Don’t throw away your Confidence!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here also, where faith is explicitly defined:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Jesus is the Messiah King

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) is a child of God…” 1 John 5: 1

As Christians we know that our faith is very important.  We know that we are accepted by God as a result of our faith, and not by any of our own righteous actions or accomplishment, rather the acceptance and forgiveness by God for our past transgressions is an act of mercy and grace on His part.

We are also told in the book of James in the Bible that our faith needs to be a “living” faith.  More specifically, if our faith is not producing in us good works, or acts of love, than our faith is dead and will not gain us acceptance with God.

“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?  Can his faith same him? [the implied answer is no]  If a brother or sister is ill –clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2: 14 – 17

Additionally, it is very important that we understand the specifics of our faith.  We must be clear about what we believe specifically; for example, we must know the object of our faith and we must consider the implication that our faith has on our actions and world view.  For example, is it enough for us to just believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure that existed in the past?   A person can say, “I believe in Jesus”, but this is insufficient to gain acceptance by God if they mean that they just believe that He was a real person from the past. James addressed a similar issue of faith in this verse:

“You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder.” James 2: 19

This may come as a surprise for some Christians, but it is also insufficient to just believe that Jesus died for your sins on the cross.  Of course we must believe both of these truths:  that He existed in the past and that He died for our sins, but there is much more that must be a part of our core beliefs as Christians.

The Bible clearly states that the core of what we need to believe as Christians is that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  And, we must understand the implications of this.  Let’s look into this deeper.

The word “Christ” and the word “Messiah” both mean “Anointed One” and are therefore interchangeable.  The word “Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew “Messiah” and therefore you can replace the word “Messiah” anywhere in the Bible where the word “Christ” is used.

Throughout the Bible, the physical act of pouring oil on someone, or anointing them with oil, was symbolic of the spiritual anointing from God, giving them the power or “anointing” of God’s Spirit.  For example, God instructed the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as king of Israel (1 Samuel 15: 1) and also told Samuel to anoint David, as a young boy, to be the future King to replace Saul (1 Samuel 16: 3, 12).  These men then had the Spirit of God resting upon them as they fulfilled their role as King (unless, as in Saul’s case, the anointing of the Spirit was removed).

More specifically though, the Old Testament prophets had foretold of a future Messiah, or one anointed with God’s Spirit who was sent by God and who was the Son of God. The Messiah was also foretold to be the one who would restore the kingdom of God and be the anointed as the King and Lord of this kingdom.  (You can do a search online to see the many Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah.)

The Scriptures clearly present Jesus as the Messiah and it is also clear that Jesus emphasizes the important of believing that He was the Messiah.  Consider the following Scriptures:

At His birth:

“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ (the Messiah) the Lord.’ “ Luke 2: 10-11

At the calling of some of the Apostles:

“One of the two who heard John (the Baptist) speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).” John 1: 40 – 41

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,’…[and later]…Nathanael answered Him [Jesus], ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ “ John 1: 40, 41, 45, 49

At the raising of Lazarus from the dead, talking to Martha:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, He who is coming into the world.’ “ John 11: 25-27

The Apostle John’s closing statements about the purpose of his writing the Gospel of John:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20: 30 – 31

We see from the Scriptures also that the major objection of the religious leaders and Pharisees at the time of Jesus death was the fact that Jesus was being accepted as the anointed Son of God, the Messiah and King of Israel.

“Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ (Messiah), a King.” Luke 23: 1-2

We also see from the book of 1 John that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah is the antichrist:

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah)? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2: 22

And so, why is this important?  This is important because we must realize that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and is alive today. He has been established and anointed as the King of heaven, the King of God’s Kingdom.  He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords.

“Which He accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and make Him sit at His right hand in heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and He has put all things under His feet and has made Him head over all things for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1: 20 – 23

When we are baptized, as a profession of our faith, we are united with Jesus in His death, also dying to the kingdom of this world.  When we rise up out of the water we are also united with Him in His resurrection and share with Him a place in His Kingdom.  We should recognize ourselves as current citizens of heaven awaiting the return of King Jesus to re-establish His kingdom here on earth, creating a new earth.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3: 1

As such, we are, even now, under the kingship and lordship of the Messiah King – Jesus Christ.  This is why we say that He is our Lord.  The implication is that we must follow His rules and commandments, the regulations of His kingdom.  We must also honor Him as King.  This submission to His commandments and homage to His position as King should have a profound impact on our lives, changing our actions and attitudes.

It is a good thing for us to believe that Jesus was a real person who walked this earth over 2000 years ago, healing the sick and raising the dead, and to also believe that He died on the cross to pay the price for our redemption for our offenses against a Holy God.  It is also good to believe that He was raised from the dead by the power of God.  We must recognize, though, that Jesus did these acts as the Messiah, the Anointed One sent by God to fulfill His promise, and to establish God’s Kingdom, and who sits now as King and Lord, and who will return to destroy this world and establish a new heaven and earth, and who will judge the living and dead according to their works.  We must allow the reality of these truths to sink into our souls and impact our view of reality.  We must consider the full implications of Jesus being the Messiah King.

Unfortunately, in our western culture, we don’t have a good concept of how to honor a King.  We have a president, but we see him as just another part of our governmental leadership, part of the balance of power.  Especially today, it is apparent that we don’t know how to honor a king by the way that our media speaks of the person in office, as well as the way many people on the opposing political party speak of the president.

I believe that our culture sees it as a weakness for someone to submit and recognize a supreme authority and to honor such a position.  Perhaps only in the military is such honor given to authority, and for many, this is seen as wrong or weak.  Instead it is seen as a virtue when we question authority and function ultimately under our own authority.  As Christians we must remove this from our thinking.

In summary, we as Christians must recognize that our faith should include the belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed King.  We are also required to consider ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, where Jesus resides as King, and submit fully to His laws as obedient subjects, fully accepting His reign over us.  We should also be awaiting His return to establish His kingdom here among us, and to separate the good from the evil, establishing His righteous kingdom forever.  On that last day when Jesus returns, all those who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah and King, having their name written in the Lamb’s book of life by faith in Him, and who have obeyed the laws of His kingdom, and have honored Him as Lord and King, will be accepted into His eternal kingdom.

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ ” Revelation 21: 1-4

I look forward with heightened anticipation for that day of His return!

Amen.

What does it mean to Walk in the Spirit?

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust (strong desires) of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

The Scriptures have revealed to us that the sin in our lives is rooted in our desires.  We are tempted by our desires and then, as these desires further develop in us, the result is sin.  The book of James says it this way:

“But each man is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” James 1: 14 – 15

Knowing, then, that our desires are the root cause of sin, it is important for us to understand how to deal with our strong desires and the lust of the flesh.  According to this verse in Galatians 5 (quoted above), walking in the Spirit is the key to changing or overcoming our fleshly desires and, therefore, it is the key to our victory over sin.  The Scriptures in Galatians 5 continue as follows:

“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: 17

We must understand that there is a conflict within us between our fleshly desires and the Spirit, and we must make sure that we are following (or walking after) the Spirit and not after the flesh.

And later in the same chapter of Galatians it says this:

“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.” Galatians 5: 24, 25

Christians who are well versed in the Scriptures understand that they must put to death, or put an end to, the strong desires of their flesh that are tied to their old nature, and that are tied to this world and the things that this world has to offer us.  We have shifted our desires and affections to spiritual things rather than physical things, setting our hope on the promise of eternal life in heaven and the unseen reality that accompanies this spiritual, heavenly future place for us.

I have written in more detail on this topic in the past, focusing on the need for us to put to death or crucify our passions and desires, and the shift of our hope from the things of this world to the promise of heaven and eternal life.  Here’s a link to one of the previous posts on this topic: https://flaniganjames.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/walk-in-the-spirit/

In this writing, I would like to focus more on a Christian’s spiritual mindedness. Christians must also make a change in the way that they think in order to correctly walk in the Spirit.  They must shift their dependency on their natural minds and lean more on the guidance and direction of the Spirit.  I can tell you right now that this is utter foolishness to the non-Christian, and unfortunately, is foreign to many Christians.  Christians must learn to look to the Spirit and not to their own natural, logical thoughts as they are guided through this life.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….” Romans 12: 2

In order to better understand this truth, we must remember that we are made up of three parts.  We have a spirit, a soul, and a body.  The body is all that is physical in us: our organs, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.  The soul consists of our mind, our thoughts, and our emotions.  The spirit is the part of us that is connected with the Holy Spirit and is also linked to our conscience.  By the spirit we are able to discern spiritual things.

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.  The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2: 12 – 13

In the light of these three areas of our being, as Christians, it is our goal to have our spirit rule over our soul and body.  For the secular or unspiritual man, their spirit is dead, for we must be born of the spirit in order for our spirit to come alive.  As a result, there are only two possible conditions: their body, or flesh, rules over their soul (mind), or, their soul has partial rule over their body.  Some people have disciplined their bodies to submit to their soul and are able to control their body, keeping their body under submission, but this control from their soul does not work in the long run, and it does not make them spiritual, although some religious people suggest that physical rigor produces spirituality (this is not true).  The Apostle Paul, when speaking of physical religious restrictions, said this to the Colossians:

“These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh.” Colossians 2: 23

Attempting to focus on training our body to obey our mind or will is not a solution; it will not make us spiritual and therefore cannot produce love in us.

As Christians we must not be fooled into thinking that we are spiritual if we have our soul (our natural mind) rule over our body. This does not make us spiritual and is not enough!  We must have our spirit, in tune with the Holy Spirit, to be ruling over our soul, and then our soul to be ruling over our body.

Our unspiritual desires can originate from our soul, not just from our body.  I think this is an error that can lead to problems for Christians. We must recognize that our natural minds can also be the source of unspiritual desires that are contrary to the Spirit and therefore can lead to sin.

To be clear about this, it is not wrong to have desires from either your soul or your body, but we must recognize what they are and not allow them to “conceive and give birth to sin” as the verse in James (quoted above) suggests.  We must be able to recognize when they are in conflict with the spirit, or when they are taking too deep of a hold on our lives, influencing our emotions and actions.

Additionally, we must recognize that walking in the Spirit is not always about suppressing or guarding against desires that lead to sin.  We also need the Spirit’s direction in our lives.  We need to know God’s will and work to accomplish His desires.  We need to go with the spiritual “flow” of things in our lives, and not succumb to the flow that comes from our carnal, natural mind.  It is important that we are able to discern the moving of the Spirit in the day to day circumstances that we encounter so that we are in tune with His guidance and direction.

I would like to refer now to a portion of Scripture in the Gospel of John that I believe illustrates the difference between using our logical, natural mind and following the leading of the Spirit.  By the way, there are many, many places in the Scriptures that illustrate this, but I happened to be reading this recently.  The account is in the 21st chapter of the Gospel of John.  The background is that a group of disciples including Peter and John, a total of about 7 men, were by the sea of Tiberias.  We’ll pick up the story from the Scriptures here:

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We are going with you also.’ They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.  But when morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’  They answered Him, ‘No.’ And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’  So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ “ John 21: 3-7

Let’s examine what was happening here.  First some background: For those of you not already familiar with this portion of Scripture, you should know that this event occurred after the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it was before they Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples on the day of Pentecost.  You should also know that these men were fishermen by trade and had fished these waters for many years, learning from their parents, who were also fishermen.

Exactly why Peter decided to go out and fish is not clear, but I would think that since it was part of his livelihood, he most likely had assessed the conditions and thought that this was an ideal time to go out to fish.  I would also think that he was against wasting time, both his time and the other six men with him.  Using his experience as a fisherman and possibly some other logical and sensible reasoning, he decided to go out to fish for the night, and his fellow disciples, trusting his leadership in this, decided to join him.

On the following morning, after being out fishing all night, which I assume meant that they spent the entire night casting their nets and hauling them in only to find them empty, they were returning to the shore and were confronted by a man who told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and they would catch fish.  They didn’t know that it was Jesus.  For some reason, they listened to the man and it turned out to be exactly as he said, they caught many, many fish, so many that they could not haul them into the boat.

Immediately, we see what seems to be a very reasonable and logical endeavor, initiated by Peter, who was an expert fisherman, ending in complete failure.  And then, what seems to be unreasonable and illogical, to listen to the directions of some stranger on the shore, resulting in a bountiful success.

I wonder what the disciples thought when the stranger called to them.  Why didn’t they question him since they didn’t know that it was Jesus?  I think they must have had some spiritual discernment to know that there was something happening spiritually, even though they didn’t immediately recognize that it was Jesus.

The lesson here is simple.  We must recognize, no matter how much we think we know, or how much of an expert we think we are, or how reasonable or logical we think our plans are, that our natural minds are far inferior to the knowledge and direction of the Spirit of God.  We must therefore be more inclined to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction, then to look to the logic and reasoning of our natural minds.

I am not saying that it was evil or necessarily wrong for Peter and the other disciples to go out to fish that night.  We must recognize that if they would have stayed on shore for the night and saw Jesus the next day, that it is possible that Jesus could have directed them to go out and drop their nets and catch many fish.  It would have saved them a night of toil that got them no fish.

I also find it interesting that the disciples didn’t ask Jesus for help.  His actions were not a response to their requests.  It seemed that Jesus knew they hadn’t caught any fish and came to their help without them asking. God knows what we need before we even ask for it; He knows our situation and what is best for us.

Here’s what’s hard: we are not always able to hear clearly from the Holy Spirit to get direction from Him, and are therefore tempted to move out on our own without waiting for His guidance.  I have found in my own life that waiting is always better and when we are following the direction of God’s Spirit, we can be assured that His plan will work best.  We need to hone our skills of discernment so that we can recognize the leading of the Spirit or recognize when it is our own natural minds.  We need to understand that many times what is logical and reasonable is most likely from our own minds and many times God’s direction will appear to be unreasonable and illogical.  I believe that this is because He will get the glory from the results when we know that the direction came from Him and not our logical and reasonable thinking.  This is difficult for many Christians because following the direction of the Spirit can make us look stupid, or unwise according to worldly wisdom, or put us in a position that is against all sound reason and therefore in conflict with our friends and family.

Walking in the Spirit means that we are aware and aligned with the moving of the Spirit, depending more on His direction and guidance than on our own natural mind and the associated logic and reasoning.  Functioning in our own natural mind will bear little or no fruit whereas functioning under the direction of the Holy Spirit will always be productive.  I have learned the hard way that every time I move out on my own energy and planning it ends up being a waste of time and effort.

There are times though that following our natural mind and thoughts can get us into spiritual trouble.  We can miss God’s plan and purpose in certain circumstances and this can be wrong and evil.  The best example in the Scriptures is that of Peter rebuking the Lord for saying that He was going to suffer and die at the hands of the religious Jews.  Here’s the account of this situation in Matthew:

“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised on the third day.  Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to you!’  But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God but the things of men.’ “ Matthew 16: 21 – 23

In this situation, Jesus called Peter “Satan” because he was “mindful of the things of men and not mindful of the things of God.”  In other words, he was being led by his natural mind and not following his spiritual mind.

Our natural minds are limited to the information from this physical world or what Jesus called “the things of men” in the above quote.  To Peter, who was looking only at the physical situation without a regard for the spiritual (things of God), it was perfectly logical and rational to conclude that it was a bad idea for Jesus to go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed.

It should also be noted that Peter may have thought that he was aligned with the things of God since he had incorrectly interpreted the Lord’s purpose, thinking that He was going to establish His physical kingdom at this time.  We too must be careful that we are not basing our thinking incorrect information that would possibly mislead us into thinking that we are being spiritual but in fact are carnal.  Being open to the guidance of our conscience and the help of the Spirit should correct this situation.  In other words, when we are walking in the spirit, attempting to follow the flow of the Spirit and align with the things of God, we must be open to the communication of the Spirit and the guidance of our conscience.

In summary, walking in the Spirit is not just putting to death those things that are associated with our physical body, but it requires that we also put aside our logical natural thinking and instead be guided by the Holy Spirit.   We do this by prayerfully listening to His voice, that still, small voice that we have come to recognize as the Lord’s voice.  We also must allow our conscience to guide us as it is connected to the Spirit’s guidance.  Although listening and following the Spirit’s leading can cause us to look foolish to others, it will be the best and most productive path for us to follow.  Learning to walk in the Spirit in this manner takes time and practice and we will possibly fail or miss it, but God is faithful to help us and correct us in all of our efforts when we do so sincerely seeking to please Him.

May the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ bless you with the ability to hear His voice clearly and with the strength to follow Him wholly and completely until the end.  Amen.

Do You Walk the Christian Walk?

“By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” 1 John 2: 5-6

There’s an analogy that we use today for applying a test to people who claim to be something that they are not.  We say, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.” Jesus said essentially the same thing but from a different analogy when He said something along these lines: “You will know a tree by its fruit.”  Here’s the quote from Matthew:

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

People can claim to be followers of Christ, but the true test of Christianity is not in the words that people speak, but in their actions.  It is a good saying that “actions speak louder than words.”  Even here, though, we must also be careful to test for the right actions.  Some of us have been fooled by smiling faces and a lot of religious, ceremonial activities that come down to external fluff.  The real litmus test is a person’s actions when under the pressures and duress of life, when their real character is exposed, internally, whether they are truly walking in love.

The fruit we are looking for is love; and this is clearly indicated in the Scriptures as the true test of being a Christian.  The Epistle of 1 John is explicit on this topic.  Consider the following portions from that letter:

“He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still.  He who loves his brother abides in the light and in it there is no cause for stumbling.” 1 John 2: 9-10

“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, and not like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.  Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren.  He who does not love remains in death.  Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” 1 John 3: 11 – 16

“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation (atonement or satisfaction) for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.  1 John 4: 7 – 12

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” 1 John 4: 20 – 21

At this point I would like to make it clear that not only do we need to be aware of those who falsely claim to be Christians, but perhaps more importantly, we need to look to ourselves and make sure that we are continuing to produce the required fruit in our own lives.  Consider this exhortation from Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church:

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?  – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2 Cor. 13: 5

We are first and foremost responsible for our own growth in love.   We must be careful about how we judge others for in so doing we may bring a greater condemnation upon ourselves.  Jesus addressed this problem:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7: 1-5

We must remember also that there is a direct correlation between walking in love and not having sin in our lives.  It’s this: if we are truly walking in love, then we will not be in sin, because sin is an offense against love.  In other words, if we have sin in our lives then it is an indication that we are not perfected in love.  All of God’s commandments and regulations that expose sin are summed up, or completely covered, in these two commandments: to love God with all of your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, to test Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ and He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.’” Matthew 22: 36-40

“The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13: 8-10

Unfortunately, there is a very serious problem surrounding this situation, and that is, that we may sincerely desire to love and to be perfected in love, but we cannot just will ourselves to do this.  No matter how strong our will power and how deeply we are committed to walking in love, we will find that it is impossible to accomplish this in our own strength.

The reason for this has been revealed in the Scriptures.  I’ll sum it up like this: Love is spiritual, therefore, we must be spiritual to love.  And now we run into our next issue, to define what it means to be spiritual, for there are many who consider themselves to be spiritual, but they are not walking in love.  I therefore must be specific and say that I mean we must be spiritual in a Biblical sense, as defined in the Bible.  We must take on a spiritual nature as defined in the Bible to be the very nature of God as revealed in the life and nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by God the Father for this purpose, to expose and define the very nature of God, which is one of love. The Scriptures indicate that this spirituality is an internal occurrence.  It is a mindset and involves the way that we think.

“Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’  But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2: 14-16

When we as true Christians die with Jesus Christ to this world, as symbolized by our baptism when immersed under water joining in His death, we are then raised with Him to new life as spiritual beings with our focus now on heaven and eternal life, considering ourselves to be children of the living God and citizens of the new kingdom where Jesus is Lord and King.  When we die to this world, shifting our hope and focus from it towards heaven, we can then also put to death our fleshly desires that had been focused on the things of this world.  We must then continue in this work of death to our flesh and this world, and life towards heaven and the spiritual things.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians explains this need for us to die to this world, setting our minds on things above, and then to put to death the things in our lives that are tied to this world:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, among whom you also once walked, when you lived in these things.  But now put away also all these: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Colossians 3: 1-10

It is very important that we don’t lose sight of the goal of walking in love, and that we recognize that God has made a way for us to reach this goal through the life that we have been given in Christ Jesus.  Let’s not take for granted this great privilege we have to know God and to be offered a promised future in heaven, sharing in His glory as His children.

Love is the goal and the Holy Spirit has explicitly defined this love for us in the Bible so that we are without excuse.  I will end with this beautiful chapter on love from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

The Simple but Powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ

“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. …. For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For the Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21 – 24

The word “Gospel” means “good news”. What’s the good news? It’s a simple message that doesn’t require great intellectual knowledge, nor should it need to be verified or confirmed by some miraculous sign or wonder.  The message is this: Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God, and He came to earth to suffer and die on a cross for our sins, as was prophesied in the scriptures, but then was raised again from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven as Lord and King of the Kingdom of God.  If you believe this, you will be saved, and will not perish.

“But to all who received Him (Jesus), who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1: 12

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3: 16-18

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests on him.” John 3: 36

“Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…” 1 Corinthians 15: 1-4

The gospel message is very simple, but it can come across as being complex and confusing.  Most of the complexity and confusion come from not understanding the context of the message, or not having the essential background knowledge.  I would like to now examine some of the context of the message as was presented in the Scriptures.

Belief in a single, living, personal, creator God

“I am the Lord, and there is no other besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.” Isaiah 45: 5-7

Most of the biblical accounts of the apostles preaching the gospel involved situations where the audience consisted either of Jews or other devout gentiles, all of whom already believed in a single, personal God who was their Creator.  The Lord Jesus also when teaching and preaching was mostly speaking to the Jews or Samaritans who He knew had a prior understanding of the nature and singularity of God. It is important to understand the message in this context.

A person who believes in multiple gods will be confused by the Gospel message, seeing Jesus as just another one of the many gods, and not perceiving that He was the physical representation of the one true God.  In contrast, the writer of Hebrews spoke of Jesus, the Messiah, in this manner:

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in  these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His word of power.” Hebrews 1: 1-3

It is also a point of confusion if a person sees God as some impersonal force that controls the universe. Although God is all powerful and His Spirit does control the universe, He is also a personal God who needs to be addressed and related to in a personal manner, not a force that you can tap into and use to manipulate for you own purposes.  Jesus as the Messiah, and as Lord and King of God’s Kingdom, has rules and standards that must be followed. He will later judge all men according to these principles.  It is in this context that we must view the Gospel message.

Paul, when he encountered idol worshipers in Athens (Book of Acts chapter 17), expanded his message to address this issue of having an improper context:

“Now while Paul waited for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was full of idols” Acts 17: 16

His message to the Athenians:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To the Unknown God’. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.  Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.  And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of you own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’  Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.  He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17: 22 – 31

Adam and Eve’s Fall resulting in a Cursed World

“For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15: 21-22

The coming of the Messiah was not just to offer forgiveness to men for their sins, but it was also to restore mankind from the loss of paradise and access to the tree of life (i.e. immortality).  We must understand that we don’t belong in this cursed world and we were not initially intended to be in this condition, but it was a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God when they believed Satan’s lie and wanted to become like God.

“Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”, Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.’” Genesis 3: 17-19

“Therefore the Lord sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”  Genesis 3: 23-24

Unfortunately today, especially in our western culture, the truth of God’s creation of Adam and Eve and the events of the garden of Eden have been lost due to the current teachings and beliefs about the origins of man, namely the theory of evolution and the scientific view of the timing and origins of our planet.  I won’t go into what I see as the flaws of the scientific theories (see the many teachings on intelligent design if interested in a thorough presentation of this) except to say that these men are making assumptions that equate to making guesses that will eventually be proven wrong, and that it takes as much or more faith to believe these theories as it does to believe what has been revealed by God in His word.  The Word of God wins hands down in my view.

The most important and undeniable reality that we all face (resulting from Adam’s sin) is our ultimate death.  Also undeniable is the hopelessness and vanity that death presents to us when we realize that nothings goes with us when we die.  Jesus came to restore hope and give us a reason to live.  He has promised us eternal life in heaven, a place with no more tears and sorrow, no more injustice, no more death.  We must recognize this truth as part of the context that the Gospel was presented in.

The Messiah as Lord and King

The Jews were expecting the Messiah to come and restore the Kingdom of God and to become the King.  They weren’t wrong, they just didn’t recognize that He must suffer first and become a sacrificial offering to conquer death, as was prophesied in the Scriptures.

“But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ (Messiah) would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” Acts 3: 18 (Peter’s sermon)

It is extremely important that we recognize that when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and later ascended into heaven, He was then place in the highest position of authority as Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  If we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God, sent to earth by God the Father, then we must recognize Him as the current King and Lord of the Kingdom of Heaven of which we have become a part of as Christians.  We must therefore recognize Him as our Lord, submitting to His commandments and regulations as such.

Consider this prayer from Paul in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus:

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (Christians), and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:17-23

The Power

When the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is preached and understood in its full context it is able to change lives, transforming us into new spiritual creatures, born again to new life in God as supported by the truths of His revelation.  The transformation is internal and has great value even now, but will especially have value when we must stand before the Lord Jesus in the future as Judge of our lives.  This Gospel message is for everyone, not just those with high intellectual capacity or who can grasp intricate theories or high level wisdom.  The most important ingredient is our faith, which is available to all men.  If men will sincerely seek the God of creation they will find His Messiah, and the result will be powerful and transforming. Amen

Don’t Neglect the Weightier Things

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Matthew 23: 23

The Pharisees were a religious group that was dedicated to strictly following the Jewish laws.  The scribes were Pharisees who were considered to be experts in the law.  During the ministry of Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees represented the worst of the religious people who had digressed into error and hypocrisy.  These, along with the Jewish leadership, were also responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.  They are examples for us today of people who may desire to be close to God and even to be His representative, but have in reality become His enemy.

The lesson for us today is to learn from the errors of the scribes and Pharisees, recognizing that we have the same tendencies as they did, and we can be just as blind to our own faults as they were.  We should guard against subtle temptations of drifting down the same pathways that led them to their final states of error and hypocrisy.

One error that Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for (as quoted above) is their neglect of what Jesus called the “weightier matters of the Law”.  He spelled out these weightier matters as justice, mercy and faith.  In order to make sure that we don’t also neglect these, we must understand what they are and how they need to be attended to.  Let’s briefly take a closer look at each of these.  I would suggest that you take more time on your own to seek God and study the Scriptures to learn even more about these and how they apply to your life and relationship with God.

Justice

Some Bible versions use the word “judgment” or “righteousness” rather than “justice” in this verse.  The original Greek word used is “krisis” and it is defined in Strong’s concordance as “decision (subjectively or objectively, for or against); by extension, a tribunal; by implication, justice (especially divine law): – accusation, condemnation, damnation, judgment.”  The definition of the English word “justice” is “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.”

The indication from these definitions is that it is important for us to correctly determine what is fair, just, good, and right in our lives and circumstances and then to adhere to these judgments by aligning our own actions either to enforce or to support the enforcement of these just decisions.  In order for us to correctly make these determinations of justice, we need to have an understanding of God’s values and principles as revealed in His Scriptures.  Additionally, our consciences need to be healthy and sensitive, in tune with the Holy Spirit, and we need to be true to our conscience.

What does this mean to us in a practical sense?  It is very important to God that we are just and fair in all of our dealings.  For example, how we discipline our children or those whom we have authority over, or how we do business, i.e. the wages we give our employees or the prices we charge for our services or goods, or how we treat others in our situations at work or school or even at play.  We must be fair and equitable in all of these affairs and in whatever other situations we find ourselves in.

Some decisions are hard and therefore we need to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance, prayerfully taking time to inquire of God before hastily deciding on something especially when it impacts people’s lives.  In general, we need to be aware of the importance of justice in all our activities.  This awareness should help us to find the guidance we need to get to the proper actions or decisions.

Also, we should support those who are making a stand for what is right and just, or those who are administering righteous justice in the face of ridicule or resistance.  It seems especially true today when God’s values are being rejected by our society.  Our society has been turning good into evil and evil into good.  We need to contribute to stopping the injustices associated with these changes.

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5: 20

Mercy

I am confident that most Christians understand the definition of the word mercy, but it may not be clear that showing mercy towards others is a weightier matter of the law and that it is important to God.  Being merciful as noted in this verse implies that we are not just merciful to those close to us, our family and friends, but that we are merciful to all those who are afflicted, and even to our enemies.

To best illustrate the importance of mercy and its practical application, below is an exchange between Jesus and a scribe as recorded in the Gospel of Luke:

“And behold, a certain lawyer (scribe) stood up to test Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’  He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’  And He said, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’  But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’  Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by Chance a certain priest came down the road, and when he saw him, passed by on the other side.  Likewise, a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, “take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”  So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Luke10: 25-37

It should also be noted that at the time there was a longstanding hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans due to religious differences, so the Samaritan who helped the injured Jew was especially merciful under the circumstances.

We need to keep our hearts tender towards those in need and those who are afflicted and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to assist and relieve those whom we encounter.

Faith

The Greek word used here for faith is “pistis” meaning persuasion from a root word “peitho” that means to persuade, and refers to our moral conviction.  Abstractly, it implies the constancy in such profession or conviction.  In other words it means that we have been persuaded of some truth and that we are living our lives in alignment with this truth.

The scribes and Pharisees did have a belief in God and they had dedicated their lives to strictly following the Jewish laws.  What was their problem then with regards to their faith?

The Bible clearly teaches that our faith must produce works or it is dead faith:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But some will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that there is one God.  You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” James 2: 14-24

The good works that we produce in our lives are an indication that our faith is genuine and “alive” rather than dead.  We need to make sure that we are producing these good works, and if not, look to the Lord for help to deepen or strengthen our faith.

The Scriptures also make it clear that our faith should be focused on the spiritual, unseen, truths and not on the physical, visible, things of this world.  Our faith should be combined with the future hope that we have of a spiritual reality in heaven in the kingdom of God.  If we set our affections and focus on the spiritual hope that we have in Christ, and ignore (or die to) the hopes that are offered by this world, our faith will be deepened and we will produce the needed good works.  We will also become spiritually minded rather than carnally or fleshly minded, and this will foster in us a spiritual growth that will transform us into spiritual beings having the mind of Christ and the nature of God.

“For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” Galatians 5: 5

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

In contrast the scribes and Pharisee were focused on this world and the praises of men.  It was obvious that the spiritual truths that they knew were not a reality to them; they didn’t really believe that they had eternal life in heaven after a temporary life on earth, nor did they really believe that God was going to judge them according to what they had done and according to His standards of mercy and justice.

The Bible says that the Jews of that time “had a zeal for God, but it was not enlightened” meaning that they did not understand the way of faith; they were focused on achieving rather than really believing.

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles (non-Jews) who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works.” Romans 9: 30-32″

“I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every on who has faith may be justified.” Romans 10: 2-4

Let’s not fall into the same error as the scribes and Pharisees.  Let’s keep our focus and attention set on our hope in heaven and on spiritual things, not on this world.  Let’s let our minds be renewed and transformed into the mind of Christ.  Let’s stand up for justice and be just in our dealings and decisions.  And let’s walk in love, being merciful to others, even to strangers or our enemies.  Lord please help us to do so!

Amen.