Christianity 201

June 16, 2022

When We Disagree

Today’s devotional columns — two, actually — were a real gift, because I was thinking about this topic, and also thinking about Romans 14…

We’re back again at Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor in Wales. This month marks ten years she has been posting devotionals at that page. Clicking the headers below will take you to where each article first appeared.

Applying the Gospel: Disagreements (1)

NIV.Romans.14.1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Every church fellowship has members with divergent opinions on how to put their faith into practice. Some of us are vegetarians, some are teetotal, some even refuse to celebrate Christmas (because of its ‘pagan’ associations). In the church at Rome, it’s likely that some Christians from a Jewish background were finding it difficult to shed the cultic requirements of the Law (they probably abstained from eating meat because they could not be certain that it was kosher).

As far as our salvation is concerned, these things really don’t matter one way or the other. So while our personal opinions may be held strongly, we mustn’t make them into ‘articles of faith’. If we do, even trivial matters can cause a church to split.

In every church there are believers who feel obliged to deny themselves certain legitimate activities in order to please God – and thus they fail to enter fully into their Christian freedom.They may appear to be more ‘spiritual’ than their more easy-going brothers and sisters, but actually they have a ‘weaker’ faith! And what should the rest of us (probably the majority) do? We must accept them as they are. Now this means more than just tolerating their presence; we are to give them an unreserved welcome!

Yet a degree of tension is inevitable. The strong in faith will be tempted to look down on the weak and consider them ‘legalistic’ because of their unnecessary scruples. And the weak will be tempted to despise the strong for having ‘low’ standards of personal piety. We need to remember that we are accountable to God, not to each other. Because these issues are contentious, it will never be possible for everyone to agree. So we shouldn’t insist that every other member of our fellowship should conform to our own personal standards (whether they are strict or lax).

Our relationship with God must be given priority. Then these peripheral matters will be where they ought to be – at the periphery.

Applying the Gospel: Disagreements (2)

NIV.Romans.14.5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”[Isaiah 45:23]

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

There are many practical matters on which Scripture does not give us clear, unambiguous instructions. Christians who agree on the fundamental principles of the Gospel may therefore find themselves holding widely divergent opinions and doing radically different things. But whichever side of a particular argument we are on, it must be for good, well-thought-out reasons. “Each should be fully convinced in their own mind.” (Romans 14:5) It doesn’t matter if we can’t convince anyone else, but we must convince ourselves! If we don’t think these issues through, we may find ourselves absorbing attitudes from our culture or carrying over bad habits from our pre-Christian life.

Jesus is our Lord, and His honour should always be our very first consideration. So the essential question to ask is: will I bring glory to God by doing (or not doing) this? This applies just as much to the mundane choices of everyday life as to the big issues, because every aspect of our lifestyle should testify to the absolute authority of Christ. And very often, God can be glorified either way. For Jesus is Lord of all – and so He can be honoured even in the two most extreme opposites, in both life and death!

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?” (Romans 14:10) As members of God’s family, we belong together, whether or not we see eye to eye. We must therefore be prepared to embrace those who see and do things differently from us; we certainly do not have the right to criticize them (either publicly or privately) or to condemn them for what we perceive as mistakes (Matthew 7:1,2). That would be to usurp God’s place – to set ourselves up as the arbiters of what is and is not acceptable. Such contempt for our brothers and sisters in Christ is actually a much more serious sin than their failure to meet our personal standards of holiness!

We need to remember that it is God – and God alone – who is the Judge. And it is to Him that we are ultimately accountable, not to each other!

March 24, 2022

Are You Being Faithful to God?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Luke 13:1-9

by Clarke Dixon

  • Watch the sermon on which today’s devotional is based at this link.

What does faithfulness to God look like? A typical response from Christians and non-Christians alike might be summarized as “sin avoidance,” which for most people means not breaking the rules. Is that it?

Judgement Looms

As we dig into this question let us consider that in Old Testament times God sent prophets to remind people that he is always faithful and that they should be faithful too. It would not end well if they were not and indeed, as the prophets warned, the Northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian army in eighth century BC and the Southern kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonian army in the sixth century BC. These calamities were spoken of by the prophets as being the judgement of God for a lack of faithfulness to God.

Fast forward to another prophet, John the Baptist:

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Luke 3:7-9 (NRSV)

What did the people hearing John think the judgement he spoke of would look like? Just as judgement previously referred to destructive invasions by the Assyrians and Babylonians, judgement here would be taken to mean the occupying Romans would go beyond a mere occupation to a complete overrun.

Fast forward to another prophet, Jesus:

At that very time there were some present who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Luke 13:1-5 (NRSV)

Bible scholar NT Wright has pointed out that the words “just as they did” are key to understanding this passage. Just as the Galileans were murdered by the Romans, possibly for some anti-Roman activity, the whole nation was in danger of experiencing violence at the hand of the Romans. Just as people died when the tower of Siloam fell, many will die when other buildings are thrown down by the Romans in a full scale attack.

The idea here is that unless God’ people repent, the Romans will destroy the nation in the same way that the Assyrians and Babylonians did in the past. The Romans did so in 70AD. Yet again, though God was faithful to his covenant promises, his people were unfaithful.

What does faithfulness and unfaithfulness to God look like?

When God’s people faced judgement through the Assyrians and Babylonians, their lack of faithfulness was easy to spot. There was a lot of worshipping of other gods, which included doing detestable things like child sacrifice. There was a lack of attention to the old covenant law, the law of Moses. Yet in the days that Jesus and John the Baptist spoke of judgement, great attention was being paid to keeping the law. So how were God’s people failing in faithfulness this time?

Jesus spoke to the problem in what he said next:

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Luke 13:6-9 (NRSV)

What does faithfulness to God look like according to Jesus? Fruitfulness! Under the direction of the religious leaders God’s people may have been trying hard to be faithful to the law, but that was part of the problem. They substituted faithfulness to the law, more particularly their interpretations of the law, for faithfulness to God. In doing so they were not bearing good fruit.

The scribes and Pharisees had become “experts” in the law, and came up with extra rules to keep people from breaking the rules. Therefore the people were expected to keep many customs and traditions pushed by the religious leaders. But in pushing people to be righteous and always do the right thing, they were not helping people become righteous in becoming a good kind of people. Jesus pushed for a better kind of righteousness, the kind that comes, not just from observance of the law, but from character, not just from doing the right things, but becoming the right kind of person:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20 (NRSV)

Despite their “righteousness” the religious leaders instigated the execution of the Son of God! There is a better kind of righteousness.

Fruitful!

Faithfulness to God in our day is often thought to simply be ”sin avoidance,” defined as keeping all the rules and breaking none. The problem is, we can keep all the rules and yet be lacking in good fruit. In fact sometimes we can keep a rule yet end up doing the wrong thing, the thing that bears bad fruit.

There is no set of rules found anywhere in the world, proposed by even the smartest people in the world, or defined by the “best” expression of faith ever known, that, by following them you would always be doing the right thing, the good thing, every time. What is good and right in one circumstance, that could be considered fruitful, can, in another situation be the wrong thing to do and end up being destructive.

Jesus himself gives an example:

And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took [a man with an illness] and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

Luke 14:3-6 (NRSV emphasis added)

The rule about not working on a Sabbath is a good one, a fruitful one. It is good for everyone to have a rhythm of rest. Jesus pointed to an example where keeping the rule would not be a good thing. One’s child might die if you keep the rule! To keep the rule would be destructive. To break the rule, on the other hand, would be fruitful.

You can imagine a scenario where a very religious type of person holding to a particularly rigid kind of theology might fail to do anything for the child out of concern for their own personal salvation. Indeed religion can motivate people to turn a blind eye to good consequences for others in deference to their own supposed standing before their vision of God. We saw this play out tragically on September 11th, 2001. Perhaps you can think of examples that involve Christians.

Here is another example from Jesus:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

Matthew 12:1-8 (NRSV)

More broken rules! But also an emphasis on the heart of God: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Though the religious leaders were striving for righteousness, they were not considering the righteousness, the mercy, the goodness, the character, of God. In their view, one need not be a person of good character, but merely a person who always does the right things, according to their interpretation. Blind obedience to rules set by one tradition is no guarantee of faithfulness to God. We are more faithful to God, bearing better fruit, when our character reflects the compassionate character of God. To go back to an earlier example, out of a compassionate character you break the sabbath rule and rescue the child. With good character you bear better fruit.

We are more faithful to God, bearing better fruit, when we follow Jesus in the way of love, the way of the cross, not meaning love as mere emotion, but love as concern for consequence. Think of the amazing consequence of the death and resurrection of Jesus and our experience of God’s grace! Out of love for the child you break the sabbath rule and rescue the child. With love you bear better fruit.

We are more faithful to God, bearing better fruit, when we dig deep for wisdom. There is so much about wisdom in the Bible. The Book of Proverbs can never be turned into a Book of Rules for there would be too many contradictions. Wisdom is about knowing when and where is the right time and place to do this and not that. Wisdom takes into account consequences, it is concerned with fruitfulness. Wisdom requires thought and thoughtfulness. Blind obedience to rules, on the other hand, can be thoughtless in every sense of the word. Out of wisdom you break the sabbath rule and rescue the child. With wisdom you bear better fruit.

In Conclusion

So what does faithfulness to God look like? Fruitfulness! Our lives will have a positive impact as we reflect the gracious character of God, follow Jesus in the way of love, and dig deep for wisdom.

God is faithful. Are you?

(I have written about Luke 13:1-5 before, here)

January 27, 2022

When Relationships Get Ugly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Luke 4:14-21

by Clarke Dixon

Relationships can get very ugly very quickly. Whether between people groups or among family and friends, things can turn sour fast. I’m sure I don’t need to give examples as you probably have first-hand experience. Don’t we all!?

We have an example of relationships getting ugly fast when Jesus made a positive first impression on his hometown crowd and then that same crowd attempted to throw him off a cliff! Digging into this event will help us with our ugly relationships.

So what happened? Let’s see where it begins:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 (NRSV)

We will see why things got ugly when we compare what Jesus went on to say, and not say, with what Isaiah went on to say in Isaiah 61 had Jesus just kept reading.

The first thing we notice is that Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at a significant moment. He stopped mid-sentence. Had he gone on to read further, he would have read:

…to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,

Isaiah 61:2 (NIV emphasis added)

Jesus stopped short of talking about vengeance. Maybe that is our first clue on handling ugly relationships?

To understand what is going on here more fully, it will help us to realize that Isaiah had prophesied to God’s people about the Babylonian invasion of the promised land, the exile of many to Babylon, and then here in the passage quoted by Jesus, their subsequent return. Isaiah was looking forward to the day God’s people would be set free from the Babylonians, a day of “release to the captives” when “the oppressed go free.”

According to Isaiah, not only could God’s people look forward to freedom from these foreign oppressors, the tables would be turned on the enemy. For example,

Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the LORD,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.

Isaiah 61:5-6 (NRSV)

According to Isaiah’s prophecy God’s people would no longer be slave-laborers for the Babylonians but instead the foreign enemies would be laborers in the promised land. Also, the wealth of God’s people would no longer belong to Babylon, but instead the wealth of nations would be brought to God’s people. This is a reversal of fortunes.

Those in Jesus’ day would have latched onto this reversal of fortunes, especially when Jesus said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What those listening to Jesus would have been thinking is, “great, just as we needed rescue from Babylon, we now need rescue from these Romans who have invaded our land! This miracle worker may just be the one who will lead the rebellion!”

However, Jesus neither went on to read that part of Isaiah 61 nor to apply it to the current situation, making no insinuation that the tables would be turned and the Romans would become subject to the Jews. As much as the crowd would have loved to have heard that, he said this instead:

Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.

Luke 4:24-27 (NRSV)

Instead of speaking about the tables being turned against the foreigners, Jesus gave two examples from the Old Testament of foreigners receiving a greater blessing from God than God’s people. This is not what the crowd wanted to hear, and this is the point things got ugly and they took Jesus out to throw him off a cliff. This is also the point that helps us with ugly relationships.

Jesus did indeed come to set the prisoners free, but God’s people had bigger enemies than the Romans to worry about. Sin was the greater enemy. The Romans themselves were captive to that same enemy, and in fact, without Christ, so are we. The Romans, though being the oppressors, were themselves prisoners. They were captive to sin, captive to thinking that brute force was the way toward a better world, captive to life without God.

Indeed the brute force of Rome combined with the ignorance of the Jewish religious leaders in the execution of Jesus. Here again, Jesus stopped short of vengeance. Rising from the dead Jesus did not call for immediate destruction of his enemies, but instead sent out his disciples to tell people the good news of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is entered through the receiving of God’s forgiveness and grace. That forgiveness was, and is still, offered to all God’s enemies.

Our Ugly Relationships

Do you have ugly relationships with others? We have bigger enemies to worry about, enemies that all humans face, like hatred, grudges, gossip, and dangerous ideologies or theologies. Let us seek release from these enemies. Perhaps we should put more of our focus and energy on battling these sins than on doing battle with the people we have ugly relationships with. That battle may begin with our own hearts.

When relationships get ugly let us begin by stopping short of seeking vengeance. We might need to learn the art of stopping our thoughts and words mid-sentence, before things go too far. The thought of justice comes naturally to us. The jump from justice to vengeance is a short hop that comes naturally to us. The way of the cross does not. We have God’s Spirit to help!

When our relationships get ugly, let us be like Jesus and remember love first.

Our relationships, our world, could be different if we become enthused by the grace of God, whose first response to His enemies, and ours, is love.


  • To watch a 20-minute sermon on which today’s devotional is based, click this link.

November 1, 2021

Be Careful How You Judge

Today our search for good devotional material took us to Lamp and Light, and writer Jason Smith who lives in Oregon, a state in the western US. On his “About” page he writes, “…if there is one thing that will be said of me at the end of my life, I hope it is this: this man lived for Jesus.”

Because this article appeared just hours ago, I’m going to close comments here and invite you instead to click the header which appears below, and read and comment there. I know he would be encouraged if you do.

Beware a Critical Spirit

“What gives you the right to judge?”

If you’ve lived in the United States for almost any amount of time, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this question or some version of it. Maybe someone even threw this barbed question at you or someone you know. It’s a question that gets to the heart of some major cultural shifts that have been witnessed in the last several decades. It’s also a question that points to why so many seem fed up with Christianity today.

But wait a minute, someone might say. Didn’t Jesus Himself tell us we are not to judge others?

Judge Not or Judge Correctly?

Perhaps more than any other passage in Scripture, I hear Matthew 7:1 quoted today – by both Christians and non-Christians alike.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, ESV)

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Many will even say, “Who are you to judge? Even Jesus said ‘Judge not.’”

Certainly such a command should be taken seriously, if we claim to follow Jesus as Lord. But let’s make sure we are understanding what exactly Jesus meant by this. For example, in another passage of the New Testament, the crowds are quick to criticize Jesus – even calling Him “demon-possessed!” That’s when Jesus showed them the error of their ways and added,

“Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24, NIV, emphasis added)

So, which is it? Are we to judge or not judge? We like simple and straightforward answers to this question, don’t we? And yet, as with so many other areas of human relationships, the answer has to be more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.”

Let’s consider the Matthew 7 quote in its full scriptural context. After saying “Judge not,” Jesus goes on to say this:

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:2-5, ESV)

There’s a lot to unpack here, but if we seek to understand Jesus’ words we can avoid one of two errors that people often make. The first error is to think “judge not” is an absolute statement calling us to forsake all moral judgment or critique. The second error is to judge with a Pharisaical or self-righteous judgment.

Pharisaical Judgment

The first thing we need to see is that judgment here is akin to the word criticism. Jesus is chiding those who were eager to make harsh criticisms of others. This is seen in the ridiculous image Jesus paints for us. If you have read this passage before and completely missed Jesus’ use of righteous satire, there’s a good chance you missed what He’s saying.

Imagine someone walking into church with a massive tree trunk sticking out of his eye. To the amazement of everyone around him, the poor guy is somehow unaware of this ocular protrusion. How do you even broach the subject when he’s acting as if nothing is wrong? You then watch as he suddenly approaches one of the gentlemen staring at him in wonder.

“Listen, pal,” says Mr. Tree Trunk. “It seems that no one else is willing to tell you this, but you have some kind of black speck stuck in your eye. Here, I don’t want to embarrass you, but let me see if I can get it out of there.”

To which the other man, still startled by the size of that log, blurts out, “No, no! Thanks, but I think I’ll ask someone else to help with that.”

The whole scene sounds absurd, and yet it makes Jesus’ point perfectly. Jesus talks about things stuck in our eye, because very often our harsh criticism is the result of blindness to our own faults. To criticize someone else when we are struggling with the same thing (maybe even to a greater degree!) is to play the hypocrite.

Why Are We Quick to Judge?

It is part of our human nature that we tend to minimize the seriousness of our own sins and failures while we magnify the shortcomings of others. This can stem from spiritual pride – even if we don’t consider ourselves religious. We all have an inner Pharisee that is eager to make others look worse in order to make ourselves look better by comparison.

Take inventory of your own heart. When you hear about someone else’s failures, are you quick to condemn? Is there a part of you that smiles when others are exposed for wrongdoing? Do you jump at opportunities to show others to be in the wrong simply because you are gratified by being right?

There are times when we might be absolutely right, but the way we are speaking is shortsighted and harsh. Maybe it’s because we’re speaking like someone who has the goal of tearing others down rather than building them up.

Are you better at seeing the good intentions of others or finding errors in their thinking? Too often, we can criticize someone else only to find out later that we had no understanding of their unique situation. Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.”

The Pharisees felt they had to bolster their own self-image, because for them everything hung on being seen as righteous and morally praiseworthy. But when you understand that your righteousness comes from Christ through faith, you no longer feel the need to be superior or self-righteous. When you understand your own guilt has been removed by Christ, you won’t feel the need to find guilt in others.

Why We Can’t Neglect Discernment

Secondly, let’s note that Jesus is not calling for an absolute ban on any and all moral judgments. We’ve already noted that Jesus elsewhere calls people to “judge correctly” or to make sober judgments in the right way. And in Matthew 7, Jesus goes on to say, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs” (v. 6). Picking up Jesus’ metaphor for those who mock and malign us, how are we to know who the “dogs” or “pigs” are without careful discernment? A little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (v. 15). If we should never make any moral judgments whatsoever, why would He say, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (v. 20)? To determine if “fruit” of someone’s life is good or bad, one must make a moral judgment.

But even in the example of the man with a log in his own eye, Jesus tells us to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5, ESV)

In other words, Jesus isn’t calling us to stop correcting people who are in error. Jesus is saying that until we have examined our own hearts first and confessed our own sin to God and others, we are in no position to confront others. A good question to ask ourselves before issuing criticism is: “While my situation is different, is this something that I too struggle with in some way?”

God calls all His people to live in holiness, so of course Jesus still wants us to speak the truth in love to one another (Ephesians 4:15). If God calls something “sin,” so should we. Sin is always destructive, and God’s commands are for our good (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). When we keep this in mind, we can warn both ourselves and others against it. Jesus calls the clear-eyed to help the brother with the speck out of love.

Elsewhere the New Testament says:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1, NIV)

Confronting a brother or sister in sin is something Jesus explicitly calls His followers to do. But this is so important: the goal must always be restoration. The goal is not to expose, embarrass, condemn, or make an example of someone. To confront someone in love is to say, “I know that what you are doing offends God and can only bring harm to yourself and others in the long run. So please come back to the Savior who loves you too much to let you go your own way!”

Tenderness in tone goes a long way here. That’s why Paul says to restore the person caught in sin “gently.”

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Let’s remember that Jesus came into this world not to condemn, but to save.[1] If you are at all familiar with the teachings of the Bible, you know it says that every last one of us are sinners. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” All includes you, me, and everyone else in the line of Adam. What does that have to do with being overly critical?

Well, if I am a sinner who deserves condemnation but instead receives grace from God, that should radically shape the way I deal with others. As a Christian, I know that Jesus found me when I was lost and showed me incomprehensible grace when I was headed for the ultimate judgment of hell. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV). To forget this in my relationships with others is to forget the greatest thing that happened to me.

How quickly we can forget that because of Jesus’ compassion for the lost, He was frequently found with the biggest sinners. Why? Not because the perfect Son of God wanted to join in their sin, but simply because He loved them and knew they needed Him. How ironic that we don’t find Jesus sharply criticizing the sexually promiscuous or materialistic tax-collectors. Instead, it was for the religious leaders that Jesus reserved His sharpest criticism, the very ones who mocked Him with the label “Friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).

Cruelty, slander, and mud-slinging happen in the world. We know that. We know people get canceled and shamed and ostracized without a fair hearing. But that should not happen in the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus does not delight in a church that looks down on a sinner who has lost their way.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes after that wandering sheep with the goal of bringing it back to the fold. That should be our hearts, too. And as I look at my own heart, I confess there are times that I’ve jumped to conclusions about people without giving them a fair hearing. That is always wrong, and Jesus calls us to do better than that.

Christians of all people should understand the importance of being slow to criticize. We should take our cues from Jesus and be known for humbly loving those with whom we strongly disagree. We should confront religious hypocrisy while being especially watchful about such hypocrisy in our own hearts.

Question for reflection: Am I more eager to confront hypocrisy in others than I am willing to confront it in my own life?


[1] John 3:18.

 

August 18, 2021

Guarding Your Heart by Not Loving the World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Each week we try to introduce two or three writers appearing here for the first time, both to highlight or showcase their work, and to encourage them in their writing. This time around, unfortunately, I didn’t see an author’s name, but wanted to share the content with you. They call themselves The Center City Christian. There’s a reference here to the NHEB. I had to look that one up, and it’s the New Heart English Bible. As always, you are strongly encouraged to click the header which appears next, and read this at its source. (I don’t just suggest you do that, I do it myself and read three articles in choosing this one.)

Real Talk – The Wellspring of Life

Each time I return to 1 John, I get punched. God’s Word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV) But the Good News is “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV)!

While reading, I came across these verses:


1 John 2:15-16 KJV

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.


These verses are crucial because the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life constitute the golden rule of satanism—”Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” in other words, “Do what you want”—developed by Aleister Crowley.

These are the three areas used when the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-6), and Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). Do you know how Jesus rebuked the devil? He used Scripture! Isn’t that interesting?

These are attitudes of the heart:

The lust of the flesh—do I have the mind of Christ (Philippians 4:8), or is my mind preoccupied with gratifying my physical desires?
The lust of the eyes—does the amount of material possessions I crave or accumulate figuratively outweigh the amount I give?
The pride of life—is how important I am what is most important to me?

Proverbs 4:23 NHEB

Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it is the wellspring of life.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts. How can we do that? In this post, we’re going to focus on knowledge of Scripture. We began by saying that God’s Word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” By reading the Bible, we can understand what God values—in this case, self-control, generosity, and humility. 1 John 2:15-16 speaks on what “is of the world.”

Lastly, Jesus was able to resist the devil’s temptations not only because He knew Scripture but also because He obeyed it—the devil knows Scripture too. The apostle Paul wrote Ephesians 6:10-17 about the armor of God; think of these verses as steps—equipping yourself with each piece of armor to walk in each day; to wear as protection against the enemy’s attacks. Ephesians 6:17 tells us that God’s Word is the sword of the Spirit.


 

May 27, 2021

Does Any and Every Sin Cancel You Out as a Christian?

Thinking Through 1st John 2:29-3:10

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever felt like you just don’t measure up as a Christian? You believe in Jesus, but you don’t believe you have achieved the kind of sinless perfection you think a Christian should have?

Perhaps a church or a Christian has made you feel that way. I remember well having coffee with a student from a certain Bible college while I was at seminary. It felt like an interrogation and I’m not sure I passed the test of “good enough” to be a Christian in his mind.

Perhaps you don’t need any help in feeling you don’t measure up. You get there all on your own.

Perhaps the Bible sometimes makes you feel like you don’t measure up. For example,

2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

3:1-10 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him . . .  Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

1 John 2:29 – 3:1,4-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

Discouraged yet? Actually, as we dig into what John has written here, we will find great encouragement.

Let us keep in mind what we learned last week, that John had been speaking about false teachers who tried to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking, when they should have changed their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. They were missing the mark on their teaching on who Jesus was and is. But here is what is important for us to know in understanding our passage today; they were also missing the mark on what it looks like to follow Jesus.

The false teachers got the identity of Jesus wrong, but they also missed the teaching of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies. In getting the identity of Jesus wrong, they also missed the example of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies, namely, the incarnation, death and resurrection.

John’s point here in 1st John 2:29-3:10 is that these false teachers are easy to spot. Not only do they try to change Jesus, they don’t live Jesus focused lives:

  • They don’t do what is right (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • They have no concern for sin (see 3:4-6 above).
  • They have no concern for destroying the works of the devil, for overturning evil (see 3:8 above).
  • They have no conscience (see 3:9 above).

The false teachers were easy to spot, and in our passage John gave the early readers the way to notice them easily:

Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.

1 John 3:10 (The Message)

John’s intention was not to discourage the Christians he was writing to. He was not writing to make them doubt their salvation over each and every sin they might commit. Nor was he writing to discourage us today. He was writing to discourage them, and us, from following false teachers, who were, and are, easy to spot by their lack of Jesus-focused lives. In fact he is very encouraging when he highlights the identity of the readers:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.

1st John 3:1 (The Message)

There is no hint here of “be sure to never, ever, ever sin, and if you do, then you are a child of the devil!” No, rather you are the children of God, but watch out for the false teachers who are the children of the devil.

Jesus spends quite some time teaching us to think of ourselves as God’s children. He teaches us to pray “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. In fact Jesus gives many references to thinking of God as our father throughout the Sermon on the Mount where we find that prayer in Matthew’s Gospel.

John had also highlighted the opportunity to become children of God in his Gospel account:

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

John 1:11-13 (NLT)

As children of God, we are those whose lives are being transformed by Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. We may not be perfect, but we live Jesus-focused lives:

  • We have a concern for righteousness (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • we have joined and are actively playing for “Team Jesus” (see 3:4-6 above, plus an eariler “Shrunk Sermon” on 1st John 2:1-6. Yes, we make mistakes and the other team may score because of those mistakes, but there is forgiveness, we are still on the team, and the other team scoring is never what we want).
  • We are those who participate apte in God’s plan of destroying the works of the devil, of dealing with evil (see 3:8 above).
  • We have a conscience (see 3:9 above).

Though John does not mention the Holy Spirit in our passage, the Holy Spirit is here, the Holy Spirit is involved:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16 (NLT)

There is a spiritual rebirth that happens, a transformation as we begin to show a family resemblance to our heavenly Father, even though we are still children.

Jesus teaches us to come to God like a small child:

I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Mark 10:15 (NLT)

When a small child is called to the dinner table, does the child ask “do I deserve dinner tonight?” When we are sitting at dinner with God, we are not worried about our standing before God. But we will have a natural desire to be “just like Dad.”

We belong, we are a children of God. Let us not fret about whether we measure up, anxious that any and every sin will cancel us out as Christians, but instead let us continue to take our place at God’s table, growing into this beautiful relationship with our heavenly Father.


The full message on which this is based may be viewed on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

February 6, 2020

“Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds That of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Should We Be Worried?

by Clarke Dixon

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (NRSV)

Should we be worried? Is it even possible that our righteousness can exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? Keep in mind how meticulous they were at keeping the Old Testament laws. Jesus’ words here can stress us out. Are we good enough?

Let’s leave aside whether we are good enough for a moment. The scribes and Pharisees were certain, that Jesus was not good enough:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. . . . Matthew 5:17 (NRSV)

That is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were thinking! Jesus often seemed to be very un-Jewish in not keeping the laws and customs as expected. Healing on the Sabbath was considered work and so Jesus was obviously a lawbreaker! Further, for his first miracle, Jesus used jars that had been set apart for religious purposes to turn water into wine at a party. Not only did Jesus seem to be un-Jewish, he even seemed to be irreligious. Therefore the scribes and Pharisees were obviously exceedingly more righteous than Jesus. Or so they thought.

Jesus set the record straight:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 (NRSV)

Though the actions of Jesus seemed to indicate that he didn’t care about the law, he declares that it is very important. The law and the prophets, a short-hand way of referring to all the writings of the Hebrew Bible, reveal the heart of God, and point to Jesus himself. Far from ditching the Old Testament, Jesus was the focus of the Old Testament!

In setting the record straight, it turns out the the scribes and the Pharisees were the ones who were not good enough:

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 (NRSV)

Ironically, despite how meticulous the scribes and Pharisees were at keeping the rules, Jesus, in what he would go on to say, insinuated that they were the ones breaking the commandments and teaching others to do the same. They kept the letter of the law, but they missed the intent of the law, the purpose of the law. They might have been meticulous with regards to the rules, but they were heartless. It is possible to keep all the rules and yet be an awful person. In calling the people of Israel into existence, God was looking to establish a good people, not an awful people who kept the rules. If “love the Lord” and “love your neighbour” sum up the law, then the scribes and Pharisees were not keeping it well at all. They needed to have a better kind of righteousness if they wanted to impress God. They needed a deeper righteousness, a heart righteousness, a righteousness expressed through good character.

We can now ask, is anyone righteous enough?

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul spends some time in chapters one and two establishing the fact that non-Jews have no right to a relationship with God. They are not righteous enough. Then he spends some time in chapters two and three establishing the fact that Jews also should have no right to a relationship with God. Though they have the law and the prophets, they also are not righteous enough. In conclusion,

. . . we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; Romans 3:9-10 (NRSV)

However, there is good news:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26 (NRSV)

Though the Scribes & Pharisees were thinking Jesus was not righteous, actually Jesus is the only righteous one. Are any of us righteous enough? No, but God is good, and offers to make us good. God makes this offer because of His love for us, not because we make a good impression on Him.

God came to us in Jesus so that we could be forgiven of all sin. We will stand before the judgement seat of God with a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is Christ’s righteousness placed on us. God comes to us in the Holy Spirit to change our hearts for the better. We grow into a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. That transformation of character is Holy Spirit work. Though we might not feel good enough for God, and really, we are not good enough, God is good and wants to do good for us, and in us.

Jesus says “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Should we be worried? Should we be concerned that we will not “make the cut?” Without Jesus, if you want to impress God, then surpassing righteousness is an obligation. Good luck with that. Even the scribes and Pharisees, with all their meticulous law-keeping, failed to make a good impression. However, with Jesus, and with the gift of the Spirit, surpassing righteousness is an opportunity, through which God will make an impression on the world. Changed hearts, hearts in tune with God’s heart, lead to a changed world. “Surpassing righteousness” should not be a source of stress, but a source of great hope, not only for ourselves, but for the people around us.


Clarke Dixon blogs his messages weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

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

 

 

September 24, 2019

Can You Lose Your Salvation?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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by Russell Young

Can You Lose Your Salvation?

This question is frequently raised and deserves a thoughtful response. Much of the confusion rests in word meanings and often involves concepts that are philosophical constructs as opposed to Biblical truths.

Before it can be established whether a person can lose his or her salvation, it is important to understand what “salvation” means. A commonly accepted perception is that it means ‘brought to the state where you will go to heaven upon death.’ The Hebrew word y@shuw`ah has been translated to mean “salvation.” Its first Scriptural use is Genesis 49:18. y@shuw`ah doesn’t refer to “going to heaven” but to deliverance from danger or disease, the preservation of a person’s welfare, victory. The Greek soteria has a similar meaning without reference to heaven but referring in general to rescue, health and deliverance.

Salvation is used in the New Testament in a rescue or deliverance manner. The woman with the issue of blood was healed, delivered, or saved from the agony of her physical condition. Paul was saved from drowning when the ship he was aboard sank. Confessors are rescued from the death that they had earned and from the Old Covenant which brought about their condemnation.

Unfortunately, “salvation” has come to be specifically and singularly accepted as referring to the gaining of God’s heavenly kingdom. When this connotation is attached to the word, problems arise.

Those concerned with the thought of losing salvation are of the understanding that their heavenly hope has been established and they don’t want to entertain the idea that it can be lost. Two questions arise: Has their hope of heaven really been established? If it has, can it be destroyed?

Those who accept that they have been eternally saved, must accept that they are living the obedient life that Christ requires and that they will always live that life. Hebrews 5:9 states, “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” The believer’s hope comes through obedience. Paul has written, “For in this hope—our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies—you were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. But who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Rom 8:24−25) He has stated that we were or have been saved, yet our adoption remains a hope for which we “wait eagerly” and that it comes with “the redemption of our bodies.” (v 23)

The “saved” or salvation that has taken place refers to a rescue or deliverance, but it does not mean to infer that the deliverance is into God’s heavenly kingdom; it is a different deliverance or salvation. Careful examination of the fullness of God’s Word reveals that confessors are first saved or delivered from the righteous requirements of the Old Covenant law and the death that they had earned, so that they might receive the Spirit (Gal 3:14). This is not an eternal deliverance. Following this gifting, they are to live in obedience to Christ as Spirit.

Can a person lose this salvation, deliverance from the covenant law? Yes! Paul has also written, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (Gal 5:18) Those who have been given the Spirit but do not permit his leadership must revert to accomplishing the righteous requirements of the law apart from the Spirit’s help (The Spirit is Christ the Lord; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18), to the hopeless state that existed before their redemption.

The hope that is not reality and for which we wait eagerly is for “our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” and this is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:13−14) The hope of adoption is accomplished by putting to death the misdeeds of the body (redemption of the body) through the leadership of the Spirit.

Some might protest that the Word presents salvation and eternal life come through belief. Eternal life and eternal salvation are different. Eternal life is life unending or immortality, and nothing more. Eternal salvation refers to a deliverance from any circumstance that would cause a person harm or negatively affect their eternal welfare. The only passage that addresses eternal salvation in the Bible, Hebrews 5:9, reveals that it comes through obedience and is availed for those who have overcome the world and have found a place in the New Jerusalem. (Rev 21:7)

The confessor cannot lose his or her “eternal salvation” because he or she does not have it. Unless personal obedience to Christ can be guaranteed, neither can eternal salvation.; it is being awaited and will come following judgment. Confessors can lose their salvation from sin if they fail to obey the Lord and continue to deliberately sin (Heb 10:26; Mt 13:41) following their confession of Christ’s lordship (Rom 10: 9−10), if they have walked in darkness rather than in the light of the Spirit (1 Jn 1:6−7), and if they have failed to confess known sin when it happens. (1 Jn 1:9) Peter warned that confessors who “have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and again are entangled in it are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” (2 Pet 2:20)

Paul, on whom many base their understanding of salvation, wrote that it remained for him to become like Christ in his death so that “somehow” he could attain to the resurrection. (Phil 3:11) He did not claim to have been eternally saved after many years of ministry and suffering. He had to live Christ’s death to the end.

Christ warned Jewish believers that sinful practices would render them impermanent members of God’s family (Jn 8:35) and cautioned that those in him who do not bear fruit would be cut from him. (Jn 15:2) He also spoke of the need to “stand firm to the end” to be saved (Mt 10:22), and that his angels would “weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41)

The promise of God concerning eternal salvation is for the obedient; the disobedient will find themselves forever separated from him. (2 Thess 1:9) A person cannot lose their eternal salvation because they will not have achieved it until they have been judged acceptable for God’s eternal kingdom. (Rom 15:16).



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.


 

September 10, 2019

The Purpose for Preaching the Gospel

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

Has the purpose for preaching the gospel been distorted?

Preaching is intended to convey a vital message to those who are listening, and Peter has presented its purpose. It is not primarily to present the salvation message, but to inform both the lost and those who consider themselves to be eternally saved concerning specific truths.

The purpose for preaching the gospel was to inform people about life in the Spirit and judgment for things done in the flesh. That is, all will face judgment for things done in the body and that they can live to please God through the Spirit. “But they (pagans) will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” (1 Pet 4:5−6) This passage might be understood more clearly if the clauses were reversed. That is, ‘For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are dead so that they might live according to God in regard to the Spirit but be judged according to men in regard to the body.’

All will be judged, but all can also avoid its negative consequences by living in the Spirit. Preaching the gospel is intended to inform and to bring clarity concerning these issues. Peter does not present that the many attributes of God…his great mercy, love, and grace are not to be the main issues of preaching but the nature of a person’s living and the judgment that will follow are paramount. Of course, the Lord’s sacrificial offering and his mercy and grace are part of the gospel, but the real purpose of preaching is to inform all people of the means of averting God’s wrath. The reality of judgment is seldom preached and with it the “good news” of the gospel seldom heard or appreciated.

Pagan-ish behaviors are not acceptable to God and all will be judged according to their ungodly interests and practices. Confessors are not to live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but for the will of God. (v 2) They, along with all others, will be judged for things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10) The truths about judgement and life in the Spirit need to be loudly proclaimed since their proclamation is the purpose of gospel preaching.

Understanding the practice of living in the Spirit is necessary for the kingdom-seeker. The flesh leads to all kinds of ungodly practices. In fact, Paul calls it the “body of death,” (Rom 7:24) and has stated that we are to be united with Christ in his death so that we can die to sin. The Spirit ministers to transform the heart that is not acceptable to God into one whose thoughts and practices are righteousness. God’s grace does not cover defiance of the Spirit by deliberately continuing to sin. Those who are led by the Spirit will become sons of God (Rom 8:14) since it is the Spirit who enables a person to meet God’s righteous requirements. (Rom 8:4) From Peter’s perspective, the gospel was preached so that people would know how to become an acceptable offering to God sanctified by the Spirit (Rom 15:16) and thereby to avoid judgment.

When “freedom” from the consequence of sins by God’s grace becomes the focus of gospel preaching, the warning is lost both for the wicked and those who have confessed Christ as their savior, and both remain vulnerable to God’s wrath for disobedience. The Biblical presentation of “freedom” from “past sins” (2 Pet 1:9) does not allow escape from personal judgment by God. (1 Pet 4:17; Heb 10:30; 2 Thess 1:7−8; Mt 12:36) All will come under judgment for their activities in the flesh. The gospel is to be preached to make people aware that all will be accountable to God and that they can avoid destruction through the guidance of the Spirit. Those who preach freedom from judgment and neglect the need to live according to God’s will through the Spirit must not be addressing the purpose of gospel preaching.

All confessors know of the wrath that will befall those outside of Christ, but many do not appreciate the fullness of their need. Although the confessor’s “past sins” may have been forgiven, the need remains for them to live in obedience to the Spirit if they are to be acceptable to him. Because the focus has been taken off the purpose of gospel preaching its intent has been lost and with it so will the imagined hope for many.

The sinful nature has been the guide and remains the guide of pagans. They know nothing of the Spirit. The natural spirit takes direction from the flesh which would seek comfort and pleasure without regard to God. Ungodliness in its various forms must be overcome and this truth is clear in God’s Word. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11−12) Paul has written, “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:13−14) According to Peter the gospel was preached that a person might know to avoid destruction through the judgment that will face people for the ungodly practices of their body and commit to Spirit-led living. The purpose of preaching the gospel must be honored for the eternal welfare of all people.



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.

 

June 20, 2019

A Compelling Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Are Heaven and Hell Consistent with a Good and Loving God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for the future? It would be odd if you were considering the compelling reasons to trust in Jesus, but then upon asking about the afterlife you are told that you enter an endless cycle of being reincarnated as a bird if you receive Christ, and as a worm, if not. That should strike you as utter nonsense. Now what about Christian teaching? The idea that upon death we either sprout wings and play a harp while sitting in the clouds, or burn in an eternal fire, is for many people, too much to believe. Is the Biblical Christian vision for the future consistent with a good and loving God? Or is it nonsensical? When we hear what the Bible teaches about eternal destination, do we say ‘of course that is what a good God would do”?

Let us look first, to the Book of Revelation;

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Here we have, not a hope of going up into heaven when I die, to spend eternity there, but something much grander. This is a vision of God’s re-creation of all creation. All of creation was negatively impacted by the sin of humanity (see Romans 8:18-23). All of creation will be positively impacted by God’s rescue of humanity.

2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Here we are told of a city, not in the sense of roads and buildings, but in the sense of people. The holy city is the “bride,” that is, the people of God. Just as people are the focus in the creation account of Genesis, people are the focus of the re-creation account. God created humanity, the only creature we are told he created in his image, for a special relationship. That relationship is what is truly important.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

There is much in the Bible about separation from God being a huge problem for humanity. It begins with Genesis chapter three and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It becomes apparent at Mount Sinai when the people cannot approach the mountain on which God’s presence was made palpable. It is emphasized in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with the establishment of both the tabernacle and priesthood. While God was willing to dwell among his people, as symbolized through the pitching of his “tent” among them, God needed to remain separated from the people, for their sake. An unholy people cannot approach a holy God without becoming holy first. The sacrificial rigmarole of the priesthood was a constant reminder of separation from God and the need for atonement. The priesthood and the sacrifices pointed forward to something greater; God the Son making people holy through his sacrifice. In Christ the future of God’s people is wrapped up with being at home with God. There is no more separation from God.

The problems of this world, which separation from God creates, also are dealt with;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

The consequence of sin and separation from God is death. The consequence of being reconciled to God is eternal life. In Christ death is no longer part of the human condition. However the consequence of God’s grace is not just eternal life, but as we have already seen, eternal life with God.

In sum, the Biblical vision of the future is one of transformation, for all creation, for our bodies, and for our very selves. The transformation within us begins now through the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Christian is to look to God to fix everything in the future is compelling. The fact that the Christian need not wait for Christ’s return to fix everything in us is also compelling. The hope of meaningful change, not into brilliant cloud-sitting harpists, but into good people who dwell with a good God in a good creation, is consistent with a good and loving God.

However, is the future of those who reject God consistent with a good and loving God? The idea of being on fire forever does not seem consistent to many of us. In answering this we must first appreciate that the people of the Bible often speak in poetic ways, just as we do today. We sometimes pick apart the Bible as if we are in math class working out equations. Let us remember our English literature lessons and have an appreciation for the poetic and literary nuances which often escape the math whizzes. We will not dig into this too deeply, but it is best to take the language about hell, with the everlasting fire and torment, as poetic. The least poetic, the most matter-of-fact, the most precise and concise description of hell we have in the Bible is this;

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

What is hell? It is separation from God. What is it like to be separated from God? Thankfully, no one alive can truly tell, for to be alive at all is to experience a measure of God’s grace. However, we do well to remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NRSV). As you read through the Bible, watch out for how often salvation is spoken of as a matter of eternal life versus death. This is consistent with the Genesis account and the promise that death would occur if the forbidden fruit were eaten. What we can say with certainty is that to experience hell is to experience everlasting separation from God.

If hell is separation from God, then is separation from God consistent with a good and loving God? Consider first, the holiness and justice of God. That unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God is made clear in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; at Mount Sinai, and through the establishment of the tabernacle and priesthood. God did not teach about His holiness and our sinfulness in the Old Testament then come to us in the New Testament and say “it doesn’t matter anymore.” It does matter, but God offers to make us holy in Christ and through his Holy Spirit. If you reject that offer of being made holy, then separation from God is a very natural consequence. The experience of death is a natural consequence of refusing the offer of eternal life. Therefore, the future of those who reject God is consistent with a good and loving God who respects the wishes of those who want nothing to do with him. Of course that is what a good God would do.

The Bible presents a compelling and beautiful vision for the future of those who receive Christ and accept God’s offer of relationship. While we might not use the word beautiful, the Bible provides a vision of the future of those who do not want a relationship with God that is consistent with His goodness and love. The consistency of the Christian vision of the future is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

June 3, 2019

Sinning Against Another, Sinning Against Yourself, Sinning Against God

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.

In the title of today’s article, the first two categories don’t exist. It’s a topic we’ve covered here several times, but all sin is sin against God. It’s his holy standards that we miss, not those of our neighbor or ourselves.

It’s easy to believe your own press, or as some would say today, believe the picture you paint on Facebook. You can buy into the image that people have of you. You can decide that nine-out-of-ten is good enough. You can rationalize that the ministry is still happening, people are still getting saved, money is still being raised, the teaching is still being distributed. You don’t admit weakness, that would be letting people down.

I can only imagine what it’s like when you’re the king, especially when your nation or state is somewhat theocratic in nature. Like King David.

Psalm 51 is his particular prayer of confession. In the KJV the words are iconic,

…my sin is ever before me.

David admits he can’t run and he can’t hide from the thing he has done, or the person he has become. It’s what he sees when looks in the mirror. He owns up to it. I believe that whatever sin we give into, no matter how private, no matter how secret; it will manifest itself at some point in some more open way. Bathsheba presented a tremendous opportunity — her husband was away at the time — but it wasn’t the first time David had looked at a woman. Or perhaps not even the first time David had hatched a scheme.

You don’t become an adulterer overnight. It happens when you have failed to pre-book your choices. It happens when you’ve never recognized your susceptibility. It happens when pride gives you spiritual over-confidence.

Then, again using the KJV, he says,

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned

Jerry Bridges says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.”

  • When you maligned your co-worker, you sinned not against them, but against God
  • When you cheated on that test, you sinned not against the school or the teacher, but against God
  • When you falsified that document, you sinned not against the organization or the government, but against God
  • When you flirted with the girl in the grocery store, you sinned not against them or against your wife, but against God

You get the pattern.

Some of the resolutions people made at the start of the year are long broken. If they carried with them moral or spiritual significance, it isn’t just a personal letdown, you don’t just fail yourself, but rather it’s sin against God.

A key verse on this topic is,

I Sam. 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

The preceding verses provide the context; here’s how The Message expresses this:

22-25 By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. Eli took them to task: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”

Perhaps you find the meaning of this rather self-evident. Several of the study Bibles and commentaries I consulted seem to gloss over it without adding detail. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Eli’s point is that while there may be some mediation of disputes between people, when someone offends God there is no one who can intervene.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary noted:

When a man has a complaint against another, the matter can be decided by God through his representative, the judge (Ps. 82:3), or by the sacred lot in the hand of the priest. But in a case in which God is the plaintiff, there can be no reference to a disinterested party the crime incurs the direct vengeance of heaven.  (p.277)

Although the context is quite different, the language of that verse to me is always similar to Acts 5:39, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” What I get is there is a sense of God’s vested interest in certain affairs (though the verse means far more than that); it conveys the image of sitting across the table in direct confrontation with God.  You don’t want that.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

5 …But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. 6 We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

A pastor once said “you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward.” He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.


Psalm 51 – Worship Liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

Show me your grace, Yahweh, according to Your faithful love;
erase my rebellion, according to Your overflowing compassion.

Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.

I know what I’ve done wrong.
I remember where I’ve missed the path.

I’ve done wrong against You – the only one who has the right to judge and to pass sentence.

But I’ve been going wrong my whole life, when what You want for me is integrity for my inner self.
And from within, You teach me deep wisdom.
You purify me.
You make me clean.

Fill my ears with gladness; fill my broken bones with joy.

Yahweh, create in me a willing heart,
an unwavering spirit,
the joy of Your salvation,
the presence of Your Spirit.

Open my mouth to teach the other rebels,
to sing Your righteousness
and to call the other sinners home to You.

Lord, break my heart and humble my spirit.
Because You don’t want just my stuff, or I’d give it.

What pleases You is the offering of a broken and humbled heart,
and what flows from there.

When my spirit is right with You, then You’ll delight in what I bring.
And You can have it all.


Today’s article includes excerpts from When You Hit Bottom, Jerry Bridges Quotations, Owning It, Sins Against Another; Against God,

September 15, 2018

Looking into God’s Word; Looking into Ourselves

James 1:23 For anyone who hears the word but does not carry it out is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, 24 and after observing himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom, and continues to do so—not being a forgetful hearer, but an effective doer—he will be blessed in what he does… (Berean Study Bible)

This is our first time featuring the blog, Seeking God, which we discovered this week. All we know about the writer is his first name, Robert. Click the title below to read this devotional at source. Also, be prepared to click the different links to the many scriptures passages mentioned below, which will take you to Bible Hub.

God’s Word a Mirror, Not a Sword

God’s Word is a mirror that lets us see ourselves as compared to Him. God’s Word is to convict us as He speaks to us. It is not for us to condemn others by, for we are not God.

Know Thyself

How little many of us know our own faces: they’re something we can see if we look in a mirror, but they’re also something so common to us that we don’t even know all the details of how we look (make-up people excluded). We have a general image, but if blessed with exceptional artistic ability and asked to draw our faces, would we be able to make an accurate portrait? It is doubtful. Every pore is a world of its own, yet even the big things are thought of incorrectly (if I gave you a sheet of nose shapes, would you be able to pick out your nose– something you may even be able to see if you go cock-eyed enough–?)

A Mirror Unto Our Lives

Prayerfully reading the Bible and talking to God (with thoughtful consideration and openness to conviction of our own failures) is like a mirror showing ourselves since we are made in His Image (Genesis 1:27). If we don’t look into His truths, we will never know what we really look like compared to His Image as portrayed in Scripture. And if we only look into God’s truth and never apply it, we are like a man who looks into the mirror, leaves it, and immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24).

We Are Not Other’s Mirrors

It’s almost funny: we better know what others look like without knowing how ourselves really look. You know your best friend’s face anywhere. You can pick your lover out from a crowd. You can identify your parents in a photo taken twenty years ago (well, some people can). You’re the last person to know you have food in your teeth yet the first person to point it out in others (metaphorically speaking, even if it’s committed only in the heart (Matthew 5:28)). This is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-2 (ESV), “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

We’re often blind to the truth about ourselves, yet we’re quick to make a big deal of some perceived thing in others. Jesus continues on in the aforementioned passage: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Indeed, how true: and so is the idiom, “Practice what you preach”, though we hear it so often that its depth of impact is lost upon us: it falls upon deaf ears that have tuned it out. Revenge and judgement: they are for God (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). We have not the right, for we have not the sight that God has: nor the heart, nor the understanding. It is not just outward appearances that God judges: it is not just actions. God judges the heart– the motives and reasons (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 16:2).

Conclusion

Do we really know what we look like as compared to God? God remakes His true disciples day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16; Romans 12:2). Can we see ourselves as united to God: with Him being our God, and with us being His true people (Ezekiel 37:27)? Do we see the fullness of ourselves, and the fullness of God in us? Do we see every detail that brings beauty or ugliness in our faces? Do we really know what we look like– everything laid bare: no foundation, no make-up: just the truth of ourselves as God would have us know? Most likely, the answer is no. And neither do we know the truth behind the face others put up: many embellish their faces. Many hides flaws. Many things that we perceive as imperfections are not– beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you hold not as you are only held. And much of what we think a haggard imperfection may not be so haggard as our own.

 

June 21, 2018

Fire and Brimstone – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Part two will run tomorrow, or you can read ahead by clicking the link at the bottom of this page to see it on Clarke’s blog.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we need to bring back hell-fire and brimstone? Preachers don’t seem to preach on hell as often these days, and for that some people are very grateful. Others think that something important has been lost. The good folk at Calvary may or may not have noticed I rarely use the word “hell”, preferring to refer to “separation from God”. But is there even such a thing as being cast out from the presence of God? There are those who would say that God is so loving, that everyone will be saved in the end. That might be what we would like the Bible to teach. But is it?

A brief overview of the Bible will help clarify our thoughts on God’s judgement. Let us begin at Genesis:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24

The Bible is clear from the get-go that separation from God and His goodness is a consequence of rebellion against Him. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, the place where they could fully experience the presence of God, plus the way to the tree of life was guarded. Death became a reality, a sure thing. The gift of life was taken back.

This is reflected in the New Testament:

For the wages of sin is death . . . Romans 6:23

That is the bad news. Now for the good news:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

While it is clear that judgement against sin results in death, it is also clear that Jesus came to give us life. But perhaps Jesus came to give everyone life?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

John 3:16 is a favourite verse for many, but implicit there is the fact that eternal life can be refused. Further Scriptures confirm that there are those who refuse and so are perishing:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The Bible is clear that though Jesus came to give us life, people can say “no thanks”.

The Bible is also clear that God is a good father:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

Would we as imperfect Dads go and force an adult child to return home, locking them up in our living room? God invites people to call him Father, but he gives people the freedom to people to say “no, I’m not coming home”.

There is such a thing as being cut off from God and his goodness. Hell is therefore a reality. So, time to bring back fire and brimstone, right?

We will consider that in Part 2.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

May 22, 2018

Pluck Out the Eye that Causes Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out”

by Russell Young

What is a person to make of the Lord’s admonition that it is better to cut off a hand or foot or to pluck out an eye if it causes him or her to sin? (Mk 9:47) This passage is easy to dismiss because it is so extreme and contrasts so greatly with the concept of God’s love, and the supposed freedom through grace given to believers. Like many biblical teachings, this one is easy to dismiss as an hyperbole certainly not as something that should be taken literally.

The Lord went on to explain that the consequence of practicing sin through the hand, foot, or eye would be “to go into hell where the fire never goes out.” (Mk 9:44) Surely teaching that advocates cutting off a body part or plucking out an eye cannot have literal meaning, and if it does, Christ must have been addressing “non-believers.” If sin has been pardoned once and for all, why would such an injunction exist for those who have confessed faith? If sin has been forgiven, why should a person consider plucking out an eye?

In light of current teaching concerning God’s grace, the Lord’s admonition does not make sense, after all the practice of sin is to have been forgiven and has no eternal consequence; it has been fully covered by the blood of Christ. It is not the admonition that lacks merit, it is the freedom offered by God’s grace that is misunderstood. Concerning “the end of the age,” the Lord has stated, “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) Those who do evil and those who cause sin will not be part of his kingdom. Their eternal state will be dependent upon their actions. The very real possibility of missing his Kingdom is the reason for Christ’s admonition. The confessor’s hope is not to be achieved through an empty confession or pledge of Christ’s lordship but upon the testimony of his or her life practices and upon the honour that they have allowed the Spirit in their lives.

It is certain that the Lord does not want anyone to cut off a hand or foot, or to pluck out an eye. He is not really endorsing it. The point that is being made is that the practice of sin has serious consequences and should be diligently avoided and that confessors should give attention to the way they live their lives. Considering the possibility of enduring God’s wrath for disobedience through continued sinning, the confessor would be better off to be maimed than to be cast from his Kingdom. Paul told the Romans that he had been given “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God sanctified [purified, made holy] by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16 NIV) Gentiles must become an offering suitable for God’s heavenly kingdom if they are to dwell there. The philosophical-theological perception that sin lacks consequence needs to be reconsidered. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14) Holiness is developed through slavery to righteous living. (Rom 6:22)

John wrote, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 Jn 3: 89 Italics added) Either this passage is true, or it is false. It very well may be that current theological teachings have so missed the great truths of God’s Word and have given such licence to sin that little effort is being made to avoid its draw. Christ said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 Italics added.)

Sin is serious. John said, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) Those who claim the name of Christ and seek his kingdom must gain victory over the issues of the flesh. How should the believer deal with the admonition to cut off the foot or hand or to pluck out the eye that causes him or her to sin? They must learn to hear the voice of Christ through his Spirit and respond obediently as he leads. Peter has said that “[Christ’s] divine nature (his Spirit) has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3) He did not say that he has given us life and godliness. Those who proclaim that all sin ever to be committed has been forgiven should seek definitive, supportive scriptural evidence of that fact. The Word reveals that the righteous requirements of God as revealed in the “first covenant”, the Old Covenant, were forgiven (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) and that under the New Covenant they are fully met through obedience to the Spirit. (Rom 8:4) Believers are to live in the light (1 Jn 1:7) and sin is to be repented and confessed. (1 Jn 1:9). The life of Christ is to be lived in the believer (Col 1:27; Gal 6:8; Rom 8:14;4, 1 Jn 2:6)

The admonition of Christ to pluck out the eye that causes sin was not meaningless. It is obviously very serious and would have been considered serious in his day. Those who had lived under the law of the covenant would have understood it as such. We are not freed from law under the New Covenant, but it is the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) or the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21) that must be honored. Those who live humbly and committedly before God will not need to maim the body.

All scriptures NIV except as noted


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

 

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