Humble Yourself like a Child to become Great in God’s Kingdom

“Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18: 4

The life and actions of a true Christian should stand in stark contrast to the life and actions of the rest of the world.  The differences between humility and pride should be one of the more noticeable areas of distinction.  The Scriptures are clear that pride is a major evil that is present in this world.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” 1 John 2:15 – 16

The root of pride in a person is the elevated view of their own self value and self worth, beyond their true value.    Pride manifests itself when a person attempts to assert themselves based on this inflated self-view.  The Scriptures warn us against such actions or attitudes:

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12: 3

Pride is often the root cause of jealousy and envy.  For example, when someone is honored or rewarded but we think it should be us on the receiving end rather than them because we are more deserving, so we become envious or jealous, not recognizing that it is God who is in control of these circumstances.  So we see then that pride is in contention with love:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; “ 1 Corinthians 13: 4-5

We must be aware that this pride can enter into the body of Christ, as people carry over their prideful attitudes from the world without humbling themselves.  Religious pride can be subtle and can take many forms.  It is an age old problem though, and even the Lord Jesus rebuked the religious people of His time for their pride.  In the 23rd chapter of Matthew, while harshly criticizing and rebuking the religious scribes and Pharisees, He says this about humility and pride:

“They do their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.  But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.  And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.  He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23: 5-12

Pride can potentially be manifested in any or all Christians, but it seems that those who enter into any type of leadership position are especially vulnerable.  Perhaps the various positions and the associated titles that we have adopted in our current church structure are not what God has intended. My personal conviction is that there should not be titles for positions in the church.  In the Scripture quoted above from Matthew 23, the Lord explicitly mentions the use of “rabbi” and “father” and “master”, but should we just limit the restriction to those three? Isn’t part of the problem that it feeds an unhealthy pride, not just the misrepresentation of the title (e.g. having only one Father in heaven and none to be address on earth)?  I am convinced that this is so, and therefore I do not use titles when addressing other Christians.  I have found that many are visibly upset when I don’t.  It’s pride.

All true Christians should be working towards being humble servants towards one another.  This is where true greatness in the kingdom of heaven lies, so it should be our goal.  Don’t make it your goal to be elevated to some position with a title in the church, but rather, determine your gift  to be used in the body and allow God to open the door for you to use this gift to serve others.  The gift that you have will be something that you will be compelled or constrained to use, and God will open up a means for you to use it.  Just make sure that your pride is not a part of the motivation.  Be aware also that you can use this gift, and possibly even more effectively, without having a title associated with it.

There is a subtle point here that you may miss that I want to emphasize.  The world may see humility as something nice to have and may even recognize it as a good quality in a person, but the Lord is not just saying that this is a nice thing to have, He is saying that this is the path to greatness in His kingdom.  In other words, this is what we should set our sights upon and labor towards accomplishing.

Imagine a secular organization, and its leader speaking at a meeting with all members present, and using the humility of a small child as an illustration of how to be great within the organization.  It would never happen, but this is what Jesus did!  He is saying that humility is how you become great in His “organization”.  Here’s the full context of the Scripture from Matthew 18 quoted at the start:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ and calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 18: 1-4

I am certain that once we have passed on from this life to the next, we will be extremely happy if we have worked towards this greatness, but if we fail to do so, we will greatly regret it.

Yes, we must “humble ourselves”; it takes an effort on our part.  We must identify and put to death any and every prideful thought.  Ask the Holy Spirit for help and use your conscience to expose the flesh.

Humbling ourselves is intertwined with our walking in the spirit and our becoming more spiritual.  As I stated above, humility is a part of love, and love is spiritual, therefore, all the things that aid in our becoming more spiritual will help with us becoming more humble.  Set your mind on the things of the spirit, store up your treasures in heaven, place your total trust and confidence in God’s power, and be anxious for nothing.

One important point is that we recognize that when God uses us, we are merely a tool in His hands.  All that is accomplished is done by Him, even more than we realize.  We should recognize that it is God who will reward us; we should not be looking for recognition or rewards from other men.  Knowing the reality that it is all of God and very little or us, will put us in our proper place. As we walk in the spirit, with our eyes seeing the role of God and His Spirit in the workings of our lives, and recognize His power and amazing abilities, then we can easily find our proper, humble place.  Lord, please help us to do so.

Amen.

 

Advertisements

Have You been Freed from Sin?

“We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin.” Romans 6: 6 & 7

Bob Dylan, who recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature, went through a “Gospel phase” back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s putting out a few albums of Gospel songs that he had written.  One of his songs, that won him a Grammy award, was entitled “Gotta Serve Somebody” and the chorus went like this:

“But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”  Bob Dylan

In other words, Dylan is pointing out that there is no neutral position, you are either serving the Lord or you are serving the devil.  Interestingly, in response to this song, John Lennon put out a song entitled “Serve Yourself” suggesting that this was the better alternative.  I think that this was Dylan’s point, that when you think you are serving yourself, you are deceived and are actually serving the devil.

I would like to look closer, from a Biblical perspective, at this idea of “serving somebody” and the implications.  As we will see, it is directly related to our freedom from sin.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was a treatise, or a formal exposition of the principals of the Gospel.  In chapter 6 of Romans, when discussing freedom from sin, Paul says this:

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6: 12-14

…and then this:

“Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Romans 6: 16-18

…and finally:

“For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.” Romans 6: 19b

The word “yield” used in these verses is “paristemi” in the original Greek and is defined as “to stand by or near, to place a person or thing at one’s disposal, to stand by to help, to stand ready”.

These verses were obviously the source of Dylan’s lyrics.  It appears that he simply extrapolated from “yield to sin” to “serve the devil”, much as Paul interchanges “yield to righteousness” with “yield to God”, and Dylan also changed “yield to God” to “serve the Lord”.

Here’s what important: if you make the transition from yielding or presenting yourself to sin to presenting yourself to righteousness you will be free from sin.  But what does this really mean?  And how does one make this transition?  We need to drill even deeper.

Perhaps at the core of this is the understanding of what it means to “yield your members to sin”.  We looked at the original Greek word for “yield”, essentially meaning to put oneself at another’s disposal to help or serve, let’s now look at the original Greek word for “sin” – “hamartia” which generally means to “miss the mark, wander from the path of righteousness, or to violate God’s law”.  In this usage, the meaning is a bit different as noted in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:

“In this sense [hamartia] as a power exercising dominion over men (sin as a principle and power) is rhetorically represented as an imperial (domineering) personage.”

Paul is saying that to “yield our members to sin” is to be positioned and in a mindset that enables the principle of sin to exist and have power over our life.  Furthermore, Paul is saying that we should not make ourselves available to, or present ourselves to, this powerful principle of sin.  The principle of sin that he is referring to is explained in chapters 7 and 8 of Romans.  The principle is this: when we have our minds and focus set on our flesh, that is, on pleasing our earthly physical desires and passions, it will result in the fruit (or works) of the flesh, that is, sin.

“Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5: 19-21

Paul describes in chapter 7 of Romans how when we see the truth of God’s laws and agree with them, but are still focused on the flesh, we are trapped in a cycle of sin and death (the principle of sin).

“We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.  I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Roman 7: 15 & 16

In chapter 8, Paul more explicitly defines the principle of sin and the condition of being focused on the flesh:

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8: 5-8

Please note that when Paul said in Romans 7:15 that “I am carnal” he was not saying that he was currently following the flesh or living to please the flesh. No, he was saying that apart from Christ, we all are born as carnal beings and sold under sin, but when we are in Christ Jesus, we are no longer under the influence of this carnal part of us.  This is clear from the follow on verse in Roman’s chapter 8:

“But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you.  Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Romans 8: 9

Now we come to the most important question: How do we make the transition from being yielded to the principle of sin, over to being yielded to the principle of righteousness?

The answer: death!

Let me interject here that I am aware that only a very small amount of people will read this article simply because the word “sin” is in the title.  And now that I mention death, I wonder if even these few will now turn away.  I hope that your hunger for the truth will cause you to recognize that the only way to true life is by death, I don’t mean a literal death, but to die with Christ!

Paul begins his discussion of freedom from sin with the truth that we have died with Christ in baptism.

“How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6: 2-4

We were born into this world and lived much of lives with our focus on improving our physical condition, pleasing our physical desires, with our hopes set on the things that this world offers, with an attitude of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.  This was our mindset.  This was our lifestyle.  Whether we knew it or not we had yielded ourselves to this sin principle, what the Bible calls the principle of sin and death.  We didn’t know any different because it was the world that we were brought into and what we were programmed to do by our surroundings.  The result was entrapment to sin, to some extent, some deeper and more serious than others.  This was our old self, and we are instructed by the Scriptures to put the old self to death:

“We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” Romans 6: 6

The old way of thinking and living needs to die!  We must change our attitude and our focus.  We must now yield ourselves to doing what is right and good.  We must shift our focus to pleasing God and not ourselves.  We must now consider ourselves as being removed from this world system, and that we are now children of God and citizens of heaven and part of a spiritual, not physical, system.  The things of this world should not hold a grasp on our hearts anymore.  We now walk in newness of life with a spiritual focus.  We walk now not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

“So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according the flesh – 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: 12-13

It should be noted that considering yourself as having died with Christ is an act of faith.  Putting to death your old self is an act of faith. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like modern western Christianity emphasizes the focus of our faith on these things, but rather emphasizes putting the focus of our faith on being forgiven of our sins and on making requests of God.  It would seem that the fruit of this neglect is that many are not truly set free from sin.

Remember too that we must continue to walk in this newness of life with the old self dead.  Why else would Paul have written these instructions if it was not needed by the brethren to remind them to continue in this mindset.  Our old self wants to come back to life and again take control of our lives leading us to being yielded to sin and again back into bondage.  The way out is always the same: put the old self to death.

True faith combined with the truth that we must die with Christ and that we must shift our hope to heaven and to our resurrected body leading to eternal life, will cause us to be spiritual being, having our minds set on the things of the spirit.  Being spiritual is the key to walking in love!  It produces the fruit of the spirit in us!

Please read for yourself these chapters in Romans and prayerfully request that the Spirit would reveal the truth even deeper to you for your Christian walk.  These truths are extremely valuable and will profit you in the next life!

Remain in Christ Jesus and remember this:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.  For the law (principle) of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law (principle) of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

Amen.

Seek the Truth

“Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.” John 17:17 (prayer of Jesus to God the Father)

Idol Worship

Does idol worship exist today in our culture?  You may think that it exists in some foreign country where uncivilized or uninformed people still create statues or carved images that they consider to be an image of a god and they pray to it, present sacrifices to it and fall down prostrate before it to worship the image.  Certainly though, most would say that idol worship does not exist in today’s western culture.

I would propose to you that idol worship is rampant today in our western culture, but rather than a physical carved image we have invisible, mental images that we worship, and rather than falling down to worship in front of physical images, we worship and serve them in different ways, but serve them none the less.

An idol is anything that becomes a substitute for the true, living God.

In biblical days the people made physical carved idols of metal or wood that they considered to be a god, but in truth, they had no power:

“He burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast, and is satisfied.  He even warms himself and says, ‘Ah, I am warm, I have seen the fire.’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’ “  Isaiah 44: 16-17

These people believed a lie.  They somehow were deceived into thinking that this inanimate block of wood or metal had some power.  It was self-deception and foolishness.

“They do not know or understand; for He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.  And no one considers in his heart, nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire, yes, I have baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it; and shall I make the rest of it an abomination?  Shall I fall down before a block of wood? He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside; and cannot deliver his soul, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’ “ Isaiah 44: 18-20

This very same deception exists for us today!  Rather than a physical carved block of wood or molten shaped metal, we have the lie and deception in the form of a mental concept, a false theory or false view of reality that causes us to shift our attention, our affections, and our service away from the true living God.  The result is the same: God is not honored.  God is not given the proper place in our hearts.  Our thankfulness is not directed towards Him.  And just like worshiping a physical idol, it is an abomination to Him.

Truth vs. Lies

At the core of this is the difference between truth and lies.  The root problem is that a lie has been substituted for the truth. (Is there not a lie in my right hand?)  This deception results in bondage, and we must purge out the lie and replace it with the truth in order to be freed.

I want to draw your attention back to the Scripture verse quoted above from the Gospel of John, from the prayer that Jesus prayed for His disciples:

“Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.” John 17:17

The word “sanctify” in the original Greek is “hagiazo” meaning in this usage “to purify” and more specifically, the context suggests this version: “to purify internally by renewing of the soul”, and the renewing of our soul suggests that we change the way that we think or change our internal views and understandings of the truth.

The way in which we establish truth in our life is foundational.  All of our actions and decisions are based on this foundation of truth.  If what we have accepted as truth is perverted or compromised in any way, all that is built upon it will not stand firm.  As such, we need to be very much aware and cautious about what we have established as truth in our life.

Recently while riding my bicycle around my city by local fairgrounds I came across a fenced in area with a large banner over the main entrance gate entitled “Pagan Pride”. In curiosity I stopped and asked a man at the gate what it was about.  We got into a conversation during which, in an attempt to get to the root of the issue, I asked him how he determined the truth.  He replied, “Truth is what you make it to be.  You create the truth.”   Hopefully it is clear that a person’s method of determining truth is critical to their way of life.  As long as people continue to believe in lies they will continue to be in bondage to their lifestyle resulting in pain and suffering that is a product of their sin.

I want to take some time to explain my definition of truth in this context.  In general, I am not referring to the truth that men have established about our current physical surroundings like the mathematical truths (1+1=2) or laws of physics (Newton’s laws of gravity). The truth that I am referring to is what we use to establish reality; the truth that we believe and accept about our surroundings, especially about the past that has led up to and has influenced the present, and also what we believe about the future.  The truth that I am referring to has a major impact on our lives. It has an influence on who we are, on how we feel, on how we think and make decisions.

For example, if we have accepted as truth that man has corrupted the earth’s ozone layer and has caused global warming and/or severe climate change that could potentially cause catastrophic and irreversible damage in the future, than we will behave, make decisions, be happy or sad in certain circumstances as a result of accepting this truth.

I want to be very clear about this.  We must understand that the truths that we accept and believe will establish our view of reality, and this view of reality is not neutral concerning God.  Either He is included in this view or He is not. Either He is the creator of this reality or He is not.  Either He is in complete control of this reality or He is not.  Either His revealed details of the history of this reality are true or they are not.  Either His plans for the future of this reality are true or they are not.  All of God’s truth, in its entirety, must be in place, otherwise we have created a mental falsehood that is an idol and an abomination, and it will cause bondage.

God’s word is truth

How then is this truth established?  The answer to this is also found in the quoted verse from John 17: God’s word is truth.  I would add to this an adjective: God’s word is absolute truth, upon which we can build a sure foundation that will ensure freedom.

God’s word comes in two forms.  There is the word of God as has been revealed in the Bible, the Scriptures, and then there is the word of God that He speaks to us directly through His Spirit.  In the context of the truth that determines our way of life, the absolute truth of the Scriptures is by far the most critical source.  In fact, the spoken word of God from His Spirit should always be compared and weighed against the Scripture and if a conflict exists, than the Scriptures always override the direct word.

The problem with the direct communication of God’s word by His Spirit is that we are vulnerable to our own thoughts, prompted by our carnal mind or by our flesh, causing a great potential for deception.  I am not saying that we should abandon our attention to the voice of the Spirit. On the contrary, I believe that the Holy Spirit was sent to lead us into the truth and to show us clearly the truth.  I am saying that the Holy Spirit’s voice should not be a substitute for the Word of God, but rather should work in conjunction with it.

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” John 16:13

The voice of the Holy Spirit will not cover the entirety of the truths that we need to establish our view of reality.  We need to seek truth from the Scriptures in order to get the full picture of reality from God’s perspective.

It is not sufficient for us to simply say that we believe that God’s word, the Bible, is the absolute truth.  We need to know and understand the content of the truth that was revealed and apply those truths to our life. We need to purge out the old lies from our past and replace them with the truth in all areas of our belief system. This process takes time and effort; it requires study and persistence.  We need to prayerfully read and study the Scriptures, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.  Our attitude, our attention, our affections, our decisions, our goals, our happiness, all of our life should be based on the truth that we have established from the revealed Word of God. This is our spiritual worship and service to Him.

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12: 1-2

Sadly, many Christians today do not give the needed attention to the Word of God.  They instead depend on other men to garner truth.  They read books, listen to sermons, talk to other Christians, watch documentaries, none of which are bad, but they cannot replace the Holy Scriptures as the primary means of establishing the truth.

I say this of myself.  My role is to exhort you, to encourage you to continue in the truth, and to direct you to seek Him.  I don’t have the specific answers to your problems but I can direct you to the one who does – the living, all powerful and all knowing God!  No man, including myself, should be the one you look to as a source of truth.  Look to God and His Word.

I find it sad also that some would want to pick and choose what truths they want to accept from the Bible and mix them with other “truths” from various sources to establish their view of reality.  The foolishness of this, as I see it, is that we don’t fully comprehend the limits of man’s understanding of our world or the limits of our knowledge of the past.

What is reality?

The gap between what we think we know and what is the actual truth is much wider than we can perceive or what we will allow ourselves to accept. In other words, we don’t know how much we don’t know, and in many cases we don’t want to know because we want to believe what we think is true. We can’t even know the truth about the reality that is happening in the present let alone the reality that happened in the near past and especially in the distant past. We all know that when an event occurs and is witnessed by many people we get a different version of the event from each person, all of which vary greatly.  And yet we read accounts of past history as if they are completely accurate and true without the bias or misconception of the author.

Teachers teach subjects strongly influenced by their opinions and biases.  New reporters report the news interlaced with their opinions and influenced by their biases, politics and world view. Scientists publish their discoveries and research finding with strong biases.  History is written from the viewpoint of the author, whether it is from the country that they are from or from the side of the war that they fought on.  Yet we take these opinions as truth and establish our view of reality based on these views.  Do we also not see that there is a lie in our right hand?

If man is the source, it cannot be considered “absolute” truth.  Only God’s truth is absolute and unchanging.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Luke 21:33

God has revealed His word at first by using Abraham and his descendants, speaking to them through the prophets and having them meticulously record and preserve their history and writing.  He then revealed himself through His Son Jesus, the Messiah, as was witnessed by the apostles and disciples of that time and recorded in the Gospels, Luke’s record of the early church called the Book of Acts, and then the letters to the early churches, the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of men, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Peter 1: 20-21

“So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” 2 Peter 2:15-16

This is God’s revelation to mankind.  We must understand that He has preserved and protected His word.  The entire Bible is under His protection and must all be considered as authoritative.  If we can remove any part of it, then all of it becomes invalid.  In other words, if we can disqualify any single portion of the Bible from being the authoritative inspired word of God, then it opens the door for any other part of it to be disqualified. It is an all or nothing proposition. No but rather we must trust that God is all powerful and able to protect and guide the formation of His revelation to mankind, and to keep it intact throughout the ages.

We must also examine our motive for not accepting some parts of God’s revelation.  Is it because it conflicts with the desires of our flesh?  Does it cause us some pain or discomfort to implement the truths that were revealed?  Sometimes the truth hurts, but in the long run it is well worth the pain.

Years ago I overheard people talking about their plans for the future. They didn’t realize that I could hear them.  Their plans had a strong influence on my future and my happiness. Upon hearing this I was greatly upset and discouraged.  As I looked to the Lord, His Spirit spoke to me (I wrote this down) saying, “Don’t be discouraged. What you see and hear is not the reality of things. What you think in your mind is not reality. What you suppose is going to happen is not reality; only what I ordain to happen is reality. I know reality for tomorrow today. Trust in me and lean not on your own understanding.”  I can now testify that the things that I feared did not happen and in fact the opposite occurred.

Seek the Truth and Establish Reality from it

My point is that we are too quick to establish our view of reality, whether it be the overview of our world or the view of specific circumstances.  The truth is that only God really knows what is real.  Much of this reality has been revealed in His Scriptures and is available for us to use for our own lives.  How great a privilege it is to have this opportunity to access these truths that He has taken the time to establish through His prophets of old and through the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Don’t neglect this privilege.  Don’t neglect the study of His Word.  Don’t reject parts of His Word because you don’t understand them or because you find them to be a source of pain or discomfort.

Truth is invaluable and essential to our Christian walk.  We must vehemently seek after this truth and use it to purify our inner thoughts and view of reality.  Don’t take this lightly but be committed to the pursuit of truth through the Holy Scriptures.

Once the truth is established, having applied our faith to this truth, we then attain the assurance of hope, the result of which is true love in our inner nature.  We become a new spiritual creation with love written on our heart, and able to generate the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

I leave you with these thoughts about truth from the Scriptures:

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ “ John 14:6

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32

“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” John 8:44

“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth,” Ephesians 6:14

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” 3 John 1:4

 

Watch and Wait for His Coming

“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” Titus 2:13

“…so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” Hebrews 9:28

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” John 14: 1-3

“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’ ” Acts 1: 9-11

“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” Revelations 1:7

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Matthew 24: 36-44

“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ” 1 Cor. 15: 51-54

“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.” 1 Thess. 4: 13 to 5: 6

The above quoted scriptures are not an exhaustive list on the topic of the end times and of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (there are many more), but they are the most explicit and direct, and they are enough to remind us of the importance of this event.  As Christians, we need to continually remind ourselves that our hope is not in this world. We need to be mindful of God’s promises about the future resurrection of the dead and have our hope fully focused on heaven, watching and waiting for His return.

I recently heard an older Christian rock song entitled “I can only imagine” that was originally released back on 2001.  The song’s author had lost his father and had written the lyrics while pondering his death and what it must be like in heaven.  As I was listening to the song and thinking about the lyrics I remembered that I had come to the realization that, although it may be somewhat beneficial to imagine what heaven will be like, it is much, much more important for us to make heaven a reality in our hearts.  We need to exercise our faith to allow the reality of both the second coming of Jesus and the future existence of a new heaven and new earth under His authority and control.

Let me explain further what I see as a danger in just imagining rather than establishing the reality of these things.  The problem is that when we imagine, we usually associate what we have imagined with things that are not real.  We sometimes use our imaginations to escape reality, for example, we may imagine ourselves on a beach on a tropical island when we want to escape our current situation.  We usually then disconnect what we are imaging with the real world.  Herein lies the issue.  The reality of heaven needs to be a part of our everyday reality, not just some imaginary world that we think of sometimes.  Our natural inclination is to disconnect from what we are imagining and therefore imagining about heaven would also become a disconnected imagination rather than a very real future condition.

I know we can’t be thinking about heaven constantly, but when we do think of it, it needs to be registered in our minds as something real and the second coming of Jesus as a coming real event.

Here’s an example that may help.  All of us have had friends and loved ones pass away.  Although painful, the reality of death really hits home during these times.  We would rather not think about it or block it out, but there will be a day, an hour, a minute and second that we too will breath our last breath.  We don’t have to imagine what that day will be like, but we can allow the reality of it to enter into our hearts.  Yes, it’s real – there will be a real day and time that we will die (if the Lord does not return first).  My point is that imagining what it will be like at your funeral is not the same as allowing the reality of your death to enter into your heart.  The same applies to the reality of heaven and the reality of the second coming of the Lord Jesus.

For the person who has no faith, who either does not believe in a creator God or does not believe in the promises that God has presented to us through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus, there is no hope.  Faithless men are not only hopeless, but death is still their enemy. To them it is something to be feared and blocked out.  Death, to them, emphasizes the futility of life as they realize that all things for them are lost when they pass away.

As Christians we must not allow this mindset to overtake our thinking.  Consider the above quoted verses from the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians.  At the beginning of chapter 4 of that letter, after he had discussed his travels and other events that involved the Thessalonians in previous chapters, he continues:

“Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more.” 1 Thess. 4: 1

Here Paul is strongly urging them and attempting to incite them to action regarding what follows in his letter.  Understanding the reality of the second coming is part of what follows in chapter 4.  We need to live our lives with the understanding that death is not the end for us or for our friends and family who have died in the Lord.  The hope of our future with Jesus removes the grief and fear of death and the absurdity and futility that exists for those who have no hope.  This hope is also a great comfort for us, not only when we encounter death, but throughout our life, in all trials and afflictions.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” Romans 8: 18-19

We must recognize that it is so easy for us to get caught up in the day to day activities of our life and to allow our hope to be shifted back to something associated with this world.  We must guard against these forces that will cause us to forget our future hope and the glory that is in store for us at the second coming of Jesus.  The day of the Lord’s return is coming and is a certainty. Let’s keep it in the forefront of our minds and allow the reality of it to penetrate our consciousness, deep into our hearts.

I’ll leave you with this reminder from Peter:

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3: 10-13

Execute True Justice

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.  Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.’ “ Zechariah 7: 9, 10

The word “justice” is defined on dictionary.com as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.”  The word “just” is defined in dictionary.com as “guided by truth, reason, justice and fairness.”  In Webster’s dictionary, one of the definitions of the word “just” is “acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright and good.”  Webster’s defines “justice” as “the maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.”

Major injustices in society would include people who were imprisoned for crimes that they didn’t commit, people who go unpunished for crimes committed, or a bribe taken by a judge or government official that results in an unfair judgment.  These major incidents are most likely beyond our realm of influence so we would not likely encounter them or possibly have a rare, once in a lifetime encounter.  My question is, “how does the Lord’s directive to execute true justice impact the daily life of the average Christian?”

All of us, throughout our lives, are faced with circumstances where our input determines the fairness or justice that is done to a person or group of people.  Whether as a parent, a teacher, an employer, member of a board or council, or even among peers, we have the opportunity to make or to influence decisions to determine whether they are just or unjust.

We can also look around us and see many (relatively minor) injustices that occur in our society.  In fairness, we must admit that some may be apparent injustices, that is, situations that may appear to be unjust, but if we would know the entire circumstances, we would understand that they are actually fair and just.  Many, through, are unquestionably unfair and unjust.

What is our part?  How should we act and think as Christians?

First, we must understand that the Lord sees justice as very important.  Jesus, when rebuking the religious Pharisees for their hypocritical actions, stated that justice (which they were neglecting) was a “weightier matter of the law”, along with mercy and faith.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” Matthew 23:23

In my experience, there are many sermons and teachings and books written about faith and mercy, but little or nothing about justice, although it is equally important.  Let’s look deeper at justice and what it means in a practical sense to our Christian walk.

At the root of any injustice, there is a motivation by the decision maker, or person in authority, to make the wrong, unjust decision because it will somehow benefit them; they also have a disregard for the pain or problems that the injustice will inflict on those on the wrong end of the decision.  As Christians, we must override this temptation to benefit ourselves and be sure to do what is correct and just.  This action of not seeking our own benefit is a part of love, as the Scripture in 1 Corinthians 13 says, “love seeks not its own”, and we can see how justice and love are closely intertwined. Many times true justice also involves mercy for those who are oppressed by the injustice.

We should also be aware that sometimes there is a price to pay in order for justice to remain intact.  For example, God the Father had to send His Son Jesus to pay the price for our sins, so that the Father would remain just and in alignment with His justice.  He could not just overlook the sins of mankind or justice would have been perverted, and so He paid a very high price (suffering and death) to keep justice intact.  Likewise, there are times that we too must pay a price to bring about justice, or to show mercy towards someone, but mercy should not be exercised at the expense of justice.

Another form of injustice is showing partiality with an evil motive.  Here’s what James, the brother of Jesus, had to say about it (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit):

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘you stand there,’ or, ‘sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2: 1-4

And so we see that we must be careful about our treatment of others, knowing that it is a serious matter to show partiality towards someone for the wrong reasons, or with selfish motivations.

Life’s circumstances are often times very challenging and difficult and we are often tempted or pressured into unfairness or partiality resulting in injustice. In an effort to live our lives as pleasing to the Lord, we need to ask Him to reveal to us any area of our life that would be considered by Him to be unjust or impartial.  We need to ask the Holy Spirit to expose any hidden motives that we might have that could be hiding even a remote connection to an injustice.

For example, in fairness, we should work a full day of work for a full day’s pay, whether someone is watching us or not (remember that the Lord is watching!).  We should treat all people the same regardless, or in spite of, of our prejudices. We should reward those who deserve it, even when it may be painful to us, and we should punish those who deserve it when it is our responsibility, without showing partiality.

God will honor all of our actions that promote justice, fairness, equality, and righteousness.  It starts with an earnest desire and self awareness, as well as being aware of the importance of justice in God’s kingdom.  God is a just God and He expects His children to also behave in line with His justice.  Hand in hand with this justice is mercy.  God is also a merciful God who expects us to function with this same mercy.

In the 7th chapter of Zechariah, the people of Israel refused to listen to God’s request for them to “execute true justice” and to show mercy and compassion, and to stop all oppression on the poor, widows, strangers, etc., but they did what was evil.  God therefore did not listen to them, and He brought His judgment upon them.

“But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts. Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts: But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.” Zechariah 7: 11 – 14

We must take care to address any injustices in our lives so as to not bring upon ourselves a similar situation of judgment from God as in the time of Zechariah.  Our judgments and decisions need to be impartial, fair, aligned with the truth, aligned with God’s commandments and laws, and tempered with mercy.

James ends his exhortation about showing impartiality and judgment with evil thoughts with this additional exhortation:

“So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  James 2: 12 – 13

Amen.

 

 

This World is Absurd and Futile

“Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity.  What profit has a man from all his labor in which he labors under the sun?”  Ecclesiastes 1: 2-3

“All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” Ecclesiastes 1: 8

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1: 14

According to the footnote in the New King James translation of the Bible, the word used here for “vanity” can also be translated as “absurdity, futility, frustration, nonsense, and so throughout the book [of Ecclesiastes]”.  The word is used 28 times in the 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes.  In the original Hebrew, the word is “hebel”, and it means “vapor, breath, emptiness”.

The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is a difficult one to fully grasp.  Obtaining wisdom is not a quick and easy task, but it takes time and meditation to absorb the depth of these truths. I am certain that this book leaves many readers confused and tempted to just pass it off as some meaningless, outdated, musings from the Old Testament.

I submit to you that understanding the wisdom and the view of the world that Solomon puts forth in his scriptural writings is critically important.  The book of Ecclesiastes was included as part of the Holy Scriptures for a reason; it has a purpose; this is the inspired word of God and part of His revelation to mankind.  Remember also that King Solomon was, according to the Bible, the wisest man who ever lived; based on this fact alone we can’t just write off what he is saying.

At first glance, the idea that “all is vanity” or that everything in our world is empty and futile may seem contrary to popular thinking or even foolish to most people.  We must remember, though, that as Christians we need to establish our world view based on the revealed word of God, taking into account the entire overview of the history of creation as shown to us in the Bible.  We also must put aside the previous views of this world that came from our godless past, produced by the evil world system.  Our minds and our thinking must be renewed and transformed. We must now have a spiritual mindset and viewpoint.

In our current western culture, there is a proclivity towards the positive and a rejection of anything negative.  At the root of this, people who are without the hope that has been offered through the promises of God in His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, have difficulty finding a reason to live if they embrace the reality of an empty life that ends in death.  It is a grave danger, though, to embrace a false, fabricated view of reality, only because it feeds a need for a positive hope.  As Christians, we must hold fast to the truth, knowing that it comes from our Creator and Father in heaven.

There is a critical importance to recognizing the vanity, futility, and absurdity of this world, as Solomon observed thousands of years ago.  This viewpoint is a hard one to accept since it goes directly against the grain of the secular human philosophy and evolutionary progression that is so prevalent in our world.

Let us look for a moment at the larger picture of our situation as followers of Jesus Christ.  We are told that we must die with Christ in order to live with Him.  We are told that our old self was crucified with him.  We are told that we must die to this world and to this world system.

“We know that our old self was crucified with Him……but if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” Romans 6: 6, 8

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations.” Colossians 2:20

How can we truly die to this world if deep down in our subconscious mind we are still embracing the false idea that this world is fruitful, satisfying, and offers hope? Unless we fully accept the reality that this world has been cursed by God and subjected to futility, we will not be able to fully die to this world and live with our hearts anchored in heaven.  Recognizing the futility of this physical world system and the vanity of all that it produces is a critical part of being transformed into a spiritual Christian.

Here is the wisdom that is contained in our need for a death to this world:  only by death to the physical can spiritual life come.  It is seemingly paradoxical but we must die to live.  We must be negative to be truly positive!

If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that deep inside we hesitate to embrace the fact that this world is absurd and futile.  It is so hard to embrace the fact that everything we do amounts to nothing in the end and is in vain.  Again I say that we must look at this in the light of God’s revelation of truth, with the eyes of faith.  We have another hope that the world does not see and requires faith to take hold of.

Let’s look closer at a portion of Scripture in the New Testament that deals with this topic.  It’s in Romans Chapter 8, after a discussion about our adoption as sons of God and the inheritance we are assured of and the glory that we will share with Him.  I want to use the Amplified version because it drives home the idea that God has purposely caused this world to be subject to futility:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the gory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!  For [even the whole] creation (all nature) waits expectantly and longs earnestly for God’s sons to be made known [waits for the revealing, the disclosing of their sonship]. For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him who so subjected it – [yet] with the hope that nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” Romans 8: 18-21

In the quote above, in the phrase “For the creation was subjected to frailty, the word “frail” is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “easily led into evil“. By the way, in some versions the word frailty is replaced by “vanity” or “futility”. The main point, as explicitly stated in these verses, is that it was the will of God to subject the entire creation to a condition of futility.  This was part of the curse.  We don’t really know what the original condition of the world was before the curse came upon it, but we know it was better than our current situation.

I think it is safe to say that the condition of the future heaven, with the curse removed, will be a place that is NOT futile or vain or absurd or frustrating or nonsensical.  Rather, it will be satisfying and with purpose and beyond what we can imagine, perfect for us in every way.

Continuing with the quote from Romans 8, we see that Paul too exhorts his readers to embrace the reality of this future hope:

“We know that the whole creation [of irrational creatures] has been moaning together in the pains of labor until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves too, who have and enjoy the firstfruits of the [Holy] Spirit [a foretaste of the blissful things to come] groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies [from sensuality and the grave, which will reveal] our adoption (our manifestation as God’s sons).  For in [this] hope we were saved. But hope [the object of] which is seen is not hope.  For how can one hope for what he already sees?  But if we hope for what is still unseen by us, we wait for it with patience and composure.” Romans 8: 22 – 25

Solomon’s observation that this world is absurd and futile, and that all of man’s work is in vain, is an accurate assessment of reality.  We must reject the past lies and peel back the imaginary, fantasy view that we have painted for ourselves to override the painful truth of this world’s absurdity and futility. We must also recognize that God has subjected the world to this futility for a purpose, as part of the curse that was the result of Adam’s sin.  We must also recognize that we don’t belong here, but we have a future hope in heaven that is waiting for us.

To be clear, I am not saying that we should stop all that we are doing because it is all for nothing. I am saying that we should behave like aliens and strangers in this world, and as travelers who are just passing through with our hearts set on the treasure that is waiting for us in heaven.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6: 19-20 (the words of Jesus)

There will be no thieves in heaven and our things in heaven will not corrode or decay!

I would suggest that you read the entire book of Ecclesiastes and pray that God opens your eyes to all of the wisdom there.  I will leave you with the conclusion that Solomon ends the book with:

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments. For this is man’s all.  For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14

Amen.

There is Only One Gospel – It Produces Love

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1: 6-9

The apostle Paul wrote this warning to the churches of Galatia close to 2,000 years ago.  I firmly believe that this same warning also applies to Christians today, and was not just a one time warning unique to the situation that Paul was addressing at that time.  I believe that there are Christian teachers and church leaders today who “pervert the gospel of Christ” in a similar manner, to varying degrees, as was being done at that time.  Historically, there has been a tendency for Christian organizations to digress from the core elements of the gospel, focusing on “religiosity” rather than producing true Christian character and love.  Even today there are many Christian churches that would be considered spiritually dead.  This letter to the Galatians addresses the cause of this problem that leads to death.

If you read the entire letter that Paul wrote, you will see that he is essentially saying that there is no other means of restoring our relationship with God, no other way to remove the curse from Adam and Eve’s sin, no other way of salvation from this present evil age, no other way to become spiritual, no other way to be transformed to walk in love, and no other Messiah sent from God for this purpose, but only the Gospel message that Paul had previously preached to them about the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Messiah, and what He had accomplished on our behalf through His death and resurrection, and which is only attained by us through faith as a free gift from God.

I thought that it would be valuable for us to look at the main underlying components that support the Gospel so that we can protect ourselves from unknowingly turning to any other proposed “different” gospel.  Paul touches on these components throughout his letter to the Galatians.  Let’s consider some of these:

The Truth

“You were running so well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?”  Gal. 5:7

The Gospel is based upon the truths that have been revealed in the Bible.  We must be very clear about how we establish truth in our minds or the Gospel can potentially become compromised or even abandoned.  Truth should be established through recognizing the authority of God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures.  The writings of the Bible are not mere writings of men, but are revelations inspired by the Holy Spirit.

“And we also have the more sure prophetic word, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation (or origin), for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1: 19-21

We must remember that there are very few things in this life that we can rely on as being absolute truth.  We cannot trust the teachings of men as being absolute truth, although they may perhaps contain some portion of truth that may apply to some circumstances.  At best, any truths coming from men are limited in their scope to this physical realm, as well as limited to our recent time frame; anything beyond that is guess work and unreliable.

Many of us are able to hear from God by listening to the still, small voice that speaks to us for guidance and encouragement.  Although I encourage this type of communication with God, I also must caution you that this is not the same type of anchor for our soul as the absolute, authoritative truth that comes from the Scriptures.  Our natural minds often interfere with our ability to hear the Holy Spirit’s communication and therefore we must always check our understanding of what God is speaking to our hearts against the Biblical truths which are absolute.

As a side note, I recently read a beautiful story about a Christian woman who saw a homeless man outside of her grocery store and wanted to buy some food for him.  The Holy Spirit spoke to her and said she should buy him bananas and some protein bars.  She wanted to buy him some fried chicken instead, thinking it would warm him up, but she listened to the inner spiritual voice and didn’t get the chicken.  When she gave the man the bananas and protein bars, he was very grateful.  Immediately after giving them to him, there came another woman with some fried chicken for the man, much to the original woman’s surprise and joy, bringing her to tears.  She though how great it was that God had a concern for this homeless man in this way.

It is beautiful thing to be able to hear from God directly, but we must not use it for determining the absolute truths that establish our understanding of life and that anchors our soul.  Only God’s Word, the Bible, can be the authoritative source for our truth, and the source for the Gospel message.  Be warned that following your heart or the teachings of men without the guidance of Scriptures can lead you astray into the error of false gospels.

True Faith

“Now it is evident that no person is justified (declared righteous and brought into right standing with God) through the Law, for the Scripture says, The man in right standing with God [the just, the righteous] shall live by and out of faith and he who through and by faith is declared righteous and in right standing with God shall live.  But the Law does not rest on faith [does not require faith, has nothing to do with faith], for it itself says, He who does them [the things prescribed by the Law] shall live by them [not by faith].” Gal. 3: 11 – 12 (Amplified Bible)

The situation that Paul was confronting at Galatia was about religious Jews who were attempting to recruit the Galatian Christians to Judaism and to follow the Jewish religious rituals and practices, focusing on the Mosaic laws.  The problem with this, as Paul pointed out, is that being “religious”, that is, focusing on keeping a set of regulations and adhering to ritual practices, does not require faith.  In other words, a purely “religious” person’s “life” comes from following religious regulations and practices; this is what gives them satisfaction and comfort, relieves their guilt, and makes them feel like they are accepted by God.  Unfortunately, when we focus our lives on keeping religious rules, rituals and regulations, it puts us into bondage because there is no resulting spiritual growth produced from this activity.  The bondage is a result of remaining focused on our “flesh”; only true faith can take us out of our fleshly focus.

In contrast, when we put our faith and trust in Jesus, and the promises of God, we have spiritual growth and are free from the bondage of the flesh.  Our “life” comes from the reality of being true children of God and heirs of His kingdom.  This is where our satisfaction and comfort comes from: knowing that our relationship with God has been repaired, our sins forgiven, and our future home in heaven is secured for us and waiting.  We look forward for the final return of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who will establish the final Kingdom here, including us with our resurrected, immortal bodies.  This is the true faith that causes us to be born of the spirit and sets us free from the bondage of the flesh.

Be advised that any proposed gospel message that does not require faith and that keeps our focus on this physical world, and the material things within it, is an erroneous, false gospel.  We will need discernment to recognize this because the proponents of these false messages will surely make the claim that the focus is spiritual and that faith is involved, but we must look deeper into the reality of true faith and true spirituality as defined by the Scriptures.

I believe that there are many “Christian” churches that have shifted the focus of their message to regulations and practices and have de-emphasized the need for true faith.  It may not be explicitly stated in their doctrines and preaching from the pulpit, but it is communicated by other means, requiring the congregation to focus on church attendance, donations, volunteer work, participation in church functions, etc, rather than having the main emphasis and focus on true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to be careful not to fall back into flesh based activity, but rather remain in a place that focuses our affections on spiritual things, requiring our faith to be strong.

Hope

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Gal. 3: 25-29

The truth of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ  has as its main focus the hope that we have in the future promise of eternal life in heaven with a resurrected body, living in the glory of the kingdom of God as His children with an inheritance waiting for us.  This hope allows us to shift our affections from this physical world, which feeds our flesh, to the spiritual world that causes our spirit to come to life.  Being in Christ means that we have removed ourselves from this physical world in our minds and hearts, having put our flesh to death by dying with Christ.  This is the true power of the Gospel message; no other message is needed since this blessed hope with its transforming power is fully available through Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Bible.

“Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.” Galatians 4: 28

Love

“For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Galatians 5: 5-6

In the above two verses in chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul reaches the climax of his letter, culminating his warnings and arguments with the fact that what really matters is “faith working through love”.  So we see that if we embrace the truth of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and place our faith in what has been promised to us as children of the living God, our hope is then established, our flesh no longer rules our lives but rather we shift to becoming spiritual beings, new creations, with the realistic power to walk in love.  Love is the goal; if we are not able to love then something is wrong – something is missing.  In that case perhaps we need to re-examine the gospel that we have accepted to make sure that it aligns with the true Gospel as revealed in the Bible.

A few verses later, Paul again reinforces the concept of love. He shows them that the essence of the law is really about love:

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. Galatians 5: 14

In the amplified Bible, the word “fulfilled” is replaced with the phrase “complied with”, which I think better explains that we can’t just ignore the law completely, but rather, if we are truly walking in love we will be complying with all the precepts of the law.  Again I say that the problem with the law is that if we focus on the law by itself and pursue abiding by its precepts without true faith, then we will not, and in fact cannot, become spiritual, and therefore cannot walk in love.  Without true faith we cannot adhere to the law.

“For if a Law had been given which could confer [spiritual] life, then righteousness and right standing with God would certainly have come by Law.” Galatians 3: 21b (Amplified)

For Christians the key is to become spiritual; if we are spiritual we will be able to walk in love with the law written on our heart.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explicitly states this need for spirituality in our battle against the desires of the flesh that hinder our ability to love.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” Galatians 5: 16-17

When he says “doing what you would” I believe that equates to walking in love.

Be warned though that you must make sure that you have the correct biblical definition of love (not the world’s definition), and likewise, the correct biblical definition of being spiritual.  Many religions use the term spiritual and love to describe their activities, but these do not align with God’s meaning as revealed in His Scriptures.  Seek Him to help you gain the true understanding of these!

I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire book of Galatians for there are many other truths brought out in this letter that can help us in our walk with the Lord.  I hope you have found these insights helpful.  God bless!