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.

Don’t Deceive Yourself

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” 1 Corinthians 3:18

To deceive someone is to purposely mislead them with false information, convincing or persuading them that a false thing is true.  The idea of someone deceiving themselves is then an oxymoron, or a seemingly contradictory combination of terms.  How does one convince oneself that something they know to be false is true? What motivates them to do so?

I would speculate that there are varying degrees of self deception with some people purposely and knowingly blocking out the truth, and others who do so subconsciously.  The real issue is the deception, or allowing yourself to be deceived, whether self inflicted or done by others, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  Christians, especially, should have a strong resistance against deception as we mature in Christ, as Paul exhorted the Ephesians:

“…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,..” Ephesians 4: 13-14

It is important to realize how serious it is to allow yourself to be deceived by others or to deceive yourself.  Remember that Adam and Eve’s sin and fall from paradise was due to their being deceived by the serpent (i.e. Satan).  It is still Satan’s desire to deceive us and have us believe his lies.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us about Satan steeling the truth of the Word out of some people hearts:

“The sower sows the word, and these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.” Mark 4: 13-14

We need to be aware of Satan’s tactics and understand that he will be attempting to deceive us or to lend support for us to deceive ourselves.  And it’s not just the world that Satan has blinded to the truth, Christians too are vulnerable to Satan’s ploys and can be deceived.  Christians are constantly confronted with false teaching, false doctrine, miss-information, old myths, and worldly philosophies, and therefore we must be constantly on guard.

“But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3: 13-17 (Paul writing to Timothy)

The same advice is applicable for us today, to be well versed in the Holy Scriptures, so that we can weigh the things we hear against the truth from God’s word to either verify or reject it.

So what motivates us to want to deceive ourselves?  Why do we not want to face the truth?  We know that facing the truth can be painful, but why?  Let’s look deeper into this.

False, deceptive teachings can appeal to our flesh, supporting our desires for material or worldly things or possibly feeding our pride, or giving us an excuse to continue in sin.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us or to show us clearly the sin in our lives, but we have a tendency to resist from turning the spotlight on ourselves, whereas we are quick to turn the spotlight on others.  It’s interesting that we can hear a message or warning for correction and immediately think about other people who should be hearing it so they can straighten out their bad behavior when we are the ones who need it most, who the Holy Spirit is trying to get though to, yet we don’t allow the message to penetrate into our minds and hearts.  Lord help us to be open to examining our own selves as quickly as we look at others.

I have observed that any truth that invokes a negative emotion will cause us to want to block it out or reject it, even if deep down we know that it is true; somehow we just don’t allow ourselves to accept it because we think it will be too painful.  Some of us have been so sheltered that even the slightest discomfort will cause us to want to block out the truth.  Sadly, there are some who have been emotionally abused by parents or spouses and therefore cannot endure any further negative emotions and therefore block out anything that invokes these emotions, including the hearing of the truth.  As Christians we need healing from any emotional instability and we need to be mature, able to face the hard truths that life brings to us.

Guilt is one negative emotion that causes pain for us, but God in His wisdom and mercy has also given us a means to deal with our guilt.  He has offered forgiveness through the blood of Jesus that washes away our sins.  All of our sins that occurred before we came to Jesus are cleared from our record and fully forgiven.  Any current sins can be brought to Jesus, confessed to Him and removed also.  And He has made a way for us to live our lives with freedom from sin.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1: 10

It is amazing that God has removed the negativity of guilt from our minds and hearts, and from our conscience, so that we can be completely open to receive the truth and to enter into an intimate relationship with Him.  Praise God!

Fear is another negative emotion that could cause the truth to be blocked from our mind or cause us to not want to believe it, but rather believe a lie.  The prime example of this is the fear that we all have of death.  When we face the reality of death and its finality, we are then forced to come to grips with the futility of life that ends in death, leaving us with nothing and faced with the unknown afterlife.  We must somehow convince ourselves of a reason to exist in this world for such a short time (I am speaking of those who don’t believe in the resurrection), only to end in death.  For many, they block this reality out of their minds, or accept a false philosophy to allow them to function through life without the fear of death.  Only the Christian can stand firm on the established truth of the promised eternal life through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Related to fear, we also have a resistance to change in our lives, so that any truth that we encounter that suggests a need for us to change is resisted fearing that the changes will be too difficult or too painful.  As Christians though, we really need to embrace change and prepare our hearts to be open to change.  God is doing a work in us and it will require changes in us.  We are constantly being uprooted from the world’s ways into God’s ways.  The old things have to be done away with and the new things established.  And, yes, sometimes the changes are painful and difficult.  These are both external and internal changes; if we resist them we will most likely end up deceiving ourselves in some way.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

And finally, we must recognize that it is our pride that is the most likely thing to hinder us from receiving the truth, and contributes to our self deception.  We don’t like to be told that we are wrong or to be corrected, and therefore we resist.  As Christians though, we should love to be corrected, realizing that it is for our own good and advancement in spiritual maturity, and that it is really the Holy Spirit that is correcting us, not the people who are being used to convey the message of correction.  In fact, I have found that the Lord will sometimes use someone who we don’t respect to be the messenger for correction to test us.  We must therefore look beyond the imperfections of the messenger and weigh the message based on the truth it holds.

“He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.  Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy one is understanding.” Proverbs 9: 7-10

In the opening quote above from 1 Corinthians 3, Paul is warning against the self deception that comes from holding to the wisdom of this world, that I believe is rooted in and motivated by our pride.   As Christians we must humble ourselves and become like fools in the worlds eyes so that we can embrace the truth and the true wisdom that comes from God.  We must remove our predetermined biases and associations that we are proud of and be completely open to receiving truth based on God’s wisdom, with His influence and guidance.

“Let no one deceive himself.  If anyone among you seems to be wise I this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, ‘ He catches the wise in their own craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ Therefore let no one boast in men.” 1 Cor. 3: 18-21

“Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ ” Matthew 18: 2-4

At the time of this writing there is a very large separation between the two dominant political parties in the United States.  It is therefore very obvious how the predetermined biases and prideful association with either party influences the determination of truth.  If one political candidate does something, all the supporting people praise it and all the opposing party people condemn it; when the candidate from the other party does the same thing, the support and opposition aligns exactly along party lines.  Sadly, there is no real search for truth but rather a desire for the associated party to be right or win the argument; again, this is rooted in pride.

Let me close by saying that each one of us is responsible as individuals for our determination of truth.  We must open our minds to hear from the Holy Spirit, putting aside any fear of change or painful emotion, and especially putting aside our pride and biases.  We must reject the wisdom that comes from this world and know that true wisdom comes from God as revealed through His Scriptures.  We must guard ourselves against the enemy who will attempt to deceive us by any means possible, taking advantage of our weaknesses.  We must put to death our fleshly desires and not allow them to influence our determination of truth, or to keep us believing lies.  We must also recognize that the process of transformation is ongoing for us as children of God so that there is always truth to be learned so we must constantly be open and willing to learn or to be corrected.

My prayer for you is the same as Paul’s for the Ephesians:

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3: 16-19

If you have this, you will not be deceived, nor will you be deceiving yourself.

Be Patient Until the Lord Comes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cross of Christ has Multiple Purposes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cross represents God’s justice and legal victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cross is an example for us

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

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

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

“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.  Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death.  Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3: 11-18

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

The Cross is a tool for our transformation

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

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

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

“For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For he who has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” Romans 6: 5-8

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

The Cross and subsequent resurrection is a source of our Hope

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

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

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

 

 

Learn What is Pleasing to the Lord

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

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

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

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

And this about how a wise son pleases his father:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key to Victory is Our Faith in Christ

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” 1 John 5:4

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15: 57

Our victory as Christians is twofold.  First, we have victory in this life over the world, over our flesh, and over sin.  Second, we have the final victory over the second death because our name is written in the Book of Life. Both of these areas of our victory are closely related.  One depends on the other and vice versa.

Before looking deeper into the victory we have as Christians, I first need to address some misconceptions that will cause confusion unless corrected. It is a major problem in our western Christianity that the enemy has perverted the truth about our victory in Christ.

Misconception: Christians cannot be perfect or cannot be free from sin

This misconception says that we can never be literally or actually righteous or holy, but that we can only be positionally righteous by having the righteousness of Jesus imputed (attributed or ascribed) to us by faith.  It also implies that we will never be free of sin in our lives, but that we can only be free from the penalty of sin.  In addition, this misconception states that to suggest that we are required by God to be holy and righteous is contrary to salvation by grace and is reverting back to a salvation by works approach.  Also, to even suggest that we are free from sin in our lives is dishonest and deceptive, and we would be deceiving ourselves.

This misconception of unattainable righteousness and freedom from sin undermines the victory that we have in Jesus.  We need to correct this.

My first objection to this viewpoint is the fact that there are many scriptures that admonish us to be holy and righteous, to live a life free from sin, and to produce the fruit of the spirit, with no additional references or clarifications regarding imputed righteousness verses actual, literal righteousness.  Preachers today who hold to the misconception explained above seem compelled to clarify themselves when they come across one of these scriptures that suggest a need for Christians to be holy and free from sin, but I don’t see Peter, John, James or Paul doing the same thing, whereas, if they held the same viewpoint, I would think that they would be compelled to do so also.

There are many scriptures that clearly express the need for us to live in righteousness and not to have sin in our lives.  Consider this portion from 1 John:

“Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen Him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as He is righteous.  He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him and he cannot sin because he is born of God.  By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: no one who does not do right is of God, nor anyone who does not love his brother.”  1 John 3: 4-10

I am aware that the “explanation”, or clarification, for this and similar verses in John’s epistle is that the original Greek word translated as “sin” here has further connotation suggesting “habitually practicing” sin.  But what constitutes “habitually practicing” a sin?  Is it once a day, or once a week, or is it every few minutes?  Does one have to be a habitual rapist to qualify to be “of the devil” as the above quoted verse suggests?  Unfortunately, this so called explanation does little but give Christians an excuse to remain in their sin.

I have run across Christians who are quick to quote another verse in 1 John to justify this misconception:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1: 8

The Christians who support the misconception would like this scripture to be saying that there is no point in a Christian’s life that they will not have sin present in them, and if they say that they don’t, at any time, than they are deceiving themselves and are untruthful. I do not believe that this is what John is saying.  If you look at the context of the verse, he is talking to people who have sin that needs to be dealt with through the blood of Jesus, who is an advocate for us to the Father to forgive our sins.  All of us have sinned in the past, so we cannot say that we have never sinned (see chapter 1, verse 10), and there are some Christians who still have sins that need to be exposed and removed from their lives, but they first must admit that they are sinning and stop deceiving themselves, then they need to confess the sin, and ask for forgiveness.  This is what John is addressing in this verse.  Here’s the broader context:

“This is the message that we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.  My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says “I know Him” but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him truly love for God is perfected.  By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” 1 John 1: 5 to 2:6

As you can plainly see, most of what John is teaching in this portion of scripture is the need for us to live holy and righteous lives, obeying His commandments, walking as Jesus walked, walking in love.  It is absurd to pull one verse out of this and use it as an excuse to justify having sin in your life.  It is interesting that John says at one point “I am writing this to you so that you may not sin” but Christians use what he had wrote as a reason that they can continue to sin, because they think that the previous verse is saying that if they ever say that they are without sin, they would be a liar.  There must come a point where you are free from the bondage of sin and your conscience is clear.  God is the final judge, but if you have dealt with your flesh and have died to this world, and have set your hope on the promise of heaven and eternal life, you will be able to walk without sin in your life.  Jesus has made a way for us to be free from the cycle of sin and death.  John’s letter, and all of the other letters in the Bible, is addressed to a large and varied group of readers as these letters were circulated around to many churches.  Many of the reader were immature and needing to deal with their sins.

There are many other verses throughout the new testament that explicitly call for Christians to be holy, righteous and remove sin from your life.  Here are just a few:

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’.” 1 Peter 1: 14-16

“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5: 48

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let you laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.” James 4: 8-10

“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity(or sin).’ “ 2 Timothy 2:19

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification (or purification to become holy): that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the  Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of alls such as we also forewarned you and testified.  For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.” 1 Thessalonians 4: 3-7

“We know that anyone born of God does not sin….” 1 John 5: 18

In the book of Acts, chapter 5, you can read the account of Ananias and Sapphira who were struck down by the Holy Spirit and died because they lied about the donation of land they had made.  They were both Christians under the New Covenant, yet they were judged harshly due to their sin of deception, and made an example that brought a needed fear upon the church at that time, teaching them to not take sin lightly:

“So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.” Acts 5: 11

The Scriptures also clearly explain that God’s mercy, kindness and forgiveness is intended to cause us to repent, that is, to turn from our life of sin and to change the way that we think and act.

“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. For He will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” Romans 2: 4-8

In addition, we are shown that the initial exercise of our faith when we accept the forgiveness of God and receive the promise of eternal life by placing our hope in heaven (accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross) and we die with Jesus to this world, this faith is accompanied and verified by the works that are produced in our lives as we are transformed into new creations.

“ What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? [the implied answer is no] If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.  You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? 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. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2: 14-26

Another purpose of God’s gift of salvation through grace through our faith is so that no man can boast that they earned the right to be forgiven by their goodness or good works.  As we stated before, all of us have sinned in the past and need God’s mercy and forgiveness.  But this does not mean that once we have received the forgiveness and promises of God, that we are not required to produce the fruit of good works.

The error of the Israelites under the Old Testament was that they bypassed the faith and focused on the works only.  Thus they were in a trap of being carnal or carnally minded, due to the lack of faith, attempting to produce the fruit of the spirit, that is, love and good works, but they could not do so because they were not changed internally (this change is a product of living faith).

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles 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 though faith, but as if it were based on works.” Romans 9: 30-32

In other words, Israel focused on the law and focused on the good works that go along with the law, but did not focus on the faith that produces the good works and the obedience to the law.  The analogy is a tree where the roots are like our faith and the fruit is like our good works.  If the roots are not healthy and alive then the fruit will not be produced no matter how much you focus on the fruit.

The key to our victory: a living faith

Victory for the Christian starts with the opportunity to become a child of the living God, and therefore, a citizen of heaven, with an immortal and eternal body. This was made available to us through the Lord Jesus Christ when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, dying on the cross, allowing us to be completely forgiven of our past sins, removing the judgment that we were to face when we appear before God in our next life, after we die.  Before this opportunity was available to us, only the descendants of Abraham, His chosen people, were able to enter into an intimate relationship with the living God.

This opportunity is presented to us as a free gift, as an act of love and grace that we must accept as reality, and place our hope and trust in completely. For our part, we must exercise a living faith that causes us to be transformed into a new spiritual creature.  It involves the removal of the false hopes and influences from the world that we had trusted and hoped in previously.  We now place our trust fully in the Lord and await His return when He will establish a new earth and new heaven.

Our greatest enemy is death; we have victory over this death through the eternal life and immortality that we have in Christ Jesus.  This is the ultimate victory.  In addition to this, we also have victory in this life over the bondage of the world, the bondage of the devil, and the bondage of sin.

Consider this portion of scripture from the Gospel of Luke:

“So He (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’” Luke 4: 18-22

All of the sorrows, the blindness, the bondage, and the oppression of mankind are the result of sin.  Jesus came to deal with this root cause, and to offer to His followers complete freedom from the sin that has caused these issues in their lives.  Although the Lord is pleased when we turn from our sins, this freedom from our sins is more of a benefit for us because it results in a much improved condition for us.

So the question now becomes, “How does this victory work for us?” or “How can I become free from sin?”  Answering this is really what this entire blog is about!  In short, when we exercise a true, sincere, living faith in the promises of God that have been presented to us through the Lord Jesus Christ, we are converted from carnal to spiritual, from carnally minded to spiritually minded.  We do this by placing our hope completely and constantly in the promise of eternal life in heaven, rather than in the hopes of this world.  We do this by coming out of the world system, meaning that we stop thinking like the world thinks, but think as we are shown to think by the Lord in His scriptures, transforming and renewing our minds, seeing things with the eyes of our faith. We place our trust totally in God, making the living God our “God” and Lord of our lives.  These changes in us give us the ability to love.  Love is spiritual, so as we become spiritual we produce the fruit of the spirit which is love.  People who are focused on this world and their flesh cannot really love; they cannot love their enemy; they cannot love when they are hurt or offended or jealous because the flesh that they have been feeding overpowers their ability to love.

The key to our victory in this life is to have the type of faith that makes us spiritual. This means that we need the kind of faith where we die to our flesh and die to this world, the kind of faith that takes up the cross of Christ and considers themselves as having died with Christ to this world and therefore to sin.

We also must embrace the truth that God has revealed to us in His word and reject the lies that we have believed from the world or the devil or our own self.  Walking in the light of the truth will cause freedom from the bondage that the lies had kept us in.  Believing these lies also contributes to our unrighteousness and sin.  Believing the truth will set us free.

Once our faith is exercised and we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and made acceptable to God the Father, His Holy Spirit comes and lives within us and begins to work in us, communicating with our spirit, helping us to see the truth, and working in us the changes needed to become spiritual.

Here is the secret: the root cause of our sin is our strong desires that are focused on physical things from this world.  When we die to this world and shift our hopes and affections towards the spiritual things of God that have been promised to us through Jesus (i.e. heaven and eternal life), then our strong desires are changed – this sets us free from sin!

Here’s what James said about the link between our desires and sin:

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” James 1: 14-15

You see that desire “incubates” in us and then “gives birth” to sin.  It is our desires that need to change internally.  Faith changes our desires!!

The scriptures also exhort us to focus our affections and desires on spiritual things:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds (or affections) on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3: 1-4

The victory that Jesus Christ accomplished over death gave us the opportunity to shift our affections and desires to heaven, making us spiritual as we apply our faith to His promise.  This transformation in us from a carnal creature to a new spiritual creature sets us free from the sin and bondage in our lives, and secures for us our position in God’s kingdom.  This is the full and complete victory that we have attained via our faith in Jesus.  For this we are eternally grateful to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we worship and serve.

Amen.

Here’s How Christians Should Think!

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

This is a follow up to the last two messages about being a living sacrifice to God and renewing our minds.  Immediately after these above quoted verses in Romans chapter 12, Paul begins to give practical advice about how we should think.  I would like to go through each of his suggestions, grouping them as I see fit and drilling down into their possible implications.

Remember that although Paul the Apostle is writing this letter, he is being inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore this is guidance from the Lord.  Notice also that Paul again refers to the “grace given to me” similar to his mention in verse 1 of “the mercies of God”.  Paul is reminding us that these directives are related to the Lord’s merciful act of grace that he had previously defined in earlier chapters and also the act of grace that had revealed these truths to him by the Lord himself appearing to him and communicating the Gospel of the Gentiles.

Paul’s directives are practical and apply to everyone.  This makes them of great value to us today. He also suggests that we need to consider and guard our thoughts, removing some of the wrong thoughts, and guiding our thinking towards what is true and right.

“Keep (guard) your heart (and mind) with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Our Thoughts about Ourselves (verses 3 to 8):

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12: 3

The word “soberly” here suggests that we need to think clearly, with a sound mind, and not allow our flesh or our pride to elevate our value in our own assessment.  Not only does this confirm our need to walk in humility, but we also need to recognize the need to know our place in life, to know the limits of our abilities, to know what God’s role is for us in life.  Verses 4 through 8 explain that the body of Christ has many individual members, each with a different gift, purpose and role to play, and that each member is important.  The message in these verses is for us to recognize our gift and purpose and then to focus on that gift so that we can put it to good use to build up the body.

It is very easy for us to think in the wrong manner concerning our place in life.  We can become jealous of others and desire to be like them, or we can undervalue our contributions and think we don’t have value unless we do what we see other doing.  These kind of thoughts are wrong and need to be removed from our minds.

I also see a warning here about covetousness.  We often see the grass as greener in another person’s life or position so we covet what they have.  It’s sort of like little children at a restaurant who see food on someone else’s plate and want that instead of what they had ordered.  The flip side is that we need to be content with where God has placed us and  with what He has commissioned us with doing, and if we desire a change, we need to seek the Lord about it and wait for Him to bring about the change in His time.

Related to this, there may be some Christians who have the opposite problem, that is, they are called by God to do something, but don’t think that they have the abilities to accomplish what they are being asked to do.  Moses had this problem when God called him to lead His people out of Egypt, Moses pushed back saying he couldn’t even speak properly in front of people.

“Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ ” Exodus 4:10

There are time we need to just be obedient to God’s calling and move forward in faith, trusting that God is able to accomplish His work through us, and that it is Him who does the bulk of the work, we are just His instrument.

Our Thoughts Supporting Love (verses 9 to 21):

“Let your love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor that which is evil; cling to that which is good.” Romans 12: 9

Another translation of this verse says “let your love be genuine (or sincere).”  The word “hypocrisy” comes from a word that means “an actor or to act” as in someone in a play.  Paul warns us here to make sure that our thoughts and actions are aligned, that we are being true to what we feel and know, and to correct the misalignment if necessary.  We should examine our motives.  We should not be doing things out of obligation or external pressures, but our actions should flow from a sincere heart that is truly concerned for others and wants to please God.

It is difficult to know for sure how closely associated the second part of the verse is to the first.  In some translations they are separated by a semicolon only, suggested that they are closely tied.  It stands to reason though, that if we guide our thinking to abhor what is evil and to cling to what is good, then it will influence our hearts to be more genuine in our actions towards others.  Things that are evil typically involve bringing harm to others, directly or indirectly, and things that are good support good relationships and typically involve building people up. Regardless, we need to examine and be keenly aware of our thoughts towards both good and evil, making sure that our attitude is aligned with what the scriptures exhort us to do.

“Be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another; not slothful in business, fervent (emotionally intense) in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation, continuing diligently in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints; given to (pursuing) hospitality.” Romans 12: 10 – 13

Verses 10 through 13 hold practical admonitions towards others and towards the Lord.  Each directive is straight forward with a clear path to action, for example: be kind and hospitable to one another, helping those in need, and honoring one another.  There’s nothing complex about doing this and everyone has the ability to do so.  All of these actions, though, require a shift in our mindset, attitude and thinking.  Our focus should change in order to accomplish these things, and it will be much different than what we were accustomed to thinking and feeling while back in the mindset of the world system. Recognize that these are the things that we should be doing with our renewed minds.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind towards one another.  Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” Romans 12: 14-16

In these verses Paul is advising us to not allow our thoughts to cause divisions or separations:  Not to allow persecution to escalate; to connect with those who rejoice and those who weep; to make sure we think about each other similarly, not categorizing people or holding some closer or as better than others; to not allow our thought to get too lofty or high minded to keep us from associating with some people we may consider of lower class or position in life, and again, not to think too highly of our self and our opinions.  We must guard against these things.

Thinking towards our enemy (verses 17 to 21)

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. Beloved do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21

Last February, I wrote an entire message about these verses entitled “Overcome Evil with Good” , so I won’t spend too much time on this topic here.  Suffice it to say that our attitude and thinking towards our enemy needs to be very different than it was in the world.   We know that revenge is a common mindset for many people in the world, but as Christians we must now show mercy and allow God to repay people for their evil acts.  I am convinced that if we truly die to this world and set our hopes and affections on the things of the Spirit and heaven, and if we get a true picture of the reality of God’s act of love and forgiveness towards us by sending His Son Jesus to pay the price for our sins, allowing us to enter into His kingdom, we will then be able to ignore or release any desire to take vengeance on our enemies.  It will come naturally as a result of God changing our heart and mind from being carnal to being spiritual.

This mindset is aligned with previous verses that advised us to know our place.  We are not a judge for anyone.  We need to allow God, whose place it really is, to avenge evil and show His wrath towards evil doers.  We have no right to exercise wrath towards people, but instead should be in a humble place of forgiving them as we have been forgiven, many times for doing the very same things that they have done.

Conclusion:

When we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, or, in other words, when we consider ourselves dead to this world and alive towards God, loving and serving Him, we can then transform our thinking, changing our thoughts and attitude to be conformed to God’s ways and purposes, rather than to the ways and purposes of this world.  Paul has spelled out in the 12th chapter of Romans some practical guidance and checks for our thinking in the areas of how we think about ourselves, how we should think about others, and how we should think about our service to God.  Love is the guide, as well as our thinking towards good and evil.  Paul’s words in these verses are very practical and actionable.  We should visit them from time to time and examine ourselves to see that we are adhering to his advice.

Chapters 13, 14 and 15 of Romans continue with additional advice for us regarding our thoughts and actions.  Perhaps this will be the topic of a future message.  For now, God Bless!