Christianity 201

October 16, 2018

The Evils and Mistakes of the Past

Once again, we’re featuring Joe Waller who writes at As I Learn to Walk and is a PhD candidate at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Click the title below to read this at the original page.

Ghosts and Gospel

People love ghost stories. People hate ghost stories. But no matter the response, ghost stories have crept into our lives and our cultures, and they don’t appear to be leaving.

I live in New Orleans, a city full of history and culture and, according to some, ghosts. You can take tours of buildings with haunted pasts, visit multiple haunting cemeteries, and hear stories of the haunted people (or their ghosts) who live on in legend. And the more I learn about the world, the more I find that most places have similar tales of hauntings. The world, it seems, is filled with ghosts.

To some extent, an abundance of ghost stories makes sense. Ghost stories speak to our fears of the past. We hear stories of tortured souls that still walk the grounds where they were lost years before, stories of homes where tragic deaths still stain the walls, stories of abandoned hospitals or asylums where unspeakable acts still echo in the hallways, and we feel a chill, a tinge of dread that the past might still affect the present. More specifically, our fear of haunted places may stem from our fear of the evils and mistakes of the past, from fear that we can’t truly escape what’s gone before us. And I know few who are immune to such fear. As we learn about history and discover the depths of human depravity, we rightfully fear what humans can become – nay, what humans are. Paul, stringing together a number of Old Testament texts to describe the state of sinful humanity, pointedly writes,

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:10-18

Elsewhere, after describing the unrighteousness that keeps people from God, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that such words describe their own state before they came to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). No matter the greatness of our present faith, we each share the same past record: unrighteous, unworthy, and unable to right our wrongs.

Yet Paul does not stop with a description of sin in either passage referenced above. In 1 Corinthians, he reminds the believers that “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Similarly, in Romans, Paul transitions from the hopeless state of sinful humanity to the hope found in Jesus Christ, writing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:23-25). Note that last part especially. God, in his patience and mercy, graciously gave time for us to turn back to him through the redemption found in his Son. Though we had earned his wrath, through Christ he shows us his love.

As Paul so eloquently explains elsewhere, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And now, by grace, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). To quote Paul again, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Ghost stories remind us of the past. They employ the evils of history to threaten the present. And those who walk in the way of this world may rightfully fear, for, as the past has been, so the present and future may be. Thankfully, God has provided a rescue from the evils of sin. In Christ, the past turns from a haunting record of wrongs to a testimony of what God can do. Paul knew this well, his life in Christ serving as a shining example of the power of God found in the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:16-17 and 1 Timothy 1:15-17). Christian, do not fear the ghosts of the past. Walk in the newness of life, freed for the glory of God and for the good of the world. And let hope fill your every step.

 

October 2, 2018

Murder in the Early Church?

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

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

More Grace

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

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

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

(James 4:1-4 ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the answer? Stop it!!!

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

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

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

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

(James 4:6 ESV)

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

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

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

(James 4:10 ESV)

Yes He will.

Because of more grace. And that for His glory.

Amen?

September 25, 2018

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

by Russell Young

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

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

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

The life of Christ makes the believer competent to satisfy the New Covenant through his living indwelling presence. This is the life that provides “eternal” salvation. Many confessors are going to suffer judgement for failing to have grasped this truth. Paul wrote: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Note that the believer’s hope is Christ’s indwelling presence. Paul also made the relationship between “the Lord” and “the Spirit” clear to the Corinthians. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (from the law). And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:1718 Italics added) The Lord is the Spirit! It is the resurrected life of Christ as Spirit that is “the life” of which he spoke, the life that provides hope and the life that fully meets God’s righteous requirements. This truth must not be confused.

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

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

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

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


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

September 8, 2018

Don’t Even Think About It

A few years ago I was speaking with someone who was heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, but it turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

This translation also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

July 17, 2018

Seeking God’s Righteousness

by Russell Young

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

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

Modern teaching would dismiss the possibility of a confessor’s spiritual separation from God. Those teaching would cover sin with God’s grace and “unconditional love.” However, the Word reveals that destruction can come from sinful practices. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God will not be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction. The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:78) And, “He will punish those who do not know (appreciate) God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:89) God expects his people to walk fearfully before him, to be righteous in his sight. The believer is to be a slave to God. (Rom 6:22) Righteousness must be lived.

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

The Lord has promised: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) He was referencing a person’s needs–food and clothing. These are provisions granted those seeking to live righteously and who are seeking God’s kingdom. Ignoring conviction of sin is not living righteously and quenching the Spirit keeps people from enjoying the fullness and richness of God. Believers are cautioned against loving the world and the things in it. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 NIV) Those who are surrounded by riches feel entitled to pursue them. In God’s sight such interest is sin. He does not bless the confessor who craves the things of this world or who pursues them but honors the person whose heart is established on righteousness, on him, and on his kingdom purposes.

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

David repented and found joy again. In fact, God described him as, “a man after [his] own heart.” (Acts 13:33) Believers are to be men and women after God’s own heart. They are to enjoy fellowship with him, never feeling the dryness in spiritual life that comes from separation. The point is that God does not bless wickedness regardless of the utterances of those who would profess his “unconditional love.” He demands righteous practices from his people and blesses those who forgo sin and pursue his kingdom purposes. The LORD has said, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isa 66:2)


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

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

 

June 6, 2018

Continually Killing the Sin

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

Entangled in sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, we continue killing the sin in us-

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


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

May 28, 2018

Jesus Raised the Bar, Making Law-Keeping Impossible

This is our 9th time featuring Christian musician and author John Fischer. Click the title below to read this at The Catch.

How good are you?

“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Matthew 5:20

In other words: Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the most holy people you know, don’t even try.

This was one of the main things Jesus accomplished in the Sermon on the Mount. He established a new order. He put the law on a new basis. He made the law harder (indeed, impossible) to obey, but easier to fulfill. If that sounds like the same thing, it’s not. Think of it this way: If you are setting out to make yourself righteous on the basis of following all the laws of God … forget it. But if you want to know the point of the law — the reason behind it — so you can know why God gave it in the first place, and what to focus on, because you want to please Him and align your life in close proximity to His will … then you can do that by following only one law: the law of love.

Jesus made the law impossible to follow by reinterpreting some of the basic laws of Moses from an internal basis. He’s concerned with what is going on in our hearts and minds not just our behavior. So six times in this sermon He says something like, “You have heard it said,” or “You have read,” and six times He says, “But I say to you …” and that’s when He restates the depth of the law in our hearts, which we all have broken and continue to break because of our sinful nature.

Instead of murder, hatred in your heart will do the same thing. Instead of committing adultery, wishing you could, will put you in the camp with adulterers. Instead of allowing divorce, as Moses did, think of divorce as another trip to Camp Adultery. Instead of keeping your vows, don’t even make them, because you’ll break them before you even walk out the door. Instead of meeting evil with evil, meet evil with good. (This is what we talked about yesterday.) And instead of hating your enemy, which was acceptable by law, love your enemy. Six times He stated the law; six times He reinterpreted it in a way that made us all guilty.

This restatement of the law did two things:

1) It showed how the law is impossible to follow from the inside out. (The Pharisees followed the law on the outside but inside they were full of dead men’s bones.) We are all guilty. No one can justify themselves by the law specially as Jesus reinterpreted it.

2) There’s a New Deal as far as the law goes. Jesus said, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.(Matthew 22:37-40)

So we follow not the laws, but the purpose of the law which is love. And we follow as those who have been humbled to realize our spiritual poverty. We start where the sermon starts: Blessed are the poor in spirit. And from that place, we realize His power to make us into those who love as Christ has loved us.

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.

 

April 29, 2018

Enjoying Christ’s Riches

In March 2011, Tom Smith started the blog, “Holding to Truth in Love.” The title expresses God’s desire expressed in Paul’s word in Ephesians 4:15, “But holding to truth in love, we may grow up into Him in all things, who is the Head Christ.” This is his second time here at C201. This is just the middle section of this particular article. For the entire piece, click the title below.

Three Aspects of Christ’s Riches for us to Enjoy Every Day

First, Christ’s riches are what He is to us

As the footnote above mentions, Christ’s riches are first what He is to us–including life, light, righteousness and holiness…and much more.

John 1:4 says, “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.” In 1 Corinthians 1:30 Paul says, “But of Him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom to us from God: both righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Life

Do you need life? Christ is the eternal, divine life of God (John 14:6). Without receiving Him as life we would all perish (3:16).  But when we believe into God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we have this eternal life (1 John 5:12). You can receive the eternal life which is Jesus Christ…right now! Just cry out and say, “Lord Jesus I believe into You. I receive You!”

Light

Do you need light? Christ is the light of life (8:12). Without light we have no way to go on, no way to grow spiritually, no direction for our living. Christ is not only the light of world generally but the light that shines in our hearts personally (2 Cor. 4:6).

Holiness and righteousness

How about holiness and righteousness? None of us can be holy as God is holy and none of us can be perfectly righteous. Yet Christ is both. He is absolutely holy and perfectly righteous—even called “Jesus Christ, the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

Calling on the Lord enables us to enjoy His riches

Simply contact the Lord Jesus with your spirit by calling on His name, “Lord Jesus!” He’ll become so rich to you.

In Romans 10:12b Paul says,

For the same Lord is Lord of all and rich to all who call upon Him.”

The note on Romans 10:12 tells us that the secret to the enjoyment of Christ’s riches is to call on His name. Try it!

When we call, “Lord Jesus!” He is like a blank check to which we can fill in the amount. We’re not, but He is! He meets our need with what He is as life, light, holiness and righteousness.

Second,  Christ’s riches are what He has for us

I have also been enjoying a hymn, “I am one with Thee, Lord Jesus.” You can read the lyrics here.

Day by day we share His riches

This hymn is awesome. The first stanza points out that in our union with Christ—because we’re now one Spirit with Him (1 Cor. 6:17)—we possess all that He is!  All He is now lives in us! (Gal. 2:20)

Then the chorus concludes by saying that in our oneness with Christ,

Day by day I share Thy riches,
Thou art everything to me.

The words of this chorus added fuel to my quest to know, experience and enjoy Christ’s riches more.

The hymn goes on, in the following stanzas, to point out some of  Christ’s riches that we share in our union with Him. For example…

Christ’s riches include His complete obedience

Stanza 2 points out that we share Christ’s human life, filled with His humanity and that all of Christ’s complete obedience is available to us.

“Christ’s complete obedience”  is just one example of  the riches Christ has for us.

By nature, we, like all fallen sinners, are rebellious to God and man. Even after we’re saved, we find ourselves still living with a rebellious attitude.

Such an attitude frustrates our fellowship with God and damages our human relationships such as marriage and family life.

But our Lord Jesus was obedient to God, even unto the death of the cross (Phil 2:8). When we contact Him in our spirit, that is mingled with His bountiful Spirit, we have the inexhaustible supply of  His complete obedience…and so much more!

Christ’s riches include His resurrection power

We also share Christ’s resurrection power. Ephesians 1:19-20 says,

What is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe according to the operation of the might of His strength Which He caused to operate in Christ in raising Him from the dead…

This isn’t some miraculous power but the divine operation that God operated in Christ in raising Him from the dead. This same resurrection  power now operates in us in our union with Christ.

Toward us who believe” literally means to “toward us the believing ones.” It is something, present and active.

So are you abelieving one”

One of the best ways I know be a “believing one” is to open my mouth. In 2 Corinthians 4:13 Paul says,

And having the same spirit of faith according to that which is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak.

Our speaking, whether in calling on name of the Lord, singing, thanking or praising the Lord (Eph. 5:18-20) keeps our believing “switch” on. In such a union with Christ we constantly receive the riches of what Christ has for us.

There are too many riches of Christ to speak of in one post. So this word can only whet your appetite to experience all of Christ’s riches He has for us.

Third, Christ’s riches are what He has accomplished, attained, and obtained for us

Let’s consider some of the awesome things Christ has accomplished, attained and obtained for us.

Christ accomplishments 

Christ accomplishments include His incarnation, His perfect human living, His all-inclusive death, excellent resurrection, and all-transcending ascension. In the Spirit of Christ there is the reality of all these accomplishments.

When we drink of His Spirit by calling on His name (1 Cor. 12:13, 3) all His accomplishments are ours.

Christ attainments 

The attainments of Christ’s ascension include His ascending “far above the heavens” (Eph. 4:10). When we feel that we are in a low pit, we need to call on the Lord who is far above all.  Contacting the Lord in this way, we transcend our problems in Him.

Christ attainments also include His being crowned with glory and honor in His ascension (Heb. 2:9). When we contact Him, as our ascended Lord, we are infused with His glory and honor. Then, as His ambassadors, we express Christ’s glory and honor in our speaking Him to people (2 Cor. 4:4).

What Christ obtained

In His ascension, Christ obtained the kingship, the lordship, the headship with all authority. He also obtained a more excellent ministry. Hebrews 8:6 says,

“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry inasmuch as He is also the Mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted upon better promises.

After accomplishing redemption for us in His earthly ministry, Christ, in His ascension, entered into His heavenly ministry. Now He is applying to us all the bequests of the new covenant which He enacted through His blood. He is ministering to us the heavenly life, grace, authority, and power that enables us to live a heavenly life on earth. How wonderful is that?!

We need to see that when Christ comes into us as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45) we receive all that He accomplished, obtained and attained. How great are Christ’s riches!

Learn to enjoy Christ’s riches in your daily life.

April 15, 2018

May We Be Discontent to Live in Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re introducing a writer who is new to us. Sarah Jo writes at Blind Insanity. This is really part testimony and part teaching. I appreciate her transparency. To read this post at its source, click the title below.

Worship in Deed

[Friday] night, I went to a worship concert.

It was wonderful to worship with so many believers of Jesus. But as I looked around the auditorium, seeing so many hands raised, I was reminded of what Samuel said to King Saul:

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

Saul chose to disobey God’s commands, but he tried to cover up his disobedience with excuses. Obviously, God did not stand for his excuses, because He could see Saul’s heart. There was no excuse for Saul’s sin. He should have bowed before God right then and there, but he chose to stand in his sin.

Almost everyone at the concert raised their hands and sang praises to Jesus, but I know that so many of them choose to stand in their sin on a daily basis. They make excuses for their actions, so they worship God in vain, because they worship with their lips, but don’t bow down their hearts and surrender their lives to His leading.

How can I know that people are living in sin and rebellion against God? Because I am no different.

I believe in Jesus. I love Him. But so many times, I sin, and that, knowingly. I have the willpower to resist sin and do the right thing, but I still choose sin. By the grace of God, my guilt draws me back to Jesus, again and again, and He gives me grace upon grace. But His grace and His Holy Spirit are changing me; making me more like Him, teaching me what it means to be holy, and giving me the strength and will to follow.

I am only accountable for my actions and the condition of my heart, but I see a need for every professing believer in Christ to live a holy life before God.

Without Christ, righteousness is impossible, but anyone who has Jesus has put on His righteousness. Through Him, they are made righteous, and through His Holy Spirit, they are given the strength to live a holy life; to live in a way that glorifies Him. That means that, what would be seen as normal, and even “healthy,” by the world, should not be present in our lives.

Every form of sexual immorality, gossip, lying, hatred, drunkenness, cheating, and any other sin should no longer have dominion over us. That is not to say that we won’t struggle or that we won’t stumble, but we should grow to the point where we don’t fall into that sin again. And we should humble ourselves before God on a daily basis; asking Him for the strength to resist sin and live for Him.

We need revival in the Church. Revival starts in the heart, and it should produce good fruits that bring glory to Jesus Christ.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth Your praise. For You desire not sacrifice; else would I give it. You delight not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)

Abba, we need You to step into our mess and bring us to our senses. May we be discontent to live in sin. Teach us to be holy as You are holy; to be examples of You in word and deed. Please continue to shower Your grace and mercy over us, and may it be Your love that brings us to our knees and shapes us into the men and women that You intended us to be. Thank You for listening when we speak, and never forsaking us.
I love You, Jesus.

Amen.

March 27, 2018

Salvation through the Resurrection of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Russell Young

Salvation into God’s eternal kingdom is accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ. Concerning baptism, Peter wrote, “the resurrection of Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Pet 3:22) saves you or delivers you from danger and possible death through your response to your cleansing with a good conscience or the maintenance of a good conscience.

The struggle for eternal salvation is not completed by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Paul has stated that he–the main expositor of God’s truths on the matter–had to continue to work out or to finish his perfection to gain the hope of resurrection (Phil 2:12), and acknowledged that he had not yet been made perfect (Phil 3:12). The writer of Hebrews has stated that perfection applies to “those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:14 NIV) In his letter to the Ephesians Paul cautioned that believers were to put on the armor of God and to stand against the devil’s schemes. He reminded Christ-followers, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) A struggle remains simply because life and opportunity for sinning remains follow the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Although the confessor may have been rescued from the consequences of past sins through the Lord’s blood offering, he or she must still contend with the devil for victory over the demons, powers, and evil authorities in the heavenly realms that could devour them. It is through Christ’s resurrection that such victory can be gained. Christ has not defeated the devil to the point that he cannot and does not influence, and even destroy, lives. That will not happen until the era of the millennial years when he has been bound and is unable to deceive any longer. Peter admonished, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet 5:8 NIV) The fight has not been finished, nor has the victory been won. The keys to death and Hades have been taken from Satan and belong to Christ (Rev 1:18); the allocation for death and Hades has become Christ’s determination. Satan has not yet been prevented from exercising his evil schemes and from devouring the unwary. Through his death and resurrection Christ has gained authority over angels, authorities, and powers in the heavenly realms. That is, he can use them according to his own desires for the accomplishment of God’s eternal purpose. (Eph 3: 1011) He is in charge.

Paul has revealed that Christ “disarmed” the powers and authorities making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:15) Although Christ triumphed over them, confessors have not. His triumph through the cross completed the law and removed the power of death that Satan had used to accomplish his own purposes. His power rested in lies and deceits enticing people to defy God’s laws since breaking the law brought death and destruction and would have brought humankind to an end. The termination of the law robbed Satan of his instrument of death. However, terminating the law does not accomplish God’s righteous requirements either; the needed righteousness must be accomplished through the Holy Spirit. (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:5)

Satan is very much alive and active but the angels, powers, and authorities in the heavens are under Christ’s administration. Believers will be tested to discern their commitment and to reveal their heart-state. Certainly, eternal salvation can be gained, but it requires the believer to walk humbly in obedience to Christ. (Heb 5:9) He will discern those who love him as evidenced through their submission to him, as opposed to those who claim to love him but who are willing to live under the influence and control of the evil one. Paul wrote, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Rom 6:15─16 NIV) The Lord has said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son (those led by the Spirit, Rom 8:14) belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:35 NIV) The evil one can still bring about destruction, but God’s eternal purpose can and will be fulfilled through the Lord’s intervention in lives to the extent that he chooses, in those who have been called according to his purpose.

A mere pardon for sin does not provide for the accomplishment of God’s purpose for creation. He desires a kingdom of priests, a holy nation with inhabitants conformed to the likeness of his Son. The Lord’s authority over the heavenly beings is available to the called according to his purpose to enable them to live righteously and to fit them for his eternal kingdom. (Rom 15:16) Those who will dwell with him will have freely and committedly chosen to listen to his voice and to follow. His grace is available to those with a humble heart, those who are “poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3 NIV; Ps 34:18), and who recognize the need for his help and seek to gain it. The Lord (the Holy Spirit) works with the Father (the one who searches our hearts) (Rom 8:2627) to accomplish God’s purpose and he uses his authority over the heavenly beings for that purpose.

It is often presented that having been pardoned for sin provides eternal salvation, but the pardon does not provide for the accomplishment of God’s purpose. He desires a kingdom of priest, a holy nation with inhabitants conformed to the likeness of his Son. His authority is available to enable all confessors to accomplish his desired state, but not all will listen and follow. The Lord always allows the expression of free-will because that is also his desired state for humankind. He works with those who truly believe to accomplish their eternal salvation. He will provide a place in the kingdom of heaven After all, he has authority and possession of the keys of death and Hades. His authority over the heavenly powers as enabled through his resurrected life can accomplish God’s eternal purpose and fit believers (Rom 15:16) for his holy kingdom.

 


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: 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.

January 30, 2018

Forcing a Way Into the Kingdom

by Russell Young

By Russell’s count this is his 100th post here at Christianity 201. We thank him for his faithfulness to this project.

The Lord said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Lk 16: 1617 NIV)

It is apparent that even during the Lord’s days on earth false teaching concerning entrance to God’s kingdom was being presented, probably through the promotion of Jewish customs and Old Covenant theology. Other teachings were presented to the seven churches following his crucifixion which permitted breaching the wall and these were unacceptable to God, as well. Entrance to his kingdom is only availed to those who “overcome” their misconceptions and evil practices, overcome the hindrances revealed to the churches through Christ’s revelation. (Rev 21:7)

  1. To the church in Ephesus Christ addressed the need to maintain “[their] first love” (Rev 2:40; to continue doing the things that they had done when their love was fresh.
  2. Those in the church in Smyrna he encouraged resistance to fear and to be strong in suffering persecution even to the point of death.
  3. The teachings of the Nicolaitan were being promoted in the church of Pergamum. It remains unclear concerning the nature of those teachings, however, the Lord has connected them to the teaching of Balaam who enticed the Israelites to sin by committing immoral acts. Perhaps the teachings being referenced allowed for the freedom to engage immorality without consequence.
  4. Some in the church of Thyatira had learned “Satan’s so-called deep secrets” and were practicing idolatry and adultery. Their love for Christ had been lavished on Satan’s interests and on his deceptions.
  5. The church in Sardis was tolerating unrighteous practices. They had a reputation (outward appearance) of being alive but were dead according to the Lord’s revelation.
  6. The church of Philadelphia was being challenged by the teachings of the Jews and the imposition of Jewish customs, probably through the need for circumcision and obedience to the Law.
  7. Those in Laodicea attended church but were “lukewarm” and indifferent. They enjoyed wealth but were shamefully naked when it came to righteousness.

Unrighteous practices and lawlessness were the issues of concern, and teaching did not promote the requirement for victorious living. As stated at the beginning, the Lord taught the need to fulfil the Law. He stated that “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Mt 5:18 NIV) The law of the New Covenant is the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21), the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2), and not that of the Old Covenant. The righteous requirements of the law [are] fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4 NIV) This teaching does not allow that the righteous life of Christ is his imputed righteousness other than is provided at confession of faith, but that the life of Christ lived in them (Col 1:27) is their source of righteousness and of eternal salvation. (Heb 5:9) The presence of the Spirit is not sufficient since he may be denied, thwarted, or quenched; the believer must live according to the Spirit’s leading.

John the Baptist told the Pharisees that they were to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Mt 3:8) and cautioned that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Mt 3:10 NIV) (Christ repeated this admonition. (Jn 15: 6) Paul told King Agrippa he “preached that [his listeners] should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds,” (Acts 26:20 NIV)

The Lord admonished listeners, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (transforms, disciplines and punishes) so that it will be even more fruitful…Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (Jn 15:12… 4 NIV) The responsibility remained theirs to remain in him.

The Lord spoke of the necessity of applying serious effort to enter the kingdom. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) This “effort” should not be confused with salvation by works.

Much of western theological teaching is presented to “force” or to find easy entry into the kingdom of God. It cannot be gained in any other way than through Christ and the righteousness that he is able to provide as the believer lives obediently through the Spirit. Such a life demands death to self-interest (Lk 17:33) and a whole-hearted commitment to God. (Mk 12:30) Only through such dedication can the requirements of the law be fully met, and the kingdom legitimately entered. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12 NIV); there will be no forcing and there is no other means. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and the confession, promise, and covenant of his lordship (Rom 10: 9:10) as he lives righteously in the believer is the life availed through his death, that provides legitimate entry into the kingdom of God. He is the narrow gate.


Author Russell Young lives in Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here on alternate Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


January 1, 2018

Why Does the Apostle Paul Say There’s Nothing Good Within Him?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This fall, we ran eight articles in a weekly series of devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. We’re just doing one this season, but I encourage you to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings.

Nothing Good Within

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:18 ESV

We might be tempted to think there is not all that much in us Jesus needs to forgive. Even if we have recognized we are sinners and asked Jesus for forgiveness, we might still think we are fairly good people on the whole. We might even be excited for God to use some of the inherent goodness we think we have to do His work. This is what makes Paul’s words in the opening verse difficult for many to understand. We like to think our ability to love, our artistic talents, the charity work we do are good things God can use for His glory. How then can Paul say nothing good dwells within us?

As Paul reminds us in Philippians 3, if there was anyone who could boast about his goodness before coming to know Christ, it was him. Paul was a perfect Jew, “a Hebrew of Hebrews” who was so faithful to God’s commands and the sacrifices required of him that he could be considered “faultless” before the law (Philippians 3:5-6). But Paul goes on to say he considers all of these good things “loss” and “garbage” for the sake of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Despite our attempts at goodness, they will always be marred by sin. We grew up being taught there are certain things that are good and certain things that are bad, and our natural selves apart from God will always be drawn to the latter. No matter how hard we try, how many charities we support, or how many promises we make to God that we will be good, we are deluding ourselves if we think we are anything but corrupt people apart from Christ.

To flaunt our claims to goodness is to be like a brand new car with all the bells and whistles, but no engine. We might attract attention from the people around us, but there is nothing good within us to make us function the way we are supposed to. For that, we need Christ. Any good deeds we do on our own is like trying to push that car without an engine up a hill, but a relationship with Jesus Christ gives us exactly what we need to do God’s work: Jesus Himself.

One day, we will all stand before God and have to account for our deeds. When that day comes, our good deeds and character will mean nothing if we do not have Christ. He alone makes the forgiveness of our sins possible, and it is only through His work in our lives that we come to have something good dwell within us to accomplish good in this world.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, You alone are good. I give up my claims to any goodness of my own and depend instead on Your sufficiency to conform me to Your likeness. Thank You, Lord.


It’s the start of a new year, and a good time to review the basics:

  • 201 means a little deeper than what’s found in many devotional books; and we tend to skip illustrations and go directly to the text. But we do appreciate the ministry of the organizations which distribute those resources.
  • On first time author appearances we try to check website statements about reuse, or send an email for permission to include material. Then we often repeat authors after six months or after one year. As of today, 2830 posts and only two take-down requests.
  • When you break a twig or branch off a tree, if it’s green inside the tree is alive. (I know you’re thinking, ‘Isn’t that an illustration?’ Oops) For that reason we print scripture verses in green to show that while all the content is helpful, the scriptures quotations contain life.
  • Not everyone presented here agrees with everybody else on everything. The site is a devotional mosaic; or if you prefer, a devotional potpourri. We do however try to check the compendium of a writer’s thoughts so we’re not steering you to any blog or website that might be problematic.
  • Submissions are welcomed. Click the submission page and use the form there to make contact. If you’ve never written devotional or study material before, here’s your opportunity. Start with a passage about which you’re passionate, but please, nothing deliberately provocative or controversial.
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  • Regular contributors aren’t bound by the six month rule; Clarke Dixon, Russell Young, and myself, Paul Wilkinson appear more frequently.
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November 14, 2017

“I Have Lost Everything!”

by Russell Young

I recently heard a committed believer lament, “I have lost everything!”  Perhaps as someone endeavoring to walk “in the light,” as John puts it (1 Jn1: 5─7), you are struggling through a valley experience; you feel that you are being attacked from all sides. The committed believer does not need be overwhelmed with loss, the only things that those “in Christ” can lose are sin, sin’s practices, right to self-determination, and your status “in Christ.”

The greatest fear that any believer can have is his or her failure to remain “in Christ.” Many teach that such a fear is unbiblical, that a person cannot lose his or her position in Christ. However, Christ presents this change in status as a very clear possibility. “[My Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” (Jn 15:1; Italics added.) Further, the Lord spoke about the blessings that arise “If [a person] remains in him” (Jn 15:5, 7, 10), and promises that he will remain in the person who remains in him. (Jn 15:4) A person remains in him if he or she obeys his commands. (Jn 15:10) The believer—a believer is one who obeys him—need not fear loss, but all who claim his name need to be believing–belief must be ongoing. In another place Christ also spoke of the possibility of impermanence in the family. (Jn 8:35)

It is important for the believer, the person “in Christ,” to understand the reality of what is transpiring in his or her life. Valley experiences require that time be committed to prayer and meditation. Truth must be separated from feelings and losses from gains. Certainly, disappointment, the thwarting of dreams, and even the loss of “friends” or financial security can weigh down a sensitive spirit, but these may not be losses from the Lord’s perspective; consequently, they should not be considered losses from the believer’s perspective. This is easy to say for someone not involved, but reflection will reveal that losses, in fact, may not have been losses at all.  “Losses” bring a person up short. They greatly impact the progress of life and call for an alteration in some sense. However, the Lord is looking out for the good of those “in him.”  Paul encouraged, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 NIV) It is easy to become distracted and to stray from the Lord’s will and it can hurt to become re-oriented, to have ungodly interests chipped away, and to be maintained on the narrow path.

The Word never taught that all things would go painlessly for the believer. In fact, he promised persecution (2 Tim 3:12) and trials (1 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 1:6) and even discipline (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-7; Rev 3:19) and punishment. (Heb 12:6) Discipline and punishment apply to those he loves.  (Heb 12:5) “God disciplines us for our good that we might share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10 NIV)

God tests hearts. He did it for the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 12:25, 16:4, 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16, 13:3;) He tested Abraham (Gen 22:1), Job (Job 23:10), and Jeremiah (Jer 12:3). He even tested the heart of his Son (Mt 4:1; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:1) Those who claim the name of Christ will be tested also. (Job 7:18; 1 Chr 29:17; 1 Thess 2:4; Jas 1:12) God tests hearts and the faithful will be found walking obediently with him.

The only way a believer can “lose everything” is for him or her to abandon the Lord and the position that was provided for them. Trials must be faced for what they are…trials. This life is not easy. Imperfections must be cut away; holiness must be built through righteousness practices. (Rom 6: 19, 22) All those who want to remain in Christ and attain to the resurrection must live as he did. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6)

When you are counting your loses, it is important to consider them from an eternal perspective.  Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Mt 16:25 NIV) Loss is often a very good thing.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

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

November 12, 2017

Sunday Worship

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
  – Romans 12:1

“The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.”

Today we return to a recurring theme verse here at Sunday Worship. It reminds us that worship is something we do, but rather worship is something we are. Years ago, Christian musician Chris Christian wrote,

We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering1

I really try to eschew pithy illustrations and stories here at C201, but I find this one most appropriate:

A chicken and a pig were discussing how they could do something for the farmer. Finally the chicken said, “He loves a good breakfast; why don’t we give him bacon and eggs?”

To this the pig replied, “That’s easy for you. All it demands of you is an offering, but for me it demands total sacrifice.” 2

Here are some things I think will help us remember what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. Each starts with the letter ‘s’ followed by a different vowel.

Sacrifice

If we are to judge it, the measure of a sacrifice is not the size of what is given, but the size of what is left over.

A sacrifice will cost us and it will be consumed. There is no taking back the investment of our energies, gifts or material possessions given up in the service and pleasing of God. The last distinction is important. In service we see tangible results. But God is sometimes pleased by our giving up of things. Ask yourself: How much cash would you put on the offering plate if, as it was in Old Testament times, what was giving was then burned? That’s what our Old Testament predecessors did with the best of their grain and animals.

Set-Apartness

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

In a world that values conformity, no one wants to be the odd duck. Yet the book of Leviticus is essentially God wanting to insure that his people could maintain a distinct identity. It was all about showing yourself to be different.3

Sinlessness

Jerry Bridges has written,

Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. 4

Sovereignty

“There is a God. You are not Him,”

Jesus himself deferred to his Father on many occasions; providing us a reminder of who is in charge.

Surrender

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice is only son, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.5

Although we speak very different languages, two symbols are universal throughout the worldwide church. One is the word “Hallelujah” which I’m told is rendered the same in most languages. The other is lifted hands as a sign of surrender.

A writer at Charisma points out that our fingers, hands and arms are also most associated with human strength, power, creativity; both in a human sense and if we examine the Biblical record of God’s actions presented in a way we can best understand them. 6

 


1 Full video at YouTube.

2 This story is often used by leadership coaches as well. Here’s a longer version with the punchline contrasting contribution and commitment.

3 We looked at maintaining a distinct identity in this March, 2017 article.

4 We included more quotes from Jerry Bridges on this topic in this article.

5 This is excerpted from a fuller look at Abraham’s trip up the mountain with Isaac at this link.

6 See the full article about lifting hands at this link.

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