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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.

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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

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!

Don’t throw away your Confidence!

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10: 35, 36

This message is really about our Christian faith, or more specifically, an important aspect of our faith, that is, the trust and confidence we place in the things that have been promised to us by God.

The concept of faith as presented in the Bible is rather complex, much more than just believing that there is a God, or believing and accepting a list of doctrines.  Additionally, there are some erroneous or misleading teachings about faith, the most notorious being the idea that our faith should be focused on ourselves and our ability to believe in something in order to make it happen.  This false teaching states that our positive thoughts and positive confession, what they would call faith, will bring about a positive result.  It promotes the idea that if we believe something hard enough and long enough we can make it happen; that somehow our belief in something will trigger a physical mechanism that causes the thing we believe in to come into existence or come about. And that if we imagine or visualize something and then confess it, or say the words to support our visualization, then the thing that we have visualized will come about.  This same technique is taught by the new age philosophy and even is used in witchcraft and sorcery.

True faith should be focused on making the unseen spiritual things that have been revealed to us in the Scriptures a reality in our minds and hearts, especially what has been promised to us regarding a future new heaven and new earth upon the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Faith should be combined with our trust in God and His ability to keep us and give direction to our life.  But faith should not be an attempt to use our imaginations to envision some future state or situation or desired outcome.  In order to engage in a true Biblical faith, we need to be immersed in the Scriptures, paying attention to the advice and admonitions there with regards to the workings of our faith.

True faith, as displayed and explained in the Bible, is a way of life.  It is a view of reality that is based on the revelation of God as presented in the Bible.  It is a replacement for the view of reality that we had previously been living and acting by that was an accumulation of the experiences and teaching based on the temporary physical world, minus the reality of a living, creator God and the truths surrounding His interaction with His creation.   Our faith should penetrate deep into our souls, impacting our daily thought patterns, our responses to situations, our choices and decisions in life, and, most importantly, our actions.  Our Christian faith should be a strong contributor to our transformed nature, resulting in a true spiritual love and our ability to walk in love.

Along these lines, the writers of the Bible, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, present often the idea of having confidence, which is a means of defining the type of faith that we should be practicing.  Let’s look closer at this.

First let’s look at the word “confidence” and make sure that we understand its meaning.  It is interesting that the English word confidence has as its root the word “confide” which means to entrust or to impart secrets to a friend with trust.  The English word confidence in dictionary.com is defined as: “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing.”

In the original Greek of the New Testament, there are two words that are translated to the English as confidence.  The first, “hypostasis”, is defined as “a setting under for support (like a foundation or substructure).  In a figurative context it is translated as “concretely” and in an abstract context as “assurance or confidence”.

The writer of Hebrews used this word twice, the first as follows:

“For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,” Hebrews 3:14

And here also, where faith is explicitly defined:

“Now faith is the assurance (or confidence) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

The idea conveyed is for us to have a mental state that is like being on a sure and solid foundation that we have confidence in, much like the confidence we would have in crossing a bridge that is constructed of large structural steel beams placed on immense concrete abutments, as opposed to the lack of confidence we would have in crossing a rickety bridge made of rotten wood suspended from fraying cords.

(Note: This word is also used in Hebrews 1:3 but in a different context than the others. It is used to explain how Jesus was the “expressed image of (God the Father’s) person”, making His invisible attributes “concrete” or to have substance.)

The second Greek word translated as confidence is similar: “parresia”, and is often used to convey a boldness and openness in speaking.  Also, it is defined as “free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance”.

The writer of Hebrews uses this word three times as follows:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,” Hebrews 10: 19

And the verse quoted above at the start of the message:

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10: 35, 36

I see these two Greek words that are translated as confidence as being closely connected with the first expressing the internal mental condition we should have regarding our hope in what was promised, like standing on a firm foundation, standing on a rock as opposed to standing on sinking sand or miry clay.  The second defines the output of having such a mentality, that is, our boldness of speech, or boldness to see ourselves in the presence of God directly with Him hearing our prayers and requests, or our confidence about a future reward that gives us the strength to endure our current hardships.

Let’s look closer at the broader context of the verse from Hebrews 10:

“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.”  Hebrews 10: 32 – 36

Here we see that our internal confidence manifests itself in our ability to endure through difficult times, giving us the strength needed.  The exhortation is to “not throw away our confidence” meaning that we should not discard it as having no use, like throwing away an old garment or useless item.  Rather we need to recognize its great value, and make sure that we have established our confidence internally so that it will be displayed when difficulties arise and we face the need for endurance.

The “great reward” that is mentioned in the above verse is referring to the promised reward that Jesus will bring to those who are faithful and endure to the end.  It has to do with eternal life, a resurrected, immortal body, a mansion in heaven, and entering into the literal kingdom of God as His child.  These are things that are priceless.

I remind you that this is a very clear directive from the Scriptures, that we should not discard, or throw away, our confidence.  This confidence is based on the full assurance of hope that we have received and believed when we have heard the message of salvation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I encourage you to even more deeply establish this confidence in your mind and heart, and to allow it to flow out in your daily activity, regardless of the degree of hardship.  Recognize also that this confidence will be a weapon against future conflict that may arise, possible hardships or persecutions that we all may face later as Christians.  This is part of the “shield of faith” that will “extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy” when in spiritual battle.

“’For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him’ (from the prophet Habakkuk chapter 2), but we are not of those who draw back to perdition (or destruction), but of those who believe to the saving of our soul.” Hebrews 10: 37-39 (follows our main quoted verse above)

Amen.

Jesus is the Messiah King

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) is a child of God…” 1 John 5: 1

As Christians we know that our faith is very important.  We know that we are accepted by God as a result of our faith, and not by any of our own righteous actions or accomplishment, rather the acceptance and forgiveness by God for our past transgressions is an act of mercy and grace on His part.

We are also told in the book of James in the Bible that our faith needs to be a “living” faith.  More specifically, if our faith is not producing in us good works, or acts of love, than our faith is dead and will not gain us acceptance with God.

“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?  Can his faith same him? [the implied answer is no]  If a brother or sister is ill –clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2: 14 – 17

Additionally, it is very important that we understand the specifics of our faith.  We must be clear about what we believe specifically; for example, we must know the object of our faith and we must consider the implication that our faith has on our actions and world view.  For example, is it enough for us to just believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure that existed in the past?   A person can say, “I believe in Jesus”, but this is insufficient to gain acceptance by God if they mean that they just believe that He was a real person from the past. James addressed a similar issue of faith in this verse:

“You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder.” James 2: 19

This may come as a surprise for some Christians, but it is also insufficient to just believe that Jesus died for your sins on the cross.  Of course we must believe both of these truths:  that He existed in the past and that He died for our sins, but there is much more that must be a part of our core beliefs as Christians.

The Bible clearly states that the core of what we need to believe as Christians is that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  And, we must understand the implications of this.  Let’s look into this deeper.

The word “Christ” and the word “Messiah” both mean “Anointed One” and are therefore interchangeable.  The word “Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew “Messiah” and therefore you can replace the word “Messiah” anywhere in the Bible where the word “Christ” is used.

Throughout the Bible, the physical act of pouring oil on someone, or anointing them with oil, was symbolic of the spiritual anointing from God, giving them the power or “anointing” of God’s Spirit.  For example, God instructed the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as king of Israel (1 Samuel 15: 1) and also told Samuel to anoint David, as a young boy, to be the future King to replace Saul (1 Samuel 16: 3, 12).  These men then had the Spirit of God resting upon them as they fulfilled their role as King (unless, as in Saul’s case, the anointing of the Spirit was removed).

More specifically though, the Old Testament prophets had foretold of a future Messiah, or one anointed with God’s Spirit who was sent by God and who was the Son of God. The Messiah was also foretold to be the one who would restore the kingdom of God and be the anointed as the King and Lord of this kingdom.  (You can do a search online to see the many Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah.)

The Scriptures clearly present Jesus as the Messiah and it is also clear that Jesus emphasizes the important of believing that He was the Messiah.  Consider the following Scriptures:

At His birth:

“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ (the Messiah) the Lord.’ “ Luke 2: 10-11

At the calling of some of the Apostles:

“One of the two who heard John (the Baptist) speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).” John 1: 40 – 41

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,’…[and later]…Nathanael answered Him [Jesus], ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ “ John 1: 40, 41, 45, 49

At the raising of Lazarus from the dead, talking to Martha:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, He who is coming into the world.’ “ John 11: 25-27

The Apostle John’s closing statements about the purpose of his writing the Gospel of John:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20: 30 – 31

We see from the Scriptures also that the major objection of the religious leaders and Pharisees at the time of Jesus death was the fact that Jesus was being accepted as the anointed Son of God, the Messiah and King of Israel.

“Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ (Messiah), a King.” Luke 23: 1-2

We also see from the book of 1 John that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah is the antichrist:

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah)? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2: 22

And so, why is this important?  This is important because we must realize that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and is alive today. He has been established and anointed as the King of heaven, the King of God’s Kingdom.  He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords.

“Which He accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and make Him sit at His right hand in heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and He has put all things under His feet and has made Him head over all things for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1: 20 – 23

When we are baptized, as a profession of our faith, we are united with Jesus in His death, also dying to the kingdom of this world.  When we rise up out of the water we are also united with Him in His resurrection and share with Him a place in His Kingdom.  We should recognize ourselves as current citizens of heaven awaiting the return of King Jesus to re-establish His kingdom here on earth, creating a new earth.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3: 1

As such, we are, even now, under the kingship and lordship of the Messiah King – Jesus Christ.  This is why we say that He is our Lord.  The implication is that we must follow His rules and commandments, the regulations of His kingdom.  We must also honor Him as King.  This submission to His commandments and homage to His position as King should have a profound impact on our lives, changing our actions and attitudes.

It is a good thing for us to believe that Jesus was a real person who walked this earth over 2000 years ago, healing the sick and raising the dead, and to also believe that He died on the cross to pay the price for our redemption for our offenses against a Holy God.  It is also good to believe that He was raised from the dead by the power of God.  We must recognize, though, that Jesus did these acts as the Messiah, the Anointed One sent by God to fulfill His promise, and to establish God’s Kingdom, and who sits now as King and Lord, and who will return to destroy this world and establish a new heaven and earth, and who will judge the living and dead according to their works.  We must allow the reality of these truths to sink into our souls and impact our view of reality.  We must consider the full implications of Jesus being the Messiah King.

Unfortunately, in our western culture, we don’t have a good concept of how to honor a King.  We have a president, but we see him as just another part of our governmental leadership, part of the balance of power.  Especially today, it is apparent that we don’t know how to honor a king by the way that our media speaks of the person in office, as well as the way many people on the opposing political party speak of the president.

I believe that our culture sees it as a weakness for someone to submit and recognize a supreme authority and to honor such a position.  Perhaps only in the military is such honor given to authority, and for many, this is seen as wrong or weak.  Instead it is seen as a virtue when we question authority and function ultimately under our own authority.  As Christians we must remove this from our thinking.

In summary, we as Christians must recognize that our faith should include the belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed King.  We are also required to consider ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, where Jesus resides as King, and submit fully to His laws as obedient subjects, fully accepting His reign over us.  We should also be awaiting His return to establish His kingdom here among us, and to separate the good from the evil, establishing His righteous kingdom forever.  On that last day when Jesus returns, all those who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah and King, having their name written in the Lamb’s book of life by faith in Him, and who have obeyed the laws of His kingdom, and have honored Him as Lord and King, will be accepted into His eternal kingdom.

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ ” Revelation 21: 1-4

I look forward with heightened anticipation for that day of His return!

Amen.

Do You Walk the Christian Walk?

“By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” 1 John 2: 5-6

There’s an analogy that we use today for applying a test to people who claim to be something that they are not.  We say, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.” Jesus said essentially the same thing but from a different analogy when He said something along these lines: “You will know a tree by its fruit.”  Here’s the quote from Matthew:

“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.” Matthew 7:16-17

People can claim to be followers of Christ, but the true test of Christianity is not in the words that people speak, but in their actions.  It is a good saying that “actions speak louder than words.”  Even here, though, we must also be careful to test for the right actions.  Some of us have been fooled by smiling faces and a lot of religious, ceremonial activities that come down to external fluff.  The real litmus test is a person’s actions when under the pressures and duress of life, when their real character is exposed, internally, whether they are truly walking in love.

The fruit we are looking for is love; and this is clearly indicated in the Scriptures as the true test of being a Christian.  The Epistle of 1 John is explicit on this topic.  Consider the following portions from that letter:

“He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still.  He who loves his brother abides in the light and in it there is no cause for stumbling.” 1 John 2: 9-10

“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, and not like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.  Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren.  He who does not love remains in death.  Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” 1 John 3: 11 – 16

“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation (atonement or satisfaction) for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.  1 John 4: 7 – 12

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” 1 John 4: 20 – 21

At this point I would like to make it clear that not only do we need to be aware of those who falsely claim to be Christians, but perhaps more importantly, we need to look to ourselves and make sure that we are continuing to produce the required fruit in our own lives.  Consider this exhortation from Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church:

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?  – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2 Cor. 13: 5

We are first and foremost responsible for our own growth in love.   We must be careful about how we judge others for in so doing we may bring a greater condemnation upon ourselves.  Jesus addressed this problem:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7: 1-5

We must remember also that there is a direct correlation between walking in love and not having sin in our lives.  It’s this: if we are truly walking in love, then we will not be in sin, because sin is an offense against love.  In other words, if we have sin in our lives then it is an indication that we are not perfected in love.  All of God’s commandments and regulations that expose sin are summed up, or completely covered, in these two commandments: to love God with all of your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, to test Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ and He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.’” Matthew 22: 36-40

“The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13: 8-10

Unfortunately, there is a very serious problem surrounding this situation, and that is, that we may sincerely desire to love and to be perfected in love, but we cannot just will ourselves to do this.  No matter how strong our will power and how deeply we are committed to walking in love, we will find that it is impossible to accomplish this in our own strength.

The reason for this has been revealed in the Scriptures.  I’ll sum it up like this: Love is spiritual, therefore, we must be spiritual to love.  And now we run into our next issue, to define what it means to be spiritual, for there are many who consider themselves to be spiritual, but they are not walking in love.  I therefore must be specific and say that I mean we must be spiritual in a Biblical sense, as defined in the Bible.  We must take on a spiritual nature as defined in the Bible to be the very nature of God as revealed in the life and nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by God the Father for this purpose, to expose and define the very nature of God, which is one of love. The Scriptures indicate that this spirituality is an internal occurrence.  It is a mindset and involves the way that we think.

“Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’  But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2: 14-16

When we as true Christians die with Jesus Christ to this world, as symbolized by our baptism when immersed under water joining in His death, we are then raised with Him to new life as spiritual beings with our focus now on heaven and eternal life, considering ourselves to be children of the living God and citizens of the new kingdom where Jesus is Lord and King.  When we die to this world, shifting our hope and focus from it towards heaven, we can then also put to death our fleshly desires that had been focused on the things of this world.  We must then continue in this work of death to our flesh and this world, and life towards heaven and the spiritual things.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians explains this need for us to die to this world, setting our minds on things above, and then to put to death the things in our lives that are tied to this world:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, among whom you also once walked, when you lived in these things.  But now put away also all these: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Colossians 3: 1-10

It is very important that we don’t lose sight of the goal of walking in love, and that we recognize that God has made a way for us to reach this goal through the life that we have been given in Christ Jesus.  Let’s not take for granted this great privilege we have to know God and to be offered a promised future in heaven, sharing in His glory as His children.

Love is the goal and the Holy Spirit has explicitly defined this love for us in the Bible so that we are without excuse.  I will end with this beautiful chapter on love from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

Don’t Neglect the Weightier Things

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Matthew 23: 23

The Pharisees were a religious group that was dedicated to strictly following the Jewish laws.  The scribes were Pharisees who were considered to be experts in the law.  During the ministry of Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees represented the worst of the religious people who had digressed into error and hypocrisy.  These, along with the Jewish leadership, were also responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.  They are examples for us today of people who may desire to be close to God and even to be His representative, but have in reality become His enemy.

The lesson for us today is to learn from the errors of the scribes and Pharisees, recognizing that we have the same tendencies as they did, and we can be just as blind to our own faults as they were.  We should guard against subtle temptations of drifting down the same pathways that led them to their final states of error and hypocrisy.

One error that Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for (as quoted above) is their neglect of what Jesus called the “weightier matters of the Law”.  He spelled out these weightier matters as justice, mercy and faith.  In order to make sure that we don’t also neglect these, we must understand what they are and how they need to be attended to.  Let’s briefly take a closer look at each of these.  I would suggest that you take more time on your own to seek God and study the Scriptures to learn even more about these and how they apply to your life and relationship with God.

Justice

Some Bible versions use the word “judgment” or “righteousness” rather than “justice” in this verse.  The original Greek word used is “krisis” and it is defined in Strong’s concordance as “decision (subjectively or objectively, for or against); by extension, a tribunal; by implication, justice (especially divine law): – accusation, condemnation, damnation, judgment.”  The definition of the English word “justice” is “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.”

The indication from these definitions is that it is important for us to correctly determine what is fair, just, good, and right in our lives and circumstances and then to adhere to these judgments by aligning our own actions either to enforce or to support the enforcement of these just decisions.  In order for us to correctly make these determinations of justice, we need to have an understanding of God’s values and principles as revealed in His Scriptures.  Additionally, our consciences need to be healthy and sensitive, in tune with the Holy Spirit, and we need to be true to our conscience.

What does this mean to us in a practical sense?  It is very important to God that we are just and fair in all of our dealings.  For example, how we discipline our children or those whom we have authority over, or how we do business, i.e. the wages we give our employees or the prices we charge for our services or goods, or how we treat others in our situations at work or school or even at play.  We must be fair and equitable in all of these affairs and in whatever other situations we find ourselves in.

Some decisions are hard and therefore we need to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance, prayerfully taking time to inquire of God before hastily deciding on something especially when it impacts people’s lives.  In general, we need to be aware of the importance of justice in all our activities.  This awareness should help us to find the guidance we need to get to the proper actions or decisions.

Also, we should support those who are making a stand for what is right and just, or those who are administering righteous justice in the face of ridicule or resistance.  It seems especially true today when God’s values are being rejected by our society.  Our society has been turning good into evil and evil into good.  We need to contribute to stopping the injustices associated with these changes.

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5: 20

Mercy

I am confident that most Christians understand the definition of the word mercy, but it may not be clear that showing mercy towards others is a weightier matter of the law and that it is important to God.  Being merciful as noted in this verse implies that we are not just merciful to those close to us, our family and friends, but that we are merciful to all those who are afflicted, and even to our enemies.

To best illustrate the importance of mercy and its practical application, below is an exchange between Jesus and a scribe as recorded in the Gospel of Luke:

“And behold, a certain lawyer (scribe) stood up to test Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’  He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’  And He said, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’  But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’  Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by Chance a certain priest came down the road, and when he saw him, passed by on the other side.  Likewise, a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, “take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”  So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Luke10: 25-37

It should also be noted that at the time there was a longstanding hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans due to religious differences, so the Samaritan who helped the injured Jew was especially merciful under the circumstances.

We need to keep our hearts tender towards those in need and those who are afflicted and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to assist and relieve those whom we encounter.

Faith

The Greek word used here for faith is “pistis” meaning persuasion from a root word “peitho” that means to persuade, and refers to our moral conviction.  Abstractly, it implies the constancy in such profession or conviction.  In other words it means that we have been persuaded of some truth and that we are living our lives in alignment with this truth.

The scribes and Pharisees did have a belief in God and they had dedicated their lives to strictly following the Jewish laws.  What was their problem then with regards to their faith?

The Bible clearly teaches that our faith must produce works or it is dead faith:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But some will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that there is one God.  You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” James 2: 14-24

The good works that we produce in our lives are an indication that our faith is genuine and “alive” rather than dead.  We need to make sure that we are producing these good works, and if not, look to the Lord for help to deepen or strengthen our faith.

The Scriptures also make it clear that our faith should be focused on the spiritual, unseen, truths and not on the physical, visible, things of this world.  Our faith should be combined with the future hope that we have of a spiritual reality in heaven in the kingdom of God.  If we set our affections and focus on the spiritual hope that we have in Christ, and ignore (or die to) the hopes that are offered by this world, our faith will be deepened and we will produce the needed good works.  We will also become spiritually minded rather than carnally or fleshly minded, and this will foster in us a spiritual growth that will transform us into spiritual beings having the mind of Christ and the nature of God.

“For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” Galatians 5: 5

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” Galatians 5: 16-17

In contrast the scribes and Pharisee were focused on this world and the praises of men.  It was obvious that the spiritual truths that they knew were not a reality to them; they didn’t really believe that they had eternal life in heaven after a temporary life on earth, nor did they really believe that God was going to judge them according to what they had done and according to His standards of mercy and justice.

The Bible says that the Jews of that time “had a zeal for God, but it was not enlightened” meaning that they did not understand the way of faith; they were focused on achieving rather than really believing.

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles (non-Jews) who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works.” Romans 9: 30-32″

“I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every on who has faith may be justified.” Romans 10: 2-4

Let’s not fall into the same error as the scribes and Pharisees.  Let’s keep our focus and attention set on our hope in heaven and on spiritual things, not on this world.  Let’s let our minds be renewed and transformed into the mind of Christ.  Let’s stand up for justice and be just in our dealings and decisions.  And let’s walk in love, being merciful to others, even to strangers or our enemies.  Lord please help us to do so!

Amen.