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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 our believing in something order to bring about a positive result.  It’s 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.

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 is “hypostasis” is defined as “a setting under for support (like a foundation or substructure).  Figuratively it means “concretely” and abstractly it means “assurance or confidence”.

The writer of Hebrews uses 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 is for us to have a mental state 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 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 completely different context 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 words being closely connected with one 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 difficulty.  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.

The Cross of Christ has Multiple Purposes

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1: 17-18

“For I decided to know nothing among you accept Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

The Apostle Paul made it very clear that the power of the Gospel was contained in the cross of Christ, and that this was the center of his message.  He did not use eloquence of words or the wisdom of this world to enhance his communication of the gospel but focused solely on the crucifixion of Jesus.

When men accomplish a good work in their life and there is a secondary benefit or additional accomplishment, sometimes unintended, we like to use the saying, “He was able to kill two birds with one stone.”  When God does something, I like to say that it is the equivalent of killing millions of birds with one stone.  We can’t even recognize or understand all that God accomplishes when He does a work in our lives.  Yet we are hesitant to let go and let Him do it.  We are hesitant to entrust things to Him and wait on Him.  Let it be known that the great and amazing God that we serve has multiple purposes in all that He does and accomplishes above and beyond what we are even capable of thinking or imagining.

The greatest event in the history of mankind was the death and subsequent resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and there were multiple accomplishments as a result of this event.  It is important to fully recognize that the cross/resurrection event had multiple purposes.  We like to think in terms of singular purpose.  The cross is often preached in Christian circles as a means of forgiveness and redemption for a fallen world.  As important as this purpose of the cross of Christ is, we are remiss if we focus on this purpose and accomplishment only.  For there are many very important things that the cross represents for us and many purposes that we need to consider and implement in our lives.  The power of the cross of Christ is in all of these purposes.  This is what I would like to discuss; let’s look at the main purposes of the cross:

The Cross represents God’s merciful forgiveness and love for us

“But God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in t he coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2: 4-7

Most Christians understand that the death of Jesus on the cross was a means for God the Father to extend forgiveness for our past sins so that we can be reconciled in our relationship with Him.  This reconciliation was initiated totally from His side out of His mercy and His love for us. In fact, we were enemies of God and did not deserve to be forgiven, but God reached out to us and touched our lives, opening our eyes to His truth so that we could be restored in our relationship with Him.  Our understanding of this undeserved favor and love towards us resulting in our total forgiveness is critical. It ignites a response of love in us towards Him.  It also establishes our perspective towards others, as we must consider His mercy towards us when we look to forgive or show mercy towards others.

I won’t belabor this point since I believe it is a topic that most Christians have been taught well, but I will emphasize its importance and suggest that we all have need for a deeper understanding of the depth of God’s love for us.

“While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man – though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die.  But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we are now justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.  Not only so, but we also rejoin in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, though whom we now received our reconciliation.” Romans 5: 6-11

The Cross represents God’s justice and legal victory

“And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Him.” Colossians 2: 13-15

The Scriptures have revealed to us that God has established a legal system, a government, in the heavenly, spiritual realm that applies to the spiritual principalities and powers that be.  It has also been revealed that it is important to God that His character remains impeccable in the sight of all.  Therefore, in order for Him to remain just, and for the legal requirements of His heavenly governmental system to be satisfied, there needed to be a legal payment made for our redemption.  This payment was made by the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross, and His blood represented the payment to justifiably redeem us from the penalty of our trespasses.  Thus, God remains just and fair while mankind receives a means of reconciliation and restoration with God.

We will most likely never know the full extent of this redemptive act until we reach heaven and see the fuller picture of the situation.  For now we need to know that God had a legal purpose in the Lord’s death and has fulfilled that purpose and gained an important victory over His enemies.

We must also recognize that we are totally acceptable to God the Father based on the blood of Jesus and we can enter boldly into His presence even now, and we can be confident that He will complete our salvation and fulfill His promise of eternal life to us in the future.

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until His enemies should be made a stool for His feet.  For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are consecrated.” Hebrews 10: 12-14

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from and evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to live and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10: 19-25

The Cross is an example for us

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5: 1-2

Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the living God, left His position in heaven and humbled Himself to become a man.  He then lived a spotless life without sin, and when called by the Father, began an earthly ministry that was unparalleled by any other, filled with signs, wonders, miracles, and revelations in full obedience to the will of His Father. His obedience to the Father culminated in His suffering and cruel death on a Roman cross as an innocent man.  His only “crime” was to stand for the truth and attempt to reveal this truth to the world.  The details of His life are recorded in the Gospels.  These records display His nature.  His final act of suffering and death are the ultimate example of selfless love and obedience to God.  This example should inspire us to walk in similar selflessness and love, with the same type of endurance in the face of evil and persecution from evil men.

We are without excuse if we attempt to see our situation, no matter what it may be, as impossible for us to overcome, or as impossible to endure while walking in love.  Jesus set the high bar for us to emulate.  We know love by His love. For Christians, there is no place for hatred, jealousy, strife, divisions, etc.

“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning that we should love one another, and not be 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.  But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3: 11-18

Christ’s suffering and death on the cross is an example for us to emulate.  We can expect to encounter the same hatred towards us.  We need to be prepared to suffer if necessary.  We need to give of ourselves as He did to practice the same love as He did.

The Cross is a tool for our transformation

“But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6: 14

As Christians we understand that a transformation must take place in our lives.  We must become new creatures.  We must become spiritual, born of the Spirit.  An internal transformation must take place that changes the way that we think, the way that we perceive our surroundings and situations. We must change our world view to one that is based on faith, and not on our own understanding and observations.  So how does this change occur?

We must put the old nature to death.  We are instructed by the scriptures to die with Christ on the cross, to crucify our old self., and the cross is the tool that we use to accomplish this.  We die to our flesh and die to this world system.  We consider ourselves as having died with Christ.  This is an act of faith whereas we believe that our old carnal man has died and we have become a new spiritual creation.

“For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  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.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” Romans 6: 5-8

It is important to realize that we are not just dying, but we are dying like He died, and this unites us with Him, bringing us into the promise of also being resurrected like He was.

The Cross and subsequent resurrection is a source of our Hope

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1: 3

I would have much to say about the hope that has been established by the cross and resurrection, but I will have to save it for a later writing.  Suffice it to say that the promise of eternal life has been established by the event of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the focus of our hope.  This is what we are waiting for.  This is why we are storing up our treasures in heaven.  This is why we are patiently enduring this life, patient in well-doing, and not wearying in our good works, so that we can receive the promised reward of glory, honor, immortality and eternal life.

In summary, we, as Christians, can look to the cross to increase our love, establish our hope, transform our inter nature to become spiritual, and as an example of how we should walk in love, endure suffering, and face persecution.  As the song writer has said, “I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it one day for a crown!”  Amen.

 

 

Learn What is Pleasing to the Lord

“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5: 8-10

It should be the goal of every Christian to please the Lord, but we cannot do this unless we know what is pleasing to Him.  The main source to learn what pleases Him is the Bible, but we also have the Holy Spirit and our conscience to guide us.  It is a good thing to seek God to find out what pleases Him, and to read the scriptures with this intention in mind.

In general, the father and child relationship is a good guide for us.  We know that a father is pleased by a wise and well behaved son or daughter who listens well to instructions and follows closely what they are told to do.  The book of Proverbs brings out this idea of the Lord being like a wise Father instructing His children:

“Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine; do not forsake my law.” Prov. 4:1

And this about how a wise son pleases his father:

“A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” Prov. 10:1

This may seem simple or obvious, that God is pleased with our wisdom, understanding and obedience to His commandments, but it is the lack of focus on these simple things that has gotten many well meaning believers into trouble over the years (like the Pharisees during the time of Jesus).

We have a tendency to focus on what pleases other men, instead of what pleases God, or we focus more on what feeds our own flesh and pleases us.  We easily get distracted and turn our focus to secondary things.  The Gospel of Mark has a great guide for what should be the focus of our attention to please God and do what is most important to Him:

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first (foremost) commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher, You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’  Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Mark 12: 28-34

You will notice that the scribe’s wise answer included the point that having this understanding that there is only one God, and having a love for God and neighbor is more important than offerings and sacrifice, indicating that even back then there was an issue with people focusing on the wrong things when attempting to please God.

We must also recognize that God is Spirit and therefore we must be spiritual and understand the things of the Spirit in order to please God.  Being spiritual requires faith.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11: 6

It is very clear in the scriptures that our carnality, or our focus on the things of this physical world that feed our carnal nature, is displeasing to God.  Removing the things of this world from our hearts and focusing on the things of the Spirit, or being spiritually minded, is pleasing to Him.

“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, the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal (fleshly) mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8: 5-8

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

This makes perfect, logical, sense because if we are carnally minded and without true faith, we become foolish and are unable to follow God’s instructions (or even see and hear them), and cannot walk in true love.  But if we exercise our faith, and turn from the things of this world in our hearts, and focus on the spiritual promises that God has given to us, and long for heaven, then we can see and perceive the truth, and are empowered to walk in love with the law written on our hearts, therefore pleasing Him.

“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

When we focus our hearts on the things of God, the things of the Spirit, and His power and influence in our lives, and through our faith begin to walk in the Spirit, we then are able to see the truth from God’s perspective, and can honor Him and give thanks for what He is doing in our lives.

In Psalm 50, the Lord makes it clear that He doesn’t need anything from us, but He expects from us thankfulness, obedience to what we have committed to Him, and that we call upon Him for help so that He can be the glorified when He delivers us from our troubles and meets our needs.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness.  Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Ps. 50: 12-15

And so we see that it pleases God that we are thankful, and we should be thankful often, for the food that we eat and even the air that we breathe, we should not take it for granted.  And we should thank God for the many things that He does for us throughout our lives.

It is not wise for us to make vows to the Lord, but if we do, we should fulfill them.  For example, if you are married, you made of vow before God that needs to be honored completely until death.

We see also that God is pleased when we come to Him.  He wants us to make Him our God and not to substitute His place as God in our life with either our own power or thoughts, or with other men or other manmade organizations or institutions.  He alone is our deliver and help in our time of need.  He needs to be honored as such and then rightfully glorified when He delivers us from our situations.

Pleasing the Lord takes some effort and requires our attention.  Paul the apostle makes this clear in his teachings:

“But I want you to be without care (concern). He who is unmarried cares for (or is concerned about)  the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife.” 1 Cor. 7: 32-33

“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 4: 3-4

In summary, we see that as beloved children we should be focused on making sure that our lives and actions are pleasing to our Father in heaven.  We need therefore to be obedient to His instructions and commands, but this requires that we turn from this world and focus our minds and hearts on the things of the Spirit, becoming spiritually minded.  Walking in the spirit will allow us to love God fully and to love our neighbors, as we have been instructed to do.  The Lord needs nothing from us, but instead desires that we are thankful to Him for the things He does in our lives, honoring Him as our God, and looking to Him in our time of need, and glorifying Him for His help and deliverance.  It requires some effort on our part to not only learn what pleases Him, but to keep focused on what is pleasing to God rather than what pleases us or other men.

I will leave you with this exhortation from the word from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

“Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-2

What’s the Problem?

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64

The biggest challenge that physicians face in their practice of medicine is the diagnosing of a patient’s illness or condition.  Once they determine the source problem it is usually straight forward to prescribe a treatment to correct the condition.  Likewise, it is important to get to and treat the root cause of the problem because treating the symptom will not correct the problem.  Defining and understanding the problem and its root cause is the greater part of the work of finding a solution.

Albert Einstein said something similar.  He said if he had one hour to solve a problem and his life depended on it, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining what question to ask. Then, if he asked the right question, he could easily solve the problem in the last 5 minutes.

We live in a complex world with many intertwined issues.  There are many intelligent people trying to come up with solutions and ways to improve our dire situations.  Many of these problems have plagued mankind for centuries and continue to plague us.  History is constantly repeating itself with wars and economic collapses and we can’t seem to resolve the underlying issues or find the root cause.

I recently read an interesting quote from two authors named Strauss and Howe who have written a number of books about what they call “generational theory.” Their most recent book is called “The Fourth Turning” where the authors examine the generational cycles and patterns of history in an attempt to determine what could follow in our future. The quote below, which I believe is from their latest book, seems to sum up well the challenge of determining the root cause of the problems that we face:

“We perceive our civic challenge as some vast, insoluble Rubik’s Cube. Behind each problem lies another problem that must be solved first, and behind that lies yet another, and another, ad infinitum. To fix crime we have to fix the family, but before we do that we have to fix welfare, and that means fixing our budget, and that means fixing our civic spirit, but we can’t do that without fixing moral standards, and that means fixing schools and churches, and that means fixing the inner cities, and that’s impossible unless we fix crime. There is no fulcrum on which to rest a policy lever. People of all ages sense that something huge will have to sweep across America before the gloom can be lifted—but that’s an awareness we suppress. As a nation, we’re in deep denial … individually focused yet collectively adrift …” Strauss and Howe

Men are continually searching for solutions to society’s problems but they seem to be chasing the wind.  As the quote above indicates, the world’s problems can be confusing and misleading, causing frustration and exasperation.

I would submit to you that the lack of a solution comes from ignoring the revelation from our Creator. Doesn’t it make perfect sense that the One who created us would have the answers for the source of our problems?  The Scriptures reveal to us that man’s root problem is a broken relationship with the Creator God.  This relationship is a spiritual one and, therefore, the root cause of our problems is a spiritual issue.

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom has removed any spiritually based philosophy from the acceptable list of credible viewpoints to be used to solve our problems and therefore they have limited themselves to solutions that deal with this physical world only and are based on man’s logic only.  They concentrate on historical information from the past, or improving social or economic practices with increasing controls or regulations, laws, etc. All of these approaches have failed and will continue to fail because they don’t address the root cause – man’s spiritual condition and relationship with God.

Consider this: if somehow we could eliminate all of the greed, all of the envy, all of the jealousy, all of the covetousness, all of the selfishness, all of the arrogance and all of the dishonesty in a society, then it is quite conceivable that the result would be the disappearance of a large part of the problems that our world faces. All of these negative character traits are the fruit of our carnal nature, the fruit of the flesh.  When our relationship with God is properly restored, our carnal nature dies and we are born of the spirit, and then transformed into a new creature with a spiritual nature.  The fruit of the spirit replaces the fruit of the flesh.  The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:5

This transformation from carnal to spiritual has occurred throughout the centuries since the time of Jesus Christ in all those millions of Christians who have sincerely and legitimately been converted by receiving and believing the Gospel message.

You’re probably thinking at this point that it’s impossible to change all the people in a society in this way, that is, to have them converted to true Christianity.  The Scriptures state that God has allowed evil people to exist in this world along side of good people until the end of the age, when He will separate the good from the evil, and He will destroy this current world and create a new heaven and earth that functions in righteousness (see the parable of the wheat and the tares).  Therefore, this world will not be completely “fixed” until that time; in fact, according to the prophecies about the end, it will get worse and not better.

Although the collective human race cannot be changed to become spiritual in nature, a significant number of the individuals of this world can be changed.  I would even go as far as to say that in some cases large portions of a society can change, maybe not entirely, but to an extent where most could become spiritual, restored in their relationship with God.  In 1904, there was a spiritual revival in South Wales were over 100,000 people were converted to Christianity with the associated fruit of their repentance and transformation to spirituality.  As a result the jails were emptied and the bars went out of business.  What is impossible with men, is possible with God.

Here’s a quote from a local newspaper during the time of the revival in South Wales [my comments in brackets]:

“Drunkards have been soberised, publicans [a pub or bar] have lost much business, conduct on public streets has elevated, and the police and magistrates have had quieter times…. The bottom of the pits [coal mine pits] have been utilized as centres for prayer and praise meetings, and there has been a general raising of the standard of public life.” South Wales Gazette – 1904

It is also important that we remain clear on the true problem and solution, even if we know that we can’t change the entire world, we can still influence at least a small part of it.  We can influence those who are around us, in our families, in our work places or schools.  We can focus on one individual at a time, and make a difference.  We can pray for God to bring about a larger scale revival.

Of course to the non-Christian world this idea of needing a spiritual rebirth is foolishness.  I am convinced that the problems of this world are rooted in the carnal nature of man that needs to be replaced by a spiritual nature, and this replacement can only take place through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust [strong desire] 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication [sexual immorality], uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5: 16-26

It is critically important that we understand what the Scriptures define as “carnal” or “walking in the flesh” and what they define as “Spiritual” and “walking in the Spirit”.  It is likely that your understanding of these is not aligned with the Biblical definition.  I would strongly advise that you take the time to study the Scriptures to learn it firsthand.

We can be certain of this though, as the Scriptures also guide us, that if a person is displaying the fruit of the flesh they are carnal in nature, even if they may sincerely think that they are spiritual, and if they are displaying the fruit of the Spirit, they are spiritual.  We must be careful to examine the fruit without bias, as we can easily be deceived.

“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

Here is what I have come to understand concerning the carnal nature and the spiritual nature from the Scriptures:  Both of these are a mindset, or a way of thinking and viewing ourselves and the world around us.  A carnal mindset is focused on this physical world and on the things that are important in this world, whereas a spiritual mindset is focused on the things of God, and on the things that please Him.  The carnal mindset does not require faith and is concerned with more immediate rewards in the here and now, whereas the spiritual mindset requires faith and looks to the future rewards that God has promised.  Another distinguishing factor is our hope, or knowing what we have placed our hope upon or what we have set our mind and heart upon.  The spiritual mindset has its hope set on God’s promise for Heaven and is waiting for His return, where as the carnal mindset has its hope set on a future condition in this world.

“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.” Romans 8: 5

At this point we need to ask another “why” question to get to an even deeper root cause.  Why do people remain carnally minded?  Or, what is preventing the conversion from carnality to spirituality in people?

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul explains that there are two types of people who are in need of conversion.  The first type is those who have suppressed the truth that God has shown them and therefore have carnal fruit in their lives, doing wicked and unrighteous things.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.” Romans 1: 18-21

The second type of person is the one who has supposedly embraced God’s truth, but has not applied the truth to their own life, but instead has used the truth to judge others.  This type of person believes that they themselves are “spiritual” and acceptable to God, but the bad fruit that they bear exposes their self deception, and their erroneous assumption that God will overlook their evil actions because of their knowledge of the truth.

“Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2: 3-5

This second type is particularly deceptive because the person can claim to be a Christian and can agree with all of the truths of the Bible, but they choose to continue to live their lives, or “walk”, in the flesh. This is the deception of religious people who practice the religious ceremonies and adhere to certain regulations, but they don’t make the necessary internal changes that convert them from carnally minded to spiritually minded.

Jesus had much to say about this same error to the religious Pharisees of His time, and the Apostle Paul wrote much in his letters to the early churches to counteract the false concepts and teachings that the religious Jews were attempting to promote that would have shifted the focus of the brethren to religious ceremonies and traditions that would have kept them walking in the flesh rather than walking in the Spirit.

Of course, each of these types of unconverted people has varying degrees of error.  Some of them are so far into error the Scriptures says that God has turned them over to a “reprobate” mind and no longer pursues them with the truth.  I believe, though, that anyone can turn back to God and receive the truth if they so desire.  Only God knows a person’s heart.

The Scriptures make it clear that all men are in need of this conversion, there are no exceptions.  They also state that the only path to conversion is through Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was sent for this purpose.

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” 1 Timothy 2: 3-7

“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

In order for a person’s relationship with God to be restored, there is first a requirement from God that needs to be met.  God is holy, righteous, and just, and He cannot overlook the sin in a person’s life before entering into a relationship.  The only payment for our sins that is acceptable by God is the ransom that was paid by Jesus Christ on our behalf.  The Scriptures make it very clear that there is no other payment that is acceptable.  There is no man that can boast that he has earned a righteous position before God because of his own goodness or righteous actions.  We all must humbly accept the payment that Jesus made on our behalf.

Once we enter into a relationship with God based on the payment made by Jesus Christ, we are then fully acceptable as a child of God and are assured of the promised inheritance.  Our name is recorded in God’s “book of life”.  We can then communicate with God and live our lives in close relationship with our Creator.

We also recognize that the Lord Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead and has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father as King and Lord of all creation.  We, as part of His kingdom, honor Him as King and Lord.

On our part, the only requirement is that we exercise a sincere and true faith towards God and what He has promised through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.   It is this faith that causes us to pass from a carnal creature to a spiritual creature.  This faith requires that we die to this world and the hollow promises it offers and become alive to the promises of eternal life in heaven and a resurrected body that transcends the second death.

What I have just explained is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it is the source of life for the entire world and is the answer to the problems we face.  Our first responsibility is to make sure that we continue to walk in the spirit and in the truth.  After doing this, we can then look to promote this truth to others.  We must recognize though that we are witnesses of God’s power to change lives.  As we walk in the spirit and display the fruit thereof we become living testimonies of God’s truth.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 13-16

Be aware also that it is God through His Holy Spirit that is working to convince those unconverted people of the truth and to draw them to Himself.  Sometimes He may use us, so we should be open to the possibility of being used to speak the truth to those who are ready to hear.

“Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.’” John 4: 43-45

In conclusion, we must never lose sight of the fact that the root cause of all of our problems here on earth is the need to be in right relationship with our Creator God and to be converted from a carnal nature to a spiritual nature.  Although the problems of this world will never be completely resolved until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ when He will restore His righteous kingdom, we can still experience the fruit of the spirit in this life.  The Holy Spirit can also use us to influence others around us either by them seeing our transformed lives and actions, or by us speaking the truth to them in love.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:17-21

Again I encourage you to walk in the spirit and to put your carnal nature to death.  This is a daily exercise that we must continue until the end.  Also, remember that the words of Jesus are spirit and life.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64

Amen.