Christianity 201

February 20, 2021

Sin and “Wet Paint” Signs and Your Neighbor’s BMW

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Some people can’t walk by a sign which says, “Wet Paint” without touching their finger to the paint to see if it’s true. This is well-documented. Some readers here may be able to provide their own anecdotal evidence of this. It does appear to give credence to our sinful nature, and even if you’re not a child of the 1960s, it also evidences our rebellious nature.

Romans 7:11 made me think of this.

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (NIV)

It’s a rather odd verse if you haven’t noted it previously. A basic commentary might give you something like is found at BibleRef.com:

Paul repeats an idea he introduced in verse 8 of this chapter. He was talking about his response to learning of God’s command not to covet (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). The very existence of this command from God created an opportunity that sin pounced on. Suddenly, Paul was both aware of his own covetousness, and driven by a desire to covet!

Now he writes again about how sin seized the opportunity created by God’s commands in the law. This time, though, he describes sin as deceiving him or leading him astray. Sin lied to Paul, as it lies to all of us. How does sin lead us astray? It convinces us that acting on our own desires is better in some way than obeying God. As the serpent did with Eve in the garden, sin says to us, “God is not good” or “You will not surely die.”

The truth, though, is that God is good, and that sin always leads to death. Paul writes here that sin’s deception killed him, metaphorically speaking, describing his spiritual death and separation from God. Sin does the same to all of us, and the law makes us aware of our sinfulness.

Let’s pause and look at the context; first the NASB:

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (7-13)

Next, The Message:

Don’t you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of “forbidden fruit” out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.

Finally, J.B. Phillips:

But the sin in me, finding in the commandment an opportunity to express itself, stimulated all my covetous desires. For sin, in the absence of the Law, has no chance to function technically as “sin”. As long, then, as I was without the Law I was, spiritually speaking, alive. But when the commandment arrived, sin sprang to life and I “died”. The commandment, which was meant to be a direction to life, I found was a sentence to death. The commandment gave sin an opportunity, and without my realising what was happening, it “killed” me.

(Italics added in all three versions.)

Warren Weirsbe writes,

…Something in human nature wants to rebel whenever a law is given. I was standing in Lincoln Park in Chicago, looking at the newly painted benches, and I noticed a sign on each bench: Do Not Touch. As I watched, I saw numbers of people deliberately reach out and touch the wet paint! Why? Because the sign told them not to! Instruct a child not to go near the water, and that is the very thing he will do. Why? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).

Believers who try to live by rules and regulations discover that their legalistic system only arouses more sin and creates more problems. The churches in Galatia were very legalistic, and they experienced all kinds of trouble. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). Their legalism did not make them more spiritual; it made them more sinful. Why? Because the law arouses sin in our nature…

At Apologetics Index, David Kowalski writes,

…Paul does not blame the Mosaic Law for this provocation even though it is the occasion for the provocation. There was never anything wrong with saying what was wrong. Declaration of standards merely revealed what we already were — rebellious sinners by nature. Rebels chafe against restrictions and their rebellious hearts make them all the more inclined to do something they are forbidden to do — even if it is God Himself who prohibits the conduct in question.

At Spiritual Gold, Richard Strauss puts this in practical terms:

Paul chooses one of the Ten Commandments to illustrate his point–the last one, “You shall not covet.” To covet is to want something intensely that somebody else has, to long for it. The law says that we are not supposed to covet our neighbor’s house, his wife, his servants, his animals, or anything else that is his (Exodus 20:17). That would include his BMW, his boat, his camper, his cottage on the beach, or anything else he might have.

Let’s talk about his BMW. That’s reputed to be a very nice automobile, which costs considerably more than the average car. And I can’t afford one. So I look at my neighbor’s and I think, “It sure would be nice to have a car like that. Boy, I’d like to have that car. I’d give almost anything to be able to have one.” I could think that, and maybe even feel a little uneasy about it, but it isn’t until I read God’s law that I realize it is sin. The BMW itself is not sin, but my attitude is sin. To want that thing so intensely is to elevate me and my wishes to a supreme place, and that is the height of egotism and pride. Furthermore, it places my love for myself, my comfort and my pleasure, above my love for God, and that’s idolatry…

Go back to Paul’s experience. He thought he was doing fine. He may have wanted a few things, but he didn’t think that was any big deal. Until he read God’s law: “You shall not covet.” And then all of a sudden he realized how many things he wanted, and that exposed how sinful he was, how far short he fell of God’s holy standard…

…Isn’t that interesting? Paul here pictures sin not as something we do, but as something that itself acts. When Paul uses the word “sin” like this–a singular noun–he is often referring to our sinful human nature. And it does something. What does it do? It seizes the opportunity afforded it by the commandment not to covet, and produces in us all kinds of coveting. Everywhere Paul turns, he sees something he wants. See that word “opportunity.” It’s a military word that refers to a base of operations, a springboard for offensive action. Our sinful human nature is pictured as a powerful enemy who takes God’s holy law and uses it as a military base from which it launches powerful and devastating attacks on us that stir us up to sin…

I wouldn’t put much stock in Mark Twain’s theology, but he did have a good deal of insight into human nature. He insisted that one feature of the human make-up is plain mulishness. If a mule thinks he knows what you want him to do, he’ll do the very opposite. And Twain admitted that he was the same way, along with most others. “The point of it all is that until the command not to do an evil thing comes we may not feel much urge to do it, but when we hear the command our native mulishness takes over. But the fault is not in the command. It is in the mulishness, in the sinner.”

Of all the links here, I would encourage you to delve into this last commentary to  consider this passage further; again, just click here.

January 5, 2021

God, Sin, and Successive Generations

Today we’re continuing with a theme we looked at yesterday.

Exactly one year ago we introduced you to Bible teacher Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer and her blog Grace and Peace. (Learn more about her personal story at this about page.) She’s currently offering detailed articles about the Gospel of John and also the Minor Prophets and also has a recent 3-part series about Elijah. Good reading; highly recommended! Click the title below to read this one at source.

Who Does God Punish?

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”

Isaiah 30:18


I think we call it the Fall of Humankind because the first humans were at the pinnacle of human experience, where everything was good, their relationships were healthy and filled with love, their work was satisfying and productive, their resources were ample, the world was their oyster, and their spiritual communion with God and each other was full.

Then, in a moment it seems, darkness fell from the serpent and the tree and the fruit, straight into their souls. Then, they fell, too. They fell from life to death, from glory to condemnation, joy to sorrow, harmony to conflict, satisfaction to suffering.

Here we are today, in this mess. Untold millennia later, we are still in that mess God described in Genesis 3. They fell from their great height, and it seems, ever since, their generations, including you and me, have been born down here in the rubble of their broken lives.

Genesis 2 and 3 is written with something of the sense of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So” stories, in that, at least on one level, it explains why things are the way they are today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do see inspiration as the Holy Spirit active within the person writing. Still, the person can only write from what they otherwise know. A Stone Age author cannot speak of iron utensils, though the Spirit may give a vision of such. The best the Stone Age person might be able to do is use images and metaphors from their culture to try to describe the strange thing revealed to them.

That does make us wonder, though, about the accuracy of representation, as it is limited by current culture and language.

So, inspired, believing, but…let’s be careful about what we mean by accurate.

For instance, take a look at these two passages from the Bible, laid side-by-side.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

From our 21st Century, Western Hemisphere, Hellenized culture and education, linear thinking, fact-based logical standpoint, there seems to be an inherent fallacy here. Either God does, or does not, punish the children for the parent’s sins. Can’t have it both ways.

I do accept the dilemma as distressing. It does seem to point to inaccuracy, and even seems to be contradictory, lending some strength to the biographical, subjectively written view of scripture.

But, what if we spread out a little bit, into the context of the passages? Can we retain a more autobiographical view of scripture? What if we read back a few verses, let’s say, in Exodus 20?

Then, we discover God is talking about something very specific: the worship and reverencing of God, over and above anything/one else. If we read forward one more verse, to verse 6? We find something strange, a promise to show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love God and keep His commandments.

Trying to parse this out in a real family becomes challenging! If I love God, and follow His commandments, then He promises to show steadfast love to a thousand of my generations. But, what if my children do not love God, nor follow His commandments? Which vow will God now keep? The vow of verse 5? Or the vow of verse 6? So, there must be more going on here than contractual clauses in a covenant, even with an Biographical view.

To begin with, let’s lay the groundwork of the context.

Idols: A probable reading of this passage views idolatry as the central dysfunction of a humanist worldview. That would include, I’ll posit, anything we turn to give our lives meaning and purpose, joy and satisfaction, or even escape, that edges God out from the center. If paired with Paul’s explanation in Romans 1, then worshiping any other god than God results in futile thinking and senseless, darkened minds, claiming to be wise, but becoming fools. What kind of person would that be like? What would their home and family be like?

Jealous God: The word is qanna’ and when used of God means God’s protective love of His people.

Punishing children for the iniquity of parents

This phrase is a bit trickier. What is actually being said here is that God will “visit” the “iniquity” of the “fathers” upon the “children.” That is a little different than what “punishing” might convey.

Iniquity: The word is `avon [from Strong’s], perversity, depravity, iniquity, guilt, or punishment or consequence of/for iniquity

Fathers: The word is ‘ab [from Strong’s], father of an individual, of God as father of his people, head or founder of a household, group, family, or clan, ancestor, grandfather, forefathers — of person of people, originator or patron of a class, profession, or art, of producer, generator (fig.), of benevolence and protection (fig.), term of respect and honour, ruler or chief (spec.)

Children: The word is ben [from Strong’s], a son (as a builder of the family name), in the widest sense (of literal and figurative relationship, including grandson, subject, nation, quality or condition, etc., (like father or brother), etc.)

the thousandth generation: Again, this one is a bit tricky. The word is ‘eleph and it means a thousand as a numeral (to thousands), or as a company, such as a company of soldiers under one leader. It’s nice symmetry to say “third and fourth generation” and then to say “the thousandth generation,” but it might not mean exactly that.

I’ve underlined the meanings I have long held are intended for this text, and put together, I hear God saying,

“Do not look to anything else for your sense of meaning and purpose, for your sense of belonging, for your source of wisdom, truth, love, joy, satisfaction, or to meet your (felt and true) needs. This is idolatry, a dysfunction so profound that I will cause the consequences of it to be experienced in your whole household, every generation living there.”

To a head of household, this meant the corrupting not just of their own natures, but that of their lineage, from child to grandchild to great grandchild, all living within their compound, and under their leadership.

“If you look to Me for your source for all these things, I will amply supply through my steadfast love to all in your company, however many are in your household. (A thousand being a symbolically large number.)

To a head of household, this meant the experience of God’s steadfast love to every person, even beyond the family, to the servants and others coming within the breadth and reach of their household.

You and I experience to this day the consequences of our parents’ decisions. Addictions, alcoholism, financial decisions, where to live, what schools were chosen, family traditions, a sense of right and wrong, the list goes on and on. Those have a generational affect, for good or ill. I can well imagine how the saying God took issue with through Ezekiel came into being!

Because, it seems an untruth had seeped into the truth of what God unveiled in Exodus 20. The untruth, apparently, extrapolated God’s statement to mean that children had to pay for what their parents did, perhaps even with their lives. God cleared this up by stating in the strongest and most exhaustive terms that each person will be judged on their own merits alone, not on the merits of their parents (or anyone else).

The way I see it, there is no contradiction between these passages. Both accurately and consistently reflect the heart of God while at the same time illustrate how easy it is to misunderstand scripture, or take it to places it was never meant to go.

January 4, 2021

Justice Always Prevailed

Today’s featured author is someone I know personally, and we last shared his writing here exactly one year ago. Eric Wright is the author of both fiction and non-fiction Christian books, and is also a former missionary to Pakistan and former local church pastor. This appeared on his blog Country Inspiration. Learn more about his books at this link. Click the header below to read at source.

Where is the God of Justice?

A woman is killed by a drunken diplomat who flees so he cannot be prosecuted. A poor tenant farmer in Pakistan is cheated from his share of the crop by his landlord. “The whole of recorded history is one great longing for justice.” (Rushdoony) Atheists deny the existence of God by pointing to the apparent lack of justice in the world. They are not alone. Biblical prophets lamented the lack of justice, but without disbelieving in God. The martyrs under the throne of God cry out, “How long?”

Habakkuk complained to God, “Justice never prevails” (Hab. 1:4). Malachi wrote, Where is the God of justice?(Mal. 2:17). In Psalm 73, Asaph wrote about how his heart was grieved and embittered by the arrogance of the wicked who plan evil and scoff at heaven. “My feet had almost slipped…when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:1,2).

Asaph found an answer to his cry for justice in understanding that the wicked live in a slippery place. There is a cosmic moral law of cause and effect. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). The very first Psalm declares, “The wicked are…like chaff that the wind blows away”.

In Psalm 73 Asaph saw the terrible end of the unrepentant wicked. They face everlasting fire in hell. “The wicked shall be turned into hell. All the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17 KJV). A cursory look at history reveals that justice delayed in not justice denied. Think of the judgement of Sodom and the whole earth during the Flood. As prophesied, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome all perished in terrible judgement. Think of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Papa Doc Duvalier, and on and on to this day. The fall of cruel and proud men is terrible. No one will escape the justice of God!

Not everyone reaps in this life the evil they sow. 1 Tim. 5:24 explains: the sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgement ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them”.…only to be revealed in the final judgement.

Still, we may cry out, “Why Lord do you delay your justice?” Let us learn from Asaph. After crying out to God about the prosperity of the unjust, he realized that he had missed the first step in dealing with injustice. A search for justice must begin in our own hearts.

He cried, “when my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant” (Ps. 73:21,22). He came to understand that he had failed to keep his heart pure and free from bitterness, anger and self-righteousness. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the pure in heart.” Instead of being self-righteous we need to realize that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not (Eccl. 7:20, KJV). That includes us.

After confessing his bitterness, Asaph remembered what he had forgotten. Although a victim of injustice, he had forgotten that, I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:23-26). The only way to live in an unjust world is to walk daily in fellowship with God. And to remember that if we have found mercy at the cross, Jesus walks with us and will never leave us. That is why he came at Christmas.

If we are to walk with God, we must understand God’s treatment of the unjust. We must remember that justice delayed is not justice denied. Delay reveals the weeping heart of God who longs to hear the repentance of the wicked in order to offer them mercy. This was Jonah’s complaint with God. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh of offer mercy, so he fled. But when he did preach in Nineveh and they repented, Jonah was angry. Why? He wanted Nineveh destroyed. He complained to God, I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

Clearly, like Jonah, we need a heart change toward the unsaved even those especially unjust. In Romans 2:4-6 Paul warns people to not ignore or despise God’s patient kindness and tolerance.

Sigh. So many of our problems with life are due to our impatience. God is a holy and just God. But he is also merciful and longsuffering. We need to trust him. He alone knows the Day of Judgement.


Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright

December 6, 2020

God Sees … He Always Sees

Today we return for a visit with Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement (dailyencouragement.net) and a reminder that nothing escapes God’s vision. If you click the header below, there’s also a story* illustrating today’s scriptural principle, though it may you leave you wary of using self-serve dessert bars in restaurants.

Cover-Up

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9).

“Cover-up” is a word we often associate with politics but there are cover-ups in every sphere of life. [click the link above to read the story which appears here]

Among man’s many remedies for the sin problem is the feeble attempt to cover-up. Adam and Eve tried it first but their act was followed by many in Scripture and of course all throughout history. Numbers 32:23 states, Be sure that your sin will find you out. God’s only remedy for sin is Christ and our responsibility is confession and repentance which involves turning away from the sin.

David tried to cover-up after his sin with Bathsheba. It was a progressive attempt beginning with deceit, misuse of power, forcing others to do wrong such as Joab the Commander, and ending with multiple murders (see 2 Samuel 11:17).

But God sees. He always sees. We may very well fool our fellow human and get by for a while but we never fool God. We may deceive ourselves and feel the cover-up worked but ultimately a price will be paid. Sin is often wrapped in lovely packaging but it carries a significant price tag to those who make the purchase.

When David sinned God was watching and the thing David had done displeased the LORD. It remains a constant on this side of eternity that he who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy“.

This Proverb is mirrored in one of the great New Testament promises. We urge you to receive and practice it today. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Daily prayer: Merciful Father, may I never consider my good works or righteous acts to be payment or a cover-up for the hidden sin I harbor in my heart. Instead I want my attitude to be that of the publican in Luke who humbly came before You and cried out, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” If I exalt myself it will lead to my downfall. But if I humble myself I will exalt You. So I come to You with a contrite heart, confess my sins, and ask Your forgiveness through Christ Jesus my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Cover-Up (Part 2)

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

[this message continues using the illustration presented in the first one, which you need to click the upper link to read…then click this one to see where the story goes next!]

…[S]ome things others might easily see we may miss entirely, whether it’s due to our ignorance or willful looking the other way. And then there are those things we are not proud of that we try to hide from other’s view. But Hebrews 4:13 states, Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Today let us live with the solemn realization that our sin will never go undetected by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-present, holy God. Indeed, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight”. But we also live with the solemn blessing of His forgiveness when we go to Him with a humble and contrite heart.

Daily prayer: Faithful Father, Your Word shows us that obedience brings about blessing but disobedience brings about dishonor. I want to honor You with my life, for there is nothing hidden from Your eyes. Help me to uphold the standards of truth and honesty as revealed through Your unchanging Holy Word. When I’m confronted with my sin help me to have the fortitude and courage to deal with it. May I not cover it up, seek to justify it, blame others, procrastinate or deceive myself. Thank You for granting complete forgiveness to those who come to You with a contrite heart willing to lay down sin and take up righteousness. Amen.


*Illustrations can be powerful tools but when we started doing devotionals at the “201” level we decided to go directly to the meat of the passage or article.

November 30, 2020

“There’s Sin in the Camp”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The phrase that forms the title of today’s thoughts may be familiar to you, especially if you grew up in Pentecostal or Charismatic or Holiness churches where there is often a stronger emphasis on personal confession of sin, and the teaching that much damage can be done to an entire family or church family due to unconfessed sin.

The Story

The backstory is part of a four-chapter narrative, and to take it all in, you need to read Joshua, chapters 6 – 9 which space does not permit me to reproduce here. So let’s do a quick overview. (Scriptures NIV unless indicated.)

■ Joshua and the Battle of Jericho: You know that story. Big military victory. Supernatural victory.

■ The contents of the city are entirely destroyed (and the city is ordered never to be rebuilt) with one exception:

6:24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house.

The burning of the rest of the contents of the city, even though those things weren’t retained for any monetary value they might have added to that treasury, can be seen as a sacrificial offering to the Lord. They weren’t to go through the residences and businesses of Jericho like they were shopping at a thrift store. (“Oh! This would look in my tent next to the clay pitcher.”) It was all (but for the silver, gold, bronze, and iron) to be to be burned.

So far, so good. On to chapter 7.

■ In the next chapter, the story goes south.

7:1 But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things, Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.

The NIV uses the term devoted things. This is consistent with the idea of the sacrifice of everything else in Jericho being burned as an offering to the Lord. Perhaps a thanksgiving for the battle victory. I checked this out in various translations, and The Message sees items plundered as violating the holy curse, inasmuch as they fall under the category of things which could be enveloped in the concept of rebuilding the city.

■ Then Israel faces the city of Ai, which should be a much easier military conquest. A piece of cake, right? They don’t even send the entire army. However,

7:4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.

■ So God reveals to Joshua that the reason for the defeat is connected directly to someone taking and keeping things from Jericho.

7:11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

■ The question is, whodunnit? Joshua orders everyone to do a walk-past so he can narrow it down:

tribe by tribe
clan by clan
family by family
man by man

and by process of elimination, it’s a man named Achan who gets centered out.

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels. I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

■ Upon his confession, Achan, his family and all his animals are taken away and are stoned, and they burn the bodies, his tent, and all his possessions (see v. 24-26). It’s not a pretty story, is it?

■ In chapter 8, Israel’s army under commander Joshua re-attack the city of Ai, and in a spectacular victory ambush the city behind while the army is chasing a smaller contingent in front. (It’s every bit as good as the first story about the walls of Jericho!)

What it means today

The application of the story that’s often repeated today is the teaching that sin can just easily enter your family or your church.

First and foremost is the concept that we can never hide our sin. The website Back to the Bible notes:

That we can never successfully hide our sin from God is the teaching of Jesus’ parable of the lighted candle. Luke 8:16-17 records, “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” (reference changed to NLT)

See also

Though his hatred covers itself with guile, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.
 – Proverbs 26:26 NASB

People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will be exposed.
 – Proverbs 10: 9 NLT

Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
 – Matthew 23:28 NKJV

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is also a useful study of people whose deception was exposed.

In 1 Corinthians 5: 1-13, there is a particular New Testament passage which also has some parallels to the story of Achan:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. … (ESV)

The website GotQuestions.org looks at why Achan’s family was also killed. To our modern eyes, the story seems a bit severe at that point.

There is no way to know all of God’s reasons for what seems to us His harsh punishment of Achan and his family. He doesn’t always explain His reasoning to us, nor does He have to. The story of Achan and many other biblical narratives give us sufficient information to understand that God is holy and that He is not to be disobeyed without risking dire consequences.

Only those hearing God’s voice, or possessing the gift of discernment or the gift of the word of knowledge can make the proclamation, but sometimes it does happen; sometimes, “There’s sin in the camp.”

 

 

 

October 27, 2020

What Motivates You Not To Sin?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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“We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.” – Jerry Bridges


Yesterday I was scrolling through blog posts here from 2011 and came across the name Clay Gentry whose writing was highlighted three times in total. It was nice to go back to his blog and find it still active; find him still writing. His blog at claygentry.com is called Sharing the Good News of the Lord.

Click the header below to read this online, including contact information there for Clay if you want to reach out to him.

The #1 Reason Not To Sin

What motivates you to not give into temptation? Now, I realize, depending on the situation several different reasons might be cited. For example, an unhappily-married couple facing the temptation of divorce might stay together for the sake of the kids. Or, an employee may not steal because he or she is afraid of getting caught. Or, a teenage couple may abstain from sex because of the fear of pregnancy. These reasons are all well and good, however, there is one fatal flaw they all share… the motivation for not sinning is temporal in nature.

When the kids get older or leave for college, the marriage ends. When the employee figures out how not to get caught, he or she steals. When the teenagers no longer fear pregnancy, they will have sex. In essence, so long as our reasons for not sinning are solely based on our ever-changing circumstances, we will eventually yield to temptation and thus sin.

However, there is another approach to overcoming temptations; a motivation that will keep us from sinning. What is this reason you ask, well consider with me the example of young Joseph from Genesis 39:6b-10. In this reading, we find Joseph as a slave in the house of an Egyptian named Potiphar. But trouble is at hand in the form of Potiphar’s wife.

“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Come sleep with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to go to bed with her.” (Genesis 39:6-10 ESV)

Did you notice what motivated Joseph to resist what must have been an intense time of temptation? It was not merely his position or the kindness of his master; but more importantly, it was his relationship with God. Read it again, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” For Joseph, his relationship with God was the #1 reason not to sin. He would do nothing to compromise that relationship.

Consequently, if we want to overcome temptation then we have to see our relationship with our Heavenly Father as the #1 reason not to sin. He has saved us and thus calls for us as His children to live lives of holiness before Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16). Therefore, may our prayer echo that of the Psalmist, “[Lord] may [we] store up Your words in [our] heart, that [we] might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).


The quotation from Jerry Bridges appeared most recently in this June, 2019 article here, Sinning Against Another, Against Yourself, Against God.


The last time Clay Gentry appeared here was in a 2014 piece on the danger of over-contextualizing which we were only able to use in part. The article is still online; check out The Contextual Meaning of Romans 15:4.

October 5, 2020

Sin is a Verb | Sin is a Noun

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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One of the reasons you struggle with trying to change some of the things you have been unable to change is that you have been addressing the verb sin and not the noun Sin.  – Steve Greene


Which is it?

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God Romans 3:23  ESV

In 2017, someone asked this question at Worthy Christian Forums. They had a more specific reason for asking, but the first part of their question reads, “Is sin a verb, showing action or activity or is it a noun as if it were a presence within our world?”

A reader, G. DeMoss offered an answer:

I might have a ‘cut’ on my arm because I was ‘cut’. First is a noun and second a verb.

Sin is what sin does and what sin does bears the name of sin.

Adam was the son of God but when he ate the fruit sin entered Adam and Adam became sin…

Just when you thought you had it figured out, Adam becomes sin — still a noun — but it also becomes a label. Does that make it an adjective, too?

Then we have Skip Moen at Hebrew Word Study. He introduces the concept of sin as an adverb. He gives this example:

Is Pedro Calderón de la Barc, the Spanish playwright, correct, when he wrote “Man’s greatest sin is being born”?  My friend, Giorgia, says, “Every Italian knows he is guilty.  He was born guilty.  He just doesn’t know why.”  Do you suppose Pedro and Giorgia think sin is a noun, something that exists independently of any action?  Do you?  Are your sins hanging out there in divine space, entries in God’s accounting book, plus and minus integers?  Do they exist apart from your present relation?  Or is sin an adverb, a qualifier of an action, whether for good or ill, so that apart from your present action, the adverbial “sin” doesn’t exist?

Earlier in the short article he provides this:

Sin:  “In the original sense of New Testament Greek, ‘sin’ is a failure in missing the mark, primarily in spear throwing. Hebrew hata ‘sin’ originates in archery and literally refers to missing the ‘gold’ at the center of a target, but hitting the target. Relating to the Christian definition, the gold center of the target could be seen as God’s commandment for righteousness. To sin is to miss our mark of living in a virtuous manner, not only failing to meet God’s commandment but acting against our own interests by engaging the world in an immoral manner. To sin is to fall short of our potential, missing the mark of our highest self and best quality of life.”

Is sin a noun or an adverb?  The answer is not trivial.  “There is an awareness in many religions of a blindly working guilt, of sin as a situation in which man is begotten, of sin which is involved in man’s very being and stands far above the ability of the individual man.  Sin is not conceived as something that happens, but as something that is and obtains regardless of man’s relationship to the gods.  ‘Since we are what we ought not to be, we also necessarily do what we ought not to do.  Therefore we need a complete transformation of our mind and nature.  That is the new birth.’” [from Abraham Heschel, The Prophets]

Steve Greene at the blog Ready for the Road Ahead contends that sin is both noun and verb.

Last time I asked, “What makes us ungodly sinners?” The Apostle Paul said, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) One of the problems is that we think of sin as a verb, or an action word, and it is. Sin is something we do. A Wesleyan definition of sin tells us that sin is a willful transgression of God’s known law. But there is more to sin than that.

It seems that Paul was speaking of sin as a noun. At a particular point in time, Sin (the noun) entered the world. At one point, there was no sin. But sin then came into the world, through one person. His name was Adam. When Adam sinned, Sin entered the world like a disease. Paul is not describing sin as an activity or a verb. The way he describes sin here is as a noun that results in verbs. What that means is that there is Sin that results in sinning.

One of the reasons you struggle with trying to change some of the things you have been unable to change is that you have been addressing the verb sin and not the noun Sin. It is like trying to cut down the tree without getting rid of the root.

Paul says, “Sin entered the world through one man.” Death followed close on the heels of sin. And of us have experienced this. You have seen how your sin might have killed a relationship, killed your finances, killed your career, or killed your marriage. Most of us in one way or another have seen the death that followed our sin. Wherever sin goes, death is close behind. When Adam sinned, Sin entered the world and along with sin came death.

Because Adam was the first human being, we were all in Adam. We are his descendants. When Adam sinned, it is as if we sinned. Because when Adam sinned, Sin contaminated the entire human race. So, the problem isn’t just our sinning. The problem is that we were born sinners. The reason we were born sinners is not because of anything we did. It is because of who we are related to – Adam.

Hopefully all this gets you thinking…

…Now then; is grace a noun or a verb? You should be better equipped to answer that question than you were before you read today’s devotional.

At least I hope so!

September 23, 2020

It’s About Grace, Not Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you who we discovered through a WordPress feed. Mathew Simon lives in North Carolina with his wife and three children and has written several articles on the subject of works (trying to achieve standing with God based on what we do for him.) Back in July he wrote:

If we are judging others based on our good deeds, length of prayers, the donations we give, or the number of times we go to Church, then we are boasting in our own self-righteousness. But Jesus said that the sinner who comes to Him with sincere repentance and faith is the one who is justified (made righteous).

Today we’re highlighting his writing with two shorter, more recent articles. Click the titles below of each of these to read at his page.

Making Jesus Lord by works? The false gospel of Lordship salvation

There are some Churches that say that unless you “surrender” your life and make Jesus your Lord and do the works, then you cannot be saved.

They say that a “saving” faith needs good works to prove that Jesus is your Lord and not just Savior.

They use these scriptures:

Matthew 7 “21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. “

James 2 ’17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.”

Ok, let me ask you this, how many works do you need to prove that Jesus is your “LORD” ?

According to Jesus’ own words, He said this:

Luke 14 “26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…..33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up EVERYTHING you have cannot be my disciples.

So Jesus said to FORSAKE EVERYTHING and SELL EVERYTHING to the poor to be His disciples!

Luke 12 “31 But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. 32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. 33 Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys.

OK how many Christians are disciples of Christ according to those verses? ZERO.

That shows that no Christians are doing the “works” of the Law commanded by Jesus to Israel.So then how do we really make Jesus the LORD.

It is not by anything we DO.

Jesus is ALREADY LORD.

He is the CREATOR of all things.

He does not need your works to become LORD of your life.

He created you and is GOD already.

This is how we ACCEPT Jesus as LORD – that you BELIEVE that He is LORD and GOD who died for your sins and rose from the dead!

Romans 10 ” 9 that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart, one believes resulting in righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made resulting in salvation.”

John 20 “28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

This is the WORK that you need to do to be SAVED – SIMPLY BELIEVE in Jesus for your own salvation. So simple.

John 6 “28 They said therefore to him, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

The work of faith is when we stop doing the actual works to attain salvation and simply TRUST in what Jesus has done for us.

Romans 4 “5 But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…..who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.”

Jesus carried the cross for believers so we don’t have to!

Before the cross, when Israel was still under the Law, our Lord Jesus Christ told the 12 apostles to carry the cross.

Matthew 16 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”

So then Peter and all the apostles promised to be with Christ even unto death.

Luke 22 33He said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” 34He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will by no means crow today until you deny that you know me three times.”

Mark 14 29But Peter said to him, “Although all will be offended, yet I will not.” 30Jesus said to him, “Most certainly I tell you, that you today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he spoke all the more, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” They all said the same thing.

The disciples promised great things for the LORD but they could not even stay awake with Him while He prayed!!

Matthew 26 40He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?

But as we know, all the disciples ran away and Peter denied Christ three times.

Matthew 26 ” 56But all this has happened that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”Then all the disciples left him and fled.

The truth is that none of us can carry the cross or follow Jesus – because in our flesh we are not righteous at all – But we need Jesus to die for our sins!

At the cross, we see that there was a thief on the cross who did nothing good at all. He did not promise to follow Jesus or do any big works! He was a sinner condemned but then He believed in Christ to be saved by GRACE through faith without any works!

Luke 23 “42He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”43Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Everyone who believes in Christ without trusting in their works is forgiven ALL sin and given the free gift of His righteousness to go to heaven forever! AMEN.

September 16, 2020

We Fail; He Helps us Back Up… Each and Every Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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One writer in our frequent-flyer club here at C201 is Elsie Montgomery who has appeared here more than 20 times.  This very personal reflection appeared yesterday at her blog, Practical Faith. Click the header below to read and find more great devotionals like this one.

One Prayer God Quickly Answers…

2 Samuel 11; Psalms 62–63; Ezekiel 18; 2 Corinthians 4

Reading the familiar story of David and Bathsheba reminds me again of one hard truth: strong desires blind my eyes to reality and truth. David wanted this woman and went against all that he knew was right. He seduced her, used his power to manipulate the death of her husband and tried to cover up his sinfulness with lies.

His actions beg the question: How can a person overcome strong desires? These include lust, desire for power, popularity and fame, even the desire to eat too much or drink too much alcohol. The list is long. David loved the Lord but his desire for a woman ruined his desire for doing the will of God. I don’t want that.

The Apostle Paul was also a man who loved the Lord. He lived with a strong determination to turn away from sin and live a godly life. What made the difference? These verses explain:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1–6)

Paul knew that blindness caused by sin is also blindness from the evil one whose goal is to keep people from seeing the glory of God in Jesus Christ. It is in knowing who Jesus is that changes everything. Paul was given that vision while on his way to persecute and destroy Christians. When he saw the risen Christ, he called that amazing experience “light shining out of darkness” and from that moment on, his life changed.

I understand Paul’s experience. Mine was similar. I read the Bible for nearly two decades but it was darkness to me; I didn’t understand any of it. Then one fall day, while reading another book that had a Scripture verse in it, Jesus shone into my life. I instantly knew that He was God in human flesh and that He came to save me from my sin. He shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The biggest difference is that my life didn’t change as rapidly as Paul’s life! He was zealous for God before that great event, but I was zealous for me, with many strong desires for what I wanted. God keeps shining light into my life and is amazingly patient with me yet I am slow and forgetful, stubborn and selfish.

However, the Lord does give me an understanding of how Satan works. I know that I can be in the dark with those I-wants and that all of them must be yielded to Him. The more I give up the more I gain. That is, when I refuse to act in disgraceful or underhanded ways, or to be cunning or try to mess with what the Bible says or run my own life, then seeing the glory of God is easier and desirable. This battle against sin is won by losing.

APPLY: Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

Later: This application is proven once again. Today God gave me a test . . . which I flunked! It happened a very short time after writing the above words. Again, if you pray those verses and mean it, He will answer quickly.

September 4, 2020

Asking God Hard Questions

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago, in the spirit of encouraging and highlighting younger writers we introduced you to Bible Blogger Girl, from rural Illinois. Her blog is titled Teen Meet God. (Send the link to a teen you know who might benefit from reading it on a regular basis.) Click the header below to read today’s devotional (with pictures) at her site.

The Question without an Answer

Last Sunday, I heard a sermon about Habakkuk’s questions and God’s answers. It captured my attention, because I had been thinking about questions similar to Habakkuk’s.

O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. – Habakkuk 1:2-3

Have you ever felt that way? I have, especially when praying. God, why did you make this world full of people that would reject you and go to hell? Why do you allow evil to reign on your earth? Why do people suffer? Why are some accept you, while others reject you?

Asking those questions can make me feel guilty. But people like Job and Habakkuk asked them, and God didn’t correct them. However, he didn’t give them explanations, either.

There are many reasons we could come up with for the presence of sin that has corrupted our world. God originally created people with a choice to follow him or reject him because he didn’t want to make worship robots. He allows the world to continue now because he wants as many people to turn to him and be saved as possible. He doesn’t want people to go to hell, but sin cannot be in heaven. On and on the reasoning can go, but in reality, people still suffer. Why?

I don’t know.

But God does. And I trust him. I really do. He’s got a perfect plan that perhaps we cannot fathom yet. God will make all things right, although that seems impossible. He loves us all.

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. – Psalm 107:1

Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. – Jeremiah 33:3

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. – Revelation 21:4

So while I trust God to work everything out, what can I do? I can do his plan for my life, bringing a small piece of his kingdom here. I can glorify him with every moment, which is the best thing to do for myself and all those around me. I can live a life for him.

Do you have a hard question for God?

What have you learned about the answer to this question?

Do you know where you are going when you die? If not, I would really like to help you. Please contact me with any questions you have!


 

August 29, 2020

The Perplexing Problem of Cain’s Sacrfice

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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There are several views on today’s subject, but this one does a great job of presenting what I would call the “blood” argument with respect to Cain’s agricultural sacrifice.

Today’s thoughts are from Josh Spaulding who writes most of the articles at EternalAnswers.org an online ministry which serves to provide sound, Biblical answers to many of life’s biggest questions. Josh is pastor of Bible Baptist Mission in Washington, Indiana. and author of, “The Reality of Saving Faith.” Their objective at Eternal Answers is that the gospel message is embedded in each article they write.

Josh chose today’s article to share with you, and remember you can click the header which follows to read this — and then browse other articles — at his site.

Alternatively, today’s thoughts in much greater detail are also available as a six-minute video.

Why Wasn’t God Happy with Cain’s Offering?

In the book of Genesis we read the story of Cain and Abel (two of Adam and Eve’s sons). The first thing that we read about them is in regard to their offerings to the LORD.

Genesis 4:3 “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.”

So there is clearly something about Abel’s offering that pleased God, and something about Cain’s offering that did not please God. In order to figure this out, we must turn to God’s Word. There are four very important things we must understand in order to interpret this passage correctly.

1: We must understand that all descendants of Adam are sinners (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12). And since Cain and Abel (just like you and me) were descendants of Adam, they fell into that group.

2: We must understand that God is Righteous (Psalm 7:9, Psalm 145:17). He is also Loving and Forgiving (1 John 1:9), but He never lays one attribute aside as He picks up another. He is always righteous. He is never unrighteous.

3: We must understand that the punishment for our sin is death (Romans 6:23). This “death” is defined as separation from God. Yes, eventually physical death is also a result, but the eternal separation from God is the worst part of it. This is why the LORD said to Abel in Genesis 4:7 “…and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”

4: We must understand that “without shedding of blood is no remission [forgiveness of sin]” (Hebrews 9:22).

Once we understand the four points above, we see why God has put such an emphasis on blood and sacrifice throughout the entire Bible. In order to have fellowship with our Holy God … in order to approach Him … in order to enjoy His favor … in order to be justified … in order to LIVE there must be blood sacrificed.

Although the blood of animals did not take away the sin of men, they pointed to the One who could (and did), the Lord Jesus Christ! And they stood as a reminder for the absolute necessity of a Perfect Substitute (Hebrews 10:1-4).

God has required blood from the beginning. In the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) we read how God shed the first blood for Adam and Eve, when he made coats of skins and clothed them. Those coats of skins were the first picture of how the Lord Jesus, as the Lamb of God, should die for sin, that we might be clothed with the righteousness of God in Him (Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 132:9, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Throughout the history of man, we read of God’s people shedding blood to temporarily atone for their sin. But without the eternal atonement that the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross, those animal sacrifices would have been meaningless. His blood ETERNALLY atoned for the sins of all who put their faith in Him!

Hebrews 9:12Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

So why was the LORD pleased with Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s?

Because blood was shed with Abel’s. But no blood was shed with Cain’s. And on top of that, Cain’s offering came from the cursed ground (Genesis 3:17)!

This passage is a clear message that our own works, done as an attempt to justify ourselves, are worthless to our Holy God. Cain worked HARD to prepare his offering. He prepared the seeds. He tilled the ground. He sowed the seeds. He nurtured the plants. He pulled weeds. Finally, he harvested the fruit. Then he gathered it all and brought it to the LORD. SURELY, God would be pleased with his good work. He worked HARD!

But it didn’t please God at all. Cain was relying on his own good works to please God, without the shedding of blood.

Abel realized that there was nothing he could do in order to please God. He understood that there must be blood.

There is, however, one very important thing to understand. The blood of the Perfect Lamb, the Lord Jesus, only justifies (counts righteous) those who have put their faith in Him.

Faith involves taking God at His Word (which always involves repentance of sin) and trusting alone in the finished work (the blood shed by the Perfect Lamb) that HE (not you by your works) accomplished at Calvary, on the cross (Romans 4:5, Romans 11:6, Romans 3:24-25).

Just as the blood of the paschal lamb had to be applied to the lintel and the side posts of the doors (Exodus 12:21-23), the blood of the Lord Jesus must be applied to your heart. And that can only happen by taking God at His Word and trusting alone in Jesus Christ as your Savior. (Click this link to read more about what saving faith is.)

July 25, 2020

Being Saved vs. Being Safe

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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At least once a year I like to highlight the writing of pastor, author and evangelist Greg Laurie, of Harvest Church in Riverside, California; Harvest.org. Here are two shorter devotions for you today. If you click through (on the titles below), you’ll see an option where you can have Greg’s devotions delivered to your mobile device each day.

Hold on Tight!

Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

—Jude 1:21

I don’t keep myself saved, but I keep myself safe.

God saves me. That’s established. But I keep myself safe, which means that I keep myself in the love of God.

Though God’s love is unsought, undeserved, and unconditional, it’s possible for me to be out of sync with His love.

Jude wrote, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (1:21 NKJV). He was basically saying, ‘Keep yourself away from those things that are unlike Him. Keep yourself from any influence that violates His love or brings sorrow to God’s heart. And keep yourself in a place where God can actively show His love to you.’

In John 17 Jesus prayed to the Father, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (verse 15 NKJV).

In this context “the world” refers to a mentality. It’s talking about a culture, a way of thinking, and the world system under the control of Satan. That’s why the Bible calls the devil “the god of this world” (see 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

There is God’s part and our part. If you were on a diet, for example, you wouldn’t hang around donut stores, would you?

Just as donuts aren’t good for diets, there are things that feed sin. That’s what Jesus meant when He taught us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13 NLT).

Basically, that’s saying, “Lord, help me not to put myself in a place where I could fall into sin.”

So, God will keep you, but if you’re yanking your hand out of His hand, that’s a problem. God is holding on to you. But the question is this: Are you holding on to Him?


What Jesus Wants for Us

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
—John 17:21

Before I heard the gospel message, the love that Christians had for each other won me over. I watched them on my high school campus and thought, “Is this for real, or are they making this up? Is this an act? Do these people really love each other?”

After all, I was used to hanging around with people that I liked. Certain kids hung around certain kids. But as I watched the Christians, I realized they were from every kind of background imaginable, yet they obviously had something in common.

When Christians are unified and when they love one another, it’s a powerful witness to a lost and divided world. And that is just what Jesus wants for us.

In John’s gospel we find His prayer for us: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (17:21 NLT).

Now, I’m not calling for unity at any cost because the most important thing is truth. But sometimes Christians divide over ridiculous things. They’ll get upset over some minor thing, so they decide to leave fellowship altogether.

It reminds me of a story I heard about a man who had been stranded on a desert island. When rescuers finally found him, they noticed he’d built three huts on the island.

“I built those huts myself,” he told them.

“Wow! What is this hut here?”

“That’s my house.”

“How about this one?”

“That’s my church.”

“That’s fantastic! And what’s the third hut?”

“Well,” he said, “that’s the church I used to go to.”

As Christians, we should seek to live in unity and love one another as Christ has loved us.


Hi again, this is Paul, the editor and publisher of Christianity 201. Today I’d like to ask readers for prayer concerning some yet-undiagnosed health issues. Thanks.

June 22, 2020

Prayers that Bring Healing of Another Kind

Today another new author for you! We’re highlighting Penny Gadd who writes at Seeking the Light. She is currently working her way through the Gospel of Luke. As always, click the header below to read this at her site.

Jesus heals a man with leprosy

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.

Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

The NIV translation that I use has a footnote to this passage that says: “The Greek word traditionally translated ‘leprosy’ was used for various diseases affecting the skin”. I see no reason to doubt that statement. As the NIV continues to use the description leprosy I shall follow their example.

Leviticus 13 describes the symptoms, and the actions that had to be taken when a case was discovered. If you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to live alone outside a centre of population (Leviticus 13: 45 – 46), and you were ritually unclean.

It was a horrible diagnosis to receive because you could no longer participate in community life, and above all you couldn’t take part in worship. Nevertheless, the Law of Moses recognized that some people did recover, and Leviticus 14 explains what they needed to do to be accepted back into the community.

When the leper of this story in St Luke’s gospel met Jesus, he threw himself full length with his face to the ground, and begged to be healed. There was no doubting his faith that Jesus could heal him, but he obviously felt unworthy. Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. He may have felt that he had sinned badly to have deserved the punishment of leprosy; that would have been a common point of view at that time.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’

Jesus healed the leper. Not merely did he cleanse him, but he reminded him of what he still needed to do to be accepted back into the worshipping community of Israel: … go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them. Jesus had dealt with the physical cleansing, but, because the now-healed leper still lived under the Law of Moses he had to take the correct actions to be made ritually clean.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith.

I find myself wondering whether that’s the whole story. Many times, I and my friends have prayed earnestly for the healing of people we know. We have faith that Jesus can and does heal, and yet it is only rarely that we see physical healing. What about all those occasions when people are not healed?

I suggest, tentatively, that there is always some form of healing, often spiritual and at a level that we can’t easily see. On those rare occasions when there is a miraculous healing, it seems usually to be when it will build faith in Jesus. In other words, it’s a sign like the healings carried out by Jesus. If we are to understand when God heals physically and when he doesn’t, we need to understand his will better, and listen to how he wants us to pray for individuals.

Perhaps that’s a message we could take from the last verse of today’s study.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Even Jesus, whose ability to hear the Father’s voice was unrivaled, finds that he can only pray properly by withdrawing to solitude. He needs to avoid the crowds. What do we need to avoid? Do we need to go to a lonely place, or just a quiet place? I don’t think it matters very much provided we make the opportunity to listen.

And, if we listen carefully to God, perhaps we will be better able to know how to pray effectively.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
Please help my heart to be still and silent when I pray so that I can hear your voice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

  • A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.
  • A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.
  • An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”
  • An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.
  • A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. Or a situation where you’ve never sought forgiveness, or forgiven the other. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. Then this becomes a natural lifestyle. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen people spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post about them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never properly tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of their personal shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

May 21, 2020

Conflict and Casting Our Pearls to Pigs

by Clarke Dixon

Needless to say, conflict is a huge problem for relationships and COVID-19 may be making things worse for many. Spouses and family members are not used to spending so much time together! Add in fear on top of stress over jobs, finances, and loved ones, and conflict can lie just below the surface. Conflict can take a lot out of us. Does Jesus say anything that can help us deal with potential conflict? Perhaps this:

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

Matthew 7:6 (NRSV)

What does this have to do with conflict? This saying of Jesus is often interpreted as meaning either, “don’t be flip with the sacred” to quote Eugene Peterson’s the Message, or, more commonly, the idea of don’t waste your time presenting the good news of Jesus to people who will not listen.

Having just said “do not judge,” it would be rather strange for Jesus to immediately require a judgement, a rather severe judgement, that some people may not be worth the effort. Might there be another way to understand these words of Jesus?

We can get tripped up by the word ‘holy’ and assume that Jesus must be talking about the Gospel, or something like that. What if Jesus uses ‘holy’ here, not as the main focus, but in the same way he uses ‘pearls.’ That is, there is something really, really precious and of great value, something which ought not to be wasted. What is that precious thing Jesus is talking about? What is the focus?

Jesus has been speaking about judgement and inter-personal relationships, which we can read in verses 1-5, so let us continue that line of thought. Just as something that is holy should not be thrown to dogs, and just as pearls should not be thrown to pigs, our best should not be thrown into the judgement of others. Our best includes our time, our effort, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

As we learned last week, judgement is a two way street. If I come against you in judgement, you wIll judge me in return. The next thing you know two people have taken a stand against each other and conflict is brewing. It is like a stand off between two nations headed for war. All their best resources are called upon to make that stand. People will get hurt if no one stands down.

Likewise, those who take a stand in judgement against another will throw all their resources at the brewing conflict, including time, energy, and huge amounts of space in their hearts and minds. People will get hurt. This is like throwing something holy to dogs, or pearls to pigs. It is worse that useless. They may be torn apart by it all.

Our time and energy is important. Our hearts and minds are important. Why waste them on judgement and conflict? What can we do instead? We look back to what Jesus has just said:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is 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 neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-6 (NRSV)

First, we take care of the log in our own eyes before judging our neighbours for the specks in theirs. Before we go trying to fix others, we focus on your own hearts and minds. We get our own lives in order. We look for God to do a work in us, to develop and grow our character through the Holy Spirit.

Second, we realize that we are on a journey just like everyone else. So rather than taking a stand of judgement against someone, we look take a step forward in relationship. We can grow together, helping each other with our logs and specks.

There are moments where for our own safety, we may need to take a step back from a relationship. Boundaries can be important. While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against. The conflict that follows a stand of judgement is going to take too much out of us. It is like throwing what is holy to dogs, or like casting pearls before swine. It is a terrible waste and may end up destroying us.

While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against.

God shows us how it is done. God wants to move forward in relationship with us:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. . . . God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Romans 5:6, 8-11 (NLT)

That does not sound like someone taking a stand against us! God could be against us, we have given Him plenty of reasons to do so, however, God is for us and not against us. Throughout the Bible God shows that He wants to walk with us. Through Jesus and the forgiveness of sin, God makes walking with us a reality. Through the Holy Spirit we experience God walking with us.

Do you want to take those steps forward with God? Perhaps you have decided instead to take a stand in judgement against God. God does not want to stand in judgement against you. He wants to walk in relationship with you. We can walk with Him, and learn from Him how to walk with others, in faith, hope, and love. This is much better than giving our best to judgement and conflict, than throwing what is holy to dogs, and pearls to pigs.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

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