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...and pray for those who persecute you

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

The greatest teacher of all time, the God-man Jesus, taught this timeless truth in Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (ESV).

As we reel from another seemingly senseless slaughter of human life in recent days, questions swirl in our hearts and minds.  It may arise as anger in our hearts, or sometimes in guilt of our own making, taking responsibility for the evil that we witness as a way to feel as if we can then exercise control over it.  As Jesus tells us, we cannot control evil, only our response to it.

What was perpetrated by those who followed their own devices or the orders of those they represent, should not elicit a desire for a personal vendetta toward the individual.  Ultimately a human is not our real enemy; Paul the apostle wrote these words to the church in Ephesus:

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, again the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).

We are witnessing a spiritual battle and it must be seen with spiritual eyes.  Unfortunately, many will not see it this way.  What tragically happened in Orlando, FL will be politicized from every direction and the main point will be missed in the resulting fog.

Evil is real, and it comes from outside flesh and blood, yet is prevalent in our society as evidenced by many recent world events.  Yet, this man who laid out so much carnage is not an enemy of a Christian nor are Muslims.  Christians also must remember that homosexuals are not our enemy and there is no room for hateful words or actions.

God is the ultimate Judge in the universe and not mankind.  When man was created he was placed in a perfect world.  Yet, man thought he knew better than God and wanted more, following instead the temptations of the serpent in the perfect garden.  The result was ruin of all mankind for all time, until Jesus’ presence upon the earth as the ultimate Savior from evil in the world.

What Adam and Eve thought was a good thing ended up as ruin for the history of man, yet God had an eternal plan that neither man nor Satan could set aside.  Apart from God, life is a prison, but with God, through belief in Jesus Christ is perfect freedom.  Perfect freedom is following the Scriptures in both Old and New Testaments.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises to mankind; Adam and Eve or Satan could not thwart what was planned in eternity past.

Christians are to love God and our fellow man.  We are not to do offensive injury in any way to those we do not agree with, whether Muslim or one who designates themselves as homosexual.  It is true that much hurt has been initiated by those who call themselves followers of Jesus but when one would look at what Jesus did and what He taught it would be clear that revenge or anger or physical injury of any type is not appropriate for a Christ follower.

We must pray for those who oppose us, due to our belief, but never strike a vengeful blow.  In closing, the words of Scripture are extremely appropriate in this day and age as we see anger and spite in our world.

“Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21, ESV).

This is how a person who claims to be a follower of Jesus is to act towards fellow Christians and those who are not.  Before a Christian goes on a verbal rampage, or worse, go to the Book to find out how to respond to the evils of the world in which we live.

The only true answer to the evils of this world is Jesus Christ!  To begin following Him all one needs to do is believe that God raised Him from the dead and to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved.  Pretty simple, but life-changing.

REFORMATION

This is a word that came into great prominence in 16th century Germany.  The man Martin Luther, nailed 95 statements on a church door in Wittenburg, Germany calling for changes in the church’s stance on Indulgences.  An Indulgence was money paid to the church to help any member of your family get out of purgatory faster.

This Reformation went farther than Luther ever expected and continues to the present day.  We could cover the history of the reformation but there are already countless articles and books on this subject.  Our particular interest in this article, is what does reformation mean and do for a subject or institution.

According to the American College Dictionary of 1968 through Random House Publishers “Reformation” in the third definition: “the great religious movement in the 16th century which had for its object the reform of the Western Catholic Church, and which led to the establishment of the Protestant churches” (p. 1018).

The root word “reform” has multiple definitions, but the two that seem to suit our topic are the following: “to restore to a former and better state; improve by alteration, substitution, abolition, etc…to put an end to (abuses, disorders, etc.)” (p. 1018).  There is a second definition of “reform” that applies here as well, “to form again” (p. 1019).

What Luther and the reformers that followed him was to return to the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments as the final rule for faith and practice.  The church of the 16th century had fallen into fear mongering, frightening the people into subservience to the church and, by extension, the head of the church.

Luther argued with great vigor (and knowledge of the Bible) that the Pope and the church are to subject themselves to that which had been written and approved in the Holy Writ.  Sola Scriptura was the cry of his day or Scripture alone is the final rule of faith and practice.  The Bible is not subject to us but we are subject to the Bible.

The five pillars of the Reformation, if you will, are sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, sola Scriptura, soli Deo Gloria.  The translation is the following: People are saved through “grace alone” by “faith alone” in “Christ alone” according to “Scripture alone” for “God’s glory alone.”

The five “solas” brought many back to what the Bible originally taught.  They did not add anything to or take anything away from the Bible teachings.  To “reform” something, you do not completely change it but you bring it back to its original intention.  For Christians this means that Jesus is put in first place and we recognize that to follow the Bible we become like Jesus, the perfect man.

There is a contemporary movement to reform another religion, and that is Islam.  This is predominantly a western movement, far away from the seed bed of Islam, the Middle East.

One of the leading proponents of this honorable, yet short-sighted movement is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a brilliant man.  He is a former Naval Officer in the U. S. Navy and is currently an American medical doctor here in the U. S.

Please understand dear reader that he deserves the greatest respect in desiring the best for his religion.  However, if his reforms were to9 come to pass, then Islam becomes something totally different than it was, and is.

What he describes as a vision for Islam, cannot in any way, shape or form resemble the original Islam and the founder Muhammad.  His heart’s desire seems to be peace with God; which we know can only come by receiving Christ as his Savior.

To reform something you bring it back to its original state; you do not and cannot entirely change it because then you have something new, not reformed.  Luther brought the church back to its Biblical roots and foundation.

We love Muslims here at GFI and our hearts cry out to them and our passion is that they would see the Christ of the Bible, not the Jesus of the Koran.  Jesus is the perfect man and He did what the Scripture records of Him and more.  History also provides what is needed to show forth proof that Jesus was a real, historical figure and He did die in our place so that we might experience salvation from the wrath of God and salvation from death and hell.

Christian come back to the Bible for all your instructions on how to live in the here and now in the power of God.  When we do this we reflect the perfect man to an imperfect world and then and only then do people have an opportunity to hear the gospel and be saved.

Sola Scriptura!

ONLY BROKEN PEOPLE NEED APPLY

When you think of broken people what comes to mind?  An alcoholic that dulls his or her pain by throwing back a fifth of this, or a twelve pack of that?  What about a drug addict that just cannot seem to break the need for another hit of meth or whatever drug they use to cope with life’s challenges?  Is this what brokenness looks like?  What do you do with a broken person?

Most of us would attempt to help them in one way or another.  Some of us may ignore them to their detriment and our comfort.  But what does God think of the broken?

According to David in Psalm 51:17 God accepts them.  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  To understand this verse, we must first understand the larger context.

David, who was the greatest and most beloved king in the history of Israel, was also a great warrior and an equally great sinner.  One season of war, when he should have been out with his troops, he stayed at home and looked out over Jerusalem.  When he did, he observed a beautiful woman bathing on her roof; which was a custom of the time.  He sent for her.

Well one thing led to another and she became pregnant with the king’s child.  What makes it worse is that this young woman was also a young wife.  Her husband was a warrior in the king’s army.

To make a long story short, David set this man up to be killed in action on the battlefield.  He then made her one of his wives.  All this, to hide his sin from both God and man.  He failed on both counts.

A man named Nathan was called upon by God to present a story before the king about a man who had sinned before God.  Nathan did as he was told, and when David angrily declared that whoever had sinned so is worthy of death, the prophet Nathan pointed at him saying “you are that man.”

David was broken by the magnitude of his own evil.   He wrote the famous Psalm 51as a result of his confrontation with the prophet of God.  David did not and could not sneak his sin past God; maybe before the people but not God.

The King of Israel could’ve reacted in various ways, but David had a heart for God.  He fell to his knees and pleaded for forgiveness, and the sweet Psalter of Israel sang the song of Psalm 51.

Only Broken People Need ApplyAs he processes his sin before God through agony of spirit, some of the most beautiful words to come as a result of sin flow out of a heart that misses God’s presence.

Yes, David could have “done” a lot of things in an attempt to please God and get himself out of trouble, but he chose to humble himself before God and confess his sin against God to restore the fellowship he had with the living God.

His words reach their crescendo in verse 17.  But what does he mean by these words?

Three key words are “Broken”, “Contrite” and “Despise.”

David had come to realize that he did not “have it all together.”  In fact, life as he knew it became unraveled in an instant, leaving him broken.  He had grown proud and set himself up as an idol in place of God.

There was no sacrifice or good deed powerful enough to expunge David’s sin.  So the earthly king approached the King of kings, and saw clearly, maybe for the first time, that he was nothing without fellowship with God.  David now destroyed the last idol in his life (himself) that kept him from experiencing the intimate life with God that the Creator promised to those who loved Him.

David was not only “broken” but he was also “contrite” or crushed because of his sin against God.  A note here is that all sin is against God as verse four spells out.  When one is contrite, one is emotionally crushed by the weight of their sin.  They have no way out, with God being the only relief for their intense guilt.

Why only God?  Because He will not “despise” the one who comes to Him “broken” and “contrite.”  When you “despise” something it means that you accord little worth to something.  So God does not treat our brokenness lightly, but rather accepts us when we call out to Him; even after we have broken His heart and severed our fellowship with Him.

The first letter that John the apostle wrote to the churches in modern day Turkey states the same thing in different words.  John wrote: “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Maybe you feel 10,000 steps away from God as you read this and you just can’t seem to break free from the sin that has held you down.  You may have been consumed by this sin for so long that you feel God cannot possibly hear you anymore, or worse, care.  But He does hear you, and through the grace of His mercy, those 10,000 steps become merely one…a step back to God.

Come to Him now, though smashed to smithereens and crushed beyond recognition, and you will find a God who will forgive and restore.  He bids you “come as you are” and believe in what Jesus did upon the cross and you will find rest for your sinful and weary soul.  He will make you brand new.  Lay down your pride and accept the reality that God truly gave his Son to rescue the “broken.”

Perfect Timing

When I was young I loved to watch Figure 8 racing on Wide World of Sports every Saturday.  If you have never heard of this type of racing, it is a mixture of NASCAR and Demolition Derby.  The cars race on a track that is, of course, in the figure of the number eight.

If the driver of a car gets the timing right they will never be hit and have a great probability to win the race.  But if he does not time it right he will be T-boned by another driver where the track intersects at the middle of the eight.  However, another driver and many fans may say that perfect timing is when you get to hit someone in another car slowing them down so they are unable to either finish or win the race.

Personally, not getting hit seems the wisest of the two possibilities.  Perfect timing in any area of life allows for reduction of stress and more efficient completion of an activity or chore.

In Scripture, God is always on time, still is today, and will be tomorrow.  In three different time periods God has been and will be perfect in His timing.  That is what we will see from only three passages from the Bible.

The first time period is the birth of Jesus Christ upon the earth.  In Galatians 4:4-5 Paul teaches the church of his day and ours that God’s timing is the beauty of perfection.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

What Paul the apostle and author of this letter is telling his readers and us is that at just the right time is history God shows up in the person of Jesus Christ.  And He came to deliver mankind out of sin and misery.  He did not come too early or too late but at just the right time!

God knew from before the earth was ever created that Jesus would come humbly on the world scene in the stable and be born to a couple of teenagers who were of no worldly account.  He did this exactly as He had planned in eternity past and as He proved all of this true throughout the Old Testament.  And at just the right time Jesus comes to fulfill all of the promises that God made to Israel from Genesis to Malachi.

The second time period where God shows His perfect timing is the crucifixion of His beloved Son upon a cruel cross.  Sin has devastating effects and nothing shows it more grotesquely than that of a Roman crucifixion.

Acts 2:22-24 Peter the apostle describes the perfection of timing according to God’s standards and time-table.  “Men of Israel, heart these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

Jesus’ death was pre-planned by God to take place a just the right time in history for the good of the world.  The Father sent the Son into the world because of His love for the people of the world because He knew that they could not and would not pay the penalty for their own sins.  Sin is incurable apart from Jesus and the perfect remedy for the fatal disease of sin is the person of Jesus being born at the perfect time in history and then dying at the perfect time in history.

Finally, the future time is planned perfect in God’s ultimate wisdom and foresight.  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:9-10).

The reason, according to these verses, that Jesus has not come back yet is that the time is not quite right.  When the perfect time arises God the Father will send the Son to the earth a second time to claim the church.  Not everyone that is to become a follower of Jesus or Christian has become one yet.  God is so very patient with humankind.  He still desires for people to come and believe in His Son and His death, burial, resurrection, ascension and eventual return.

Now it’s in your ball court and the timing is perfect.  It is the perfect time for you to believe in Jesus and receive Him as your Savior and King.  Do it today for there is no time like the present and its perfect timing.

 

A CALL TO REPENTANCE!

This week’s essay is not a call from this Pastor to repentance but rather an examination of three very famous people from history who called on their people to turn to God.  The first is from a man dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt who ate food quite foreign to this Midwesterner’s palate; locusts and wild honey.  Were the locusts eaten raw, roasted, fried or sautéed?  Whatever or however, this Pastor doesn’t plan to entertain that delicacy any time soon.

We first encounter John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-2; “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (ESV).  His audience intuitively understood his call and responded with curiosity, and most likely obedience, to his prophetic call.

During John the Baptist’s calling for repentance his cousin comes on the scene and preaches this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17, ESV).  His name was Jesus and it was said of Him by John after being asked by many; “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27-28, ESV).

In our day the word “repent” is viewed negatively, and worse yet, many do not even know what the word means.  It is time to excise the cancer of ignorance about repentance and apply the healing balm of understanding.

The basic meaning of “Repent” is to turn or turn around.  In the American College Dictionary of 1968 defines it this way: “1. To feel self-reproach, compunction, or contrition for past conduct; change one’s mind with regard to past action in consequence of dissatisfaction with it or its results.  2. To feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life  for the better; be penitent.”

In the English Standard Version Study Bible we read this definition on page 1824; “To repent, or ‘change one’s mind’ in the OT called for a change in a person’s attitude toward God that impacted one’s actions and life choices; it involved the idea of ‘turning,’ that is, from one way of thinking and living to a different way.  Common external signs of repentance included prayers of remorse and confession and renouncing sin.”

Feeling remorse leads to turning away from our sin and toward God; as the apostle John wrote “I must decrease and He must increase.”  That two of the greatest men who ever lived implored us to do the same thing indicates how important they believe repentance to be in a Christian’s life.

God is holy and entirely without sin, while we on the other hand, are full of sin and distant from God.  We must be reconciled to Him; and the first step is to “repent.”  We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and thus are in need of a Savior and repentance.

God provided the Savior in Jesus and we are to come to repentance and receive Jesus before we can appear clean before a sinless and perfect God.  Jesus provides that perfection; for though He was tempted in every way we are, yet remained without sin, He can stand between us and God and be our mediator or attorney to make His case on our behalf that we are innocent.  This is nothing we have done but it is through what Jesus accomplished upon the cross.

Jesus became sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  Wow, what a deal, Jesus did what we could never do, get us right before God.

However we must first repent or as Romans 10:9 states, “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.”  As the saying goes; there’s no time like the present.

Oh yeah, the third sermon on repentance; after his first sermon in the book of Acts Peter states after the crowd questions him: “Brothers, what shall we do?  And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).

In our day and age the plea remains; “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  It is right here, right now; recognize the sin you have committed against God and your fellow man and repent and be saved.  If you are already a Christian then repent and return to the fellowship of your Father.

God is crazy about you and desires to have that relationship restored through His Son.  He loves you and is calling to you in love at this very moment.  Respond!  Repent! Be restored!

God’s Righteousness Article Series (Part Three)

The prophet Jeremiah makes it crystal clear; “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which He will be called: The LORD is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6, ESV).

And these words from the New Testament: “And because you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31, ESV).

And then again from the passage we have been delving into in parts 1 & 2: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written ‘The righteous shall live by faith”’ (Romans 1:17, ESV).

Paul writes this just prior to our main verse about the dynamic gospel of Christ; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, ESV).

Donald Grey Barnhouse gives a great summary of the gospel in the first volume of his multi-volume set on Romans – “The gospel is the story of man’s complete ruin in sin and God’s perfect remedy in Christ” (Volume 1, p. 189).

Apart from Christ, or before you became a follower of Jesus you were not righteous and your acts of righteousness were considered as polluted or filthy garments.  In other words there was nothing you could do to gain acceptance before a Holy and perfect God no matter how hard you tried or how many so-called good works you performed.

In last week’s newsletter, God’s righteousness was defined as His righteousness alone; there is none of ours to be found.  God’s bottom line is that His righteousness is found in none other than Jesus Christ Himself coming to earth to reconcile us to His Father.

The gospel shows God’s righteousness very clearly, as Barnhouse wrote: “When the Savior was manifested, the righteousness of God was manifested with Him.  When the historical facts of His death, burial, and resurrection were set forth, the good news concerning the theological meaning of those historical facts revealed the righteousness in hating sin.  It was shown that God was righteous in loving sinners.  It was shown that God could pardon a sinner without condoning his sin.  It was shown that He could draw a sinful, human being to His own bosom without abandoning His holiness.  It is the gospel that reveals the righteousness of God.” (Volume 1, pp. 183-184).

This righteousness of God is possessed by God alone, but He grants us access to it through His eternal covenant with Abraham or Israel, and perfects that path with the coming of Jesus.  God promised Abraham that his “seed” singular, which points to Jesus throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, would bless all the nations of the earth.  This must have been mind-blowing to Abraham.  Years later God would promise David, the King of Israel, that he would have someone of his lineage sitting on his throne forever, and based upon the history of Scripture it all points to Jesus.

The gospel reveals that all this comes to fruition through the birth and life of Jesus Christ, completing all the work the Father had sent Him to accomplish.  The gospel is the good news of Jesus bringing the love of God for the salvation of all who would believe in Him.  And the righteousness of God is manifested also in Jesus Christs’ appearance on earth as a man, as shared by the earlier quote by Barnhouse.

Now we get a little deeper into the theology.  Historical Protestant teaching is that God’s righteousness in “imputed” to us.  “Impute” (in the study of Scripture) means “To attribute (righteousness, guilt, etc.) vicariously; ascribe as derived from another” (American College Dictionary, 1968, p. 610, 4).

In other words we had no righteousness of our own, so God had to give us His righteousness so that we could be found blameless in His sight.  I think this becomes a little clearer when we look at verse 18 and what it says about the natural man; that he is ungodly and unrighteous.

So God’s promise to Abraham and His covenant people Israel is fulfilled in the person of Christ.  Not only is Israel promised this, but people from all nations that God had chosen in eternity past.  We cannot fully examine all that in this limited space, but it is deep and extremely rich theology that God willingly reveals to us throughout Scripture.  All we need do is spend time in study and prayer on the Word to expand our understanding; to see as God wishes us to see – through righteous eyes.

Have you received God’s righteousness through believing in Jesus as your Savior?  Receive Him today, for today is the day of salvation.

God’s Righteousness (Continued)

Two weeks ago we looked at God’s righteousness through the lens of Romans 1:16-17.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (ESV).

These verses are rich with history, and have literally changed the world.  The gospel of Jesus Christ altered the world initially, then again, in the 12th – 15th Centuries – most significantly in 1517 (the beginning of the Reformation) when the written Word of God was applied to the heart of a man through the Holy Spirit.

This is not a new message at all.  The New Testament is not a contingency plan for God because the Israelites did not listen to Him in the Old Testament.  Two verses stand out as to this truth.  The first is Jeremiah 23:6 where we find these words; “The LORD is our righteousness.”  The second is Habakkuk 2:4 where we find these words; “The righteous shall live by his faith.”

Or we could squeeze in the famous words of the prophet Zechariah; “Not by might, nor by power, but My Spirit says the LORD.”  These verses make clear that salvation is accomplished when God comes to man and not by man working his way to God.

Look back for a moment to the first few words of verse 17.  “For in it,” what is the “it” this verse refers to?  The gospel!  In the gospel is the “righteousness of God” revealed.  It is His righteousness, as it His power and as it is His gospel.  The bottom line is that the whole of the Christian life is bound up in God – as John Piper has written and preached, “God is the gospel.”

Now peer more deeply into the term that so often blows the human mind to bits – God’s righteousness.  Donald Grey Barnhouse reminds us when he writes: “The gospel is the good news from God about the spiritual significance of the historical facts centering in the work of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…He was buried…He rose again…according to the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).”  (Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans vol. 1, p. 180).

Man, from religions other than Christianity, attempts to work his way to a god by works of his own righteousness.  However, this is fruitless and eternally short-sighted.  Unfortunately many professed Christians yet think in a similar way; if I can just do enough good, then God will accept me by my righteousness.

This is not what the Bible teaches.  Read these words from Titus 3:5; “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

We are taught from Ephesians 2:8-9; “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  Answer these questions: how were you saved according to these verses?  What was it a result of?  So can we boast at all that we were saved by other than God through Jesus Christ?

Romans 4:5 teaches, “And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”  Jesus something very similar in John 6:29; “Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

Jesus said this because the people were asking how to work to get to God and His response is that God does the work because a few verses later Jesus tells those listening and us, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).

So the pattern here is that it is solely God’s righteousness that makes us right with Him, not some earned worthiness within ourselves.  Here in these first few words of Romans 1:17 we see that we have no righteousness that would make us right in the least bit before God, it is all Him!

If our righteousness were a part of the equation, then this verse would read very differently.  It would read that in the gospel, our righteousness and God’s righteousness combine together to make us acceptable to God.  But it doesn’t.

Romans 1:17 gives us peace of mind that we don’t have to wonder constantly if we’re doing enough on our part to gain God’s grace, mercy or righteousness.  It is all on Him.  Look at these words from 1 Thessalonians 3:13; “So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

Now on our side is this one over-arching statement we find a little later in Romans 3:23; “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  According to this statement how many humans have sinned?  Remember it is not righteousness on our part but solely on God’s part.  And if we were to rely upon our works for our entrance into heaven how many good works are we supposed to do and how do we know when we’ve done enough?

So this righteousness of God is very good news for you and me and for humankind.  The gospel means that God gives us His righteousness so we can measure up to eternity.

Reeling and Healing

What man meant for evil God meant for good.  As we look back on our week here in the United States and see what happened in Charleston, SC we saw evil personified.  But what has come out of that should fill us with hope.  Followers of Jesus did not respond with hate, but with love for one another and even the perpetrator of the horrendous crime of murdering unsuspecting victims.

There has been, is and will be grieving for the loss that this whole nation feels and especially the body of Christ.  The write of Psalm 116:15 reminds the follower of Jesus that “Precious in the sight of the LORD in the death of His saints.”  However, it is natural to grieve over one who was close to us; even Jesus did it in John 11:35 when He wept at the death of his dear friend Lazarus.

Often times when evil rears its ugly head those who are Jesus followers retreat into a shell and allow the evil to run amok.  But this does not have to be; what we must do is come together and bring strength to that link which seems to be weak after a confrontation with evil.  We retaliate but not with weapons made by men but weapons made by God.  Vengeance is never ours to bring down upon our “enemies” but vengeance upon evil is only and always Gods.

Paul that apostle tells the church at Rome in his letter to them: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, ESV).

We began to get a glimpse of this in Charleston when the family members of the slain and members of the church body forgave the gunman and even invited him back to the same Bible study of which he took the lives of the slain.  Paul goes on in verses 20-21; “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if his thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Don not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This young man was and is definitely hungry for God and thirsty for God, but he went about finding that very wrong.  But God used this horrendous incident to show who He is and what He is truly like.  God so loved the world even though it was not looking for Him and all evidence points to us hating God with a passion; that is when God the Father sent God the Son to die on our behalf so that we might receive eternal life if we receive it by faith.

Though we saw evil first hand my we see even more clearly the hand of our loving Savior as He overcomes hate with love and evil with good.  As we move forward let us as followers of Jesus, whether black or white, or Latino or Asian may we set aside our color differences and see with great clarity what makes us of one great race – Jesus Christ and our reception of Him as our Savior and Lord.  Let the church rise up and follow our Head into a great time of witnessing His love for a lost world.  Lost people matter to God and He wants them found.

Grieve yes, but only temporarily, but love always!  Follow the example of Jesus and love when it does not make sense.  This shows God’s love for people of the world in which He came to save.

SCARLET MADE WHITE AS SNOW

The prophet Isaiah wrote to the nation Israel 59:1-2; “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or His ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”  There is something grand here, and something devastating.

God is able to save to the utmost and He is calling to those who do not yet know Him, but they are not listening.  The issue is not with God it is with man.  Our sins have placed a wall between the perfect and sinless God, while we cherish our sins (Psalm 66:18) and wonder why God does not hear us.  The God who created man in His own image, watches as the pinnacle of His creation seems to prefer rejecting God over the life that He promises.

Earlier in the prophet Isaiah’s book he writes: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; thought they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).  God knows that we all have sin, but His desire is for us to be in an intimate relationship with our Maker.

However, the Bible teaches that no one living wants a relationship with his/her Maker.  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18).  This does not seem like very good news.  But you must understand the bad news before you can recognize the good news.

Paul the apostle writes, 3:21; “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins.  It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).

Now that is good news!  All man’s sin are atoned for through Jesus Christ, but the key is at the end of verse 26; “of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  This is the only way that our sins can be made white as snow… turned from scarlet to white.

Faith in the finished work of Jesus can destroy the wall we erected through our sin.  This can be summed up in one verse from the New Testament: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Note, God initiated the salvation of humans by sending Jesus into the world so that we might have life through Him.  But it takes believing in Jesus to make the transition from scarlet to white, or from darkness to light.  God loves you too much to let you go on your own to eternal separation from Him so He gives you lifeline through His Son, God in the flesh.

Is your sin keeping you from the God who created you in His image?   A soul that sins shall die and spend eternity away from the presence of God, but why should this happen when God has provided a way of salvation, a way to have all your sins forgiven and to have a personal and intimate relationship with Him?

Don’t cherish your sin and run from God but instead run to Him through believing in Jesus who took on flesh and came to seek and save the lost.  Come to Him now by responding to His call on your life so that your sins, though they be as scarlet, will become white as snow.

GOD and MAN

JESUS THE GOD-MAN

Last week we began to consider the concept of Jesus being both God and man simultaneously.  We, as humans, have a difficult time with this because only God can is capable of such a form of existence.  He isn’t bound by the strictures of time and place that order our mortal lives.

He is God, and His ways are far higher than ours and so are His thoughts.

The Bible tells us “Concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4).

First, we see that Jesus was born of David according to the flesh.  God’s Son, has a mortal lineage.  Another translation of the original language puts it this way: “who being born of the seed of David according to the flesh.”

So Jesus, the Son of God was born just as we were.  No gimmicks, simply God becoming man the way a man becomes a man.

Job speaks of this in Job 19:25; “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.”  Job knew that only God could redeem him as he is confronted by God, and that one day God would physically walk upon the earth.  He didn’t know when, but he was certain of it.  This is what we’re taught in Hebrews 11.

Donald Grey Barnhouse reminds us; “He was and is the God-man; in Him is absolute humanity and absolute deity.”

Galatians 3:16 states: “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring.  It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”

Paul is referencing Genesis 12:7 and God’s promise to Abraham that he would have a son.  God was not looking simply at Isaac, but all the way down to Jesus!  He would be fully human.

The prophet Isaiah also foretells of the Savior’s coming into the world in 7:14; “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  This is repeated in Matthew 1:23 at the birth of the God-man.

Another story of Jesus being fully human mentioned by Barnhouse in his commentary is Matthew 17:24-27 and the paying of taxes.  Peter is approached by tax-collectors and asked if Jesus pays taxes.  Peter being Peter, answered in the affirmative.

Jesus already knows this when Peter returns to where they’re staying and asks Jesus about who is to pay taxes and who is not. Jesus tells Peter to go catch a fish and to get the tax money from it.

Barnhouse shares it this way: “Go down to My Sea of Galilee, which I created.  I have had one of My creatures lose a coin in the water, and My law of gravity carried it down where I had one of My fish take it into his mouth.  You go fishing and I will have that fish come to your hook.  You take the fish and take the coin out of its mouth, and it will be a coin of sufficient value to pay your taxes and Mine.” (p. 43)

What aspect of human existence is more mundane than paying taxes?  Jesus paid taxes and yet we know He was much more than human.

Jesus also had a human lineage.  In the gospel of Matthew we have one account of Jesus’ human lineage and in the gospel of Luke we have another.  Jesus was from the tribe of Judah as were his human parents Joseph and Mary.  This fulfilled the promises of God to Judah.

Through Solomon came Joseph, and through Nathan came Mary.  Solomon and Nathan were brothers, but we know that Solomon become king in David’s place.  Both were of the royal blood but only one can become king and it was handed to Solomon’s lineage.  Since Mary came through the lineage of Nathan and Joseph through the lineage of Solomon it all works out.  Joseph adopts Jesus as his own son thus making Jesus the oldest and the One who would take precedence.

Why go through all these gyrations?  Why bother to ensure that Jesus was both man and God at once?  So we, God’s children, would know that our God understands us as one of us, not only as our Lord.

Hebrews 4:15-16 says “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  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.”

Magnificent!