


To view this message video, visit this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN7TqAKzy7Q

June 12, 2020

How Can Your Righteousness Surpass the Pharisees?

NIV.Matt.5v17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses* that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In order to know how to “exceed,” we need to first know what the benchmark is that we are exceeding. What is the righteousness of the Pharisees?

Pharisaic righteousness was (and is today for observant Jews) rooted in the Law of Moses which lays out the standards of behaviour that God expects from those with whom He has made a covenant. Over several centuries, the Pharisees preserved and promulgated this intricately detailed Law, desiring to bring God’s people through to the day of its fulfillment when the righteous would be raised up in vindication, ending Israel’s exile and oppression.

Devout Pharisees were community leaders, steeped in learning and in the nuance of God’s will. Faithful Jews would have followed their example, and turned to them for teaching.

How should we understand what it means to exceed the righteousness of such people?

One possible interpretation flows from the common translation of ερισσεύω into the English equivalent “to exceed.” For many English speakers, this word appears most often in contexts like “to exceed the speed limit.” In other words, to go beyond: to find new ways in which to be righteous, to out-righteous the Pharisees, to be holier than they.

This may have been what the rich young man in Luke 18:18-24 had in mind. He approached Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life and, in Jesus’ words, “enter the Kingdom of God.” He asked this in spite of his own belief that he had kept the Law, an assertion that Jesus did not refute.

Neither did Jesus challenge the young man’s adherence to such minutiae as tithing on “mint and dill,”1 or his keeping of the “least commandment,” as opposed to the greater statutes the young man cites.

Instead, Jesus takes the conversation in a completely different direction—one not of greater adherence, or of more detail, but of the unknown and starting over.

Jesus isn’t impressed by his crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s and certainly shows no desire to engage that debate or to add new rules to the existing ones.

A second interpretation could arise from the Pharisees’ temporal understanding of what they were doing. The righteousness of Jesus’ followers could be seen as more enduring in time than that of the Pharisees.
Their persistence in keeping the Law had in mind the goal of bringing Israel to the time of fulfillment: the Day of the Lord, when the righteous would no longer have to strive, but “sit encrowned and enjoy the splendor of the Shekinah.” At that point, the Law would no longer be required.

The righteousness that Jesus endorses seems to have more lasting implications. He points us not only toward a “perfection” like His own, but further forward to our being made “a kingdom and priests” who will actively “reign on the Earth” alongside Christ himself (Revelation 5:10).

In addition, we are no longer waiting for that fulfillment, but we’re taking part in it now. At His baptism, Jesus declares that He is “fulfilling all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). By this, He doesn’t just mean that he’s meeting personal requirements, but that He’s standing in the place of Israel, taking on the burden of her broken covenant.

A third point of comparison is that Jesus calls out the Pharisees for being ὑποκριτής (those who pretend) and σκανδαλίζω (causing to stumble) both indirectly (Matthew 5:19) and in no uncertain terms (Matthew 23:13 ff). He accuses them of attending to external details, making good impressions, and hiding their internal falsity: of doing rather than being.

Jesus extends His standards deeper by pointing to the heart as the seat of murder, adultery, truth-telling, and acts of grace or revenge. This echoes back to Amos 5 and Micah 6 where God rejects the religious observances of people who have lying tongues and deceitful hearts.

Jesus’ righteousness isn’t simply behaviour, but it flows outward from a heart that has been made clean and surrendered to God.

The final option for identifying Jesus’ “exceeding righteousness” is that it is Himself.

The Pharisees pursued righteousness through studying and keeping the Law. But in Christ, the Law is fulfilled and made complete. “But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction” (Romans 3:21, 22, HCSB). The Law cannot provide for righteousness, but faith in Christ can and does. He himself is our righteousness when we live following Him. No matter how we try or for how long, we cannot achieve righteousness. In fact, if we could, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:19-21, HCSB).

The Pharisees took on themselves the responsibility of living lives of righteousness, setting themselves up as arbiters of what was right. Instead, Jesus sets aside nuance and detail and tells us to enter the Kingdom as a child (Mark 10:13-16): as with the rich young man, dependent and trusting.

Although this last interpretation is the one that carries the most weight in light of the whole New Testament, I think it most applicable in context of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount to focus on the third option: Jesus expects us to allow our righteousness to flow out from hearts that are pure. The Sermon, while it contains some inspirational, encouraging passages and some that promise hard times, provides a very practical foundation for a life lived in imitation of Christ: one of an internal, heart-focused view of oneself and how we are to live with and toward each other.


*exceeds (many translations); is more than (AMP); is greater than (CSB, CEB); do it more faithful (Good News); goes beyond (NET); are more right with God (NLV); more pure and full of integrity (TPT); goes deeper (Voice); do it far better (Message).

March 5, 2020

Surpassing Righteousness in Spiritual Disciplines

by Clarke Dixon

People who pray are righteous, right? People who give to people in need are good people, correct? We will be considered righteous if people see us fasting, worshipping in church every Sunday, reading the Bible regularly, and practicing all the spiritual disciplines, correct? According to Jesus, not necessarily:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1 ESV

We have previously considered a deeper kind of righteousness, a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness Jesus saw in the scribes and Pharisees:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NIV

We do not reach this deeper righteousness by merely being meticulous about the rules, a skill the scribes and Pharisees excelled at, but through a transformation of our character.  It is not so much “do this, don’t do that,” but rather “become the kind of person who . . .” Previously, we looked at examples Jesus used for morality and love in Matthew 5:21-46, which we might summarize as; become the kind of person who does not harm others, gives their spouse and marriage their best effort, is honest and has integrity, handles offence with grace, and who extends grace and love to everyone. Whereas in these things Jesus was teaching about the kind of people we should become in our ethics, in Chapter 6 Jesus is now speaking to the kind of people we should become in our spiritual disciplines:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standingc in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-6 NIV

Jesus is not giving us new rules here to get all legalistic about. We are not to be Christian versions of the scribes and Pharisees and so apply these rules in a legalistic manner. If we did there should be no more prayers during church services, and prayer meetings would all be cancelled. I think we would benefit from more prayer in worship, not less, more prayer meetings, not fewer! Instead, we are to become “the kind of people” who do spiritual and religious activities in a way that honours God. What is that way which honours God?

Jesus calls us to be a people who engage in spiritual disciplines for the right reasons. Drawing attention to ourselves is not the right reason and does not honour God! Jesus calls those who do this “hypocrites” which is a term for “actors” who put on masks in order to appear to be one thing while actually being another. Jesus is picking on the scribes and Pharisees here who were the prime examples of those who loved to flaunt their righteous activity in front of others to be seen and praised by them. Jesus calls us to have a righteousness that surpasses theirs. According to Jesus, their reward was the praise they received from others. They did not look forward to reward from God. In contrast, God rewards those whose religious activity is done in secret.

What about the idea of reward? Isn’t reward still the wrong reason to practice spiritual disciplines? For example, should we not give alms for the sake of people in need rather than for our own reward? Perhaps we don’t have the best idea of reward here. Our minds may jump to a final judgement-seat scenario when we hear the word “reward.” However, the idea here is more “wages” for your work, the consequence of your efforts. If our purpose in practicing spiritual disciplines is to receive praise from others, we will get that. If our is purpose is to draw closer to God and grow in character, that will happen. If our focus is on God, the practice of spiritual disciplines will be rewarding indeed and we will be happy to practice them quietly without drawing attention to ourselves. Others may not be impressed, but will benefit.

In conclusion, let’s not be that guy; the person who has a need to appear religious, spiritual, righteous, or better than everyone else. That person is like the scribes and Pharisees who often put on a good show. We are to be a people who practice a better kind of righteousness in our spiritual disciplines. The spiritual life in Christ is not a show, it is an opportunity to grow in Christ and become a difference maker in the world.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

February 23, 2020

Quotations: Andrew Murray

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Although we’ve featured excerpts of his writing several times here, Andrew Murray has never been part of our quotations series.

Andrew Murray was a native and pastor to many South African churches. He was raised by Dutch Reformed missionaries and was educated in Scotland with his brother. He and his brother went on to study Theology in the Netherlands. He lived to be nearly 89 years old. He was best known for his leadership in the South African Revival of 1860. He was an eloquent speaker and left many quotes before he went on to be with the Lord in 1917.

As always with these, don’t rush through them. Read one, pause, think about it, and then move on to the next.


Just as a servant knows that he must first obey his master in all things, so the surrender to an implicit and unquestionable obedience must become the essential characteristic of our lives.


Let it be your business every day, in the secrecy of the inner chamber, to meet the holy God. You will be repaid for the trouble it may cost you. The reward will be sure and rich.


One verse chosen to meet our needs, read ten times and then laid up in the heart, is better than ten verses read once. Only so much of the word as I actually receive and inwardly appropriate for myself, is food for my soul.


It is out of the grave of the flesh and the will of self that the Spirit of holiness breaks out in resurrection power.


There is no pride so dangerous, none so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness.


A congregation without a prayer meeting is essentially defective in its organization, and so must be limited in its efficiency.


Beware in your prayer, above everything, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what he can do.


Time spent in prayer will yield more than that given to work. Prayer alone gives work its worth and its success. Prayer opens the way for God Himself to do His work in us and through us. Let our chief work as God’s messengers be intercession; in it we secure the presence and power of God to go with us.


We must begin to believe that God, in the mystery of prayer, has entrusted us with a force that can move the Heavenly world, and can bring its power down to earth.


A dead Christ I must do everything for; a living Christ does everything for me.


Answered prayer is the interchange of love between the Father and His child.


Do not confound work and fruit. There may be a good deal of work for Christ that is not the fruit of the heavenly Vine.


In linking holy and without blemish (or without blame) so closely, the Holy Spirit would have led us to seek for the embodiment of holiness as a spiritual power in the blamelessness of practice and of daily life.


Humility is simply acknowledging the truth of [our] position as creature and yielding to God His place.


However strong the branch becomes, however far away it reaches round the home, out of sight of the vine, all its beauty and all its fruitfulness ever depend upon that one point of contact where it grows out of the vine. So be it with us too.


Sources: GoodReads, Logos.com, PrayerQuotes, GraceQuotes, HeartStoneJourney, LiveAtTheWell, AZQuotes, FlowingFaith, WhatChristiansWantToKnow (biography, above); see also QuoteFancy and HippoQuotes for Andrew Murray quotations you can use on social media.

December 4, 2019

When Your Habits and Speech Have Morphed

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

Other than perhaps a much more liberal use of the word ‘crap’ in the last few years, I am somewhat guarded in my speech, at least when there are ladies, small children, or anyone else present.

As a writer, I’m also very conscious of changes taking place in language. So back a decade ago, I couldn’t help but notice the way the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover Home Edition with Ty Pennington advanced the broadcast use of the expression, “Oh, My God!” The show’s final segment — called “the reveal” — would contain at least a dozen utterances of this phrase which, unless the participants were truly calling on God to give thanks for the new housing they were about to receive, amounted to a needless invocation of God’s name that I believe the third commandment is referring to.

The proliferation in print and texts of its abbreviation, “OMG,” unless it a reference to the Ohio Macrame Guild, is equally disturbing.

There are some lines I am very assured I will never cross, and speaking the OMG line in either form or using it print is certainly one of those lines. Still, I often find myself falling into an OMG mindset, where I don’t audibly say the words, but think either them, or something reflective of the spirit of them. Unless I am truly crying out to God — and I wonder how many of us today really cry out to Him — I shouldn’t allow that phrase to be part of my unspoken vocabulary.

But what do I mean by the “spirit” of that expression?

I can probably best illustrate that with another three-letter text gem, ‘WTF.’ If you believe this has something to do with a wildlife federation, then I envy you, since such ignorance is truly bliss. It means something else. (Go to the last letter for clues…)

WTF is somewhat of an attitude. It expresses a familiar kind of bewilderment, but is in some respects a statement of a kind of confusion or Twilight Zone moment that didn’t really have a previous equivalent in colloquial speech.

Which is why I was rather amazed to hear it in church recently.

No, it wasn’t uttered out loud — either as an acronym or fully — but the highly respected Christian leader I was talking to was clearly dancing around it. You could feel the tension of the self editing taking place. The words used were different, but the articulation was intended to convey the spirit of WTF. The attitude was 100% present.

For the reference, file away the phrase “Twilight Zone moment” when trying to describe something of this ilk.

Another point — he said, anticipating the comment — is that if we really believe that in all things God is working for our good, should we really ever experience WTF moments? If we are trusting, clinging and relying on God, while unexpected things happen, and while they do bewilder and confuse, should we embrace the WTF kind of attitude? (A friend of ours call these “sand in the gears” moments.) Aren’t these weird and wonderful things the cue for a “count it all joy” attitude? And what about the idea that Christians are expected to “maintain a distinct identity” from the world?

I think it is only a matter a time before OMG and WTF arrive at church. As shows like Extreme Makeover program opens the door, this type of speech becomes more entrenched, and other broadcasters will follow the trends, at which point it’s easy to predict OMG being on the tongues of people at Sunday worship.

Another translator — it might have been the old Living Bible — put the verse I started out with this way…

Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold…

November 30, 2019

Blameless and Pressing On

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today’s writer is appearing here for the first time. Tina Clark “a children’s minister and writer with a passion for seeing kids and their families grow in their faith and finding their purpose in the world.” Her blog is titled The Kidmin Journey.

Weekend Word: The Fear of Falling Short

Read: 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Today’s Scripture: He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:8)

During the announcements at church the last few weeks, we’ve watched a video about a man running a race. In the video, the man injures his leg. Instead of giving up all hope of finishing the race, he gets back up and limps toward the finish.

With still a long way to go, another man notices the injured runner and jogs to his side. With the help of the uninjured man, our runner makes it to the finish line.

The video was an illustration about helping missionaries by giving to missions, but when I saw it, it also reminded me of Christ. When we fail, fall short, or struggle through difficulty, Jesus is by our side to help us push through.

In the Bible, the apostle Paul often describes life as a race (1 Cor. 9:24, 2 Tim. 4:7). He talks about pressing on toward eternity with Christ.

But it can sometimes feel like a long race, and there are plenty of chances along the way to stumble and fall. Plenty of opportunities to sin and fall short. How can we remain blameless to the end? That seems like a tall order.

It’s easy for me to fall into this train of thought. Maybe it is for you, too. But it’s not helpful or true, and we can thankfully challenge this line of thinking.

You see, we know that salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). It’s a gift of God, not of works. But even though we know this, we can still battle fears of coming up short. Because we live in this imperfect world and still sin despite our best intentions, our sin can lead us to believe that we don’t belong in God’s presence.

Be honest with yourself for a minute and ask yourself if you harbor these fears. If you don’t, that’s great. But if you do, even though you know you’ve been saved by grace, you’re not the only one to feel that way. Perhaps more of us feel that way than we let on.

Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1:8 again. Running the race isn’t about you keeping yourself blameless. It’s about God keeping you blameless.

The word “blameless” here means “not to be called to account.” It doesn’t mean that you haven’t sinned. It means that you aren’t “convictable” for your sin. If you belong to Jesus, your sin won’t be held against you when you stand before God in the end. His death and resurrection already has it covered.

Pressing on until the end can be difficult. But when you feel weak, when you stumble and fall, or when you’re weighed down by guilt, Jesus comes alongside you to give you the strength to keep running the race.

And when He brings you to the end, you’ll stand blameless before Him. Not by your own merit, but by the grace given to you by Jesus’ sacrificial gift. Whenever guilt tries to condemn you, remind yourself of this simple truth.

Today’s Thoughts: Do you still harbor fears about being in God’s presence even though you know your sin is forgiven? Are you afraid that by the time you stand before God, you’ll come up short? How can knowing that God can keep you blameless and strengthen you to the end help you release that burden?


[Today’s devotion about running the race is a part of the Weekend Word devotional series. Check Tina’s blog every Saturday for fresh insights from God’s Word, or follow via email or WordPress to have content sent straight to your inbox.]

November 7, 2019

Why God Isn’t Working In and Through You: A Checklist

A few weeks ago at Thinking Out Loud, I linked to the article that appears below from Charisma Magazine’s J. Lee Grady. He has been quoted, linked to, or excerpted at both blogs many times. Although we just had an article by him in August, I really wanted to share this one here. Click the title below to read at source.

There Are Some Types of Christians God Can’t Use

J. Lee Grady

About 17 years ago, I prayed the most dangerous prayer in the Bible while lying on the floor of my church near Orlando. I repeated these words from Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I. Send me.” Then I cringed. I knew God would “mess me up good” in order to use me to touch others for Christ.

I wanted God to use me, but I was painfully aware that we don’t just go out and start a ministry on our own terms. God bends and breaks those who speak for Him. He requires full surrender. I had to let go of fears, adjust attitudes and change priorities.

It has become popular today to suggest that God can use anybody. It’s true that He does not show favoritism based on race, age, gender, marital history, past failures or income status. Yet His standards have never been lowered; He only uses humble, obedient, consecrated followers.

Many Christians will never be useful in the kingdom because of mindsets or behaviors that limit the flow of the Holy Spirit or, as the apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:21a (KJV), “frustrate the grace of God.” I don’t ever want to frustrate His grace! If you want God to use you, make sure you don’t fall into any of these categories:

  1. Driver’s seat Christians. Jesus is not just our Savior; He is our Lord. He wants to guide our decisions, direct our steps and overrule our selfish choices. There are many believers who enjoy the benefits of salvation, yet they never yield control to God. If you want Him to use you, then you must slide over into the passenger seat and let Jesus drive. If you have a problem with willfulness, learn to pray: “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42b, MEV).
  2. Armchair critics. There are some people who roll up their sleeves and serve the Lord; there are others who make it their business to analyze and pick apart everyone who is doing God’s work. The devil is the accuser, so if you are accusing others, you are operating in the spirit of Lucifer. The Holy Spirit does not work through people who are bitter, angry or judgmental.
  3. Glass-half-empty pessimists. Many Christians today worry about what sinners are doing, and some spend hours trying to predict when the Antichrist will arise or when the world will end. Meanwhile there are other Christians who focus on winning lost people to Jesus and showing His compassion to a broken world. Who do you think will bear more spiritual fruit—the doomsday pessimist or the hopeful evangelist?
  4. Carnally minded Christians. It has become fashionable today for believers to lower the standard of moral behavior to the point that anything goes. Don’t be fooled. Just because more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon of sexual permissiveness doesn’t mean God has rewritten His eternal Word.

People who live in blatant sin cannot be instruments of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 2:21 says clearly: “One who cleanses himself from these things will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work.” Our usefulness to God is based on whether we have submitted to the process of sanctification. Holiness is not an option.

  1. Church dropouts. I won’t win a popularity contest by saying this, but it’s true: God does not use people who have turned away from the church. Today it is fashionable to bash the church; some people have even established “ministries” to lure Christians away from church and into an isolated spiritual wilderness. Most of these church-bashers are bitter because they had a bad experience with a pastor.

I have only compassion for victims of spiritual abuse. But no one has the right to tear down the work of God just because a spiritual leader hurt him. The church is God’s plan A, and He does not have an alternative. If we are going to be used by God, we must get connected to the church and learn to flow with God-ordained leadership.

  1. Timid cowards. When Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to pioneer the church there, he exhorted him to break free from fear. He wrote: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8a). Fear has the power to paralyze. All those who surrender to the call of God must bravely open their mouths, defend the faith, risk their reputation and suffer rejection—and possible persecution. If you are afraid to share the gospel, repent of your fear and ask God for holy boldness.
  2. Lazy spectators. Many Christians today think following God means clocking in for a 60-minute service before driving to the lake. We read quick devotions on our smart phones and breathe short prayers during our morning commutes. But somewhere in all this 21st-century stress, we lost the meaning of discipleship.

If you want God to use you, you must take His call seriously and become a focused student of His Word and a passionate prayer warrior. The apostles of the first century declared: ” But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Halfhearted people never changed the world. You must be devoted, committed and passionate if you want to make maximum spiritual impact.

November 5, 2019

God’s Word Will Be Twisted

by Russell Young

I have spent many years trying to get people to understand that more than the sacrificial offering of Christ is needed to enter God’s eternal kingdom. Unfortunately, many teachers enjoy presenting the cross as the full gospel message, and those listening like to hear that message. Such understanding takes all responsibility from the confessor and avoids the necessity to teach the less pleasant issues of God’s righteous requirements, sanctification through obedience, and judgment for disregarding the holiness and majesty of God.

The God of the Old Testament, who was to be “feared” (Deut 19:12) has been turned into a beneficent grandfather. The God who brought nations to destruction because of their idolatrous practices and their failure to humble themselves before him and to obey his commands seems to have abandoned the need for obedience and of separation from the world. The God who demanded righteous living has made provision for his grace to cover all ungodly practices, many would say.

Isaiah has recorded, “The earth will be completely emptied and looted. The LORD has spoken! The earth mourns and dries up, and the crops waste away and wither. Even the greatest people on earth waste away. The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left.” (Isa 24:4−6 NLT) When the end comes, the earth’s destruction will have been caused by twisting or altering God’s Word.

Isaiah’s revelation should alarm many who have neglected the fullness of the gospel or who have altered its teachings. The world will not end because of the evil that pervades it; it will be ended because those entrusted with the Word will have distorted it and made it ineffective and unable to transform lives. God has not changed. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. He is sovereign and will establish his holy kingdom.

The end will come when God’s Word has been so twisted that truth, and with it hope, no longer exists. The Lord asked the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Faith may be found, but according to Isaiah’s prophesy, it will not be established in truth.

Where are we left concerning these words? A prophecy is a prophecy and it is absolute truth. That is, the Word will have been twisted beyond the Lord’s recognition by the end. Can this be stopped? No! It will not! The false “gospel” being promoted will have lost its power to save. God must be appreciated for his holiness and majesty regardless of teachings that suggest God’s overwhelming tolerance and forgiveness for ungodly practices and neglect of Christ’s lordship. “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)

What is the “more” than the cross that completes the gospel message? The offering of Christ redeemed the believer from his or her sin so that they might be given the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) Obedience to the Spirit will “fully meet the righteous requirements of the law.” (Rom 8:4) Judgment will fall on those who reject the Spirit’s leadership and live according to the sinful nature. (Gal 6:8) Christ, who has given his life to justify the confessor’s past sins (2 Pet 1:9; Heb 9:15), who has lived in a human body without sin and understands the temptations of the flesh (Heb 2: 17−18), and who has provided his Spirit for victory (Gal 3:14), holds the keys to death and Hades (Rev 1:18) and he will judge everyone according to the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10) He will determine each person’s fate.

The righteous requirements of the law must be met, and they will be “fully met by those who do not live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) Christ did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. (Mt 5:17) He did that for himself in the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, and, as Spirit, he will fulfill them through his presence in the believer (Col 1:27) who has pledged and lived under his lordship (Rom 10:9). He provided his Spirit because the law, having been weakened by the sinful nature of humankind, was powerless to accomplish its purpose. (Rom 8:3) The law of the Spirit of life has replaced the covenant law. (Rom 8:2, 7:6)

“Eternal salvation” is not fully accomplished through the sacrificial offering of the Son of Man on the cross; it comes “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13), and it is to be worked out, completed, with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) The Lord did not finish his work for people through his death on the cross but rose to justify (Rom 4:25) the willing through his Spirit. God’s Word will be twisted, and his truths will be lost.


This was Russell Young’s last regular column in this alternate-Tuesday slot, though his writing may appear at various times in the future. He’s working on his next book and doing research. His current book is now available through a different publisher, and wherever you buy books, they should be able to access it at a better price. We thank him for his contributions here at C201.


Eternal Salvation - Russell Young - 2Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation — “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”– Really? (Lettra Press) 

Text citations above include italics added. 

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

 

 

October 22, 2019

The Battle Has Been Won!

by Russell Young

The time-worn phrase, “The battle has been won!” is disconcerting, and its acceptance will lead many to their destruction. Jesus has won his battle over the dominion of evil, but those who walk this earth have not. Satan is very much contesting for their lives, and their victory rests in their submission and obedience to the Lord, Jesus Christ. He is their hope, but their hope must yet be realized. To further encourage the faulty notion that the battle has been won some would loudly proclaim that believers have been “adopted” into the family of God; however, Paul wrote that adoption does not happen until the body has been redeemed (the misdeeds of the body have been put to death) and that it is being eagerly awaited. (Rom 8:23)

To assert that the battle has been won and that access to his eternal kingdom is a gift from God to those who acknowledge belief denies the on-going ministry of Christ following his crucifixion and resurrection. It also dismisses the lordship of Christ, accountability to God and the coming judgment, the need for confession and repentance for sin, and the process of sanctification that follows one’s declaration of faith.

Christ redeemed confessors so that by faith they might receive the promised Holy Spirit. (Gal 3:13−14) Christ is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3: 17−18; Gal 2:20; Col 1:27) As Spirit, he sanctifies those obedient to his commands. (Heb 5:9; Rom 15:16) Eternal salvation comes through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. (2 Thess 2:13) The “righteousness for which we hope” comes through the Spirit by faith in the power and authority of Christ as he is obeyed and that righteousness is being “awaited.” (Gal 5:5) Since the Spirit must do his work in the lives of the obedient, the war has not been won; the battle over sin must be engaged. “The righteous requirements of the law [will be] fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) The manner of the confessor’s living is important, and he or she will be judged according to “the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10)

The faith that brings eternal salvation compels cooperation and participation with Christ, who is the Spirit, and who has given both his life and Spirit to enable the believer’s survival and rescue from eternal destruction. The faith that saves is not based on sentimental religious representations and philosophical constructions but on the reality of the full ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Faith in Christ means trusting him to lead those who have hearts and ears to hear through the temptations and testing that would challenge righteous choices and actions. It means depending on him to enable the obedient to do that which they are unable to do in their limited strength and weakened hearts. God’s faithfulness to the humble and contrite of heart will provide “all that is needed for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and although he is with them, he has not unilaterally won the battles that each must fight.

The war in which Christ was engaged and through which he gained victory was for himself and indirectly for those “in him.” He destroyed Satan’s power and gained the keys of death and Hades; they are now in his possession. (Rev 1:18) Since he holds the keys, he can use them according to his grace and mercy but will make his judgment based upon the believer’s heart commitment and state of righteousness. “He will punish those who do not know [understand] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 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 he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be is at among all those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:8−9) Paul admonished his “brothers” to work out (finish, complete) their salvation with fear and trembling so that they might become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation.” (Phil 2:13, 15)

Declaring that the war has been won implies that those who started their spiritual life in Christ must have remained in him. However, John chapter 15 presents that those in him might be cut out if they do not produce fruit. (Jn 15:1) and promises blessings to those who remain in him (Jn 15:5, 7); to remain in him requires obedience to his commands (Jn 15:10), which are given by the Spirit. (Rom 7:6; 8:4; Gal 6:7−8)

Care should be taken by those who present that the war has been won because such a proclamation may give license for immorality and unrighteous practices; care should be taken by those who endorse such a proclamation because neglect of the ministry of Christ, as Spirit, may lead to their destruction. The Lord spoke of the destruction that will follow “evildoers.” (Mt 7:23; Lk 13:27) Even Paul declared that he had to “strike a blow to his body and make it his slave” so that he would not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor 9:27) And he admonished Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim 4:16) Paul was declaring that Timothy remained at risk and that his battle over sin had not been finished.

The phrase “The war has been won,” must be put in context when it is used, and its proclamation made clear according to the Scriptures.


Eternal Salvation - Russell Young - 2Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation — “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”– Really? (Lettra Press) and his writing appears here on alternate Tuesdays. Text citations above include italics added. 

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


 

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
Tags: , , ,

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
Tags: , , ,

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

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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.

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