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AMAZING AND SOBERING

Some of the most amazing and sobering words in the Bible are found in the minor Old Testament prophet Habakkuk 2:20, “But the LORD is in His Holy Temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (ESV). Context is king when it comes to studying the Bible and especially important when one grabs only one verse and expands upon it.

What led up to the words of the prophet about God being in His Holy Temple and that all the earth should keep silent? Do those words offer any wisdom for us today to listen to and heed?

The setting for this very important book in the Old Testament is just before the mighty Babylon overran the nation of Israel or the southern part of the nation called Judah. Habakkuk is seeing the approaching Babylonians and is questioning God as to how He can let an evil nation overrun the one nation that He called His own.

In the prophet’s first complaint, he calls out to God and wonders why He is not answering. It seemed that only evil would prevail and God was not doing anything, or so he thought. God responded to the prayer of Habakkuk by telling him that He was sending a great and terrifying nation who cannot be stopped to exile the nation Judah.

God’s response did not satisfy the prophet as to why all this was happening. So he complained again, but this time telling God of His own character and that it seemed contrary to His own character that He would allow this to happen. But at the end of his second complaint he said, “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1, ESV).

God then answered with words that put the prophet at ease, or possibly unease, with “wait for it” or what I promised many years before will take place. It will take time and My promises will be evident in time. Humility and faith are the two keys in being one who trusts in what God has promised in the past and that it will come to fruition.

The verses adjacent to the amazing and sobering words at the beginning of this article consist of warnings to the nation that will overrun God’s promised nation. These are warnings of dire consequences for those who desire to take the place of God and rule the world for themselves with evil intentions and apart from God. The warnings are clear: this plundering nation might have the upper hand, but only for a short time because “The LORD is in His Holy Temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

We are told through these inspired words that God is in control, He is sovereign, over all things that take place to Israel and over all the earth. The Psalmist in 115:3 writes the same truth in different terms, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (ESV).

Jerry Bridges clearly tells us what this means. “God does whatever He pleases. This is the essence of God’s sovereignty: His absolute independence to do as He pleases and His absolute control over the actions of all His creatures. No creature, person, or empire can either thwart His will or act outside the bounds of it” (31 Days Toward Trusting God, Jerry Bridges, NavPress, 2013, p. 31).

All of what has happened, is and will happen, are in God’s plan and under His perfect, peaceful control. Everything that God has promised His children ultimately will come to fruition. We must not fear but humbly trust Him to make all things work out well.

It is easy in this season to become worked up about the future of our nation and the church at large. But God is STILL in His Holy Temple and to make all things right we must keep silence before Him. It begins with the Church of God humbly presenting herself before Him and walking by faith of what He has promised the nation of Israel and the Church.

Allow God to work these amazing and sobering words into your own spirit and then live out what He says to your heart. He will never speak that which is contrary to who He is or His Scripture. Take heart in these days, turn to God and He promises to turn to 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.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

If you know anything about herding sheep, you’ll know it isn’t as easy as it looks!  The shepherd must work hard at keeping the sheep together and when it is time to lie down they must make sure that the conditions are just right regarding proper food and water.  Apparently sheep also have a tendency to wander away and get lost, leading to a vulnerability for predator’s such as coyotes or wolves.

Now this author is not a sheepherder but he knows the Shepherd.  After watching a lesson from a sheepherder via “youtube” an experienced herder simply leads the sheep and beckons them gently to follow him.  They follow him because they know his voice and if anyone else would call out to them they would not follow.

In first century Israel, there were shallow caves called sheepfolds where the shepherds would house the sheep at night.  The sheep were protected on all sides except for the entrance.  Most entrances did not actually have doors or gates but the sheepherder would lie down at the gate and sleep.

Within that sheepfold, the sheep feel the safety and security of having the shepherd at the door.

In the gospel of John, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd in 10:14. The first 21 verses are comforting music to one’s ears and soul.  Jesus begins the story about Himself by saying if anyone comes into the holding area of sheep other than the door, they are thieves and robbers.  The one who enters by the gate or door is the shepherd.

The entire chapter 10 of the gospel of John is deep and meaningful but in the first 21 verses we see two major points.  The first is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He knows whose are His and the sheep know who He is.

Jesus says something in verse 16 that has been misunderstood for years but needn’t be.  He said; “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (ESV).

Jesus is simply saying that not only will Jews believe in Him for salvation and be welcomed into eternal life but so will Gentiles.  He is not referring to Mormons or saying there is more than one way to heaven but that the Old Testament would be fulfilled hearing about Jesus and believing in Him for eternal salvation.

Jesus did not come only for the Jewish nation but the whole of creation.  Isaiah the prophet mentions that the Savior of the Jews would be a “light to the nations.”  This goes beyond the idea that Jesus is only a Jewish Savior, but actually the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in the book of Genesis.  The idea of the Gentiles being included along with Israel, came long before Israel was settled.

And with Jesus being the door or gate to the sheepfold, He is saying that He is the only way into the “green pastures.” There is no other way to the Father except through Jesus and this is clear here and later in John 14:6 where Jesus tells His listeners that He is “the Way and the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Peter tells the Jewish leaders as he stood before them: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul the apostle writes that the wall that existing between Jews and Gentiles is now broken down.  There is one way for all to be saved and that is through what Jesus accomplished upon the cross.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He beckons all to come to Him, however, only those who hear and respond to His voice will be saved.   How does one know the voice of Jesus?  If you are thinking about Jesus right now as you read this, it is a very good indication that He is calling to you.

Four major religions claim to be the one true religion: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity.  And of those, only one has God coming to man and not man going or trying to get to God.  Only Christianity offers grace and simply what that means is there is a great chasm between men and God that man cannot bridge.  God bridged it Himself by sending His Only Son so that whoever would believe in Him would have eternal life.

If you are working your way to God, do you know how many good works you have to do to be accepted?  If you want your good deeds to exceed your bad deeds to enter heaven or paradise; how do you know if the good has exceeded the bad?  What is the scale that is used to determine the good works or deeds verses the bad?

Honesty would confess that you do not know if you have done enough to gain God’s approval.  God knows this and this is why He came to earth so that “all” men would have opportunity to enter heaven or paradise.

The Good Shepherd is calling out to you, do you hear His voice?  If you do, will you follow?  God has made it simple – he who believes in Jesus has life.  Those who come to Him will never be cast out but drawn into His everlasting arms.

THE NARROW DOOR

Jesus was asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?  And He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’” (Luke 13:23-24, ESV).

Narrow doorways are neither convenient nor easy.  If you would take a tour of the U.S.S. York in Charleston, SC you would find the doors separating compartments are quite narrow and not very tall.  Someone over six foot could very well knock themselves out if they don’t duck and turn slightly to one side.

Two words stand out in this verse, strive and seek.  One seems aggressive and the other more passive.  If they are aggressive verses passive then we have something to wrestle with and decide as we consider following Jesus.  Could this be another cost of discipleship passage?

The word for “Strive” in verse 24, is the same word from which we get our English word “agonize.”  Its basic meaning is striving for a goal and the goal is for a few to be saved.  Another way to possibly put this term is “forcing your way into it” (Amplified version of NT).

If you read a complementary verse, 1Timothy 4:10, greater clarity is brought to Jesus’ words.  “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (ESV).  In the context of this verse we see Paul the apostle using an energetic illustration to convey what a good servant of Jesus looks and acts like.

A few verses earlier Paul encourages Timothy to train himself for godliness, to become more like Jesus in an intensely focused way.  When one trains his or her self for an athletic event, success comes from single-minded purpose; a fierce desire to be the best they can be.

Paul further encourages Timothy – “Command and teach these things.  Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.  Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:11-16, emphasis mine).

Paul is telling Timothy to make use of the teaching and wisdom he has gained from Paul, and to serve as an example of God’s grace and power.

Many people compare the Christian life to a marathon and that’s not a bad example, but given the obstacles we face throughout life, an Ironman Triathlon might be a little more accurate comparison.

An Ironman Triathlon is a 2.2-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride followed by a marathon.  And these are done back to back to back.  You would swim your 2.2 miles and then immediately run and change into your biking outfit on the run and then when you are finished with the 112 mile bike ride you immediately switch to your running shoes and run the marathon.  Whew!  It makes you sort of tired just writing about this.

The reason these extreme athletes can accomplish this is because of intense focus and much training.  For the Christian life it is the same way; there must intense focus and much time training in the Scriptures and how to live them out.

Another major difference in the illustration here, is that the training for the Ironman is individualistic whereas training for the Christian life must be done en masse.  We are to live life together, to see growth and maturity and the lessening of the devastating effects of sin in ourselves and each other.  We grow together.

This is called the church, and the church (ecclesia) is plural made one.  We definitely do not live on an island no matter how bad one would like to live like that at times, but the church is made up of many different individuals created by God for a specific purpose.

But what we do have in common is to “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  Let us begin living or continue living as the church and progress to greater conformity to the Author and Finisher of our faith – the Lord Jesus Christ!

Thoughts of Christ at Christmas

As we approach another Christmas season, I feel that too often the one left out of the festivities is the One for whom the holiday is named: Christ.  There is a reason it is called “Christ”mas and now so many want to do away with His name and fame.  This may spoil the schemes of many, but try as you might, one cannot “do away” with Christ.

The holiday may end and the decorations come down, but the reality of the person of Christ as a true historic figure remains.  He is not the imagined person that some would like Him to be, but rather a living breathing man who walked this earth.  And there is a day when we will all stand before Him to answer what we did with Him.

There is an eternal life of bliss and joy, and it is found only in Jesus Christ.  Soon after Jesus had ascended into heaven to be with His Father, Peter the apostle said the following words: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  This is a timeless truth and a message the desperately needs to be heard in this world, especially at this time of year.

Peter was echoing Jesus’ earlier statement; “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6).  Even Christians at times balk at this truth, but think for a moment, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Jesus merely illustrated that He was the straight line from where they were, to God the Father.

The Christmas message is summed up by Paul the apostle in Galatians 4:4-5; “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.”  At just the right time in human history, Jesus arrived on the scene so that mankind could be rescued from the wrath of God against evil perpetrated by mankind’s  most dreaded enemy – themselves.

God is holy and perfect and good, and when sin entered into the world, He had to judge sin, as it is the polar opposite of all the He is.  Humans are carriers of this dreaded disease called sin and if nothing is done to stop it the end result is certain death.  But Christ Jesus was born so that we might be delivered from the inevitable and deserved penalty of sin.  He came at the right time.

So this Christmas season, be reminded why Jesus came.  Let your thoughts rest on the eternal hope of salvation purchased for you with the precious sacrifice of God’s own Son.  No one wants to be forgotten at Christmas, no one wants to experience the sting of embarrassment at realizing everyone is opening a gift except you.

Might not Jesus feel that way when we become so entwined in the wrappings and symbols of Christmas that we forget the greatest gift ever given?  Hold Him close this Advent season; embrace Him as you would the most beloved member of your family.  God desires only one gift from us.  To love Him as He loves us.  Merry Christmas.

 

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.

God’s Righteousness

Paul the apostle wrote a long letter to the church at Rome in the first century.  What is amazing about this author, is that not too many years earlier, he was ravaging the church, attempting to crush it in its infancy.

His purpose for writing this letter is found in 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).

Unfortunately over time this message became muddied and/or lost for generations until the 14th and 15th centuries, when some voices out of the wilderness cried, “This is the way!”  These people, John Wycliffe and Jan Huss among others, were hunted and killed for gifted attempts to lead their fellows out of the spiritual wilderness.

Other men like William Tyndale, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin and Martin Luther also cried out, responding to God’s call, and they did not fail or falter.  “Here is the way in which you should go…” God seemed to say, and they did.

We are again in a time when there seems to be confusion as to the message of the Bible and how one is accepted by God.  Increasingly today, many are teaching that there are many roads, paths or ways to heaven and eternal life with God.  But the Bible tells us of only one, “I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV).  This should eliminate any confusion, but in our day and age, people are trying to get to God in other ways than that which is clearly laid out in the Bible.

God is not the author of confusion but of perfect clarity.  It is us that have muddied that message by and through our sin.  We appear to be reliving the book of Judges, where everyone does right in their own eyes.  But there are many voices crying out to be saved and Christians are the only ones with the answer that the world needs.

And God’s gospel is powerful unto salvation and we don’t have to do anything to earn it for the price would be our own blood, and we still would fall far short of what God requires.  So God took care of it on our behalf.

The answer which we will see in the next few weeks is that God gave the gospel in the person of His Son to do for us what we could not possibly do for ourselves.  He lived a perfect life and then died the death we deserve.  This, believe it or not, is the righteousness of God in action.

Be open to the Biblical righteousness of God and then let Him do His work on your behalf.  It is for His glory and your eternal joy.

RADICAL CHRISTIANITY

RADICAL CHRISTIANITY

The primary season is about to officially kick off here in the United States, inaugurated by the Republican Party debate this month.  Remember, it is still more than a year until the actual Presidential election.  One of the topics is sure to be radical Islam, a term that has been tossed around and denied by different sections of the populace.

As one listens to talking heads throw around the term “radical” like parade candy, one can be forgiven for suspecting they do so in order to make the message of mainstream Islam appear more tolerable.

When one talks about being “radical,” negative images come to mind and the issue denigrates into assertions that every religion has its “radicals.”

And they would be right, except for the negative characterization.  For one to find what is radical in Christianity, a good place to begin is in the gospel of Matthew, Ch. 5.  Here we find what is called the beatitudes; really they can be called the characteristics of Jesus.  If one is to follow the example of the most perfect person of their respective religion then you have to look to the best example.

For Islam one would look to the person and nature of Muhammad, just as you would look to Jesus and His nature to fathom the ideal within Christianity.

Jesus spoke to His disciples and the crowds in the Sermon on the Mount; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, ESV).  This is likely not what the crowd was expecting to hear, immediately after seeing the mighty miracles done by Jesus.  They may have been expecting a crash course on how He healed all the people and how they too could draw huge crowds around them.

But no, Jesus taught them to completely depend on God for all things in their life.  Wait, what?  Totally deny yourself, is that what radical following of Jesus is?  In short, yes.  “When you lose, you win; that’s the way it is with Him,” (Thanks Rez Band for those lyrics!).

Jesus said it of Himself in John 5:19; “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He see the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”  And later on in the same chapter Jesus says this; “I can do nothing on My own.  As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not My own will but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30, ESV).

Jesus was completely focused on the Father’s will for Himself.  If one would read the Christian Scriptures of the New Testament, they will find that Jesus never did any wrong/sin, and as a worthy and pure sacrifice, would die in our place so that the person who believed in Him would have eternal life.

So radical Christianity is not taking vengeance upon those who you consider your enemy, but following Jesus and focusing upon His perfect life.  And when someone slaps you on the right cheek then turn to him the other also (That’s also from Jesus).

In coming to faith in Jesus and believing in His name, we have the peace of God and peace with God.  Vengeance is not for us to take because we are flawed human beings. We are to trust God because He is faithful and perfect in all He does.

How should a Christian look upon Islam?  Just as Jesus did:

I
Sincerely
Love
All
Muslims.