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Seek the Truth

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

Idol Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth vs. Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s word is truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is reality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seek the Truth and Establish Reality from it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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This World is Absurd and Futile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

There is Only One Gospel – It Produces Love

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

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

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

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

The Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Faith

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

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

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

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

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

Hope

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

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

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

Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Five Whys” of Life (Why are We Depressed?)

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

“Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” Proverbs 12:25

During the process of product development and manufacturing, it has become standard practice in the industry that when a problem occurs the process is halted and a root cause analysis is conducted to find a solution to the problem as well as to assure that the problem never occurs again in the future.  There are various methods to conduct the root cause analysis, but the most popular was introduced by Taiichi Ohno, who is known as the father of the Toyota Production System, which became Lean Manufacturing in the US.  He called the method “the Five Whys”, directing the production team to continue asking “why” five times, and after doing so, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.

Our lives are very complex and can be challenging, much like the product development process.  We are not well prepared for the challenges we face throughout our lives, as both children and adults or parents, and we can easily find ourselves in a state of despair or confusion.  I find it helpful to periodically look back at the foundation of my Christian faith and reestablish the thought process that has brought me to the conclusions I now rest upon. I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to ask “Why” five times while examining what I consider the core problem of our lives.  I feel that we can gain insight into the nature of this problem and its solution.

The first step is to define the problem. It has been my experience, and my observation, and I think that you would agree, that many people find themselves in a deep state of depression at some stage of their life, some earlier than others.  Related to this, is the lack of motivation and dissatisfaction we feel about our life.  I’m no expert about the extent of this problem, but I know of too many people who are on anti-depression medication.  I also think that many people  who are seemingly functioning normally and appear to be happy and satisfied to most onlookers, are in reality deeply dissatisfied with their life and struggle to keep themselves going every day.

This problem of depression and dissatisfaction can affect people at all stages of life, and I believe it can occur multiple times throughout our lifetime.  I also believe that everyone has dealt with this condition at some point in their life, and have had to come up with some sort of solution, some more successfully than others, to keep them going on in their life. For me personally, I was a teenager when I faced this problem.

Okay, so here’s the initial problem: People are depressed and dissatisfied with their life and have no motivation.  The next step is to ask the question, “Why are people depressed, dissatisfied and unmotivated?”

As I have stated, I have faced this problem myself and I have thought about it for a long time. My conclusion (my answer to “Why” number 1) is that this problem is the result of people not having a clear understanding of their purpose in life.  With no clear purpose or meaning in one’s life, all becomes vanity; all of their efforts and labor are in vain.  King Solomon said it thousands of years ago:

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher (Solomon); Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?  One generation passes away, and another generation comes, but the earth abides forever.”  Ecclesiastes 1: 2-4

By the way, one of the first songs that I had written on my guitar was related to my identifying with this feeling of vanity.  The chorus of the song states: “Is all my labor just in vain?  Can someone free me from my pain, or will my whole world just trickle down the drain?”

This problem is directly related to a person’s world view, which deals with the deeper questions of life such as, “who am I, what is my purpose, why was I born, where will I be after I die?”  Everyone must face these questions and come up with some answers that form their world view or philosophy of life.

Following this line of thinking, my analysis concludes that the next question (Why #2) is something like this: “Why do people not clearly understand their purpose in life?”

The understanding of our purpose in life is directly related to our belief about the origin of human life here on earth. People have two choices with which to establish their view of human origin: the most popular in our current western culture is the idea of the universe originating from a “big bang” that occurred millions of years ago, and then life resulting from a series of evolutionary progressions that caused life to evolve from the molecular level to human beings; this is known as the theory of evolution.  The second choice considers this universe and all life on earth as being created by a superior being; this view is known as intelligent design, stating that our world was created by a master designer of superior intelligence (i.e. God).

Those who choose to believe that the theory of evolution is the true explanation for our origin, then see their purpose as being a part of the progression of the evolutionary process.   It has been my experience that the purpose resulting from evolution is too vague to contribute to the resolution of our dissatisfaction and resultant depression.  Being one in billions of people involved in a random progression of life over billions of years with no clear and definite conclusion, and supposedly controlled by an unknown “force”, results in uncertainty and confusion. The vanities of life that King Solomon referred to are still apparent and are unresolved with this view.  Nothing is new under the sun, and all thing end in vanity. This view does more to fuel our anxiety than to resolve it, and this leads to depression.

Obviously, my choice has been the latter (and hopefully yours also).  I’m convinced that the intricacies of our bodies, as well as other animals and plants, and the beauty of the world around us, did not happen as a random process; there must have been some intelligence behind their design.  There are many books and documentaries that explain this in more detail if you need to be convinced further.  One recent documentary is called “Is Genesis History?” and is available on Netflix.  Another excellent documentary is called “God of Wonders” and may be available on YouTube if you search for it, but can also be purchased on the Berean Call website. Here’s the link: https://www.thebereancall.org/.

With this knowledge about our origin being from a Divine Creator, we can now look closer at our question: “Why do people not clearly understand the purpose of their life?”  I believe there are two answers to this. The first is that they have chosen to believe in the theory of evolution as the source of all life.  Although I could pursue this further, I would rather pursue the second answer, that people have accepted the belief in a Divine Creator, since I believe that most people reading this have accepted as truth that we were created by a Divine Creator.  Although some people believe in a Divine Creator or Intelligent Designer, it appears that many still don’t understand their purpose in life, so we need to look into this further.  Many have not received the answer to this problem regarding their purpose in life from the Superior Creator God that they have come to believe in, so this is still a problem.

Following this path of reasoning, we now come to our next “why” question (Why #3): If there is a Divine Creator who has created the universe and all life that is in it, why is He silent?  Why doesn’t He reveal Himself to us and give us direction and explain why He created us and for what purpose. Why don’t we hear a voice from heaven or see this Creator God with our own eyes?

My answer to this is that God has revealed himself in the Bible. And God in His wisdom has chosen to not reveal Himself physically to all humans, but instead to reveal Himself exclusively to the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, in the past, culminating in the coming of the Messiah, who was the “Word made flesh”, or the human representation of the Creator God.  This revelation has been recorded in the Bible for all to receive, but it requires faith, that is, believing without seeing God physically.

“Jesus said to him(Thomas), ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ ” John 20: 29

This has been my personal conclusion as I have been convinced that the Biblical record from the writings of Moses to the record of the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is the true representation of the Creator’s message to His creation.  We learn from the Bible that we were created in the image of God and were purposed to serve Him, to honor and glorify Him, and to bring pleasure to Him.  Included in this purpose is a special relationship where God becomes like a Father to us, and we can enter into a type of friendship with God.  Jesus came to reconcile our relationship with God so that we can enter into a direct communication with Him and become a part of His family.

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3: 16-17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ,..” 2 Corinthians 5: 17-18

The next question that arises is why people don’t fully understand their purpose, even though we have embraced God as our creator and have recognized and believe in His revealed Word, the Bible. It seems that we become confused about our condition in this life, even though we have been reconciled to God.  The next question we may ask is “If a loving Creator as revealed in the Bible is our source of life, why is my life so hard? “  or “Why is there evil, pain, and suffering with the final condition death?”  Would you agree that this is confusing even to Christians?

Condensing this, we come to the next question – Why #4: “Why did God create us in a world where life is very difficult and ends in death?” As Christians, the answer to this should be very clear, but I am afraid that for many Christians it’s not clear or it has faded into the background and has not become a part of our thinking and world view as we walk through our life. This was the case for me for a long time.

We must look again to the Scriptures to find the answer to this.  The truth is that God did not originally intend for us to be in this world as it is today.  We should, in fact, recognize that we don’t belong here.  Adam and Eve were created in a world that had neither pain nor suffering, nor was there a need for rigorous work to survive, nor was there death.  Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God, choosing to believe the serpent’s lie that they could become like God if they ate the forbidden fruit, caused a curse to come upon this entire world and the human race.  Additionally, Satan has somehow been allowed some control in this world as a result of this sin.  Legally, it seems, he has the right to influence and garner some control or authority over this world through spiritual means.

As Christians, we must recognize that we don’t belong here and as children of God we have an inheritance waiting for us in heaven, or in the future heaven and earth that will be restored at the second coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  For now we are aliens and strangers on this earth, temporary residents who are just passing through on our way to a better place.  This understanding helps us to cope with the pain and suffering and evils of this present world.  Also, we look at death as a welcome event.  Paul, the Apostle, said it like this:

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” Philippians 3: 20-21

And this:

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1: 21

This truth of having a future in a new heaven and earth that will be completely different than our current cursed world system resolves the problem that was defined by King Solomon of the vanity of vanities.  As Christians we recognize that the next world that God has preserved for us will be beyond our comprehension and will be without the curse.  We will have an existence that will satisfy and complete our lives, with no negative impact.  It will be the full, abundant life that Jesus spoke about! (See John 10:10 quoted at the start)

Our final question (#5) should be this: If we have come to belief that we were created by the living God who also created the universe and all that is in it, and that He is the loving and holy God that has been revealed in the Bible.  And if we believe that this world has been cursed and placed under the control of the devil and his forces until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we will be transformed and join in His glorified condition, then why are we depressed?  How can we be depressed if we really believe this?  Is this a reality in our lives?  Why would any hardships or trials dampen our joy in this amazing reality of eternal life with Him in a future new heaven and earth?

“For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 31 – 39

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” Philippians 4: 6

“Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new,’ and He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’  And He said to me, ‘It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.  He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.’ ” Revelations 21: 5 – 7

Amen.

Be Patient Until the Lord Comes

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain.  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.  As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5: 7-11

We live in a very impatient society.  We learn from an early age that time is money so if we are not rushing than we are wasting time and losing money.  And yet it seems that we spend so much of our time waiting.  We wait for the light to turn green, for the progress bar to finish, for the water to boil, for vacation time to come, for retirement, and for many other events, big and small, to either arrive or to complete.

As we allow more and more pressure to be put on us to perform faster and faster, it generates more and more stress in us.   The stress causes us to become less and less patient, possibly resulting in outbursts or anger and impatience.  When riding with one of my friends, he would start yelling, “You can go! You can go! You can go!” when the light turned green and the car in front wouldn’t move immediately.  If you have been to a big city like New York, you learn quickly that people are very impatient and seem to function in that mode, and are even proud of it.  They are quick to beep their horn or shout out obscenities, and consider it part of the city culture.  All of us are faced with the pressure to move quickly and get things done, and to produce as quickly as possible.  We also expect the same of others and become impatient if they don’t.  This attitude of impatience infiltrates all areas of our lives as it is a part of our western culture (at least here in the USA).

On the flip side, I find it amazing that the things that we look forward to with so much anticipation are usually anticlimactic, that is, they usually don’t deliver what we expect.  It’s like we are motivated by the expectation, but then disappointed when we reach the desired goal, so we quickly shift our attention to the next anticipated future event to again motivate us.  Ultimately, this approach leads to frustration and even despair, and this could also contribute to an increase in our impatience.

There are two problems that I’m pointing out here: first is our tendency towards being impatient as we are trained to do so in this society by being pressured to move and work at a fast pace, as well as the desire for immediate results, and second is our misplaced anticipations, when we place them on the things of this world and allow our expectations to be set very high as a means of motivation or whatever the case.

As Christians we must deal with both of these problems.  In fact, I would say that there is a high importance on getting this right in our lives.  The Lord has placed a very high value on patience.  Have you considered why?  Consider this verse:

“Love is patient…..”  1 Corinthians 13: 4

And this:

“For the fruit of the Spirit is……patience…..” Galatians 5:22

When we think about being patient we don’t always equate this to love.  Nor do we always recognize patience as a fruit of the spirit or as being spiritual.  But patience is a part of the very nature of God.  Jesus displayed patience, and patience in suffering, as He lived His life here on the earth and suffered for us as He was beaten and crucified as an innocent man.

There are many scripture verses that emphasize the importance of patience or patient endurance towards the hope that we have in the return of Jesus, but I chose to look closer at the above quoted verses in James.  James begins this letter with an exhortation to be patient:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (endurance or perseverance). But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (or mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1: 2-4

In these initial verses from James also lies a key to our ability to be patient, that is, that we must change our attitude towards the difficult circumstances that we face, recognizing that they have been allowed by God for the testing of our faith.  When our faith is tested and we endure, it produces in us an increase in our godly character, and more specifically, it produces patience in us.

Allow me to spell this out:  When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances that require us to wait and endure patiently, there is nothing wrong, but this is exactly what God wants for us.  We need to submit to it, rather than attempting to circumvent or side step around the circumstances, and recognize that this is the testing of our faith and that God has ordained the trial for us to endure.  In His time, He will open a door for us to move on or to be removed from our situation.  It will be clear to us that it is time to move on, otherwise, If we don’t submit to the Lord’s will by continuing in the circumstances, these circumstances (or something similar or perhaps even more difficult) will only come back upon later.

I like what it says in verse 8 of James 5:

“You also be patient.  Establish you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  James 5:8

In the Amplified Bible, after “Establish your hearts”, it adds in brackets, “Strengthen and confirm them (i.e. your hearts) in final certainty.”  Here lies the second key related to the second problem that we have mentioned.  Rather than placing our hope and expectations upon something in this world that will only disappoint us, we need to establish our hearts upon the hope that we have in heaven and make up our minds to be steadfast in our focused anticipation of the glory that we will share with Jesus Christ at the end.  There is tremendous power in this hope, as the scriptures attest to:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8: 18

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18

As Christians, we therefore have the perfect solution to the problems of impatience and stress.  I don’t say this lightly because this solution was brought to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and was paid for by His life and death, to establish our hope of glory that is incorruptible and assured beyond all doubt.  As we patiently endure through this life, we have the example of the endurance of the past prophets and saints, and the endurance of the Lord Jesus.  Armed with this knowledge we know that whatever the situation that we face, we can get through it by the grace of God as they have done in the past.  We also are confident that God is on our side and is even using our trials to work into us a more Christ-like nature of love that will only make us stronger and give us more reward in the end.

As Christians we should be known for our patience and our ability to endure hardships.  Let us establish our hearts in strength and set our faces like flint towards the future hope that we have in Christ not allowing any circumstances to undermine our character or cause us to become impatient.  We now know the source of our strength: a changed attitude towards the trials that we face and a steadfast hope set on the promise of future glory in heaven.  My prayer is that everyone who reads this will find this source of strength, and even more so, so that they will persevere until the end, when Jesus returns.  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