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As Christians, How Should We Now Live?

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

This message is for Christians, and more specifically, for the subset of Bible believing Christians who adhere to the directives of the Holy Scriptures and see them as the source of truth and as an authoritative revelation from God to all Christians throughout the ages.  I personally believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God and that all true Christians must hold to it as the sole authority and standard to measure all other proposed truths against. If you don’t agree with this or if you have some other source of truth that takes precedence over the authority of the Bible, then this message will most likely not be a benefit to you.

The Bible is more than a historical record, and its relevance is as applicable today as it was centuries ago.  Its verses were written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, the divine Holy Spirit of God was able to cause what was written to have relevance from the time it was written until the end of this age, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns at His second coming.

I am stressing these points about the authority and relevance of the Scriptures because I want to look closely at the instructions that were written in the 4th chapter of 1 Thessalonians and were established by the author, the apostle Paul, as instructions for how the Thessalonians should live as converted Christian.  Again I say it – these instructions are applicable to us today also.

Paul lays out 3 areas or categories of instruction as follows: 1) holiness, 2) love of the brethren, 3) hope.  I would like to drill down into each of these areas, looking more closely at the verses and discussing their relevance for us today.  I see in these exhortations a practical direction for us to follow that will help us to live out the remainder of our Christian lives in a way that is pleasing to God, as Paul suggests.

“For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” 1 Thess. 4: 2

Notice first that Paul had previously instructed them on these topics, possibly even multiple times. Notice also that Paul states that these instructions were given “through the Lord Jesus” meaning that they have been revealed to him by God, and have divine authority, therefore they should not be taken lightly.  Also, note that under each of these 3 categories, Paul mentions specific topics of instruction that encompass the guidelines for Christians to live their lives.   We must recognize that there are more topics that could be included than these that are mentioned, but these were the ones that Paul thought were important and relevant to the Thessalonians, and also that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write and include, so we must also see them as relevant for guidance to us today.

Holiness

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification (or being made holy)….” 1 Thess. 4: 3

The dictionary.com definition of the word sanctify is “to make holy; to set apart as sacred; to consecrate” and “to purify or free from sin”.  The original Greek word used here is hagiasmos meaning “purification, i.e. the state of purity” and also refers to the effect of this purification, that is, “the sanctification of heart and life.”  The word is translated as holiness, sanctification or consecration in today’s English versions of the Bible.

There are two ways of looking at sanctification, the first being that it requires a setting apart or separation.  For Christians, we need to be separated from the world.   Looking deeper, we must realize that the world is focused on the things of the flesh, or more specifically, focused on satisfying the strong desires and longings of our physical bodies.  As Christians we need to shift our focus from physical things offered by this world to spiritual things that have been promised to us from God through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to approach life with an attitude that our physical life here on earth is temporary, but our future life in the kingdom of God is permanent.  We need to store up our treasures for the future life in heaven.  We are to be like pilgrims, aliens, and strangers here on earth, just passing through on our journey to our true future home.

This shift of focus is internal and changes the way that we think, resulting in a definitive, distinct difference between us and the world.  This is the separation that Paul is speaking of.  Christians are not instructed to remove themselves physically from this world but rather to recognize that they are not “of this world” and that they must not love the things of this world.

Prayer of Jesus to the Father: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17: 13-17

“Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16

People who are in the world have their minds and hearts set on the things that this world has to offer them and this is what consumes them, demanding all of their attention and energy.   Sadly, many Christians allow their physical desires to take over their attention and focus, maybe not in their words, but in their deeds and thoughts.  A good test for this is the amount of anxiety that is in our lives – high anxiety and stress would indicate that our hearts are set on the things of this world rather than on heaven.  Examine yourself to see if you are walking in the faith with your heart set on heaven.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8: 5-6

The second way of looking at sanctification is from the idea of purity and holiness.  We need to recognize that the Lord has instructed us to be pure in our thoughts and actions.  This requires that we put to death the deeds of the flesh that we once practiced before our conversion, when we were in the world with our hearts set on pleasing ourselves and advancing our position in this world, looking for the praises of men and the pleasures and riches that this world has to offer.

Paul mentions a specific topic in his reminder to the Thessalonians:

“…that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God;”  1 Thess. 4:3-5

Paul specifically addresses here the issue of having sex outside of marriage (i.e. unchastity).  The strong physical desires that are associated with sexual activity have made sexual immorality an issue throughout the ages, and it is especially relevant today.

Consider our western culture here in America and the sexual attitude that prevails.  Almost every TV program and movie has a message that promotes sexual promiscuity or a segment that exposes sexual immorality either explicitly shown or implied.  Even some commercials are sexually explicit and promote immoral sexual activity.  Pornography is easily accessible for even the young pre-teens of our society.  Our children are being raised to think that fulfilling our sexual passions (and even in some cases sexual perversions) is normal and acceptable, and certainly not restricted to marriage.

The sexual standard set forth by our western culture is that as long as you are having sexual relations (i.e. intercourse) with one person that you “love”, your actions are acceptable; only when people have casual sex with multiple partners are they looked down.  In fact, I would say that for men the standard is even lower than for women, where multiple partners is okay as long as they are not in a “committed” relationship or married, and as long as the partners they choose are not prostitutes.

Currently there is much in the news about politicians and Hollywood celebrities who are being accused of sexual abuse.  We wonder why there are so many situations that result in rape and/or unwanted/non-consenting sexual encounters, especially where drugs and alcohol are involved – these are symptoms of the deeper problem of promoting sexual activity outside of God’s instructions. Rather than treating the symptoms, we should deal with the root of the problem by going back to God’s instructions regarding chastity, training our children in this truth.  Unfortunately, it may be too late for our society to change in this area, but we as individuals can make the necessary changes in our life and set an example for others and pass on these truths to our children (or train them in this if they are young).

As Christians we need to have a different attitude towards sexual activity.  We need to follow God’s direction and view sexual relations as something that should be limited to a married couple.  Also, as was instructed by the Lord Jesus, we must not only change our external, physical actions, but also our internal thoughts; Jesus said that lusting after a man’s wife is the same as committing adultery with her.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5: 27-28

Paul continues in Thessalonians 4 with more instructions:

“…that no man transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, for the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we have solemnly forewarned you.”   1 Thess. 4: 6

Some versions include the following translation:

“…that no man defraud his brother in business,”  1 Thess. 4:6 (alternative translation)

In the first, original translation, the key is to consider what is meant by “this matter”.  It could either mean the matter of holiness and sanctification in general, or more specifically, the matter of sexual unchastity.  In the alternate translation, we can assume that Paul intended to specifically warn against defrauding other Christians in business transactions, adding a new topic to his discussion.

Included in both translations is the idea that defrauding people is ungodly and should never be found among Christians.  We must be aware that it is very easy to clean up our external, visible actions but to leave the internal or hidden things of the heart and through-life unchecked.

The type of defraud that Paul was warning against would apply to people nowadays who attend gatherings with other Christians, but continue in sexually immoral activity (like viewing pornography, lusting in their thought life, or even worse, having secretive sexual activity like adultery or fornication).

Being dishonest in our business dealings would apply today to the many types of businesses that knowingly defraud their customers by promising things that are not delivered, or similar deceptions.  Christians should never be involved in questionable business ventures, even if they are “legal” according to the government laws, but underhanded in reality.

Notice also, that in these verses Paul exhorts his Christian brothers in the area of finding a Christian mate for marriage:

“… each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the heathen who do not know God;” 1 Thess. 4: 4-5

On this topic I must admit that I have much to learn and have been seeking the Lord to show me how this selection of a wife should occur.  I believe that our society and culture in America has moved so far from the proper view of dating, courtship, and marriage that we must get God’s redirection on this completely, removing all of our previous understanding.

Taking a wife in “holiness and honor” I believe means that we should look for a Godly character, humility, and a heart that loves the Lord as the guiding factor in our selection of our mate, and not be completely focused on sexual attraction.  Please, if you are single looking for a mate, seek God for direction and instruction in this most important decision that will impact greatly the remainder of your days.

Paul’s final warning on this topic of holiness:

“For God has not called us for uncleanness but in holiness.  Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” 1 Thess. 4: 7-8

Love

Our purpose for reading and studying the Scriptures is not so that we can claim to be Biblical scholars or to be able to quote verses from any part of the Bible, but rather, we read and study so that the Word of God will transform us; we read so that we can become lovers – lovers of God and lovers of our neighbors.

Love is the ultimate goal of the Christian and all things that we endeavor to accomplish should be related to love.  God is not interested in quantity but He wants quality.  Christian quality is measures by our ability to walk in true love as God defines it in His Word.

Paul encouragement in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 includes growing and continuing in love for the brethren (fellow Christian believers).  Again I would remind you that loving our fellow Christians is not the only area of love that is important.  The Bible instructs us that we need to love God, our neighbors, and even to love our enemies.  Paul is encouraging and supporting their existing good attributes of loving their brothers and sisters in the Lord and he exhorts them to do so even more.

“But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by Got to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brethren throughout Macedonia.  But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more,….” 1 Thess. 4: 9-10

It is interesting that Paul follows this encouragement to continue loving one another with practical instructions about their conduct.  This may at first seem unrelated to loving one another but in fact it is directly related since our actions and conduct can greatly impact other people.  Paul makes it clear in other verses of Scriptures (e.g. Romans 12) that adhering to the commandments of God’s law is equivalent to walking in love.  Therefore, our actions are an important part of walking in love.  Here’s is what follows verse 10:

“….to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody.”  1 Thess. 4: 11-12

Clearly, Paul is showing that loving others is more than just feeling emotional warmth towards them.  It’s even more than helping them when in need, or more than forgiving them or feeling compassion for them.  Love also involves being fair towards others and not taking advantage of their kindness towards us.  It involves carrying our own weight and doing our part to provide for our own needs, never presuming upon the generosity of others.  True love means that we are maturing and growing as Christians, becoming strong and independent. It means that we are able to not only take care of ourselves but also to be used by the Lord to help others in need.  This too should be our goal; it should be our understanding about how to truly walk in love.

Hope

The last part to be included in Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians is his encouragement regarding our future hope in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and how we don’t need to view death like people in the world do (those without hope).

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.   For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.  For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thess. 4: 13-18

Christians need to live their lives with the understanding that death is not the end for us, and that those who die are not lost and gone forever.  Rather, there is a day that will surely come when Jesus will return and we will be transformed with new resurrected bodies, and meet with Him up in the air.  Halleluiah!

May the Lord continue to make clear to us how we should walk and to live our lives until He returns.  May He show us how to be sanctified, how to walk in love. May He make the reality of His future return even more real to us.  This is my prayer for all who read this.  Amen.

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Watch and Wait for His Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll leave you with this reminder from Peter:

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

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!

Don’t throw away your Confidence!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here also, where faith is explicitly defined:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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.

Hope Ends at Death for the Unbeliever

“When the wicked man dies, his hope perishes; and the expectation of the godless comes to nothing.” Proverbs 11:7

Throughout our lifetimes we are all absorbing knowledge and information from our surroundings. Some of this information and knowledge is more practical, like how to cook, or how to do our job better, or how to repair things, but I’m referring to the deeper knowledge that frames or values, morals, ethics and philosophies. Some of us do so purposefully and consciously while others may do so more haphazardly and subconsciously, but we all are observing and learning from experiences or life’s lessons.  These activities are a part of our growth and maturing and we start these activities at a very early age and continue until we die.  More specifically, we all are determining what we consider to be truth, and what we consider to be important to us.  We use this information to develop a philosophy of life or a world view that guides us and determines our lifestyle, the type of friends we have, the decisions we make, what makes us happy or sad, our goals in life, our political views, etc.  The process works something like this:  we determine what is truth, then we prioritize that truth, some being of high importance some lower, some much lower, etc., and some things we discard as untruth or of little or no value to us.  This process is ongoing but most likely slows down greatly as we get older, as we become more established in our views and less likely to change, although some of us remain more open and flexible than others.

The real challenge is to align our actions and decisions with this set of truths and values, or principles, which we have determined to be our world view.  This can be especially difficult when it will cause some pain to us.  For example, we may have established a high value in always telling the truth, but when telling the truth causes a serious problem for us (loss of a money, anger from a friend or loved one, looking bad to others), then we struggle and many times fail to keep to our value code.  Having this alignment of beliefs with actions is known as having integrity. The dictionary definition of integrity is “the complete adherence to a set of moral and ethical principles.”

As Christians our major source of truth is the revelation from God through His word, the Scriptures.  Additionally the Bible also gives us a means of prioritizing these truths, and this is something that many Christians are not aware of or are not taking into consideration.  It is critically important that we should be prioritizing the truths that we are learning and looking to the word of God for guidance in doing so.  In fact, it is a grave error to incorrectly prioritize the truths that we are taught, and we have a tendency to “major on minors”.  Jesus corrected the religious Pharisees of His time for this very same error when He said, “you strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.”  They were making something small and insignificant (the gnat) important and the focus of their screening, and they were ignoring the large, significant item (the camel).   Here’s the full quote in context as Jesus was dealing with the Scribes and Pharisees as their incorrect prioritization caused hypocrisy:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  Matthew 23: 23 – 28

It is easier for us to look upon and focus on the external, physical things, and ignore the internal things.  But the internal things are of higher priority and should be focused on.  We look at appearances, or church attendance, or credentials, or religious speak, but we ignore the things of the heart and the real fruit of the spirit that comes from internal purity of heart.  Peter referred to the importance of these internal things of the heart when he was advising women to focus on their inner beauty rather than their outer appearance.

“Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arrangement of hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

I have said all of this to make one very important point:  Our hope, or more specifically the placing of our hope upon the promises of God (i.e. eternal life and heaven), is a very important, high priority truth that we need to give much attention to.  The Bible is very clear on this and I have dedicated many of my messages to emphasize the importance of the Christian’s hope.

All humans have a choice regarding hope; we can either have a physical hope or a spiritual hope.  We can set our hopes and affections upon something in this physical world or we can set our hopes and affections upon something in the spiritual world.  As Christians, we must have a spiritual hope that is set entirely upon the promise of eternal life that comes from being in Christ Jesus.

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3: 1-4

The internal transformation that must occur in a Christian’s heart mostly involves the placement of our hope.  We are instructed to die with Christ, meaning that we should put to death all of the desires and longings we have for the things of this world, all the things we had set our hopes upon.  Jesus told us to focus our hopes on heaven, to wait for His return, and to store up our riches there, knowing that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.  This internal shifting of our hope from physical things to spiritual things that occurs in our hearts is symbolically represented by circumcision and initially represented the shifting of Abraham’s hope to the promise made to him by God.  It is also represented by our baptism when we were joined to Christ death when immersed in the water, dying to the things of this world, and then coming up out of the water like the resurrected Christ and joining Him symbolically in heaven.

This internal transformation requires faith.  In fact, it is an exercise of our faith to make this shift of our hope.  This shift of hope also causes us to become spiritual.  It is the critical element of our spiritual walk, as the things of this world are no longer important to us because they are no longer the focus of our affections and longings.

The constant temptation is for us to allow our attention and affections to shift back to the things of this world.  We must be on guard and not let this happen.  We must be completely clear and aware of the fact that placing our hope in the things of this world is vanity.

Today in the United States it has become clear that the “American Dream” is just a mirage, out of the reach of most Americans.  Even for those who have attained what they thought was the dream, I assure you that what they have is not what they dreamed that it would be, at least not in what it does for them in their hearts.  Material things cannot satisfy us completely and the things of great value in our lives are not purchased with money.

Ultimately our lives come to an end.  For the unbeliever all of their hopes and dreams also come to an end, as the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you when you go.” Or as Job said when he found out that he lost most of his worldly possessions:

“Naked (without possessions) came I (into this world) from my mother’s womb and naked (without possessions) shall I depart.” Job 1: 21 (Amplified Bible)

In contrast, for the Christian our hope is fulfilled at death.  This is payday for us when our patient continuance in doing good will pay off:

“who will render to each one according to his deeds, eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2: 6-11

We have had great promises made to us by the living God and Creator of the universe that were established and confirmed by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, the Christ.  We should not take these promises lightly but should place them at the forefront of our lives, with our hopes established fully upon them in full assurance of their fulfillment when Jesus returns.  Let’s encourage one another to continue in our patient endurance until the end.