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Second Coming of Jesus Christ

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.

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.

What’s the Problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8: 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

This World is Cursed by God

“Cursed is the ground for your sake.” Genesis 3:17

The thought that this world is cursed is anathema to the world system that governs the thinking of most humans on the planet, as it stands in stark contrast to their fundamental belief that this world is evolving towards a progressively better condition with man as the central protagonist.  Considering this world as cursed is the epitome of negative thinking to those with this secular humanistic world view.  To maintain this world view, they must suppress the fact that our short life on earth is vain and ends in death (which is also part of the curse), and they must build up in their minds a false positive hope of some future state of utopia here on earth, otherwise there would be no compelling motivation to continue with their life.

It is not surprising that the non-Christians of the world would reject the idea that the world is cursed, but it is a very serious problem if true Christians do not understand the reality of this truth.  As Christians, we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As “the Christ” or “Savior”, Jesus came to save us from the destruction that will result from the curse, including eternal damnation for those who reject Him; He came to “un-do” what Adam has done in bringing this curse upon us.  Should we not, as Christians, fully understand this curse that Jesus came to remove? Yes!  And not only should we understand the curse, but we should make the reality of this truth a part of the way that we think and act and view this world.

It is unfortunate that Christianity is often presented as a type of “self-help” methodology for our lives here in this world, to help us to be successful or to prosper or to somehow improve or enhance our existence, instead of being presented as a remedy for the curse that mankind is under that will eventually lead to its destruction.

Let us be clear about this.  Jesus came to set us free from bondage, but not in the way that many have mistakenly viewed this freedom.  He came to set us free from the bondage that resulted from the curse, mainly from the bondage of Satan and the bondage that resulted from our hopelessness and fear of death.

It may be surprising or shocking for some to realize that Jesus did not come to set us free from poverty, nor did he come to set us free from suffering, nor to set us free from all pain and discomfort (hear on earth, but we will be free from all of these once we are a part of the future kingdom of God when Jesus returns).

Consider this admonition from Peter the Apostle in the Scriptures:

“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.  For this is commendable, if because of conscience towards God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently?  But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” 1 Peter 2:18

Of course we do have deliverance from some of the consequences of the curse even now, here on earth. When we become Christians and are transformed and are able to walk in holiness, righteousness, and love, we are freed from the harmful consequences of sin that had caused pain in our lives previously.   As Christians we also have access to God’s provisions, such as His healing, both physically and emotionally, His guidance for our lives, leading us to “green pastures” of peace and blessings, as well as protection and deliverance from our enemies.

We must still recognize though, as Christians, that we are in this cursed world and the Lord may allow us to experience difficult times of trials and sufferings. We must submit to these difficulties, trusting that God is still in control of our lives, and He has a purpose for these situations.  Some are for our discipline, some are for us to increase our patience and endurance, and some are for us to bring glory to the Father.

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4: 1-2

The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts” Proverbs 17:3

Again I emphasize though, that the main purpose of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was to free us from the curse that came upon this world and all of God’s creation due to Adam and Eve’s sin.  We must recognize that as a direct result of the curse, this entire planet is doomed to be destroyed.  This destruction will occur when the Lord Jesus returns.  Consider this picture of that day as presented by Peter:

“Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

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.

Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” 2 Peter 3: 1-17

It is interesting to note that God has already destroyed the contents of this world by a flood (all but sea creatures and those in the Ark).   It could be that one of the reasons that He did this was to make a point that He had done it once and will do it again, but this time with fire, where all will be destroyed (melted with fervent heat).  This is the fate of this current world and the creation of this age.

The bottom line is that this earth is not our permanent home.  We are just passing through this earth as aliens and strangers, and one day we will find our new home when Jesus comes and establishes His kingdom with a new heaven and new earth.

I want to make it clear that we are still responsible before God as good stewards of this earth, to take care of it.  Simply because the earth will be destroyed in the future does not give us a pass on our responsibility to take care of what God has given to us.  We honor God by treating His creation with respect.  We also must recognize that future generations must live on this planet and we should not destroy the resources that they will need to survive and live a healthy life.

Paul’s writings in Roman’s chapter 8 (under the inspiration of the Spirit) sum up the truths about the current situation of God’s creation, and our attitude towards these truths.  Here they are with my comments in brackets:

“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. [this revelation will be at the second coming of Jesus] For the earnest expectation of creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. [creation is aware of the curse upon it and is waiting for the final release of this curse at His coming]  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption[which was brought on by the curse] into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. [Are you groaning for this?]  For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”  [this hope is so important!] Romans 8: 18-25

One final thought:  we, as Christians, should not be surprised that this world is dysfunctional and that men’s plans to create some sort of utopia always fail or often make things worse.  They will always fail because they will not work on this cursed world.  Our heavenly Father, who created this world, has put a curse on it for a reason, and that reason cannot and will not be undone.  Mankind has rebelled against God from the initial fall in the garden, and the only way back to paradise is through the redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was sent to undo the curse and take us to the paradise (the future kingdom of heaven) He is preparing for us.  All who accept His redemption and His promise of eternal life in heaven will join Him there.

Amen.

Remember: Faith, Hope, Love – these Three

“But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” 1 Thes. 5:8

The history behind the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church of the Thessalonians is as follows: Paul had preached the Gospel in Thessalonica a few years prior to this letter and spent some time there to establish a group of believers.  He had become concerned about the well being of this congregation since he was not able to revisit them after his initial visit, so he sent Timothy to check on them.  Upon the return of Timothy, Paul wrote this letter to commend them on their steadfastness and progress, as well as to encourage and exhort them in their Christian walk.

We can learn from this letter if we look at Paul’s approach to encouraging the Thessalonians and his view of their spiritual strengths.

At the beginning of the letter, after his salutation, Paul immediately commends them on three core items: faith, hope and love:

“We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thess. 1:3

It is interesting that Paul gives a similar commendation at the start of his letter to the Colossians:

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Col. 1:3-5

…and also at the start of the 2nd letter to the Thessalonians:

“We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because you faith is growing in abundance, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring.” 2 Thess. 1:3-4

…followed by this:

“And to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,” 2 Thess. 1:7 (relating their steadfastness in affliction to their hope)

Obviously, when Paul examined a group of Christians for spiritual maturity he did so in the perspective of these three Christian attributes: faith, hope and love.  Therefore, it is also important for us to examine ourselves in a similar matter, understanding the true meaning of faith, hope and love, and how they should be manifested in our lives.

Notice that in 1 Thessalonians Paul uses the phrase “work of faith and labor of love” when he commended them.  The Greek word in the original passage that is translated as “work” is “ergon”  and is defined in Strong’s concordance as follows: from a primary (but obsolete) érgō (to work); toil (as an effort or occupation); by implication, an act:—deed, doing, labour, work.  The original Greek word for “labor” is “kopos” and is defined thus in Strong’s: toil (as reducing the strength), literally or figuratively; by implication, pains:—labor, + trouble, weariness.  There also is an implication of “intense labor with trouble and toil.”

Paul’s interest was in the fruit that they showed in their lives, and Timothy must have reported that they were producing “good works” that confirmed their spiritual maturity.  Timothy must have seen sacrifices being made to help the poor and needy, orphans and widows being cared for, and general activity that supported the fact that they loved one another.

The Holy Spirit has taught us though the Scriptures that faith without works is dead, but that our works confirm our faith:

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:17

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God.” James 2: 21-23

True Christian faith will result in good works and will produce true love in the believer.  Remember that love fulfills the law and does no harm to a neighbor.  Our spiritual maturity should show forth these spiritual fruits of good works and love for others.

Like Abraham, we all will face situations in our lives that will require us to exercise our faith to “complete” it.  Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead, and was willing to obey God’s command to put him to death.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your posterity be named.’  He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Heb. 11:17-19

Let’s encourage one another to respond with the same faith that Abraham had when we are faced with similar situations and challenges in our lives, knowing that God is able to do whatever is required.

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that when he was with them, he had encouraged each one of them to exercise their faith with their actions.  I like how his encouragement was not just words but he had told them to imitate his actions, and he reminded them of his behavior among them:

“For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God.  You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thess. 2:9-12

Paul also commended them for enduring afflictions and persecution from their own countrymen, similar to what Paul had suffered from the Jews.  We too should be prepared in our hearts, should persecution arise, to endure patiently whatever afflictions come our way.

It is very clear that Paul’s expectation for believers was to walk in love and holiness, and to endure in this way until the Lord returns. Paul first sent Timothy to make sure that they were living appropriately, producing the fruit of spiritual maturity. He then reminded them of how he had trained them in this appropriate behavior and also exemplified this behavior in his life.  He then encouraged them to continue in and even increase the quality of their behavior.  I point this out to emphasize the fact that our behavior and spiritual maturity is extremely important.  Our faith and hope should be producing love as reflected in our good works and holy living.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 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. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your consecration: that you abstain from immorality;” 1 Thess. 3:12- 4:3

The original Greek word that is translated as “consecration” in the above verse is hagiasmos, and is defined in Strong’s concordance as: properly, purification, i.e. (the state) purity; concretely (by Hebraism) a purifier:—holiness, sanctification.  Again, Paul makes it very clear that it is God’s will for us to walk in holiness.

Paul also knows that the key to our spiritual maturity and our ability to walk in holiness and love is to have our faith focused on the hope we have in Christ Jesus and our future with Him in His Kingdom that He will establish upon His return.  Therefore, after exhorting and encouraging them to walk in holiness, Paul reminds them of the soon coming of the Lord, and our part as believers in this event:

“But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep (dead), 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 fallen asleep. 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, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thess. 4:13-18

Paul knew that this hope that we have will comfort us in our afflictions and help us to endure, continuing in holy living.  This is our source of strength that will get us through difficult times and empower us to walk in love and holiness, as we make this assured hope a reality in our lives.

A living faith in our blessed hope we have in what God has promised to us in Christ Jesus, namely a place in heaven for eternity with Him, will produce in us the ability to walk in holiness and love, with the strength to endure until the end.  It is critical that we continue in this way so that we too can be found blameless in holiness when Jesus returns.

I hope that this message has encouraged you in your walk as a believer.  Recognize that all of the things in this life are trivial compared with the glory that awaits us.  Let’s keep our perspective clear and focused on what is really important: eternal life and our future hope.

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls is faithful, and He will do it.” 1 Thess. 5: 23-24