Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sit, Walk, Stand

Ephesians 2:4-6

Many times in our Christian walk, we speak of resting in the Lord as if it is something that we should do after we are completely exhausted from the cares of this life. It is made to sound as if we finally sit down and take our ease in Christ only after we have worked sufficiently for Him in one capacity or the other. The order usually goes something like this: Stand up for the Lord in front of the world and take the blows; then walk softly before God and stay on the straight and narrow; and finally, someday, when it is all said and done, we will sit together with Him in heaven. Paul paints quite a different picture.

The order of events, according to the Apostle Paul, is designed by the Holy Spirit, for nothing happens in the Word by chance. Paul shows us what I call the “2-4-6” method of Christian experience. Watch it unfold:

Sit“And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6).

Walk“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (4:1).

Stand “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (6:11).

We actually start out defeated and beaten somewhere on the road of life, and then Jesus “raised us up together” (2:6). This is a type of our salvation experience, where the Good Samaritan cares for us along life’s highway. The first thing that He does is sit us next to Jesus. The starting point for every believer is resting next to the Master. Only when we have learned to rest with Him in His finished work are we qualified to “walk worthy” (4:1).

The “walk” is now made easier because we are accustomed to being so close to Him in proximity. You need not fear that you are going to wander off of the “straight and narrow”. Even if you do go down into a valley of the shadow of death, your Shepherd will enter it with you, and He will not abandon you in the midst.

Once we have placed our daily walk in the Lord, we are ready to stand when the enemy begins his attack. Interestingly enough, there is no mention here of the believer fighting back. Some have preached sermons on spiritual warfare, calling for militant Christians to “attack the devil”. Paul tells the believer to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (6:10), showing us that all of the battle belongs to the Lord and none of it belongs to us.

In Christ, He does the fighting and we get the victory. What a Savior! While we certainly wrestle (6:12), when it comes to the attack of the enemy, we simply stand there, while Christ takes care of us (6:13, 14). Consequently, the Holy Spirit is careful to let us know that we will stand in the “evil day”. Note that it is singular, for whatever bad comes our way, it is temporary. When God blesses the believer, it is always with “good days”, used in the plural, for they will last for all time (1 Peter 3:10).

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Faith of Christ

Galatians 2:16-20

We know that a man is not justified by doing the works of the law, for we can never do them all perfectly. How is a man justified? Paul says, “By the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16), but surely that is a misprint for it says, “the faith of Jesus Christ”, and certainly it should say, “faith in Jesus Christ”. Actually, if we read on, we find that Paul makes a distinction:

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

Paul makes a distinction between the faith of Jesus Christ and faith in Jesus Christ. In Greek, which is the language that the New Testament was written in, there is no phrase for “of”, but there is a phrase for “in”. When you look at this text in Greek, the assumptions must be made for the usage of the word “of”, but there is a distinct Greek word “eis”, meaning “in or into”. It is the same phrase that Jesus used when He told the woman with the issue of blood to “go into peace” (Mark 5:34). Because the text shows where to place the English word “in”, the translators had to assume that in the other places it should be another word.

We take the authority away from this verse when we begin changing the words to suit our modern vernacular. Paul states that we are justified by the faith “of” Jesus Christ and then furthers it by stating that we have placed our faith “in” Jesus Christ. What Jesus did in sacrificing His life on the cross and taking His own blood to the Father in heaven was faith of the highest form. He believed that His sacrifice would be sufficient and He also believed that His Father would be so pleased with this sacrifice that He would raise His Son from the dead, which He did. Christ’s faithfulness is what causes all of us to be justified.

That certainly cannot stand alone, for we need to meet His faith with our faith in His finished work. Paul makes it clear in this verse that our believing in Jesus Christ is what makes us justified “by the faith of Christ”. Christ can have a mountain of faith but if I do not meet Him with my faith, I leave without His justification.

Paul said it this way in Romans, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). It is our faith that brought the justification but it was Jesus’ faithfulness to the cross and its atoning work that brings us peace with God. In other words, without the faithfulness of Jesus, our faith means nothing.

Further, we do not continue to remain righteous based upon the volume or quantity of our faith on a day to day basis. Paul says that the life which we now live in the flesh we “live by the faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). I live this life, not due to my own faithfulness but due to His faithfulness. It is His faith that never waivers, while mine may shift from time to time. Thank God that Jesus is faithful!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Blinded Minds

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Paul wished for the entire world to both see and have the gospel of Jesus Christ, as had been revealed to him. He calls himself an “able minister of the New Testament” (2 Corinthians 3:6), and then “seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully” (2 Corinthians 4:1, 2). His chief concern regarding this message of the New Covenant was that it not be handled in a wrong manner, but that it was open and honest before all.

He knew that the glorious gospel was and is life-changing. He also knew that the only way to stop the light of the gospel from penetrating into every area of darkness was if the enemy went to work blinding men from receiving it. “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Corinthians 4:3), Paul says, knowing that the good news is so good that it can never be hid from a saint, only from the unsaved.

Paul goes a step further with his description, stating that it is not only hid from the lost but that “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (4:4). It is not their spiritual eyes that the enemy must blind, because they can’t really use them anyway, but it is their minds. A sinner can certainly use his or her mind to reason and theorize, so Paul identifies that Satan will attack this capability in the unbeliever to try and convince them against the good news of Jesus Christ.

Have you ever encountered someone who does not believe on Jesus and they give you a laundry list of reasons why they have no faith in God? They have intellectualized their unbelief and have left themselves no room for faith. In that instance, you are speaking to someone who has been blinded to the truth of the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s answer to this problem was to continue to shine the light. “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (4:5), is Paul’s way of saying that there is no need to argue of your own intellect; simply preach Jesus Christ. When you meet someone who is an unbeliever and who wishes only to argue about whether or not God exists or how many days it took Him to create the earth, your only counter is to shower them with the love of God. In the face of all of their disputations, simply give them more of His love. The good news of Jesus can be boiled down to one simple fact: God loves you. If this principle is repeated and reinforced, it is the only truth that can penetrate the darkness of unbelief.

Even believers benefit by frequent and repeated exposure to this light. Paul said that this light gives “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6). We literally learn more of the glory of God as we see the face of Jesus day to day. Actually, we are changed into His very image as we learn more of His glory through the good news of Christ’s finished work (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Be changed into who He is by the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Go in peace!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Babes in Christ

1 Corinthians 3:1-4

Paul spent his ministry trying to elevate the believer into a knowledge of who they were in Christ. When he tells the Philippian church to, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:5, 6), he was prompting them to think of themselves as Jesus thought of Himself. It is a seemingly endless task to try and bring believers to this place, due to the conflicting reports that the enemy is sending into their minds.

When Paul dealt with the Corinthian church, he was dealing with a people who were saved in the midst of the most hedonistic city in the world. Within this church, Paul had to deal with incest (5:1), legal disputes (6:1), prostitution (6:16) and drunkenness (11:21), and all of this from the believers! When he refers to them, he does not call them sinners or backsliders, but rather he says that they are “carnal”, “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1).

The word “carnal” in Greek means “fleshly” or “governed by the human nature”. Every believer wishes to be governed by the “divine nature” which Peter spoke that we have (2 Peter 1:4), but oftentimes we find ourselves doing some of the same things that we did when we were unbelievers. Paul not only called this carnal but also said, “are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (verse 3).

Paul felt that when a believer lives with strife and divisions (or any other sin), he is walking beneath their status as children of God. Rather than being “spiritual”, they are being carnal (verse 1). He repeats the thought in Ephesians when he says, “Walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” (Ephesians 4:17). For Paul to see believers living in the manner of sinners, it was not a warning that they were going to suddenly becomes sinners again, but that they were so spiritually immature that they could handle nothing more of the things of God than the milk.

He compares the carnal believer to a sinner, living after their human impulses; and to their development as babies, unable to swallow solid food. Many times in the church, we preachers must go back over the most elementary of foundations for believers because so many of them are unable to go much deeper into the word, due to a Christian life spent in carnality. They are not thinking like believers, thus they are not living like believers.

To experience spiritual growth, and live spiritual and not carnal, you must feed on the Lord Jesus Christ every day. This is more than just reading the Bible. Many people read their Bible and feed on the cold stone of the law, finding no hope in it. Feast on Christ and His finished work and let the living water and the daily bread feed your soul. Concentrate on what Christ did for you, taking your sin and giving you His righteousness. See yourself as forgiven and accepted, and as you begin to believe it, you will see it live out in your life.

You are not carnal, you are spiritual. Walk as mature saints not babes in Christ. Go in Him and grow in Him in Jesus’ lovely name.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Slander Against the Gospel of Grace

Romans 3:8

The Apostle Paul preached such radical grace that he felt it necessary to defend the message on more than one occasion in the book of Romans. He starts by stating his case in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”. People around him were trying to make Paul feel ashamed to minister a gospel that excluded works and placed the emphasis on faith alone.

Now watch as Paul mentions various arguments that he has heard against his message of pure grace:

“We be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say, ‘Let us do evil, that good may come?’” (Romans 3:8) Paul preached so much grace that people accused him of promoting evil lifestyles so that God’s grace could appear.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1) Having just proclaimed that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound (Romans 5:20), Paul confronts the argument that he is preaching that we should go ahead and sin considering that God’s grace is greater.

“What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid” (Romans 6:15) Paul preaches so much of God’s grace as being different from God’s law that he is often accused of being soft on sin due to his heavy grace preaching.

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid.” (Romans 7:7) Having preached about the power of the law to incite sin, Paul is accused of preaching that the law is a bad thing. He refutes that with this argument, going on to state that the law is “holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12).

These arguments against Paul were obviously birthed by the fact that Paul preached a message of amazing grace. It could be said that if you have never posed at least one of the above questions regarding God’s grace, you have probably never heard the gospel of grace preached as the Apostle Paul preached it. When grace is preached with as much passion and intensity as Paul preached it, it sounds so great that your old “law-abiding” nature will fight against it.

One famous grace preacher once asked, “Why does no one accuse the modern preacher of preaching this kind of grace?” What a great question! Why are we not accused of preaching too much grace and goodness? If we are accused of it, we can rest assured that we are in good company as Paul has already faced these arguments.

As you bask in the glorious grace of God, silence the voices of slander against this wonderful message of God’s goodness. Some will try and bring you back beneath a law of works and performance, but rest in the knowledge that Jesus has paid for your righteousness through his finished work and that you have everything that He promised. That is radical grace, and it is yours!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Great Grace!

Acts 4:33, 34Italic
What a description is used by the Holy Spirit to describe the grace of God upon the early church, “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). The Greek word for “great” is ‘megas’, from which we derive the English word “mega”. It denotes a largeness of volume and size. It is first used in the New Testament in Matthew 2:10 to describe how the Magi felt when they saw the shining star leading them to the home of the young child Jesus, “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy”.

Think of the excitement that must have been in the heart of the wise men as they found the young Jesus and the “great joy” that they must have known. Now, take that same excitement and “greatness” and apply it to the grace of God that is found on the church. In that perspective we can catch a glimpse of how wonderful the church viewed God’s grace in relation to the religious experiences that they had been raised to seek after.

This great grace follows a description of the power that was found in the church as well. We know that great and mighty miracles followed the disciples and the apostles of the early church, with many people being healed and even raised from the dead. What was the purpose of this great power that they had? The text tells us that the great power “gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (verse 33). Every miracle that was performed was further proof that Jesus was alive! His resurrection was the single most disputed thing about Christianity, for the Pharisees had fought from the very beginning to convince the populace that Jesus’ body was merely stolen, not that He had miraculously risen from the dead. When God used His church to perform mighty miracles, credence was being placed upon the fact that Jesus was alive and not dead. If Christ were dead then His church would be dead also, but if He is alive, then His power would still be felt.

This power is still available for the church today, and it is evident at different places around the world and at different times. I am not insinuating that someone will have such healing power that they will walk down the street and people will be healed just by being in their shadow, as was the case with the Apostle Peter (Acts 5:15), but I do believe that the presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ will bring “signs and wonders”. When the apostles preached the “word of his grace”, He “granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3).

Great grace will bring another great bi-product: “Neither was there any among them that lacked” (Acts 4:34). God’s abundant grace provides for all of the needs of His children. Because the Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want (Psalms 23:1). Resting in His finished work and partaking in His abundant grace brings a fullness of all that we need in Christ, and in Him, we never lack.

Don’t be ashamed to call the grace of God, “great”! His grace is greater even than many of us have been led to believe. Accept it as a free gift and then watch how wonderful His grace is as it works in every area of your life.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Save the Best for Last

John 2:1-10

It has baffled many Bible scholars for years, why Jesus would perform as His first miracle, the changing of water into wine. It brought no healing to a broken body and no salvation to a lost soul. In fact, it didn’t even bring glory to Jesus at the time, as everyone at the marriage supper gave credit to the host for bringing the best wine out at the end, while not even acknowledging Jesus’ miracle (verse 10).

God first dealt with man with grace, demanding nothing of Abraham but faith, and that was counted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:3). Even when Abraham sinned in bringing Lot with him, or going in to Hagar to bear a child, or lied to Pharaoh about his wife, there is no evidence that God reprimanded or punished him. Grace and mercy was God’s original default position.

When Israel arrived in the wilderness between the Red Sea and the Promised Land, they informed God that they were well capable of doing whatever God demanded of them (Exodus 19:8), and in their self-righteousness God gave them the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. Of course no man can keep the Law, so humanity plunged into the wrath and judgment of God.

Then came Jesus, who lived perfection in every way, fulfilling all of the demands of the Law and who laid down His life as a sacrifice for the entire world. He took the full brunt of God’s wrath against sin and became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When Jesus turned the water to wine as His first miracle He was doing it as a metaphor for the message that He was to proclaim. As the giver of the law, Moses becomes synonymous with that Law (John 1:17), while Jesus is the bringer of grace. Moses touched the water in Egypt and it turned to blood (Exodus 7:20) which produced death. Jesus touched the water in Cana and it turned to wine which produced joy and merriment. Jesus is showing us that the introduction of the Law brought death and condemnation, while the introduction of God’s amazing grace brings life and peace.

God truly saved His best way for last. Grace is God’s final method of dealing with mankind. When you accept Christ by faith you return to the original promise that God made to Abraham which was not dependent upon His obedience but only y upon his faith (Galatians 3:29). This is not an admonition to be disobedient, for God’s grace truly teaches us how to live and when we accept His grace we will see His righteousness come out of us (Titus 2:11, 12).

Christ has filled you with His goodness, just like the water pots in the story were filled with water. Jesus has transformed who you used to be so that you can bring Him glory now through who you are in Christ. Let Him touch your soul today and bring greatness out in the mighty name of Jesus.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Goodness of God

Luke 5:4-11

Children often pray, “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food, Amen”. I love that prayer! It is so simple and elementary, and most adults abandon it in favor of longer, more detailed prayers, but in the simplicity of that children’s prayer is found such a wonderful truth about our God.

Somewhere along the way, as we grow older and mature, we cease to view God as “great” and “good”. We know that He is great, but life has thrown us enough curves that we begin to doubt whether or not He is always “greater” than our circumstances. We do not doubt that He is good but we have had enough bad things happen to us that it is hard to see that He is always “good” to us.

I believe that it is a trick of Satan to cause us to view God as less than good and great. While believing that God is a good God, we have a hard time seeing Him as doing well for us all of the time. Most of us limit God’s goodness to when we act good. If we do good things, then we believe that God will do good things for us in return. This concept of God’s goodness has God rewarding us for good behavior and punishing us for the bad. Paul said, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Romans 4:8). If this promise only applies if we are obedient, then what is the point? Of course He won’t impute sin if we don’t commit it. What kind of promise is that? It is only “blessed” when we realize that God’s goodness is independent of our ability to earn it!

Paul said, “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). When God shows us blessings and goodness, we change our mind about who He is. Watch how the Lord deals with Peter in Luke 5, bringing Simon to his knees in repentance.

Despite Peter’s arguing that they had fished all night and caught nothing, he launches into the deep at the bequest of the Master. When he does this, he encloses a great multitude of fishes and the nets begin to break. This net-breaking blessing brings Peter to repentance, “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8) It was not necessary to tell Peter what a sinner that he was or to quote from the Ten Commandments, in order to produce repentance from Peter, but rather Jesus gave him an undeserved blessing.

The goodness of God does not come upon us by obedience. If we received only upon obedience, we would not be receiving of God’s grace, but rather we would be receiving of God’s debt. He would owe us goodness as payment for our living correctly. Paul said, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Romans 4:4).

Finally, God is great because He is first good! When He shows forth His goodness to us, we change our minds about who He is and what He is. When we accept the goodness of God we cannot help but call Him great. Our children know Him as great because they first accept Him as good. See your Father as good to you and you will know your Father is great.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It is the Sinner Who Repents

Mark 2:17

Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17). The Greek word for “repent” means “a change of mind” and that definition is universal throughout the New Testament. When the Word speaks of repentance it is talking about man changing the way he thinks or the way that he views a situation.

We often interpret “repentance” as an emotional experience. We think that someone has truly repented if they cry or feel bad, and we often accept their repentance if we see those emotional outbursts; and we reject it if they don’t “show repentance”.

As we have seen, the New Testament version of repentance is to change how you think. If you are a sinner then you are being called to accept Jesus Christ as your savior. You need to change your mind, which thinks that you are able to save yourself. Your mind is convinced that you are fine and that you do not need a Savior. If you are a sinner, your thinking about eternity and salvation is all wrong and you need to change your mind. In other words, you need to repent.

Saints should often repent as well, but not in the manner in which it is often preached and taught. Christians have no need of an emotional breakdown when they fail, characterized by lamenting and fasting, begging God for forgiveness. We are the righteousness of God in Christ, and when we fail, we do not cease to be the righteousness of God. However, many of us feel that we are failures and that we owe God something. Repent of this! Change your mind and realize that you are just as saved after you fail as you were before it. Change your mind about the fact that you are a son and not a slave and when your mind lines up with whom you are in Christ; your lifestyle is soon to follow.

Jesus stated that He came, “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). If Jesus specifically mentions that He is not calling the righteous to repent, why are we always calling on the righteous to repent? His call was to sinners, and He said it because the religious world was frustrated with His constant fellowshipping with the lost. Jesus did not become like the sinner in order to win the sinner, but He did present a different view of God to the sinner so that they would change their mind about who God was and how He thought of them.

Many sinners think that God is angry with them and that He is about to send them to hell at any moment. By conversing with and eating with sinners, Jesus was changing the perception that the sinner had of who God was. Jesus made God personable and loving, and sinners felt themselves opening up to the Son of God. The call of repentance came next, with sinners responding in droves because Jesus had convinced them that they were wrong about how the Father felt about them.

Consequently, this verse also shows us that Jesus is not against people going to the doctor if they are sick. Some say that visiting a physician is a lack of faith. If that were the case then Jesus would not have said that those who need a physician are the sick. While He is not advocating sickness or disease, He is using it as an example as to who needs His salvation power.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jesus Fulfilled the Law

Matthew 5:17

Early in His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims His purpose in coming to earth, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Christ makes it clear that He did not come to rip the Old Testament up; neither the writings of Moses nor any other prophet. Rather, Jesus came to fulfill that which the Law and the Prophets had left undone.

Paul asked if our faith has replaced the Law, and then concludes, “God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31), showing us that our faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work brings the Law to completion in our lives. Since Jesus lived all of the demands of the Law and then died as a spotless sacrifice, you and I fulfill every demand of the Law, not by right-living, but by faith in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ.

Paul said it like this, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). This means that by works, no one can be declared clean in the eyes of God. He went on to say, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference” (Romans 3:21, 22). Now we have “righteousness without the law”, meaning that we are declared righteous without keeping the law. The only reason that this is possible is because Jesus completely fulfilled the demands of the Law on our behalf!

Notice that verse 21 states, “being witnessed by the law and the prophets”. The law and the prophets witnessed true righteousness in the flesh when Moses and Elijah showed up at the Mount Transfiguration. Moses is a type of the Law, while Elijah is representative of the Prophets. Both of these witnessed the Righteousness of God in the form of Jesus and both of these will minister the message of grace during the tribulation period (Revelation 11:4).

There was nothing wrong with the original Law of God. Paul stated, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). The problem with the Law was that it demanded perfection but then provided no help in producing perfection. In fact, God did not give the Law to show man how to live, contrary to what is often preached. Paul said that “the law entered, that the offence might abound” (Romans 5:20). Law was given to show man his imperfection in light of God’s perfect standard. This was to stop the mouth and declare the whole world “guilty before God” (Romans 3:19).

By never breaking the Law, Jesus was a sinless man. He fulfilled every demand of the Law to perfection and then took all of our law-breaking into His own body. He died as the punishment for all of our sins, thus giving us His perfect life. The Great Exchange of Calvary was that He became our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). He has fulfilled it, thus, so have you!