Friday, April 30, 2010

A Spiritual Response To Others

Romans 12:16-21

The Spanish Inquisition, and the Thirty Years War were attempts to destroy people who did not accept a particular religious view. In Reality, they were no different than the present day Muslim Jihad. They have been common throughout history, in every country of the world. The same attitude has been used to justify anti-Semitism, racism, and slavery.

The Quakers, took the approach that any resistance was wrong. They believed that it was wrong to engage in any sort of violence, even to protect oneself. They taught that no matter what a person did, it had to be forgiven, and ignored. The Amish community where the School shooting took place demonstrated a similar belief. As a result, many Quaker settlements became safe havens for criminals.

Like other extreme positions, neither is either Scriptural or right. The first violates many moral and scriptural teachings, including the present passages. Positions like that of the Quakers is less obviously a violation of scripture, until we examine passages like Ecclesiastes 8:11. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” By ignoring wrong doing, we place our approval on it and thus encourage it. These next few verses present a balanced view of how we should deal with life’s issues. We start with the attitude between people.

“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” (Romans 12:16)

There is to be mutual respect. The lowly esteemed is to be treated just like the most esteemed, whether Christian or non Christian. The Declaration of Independence’s statement that all men are created equal is based on scripture. As James 2:19 tells us, “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” Neither race, gender, wealth nor education make one person better or more important than another. If we are living controlled by the spirit, we will have the mind of Christ, and as Romans 2:11 tells us, “For there is no respect of persons with God.”

We are neither to view ourselves as superior to others, nor as inferior to others. We are to give the same respect to the rich as to the poor, the weak as the powerful. James 3:17 describes some characteristics of the Spiritual mind. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” The old saying that “two wrongs don’t make a right” is true. When our mind is directed by the Holy Spirit, there will be no compulsion to do wrong, or to deceive.

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:17-18)

There are things which cannot or should not be overlooked. As much as possible, we are to live at peace, but some people continue to take advantage, and must be stopped. It is wrong to encourage sin, but we must not become vindictive.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

Turning the other cheek means giving a second chance, not just letting the other do as they please. While it is entirely within our purview to stop wrong doing when necessary, getting even is not our job. It is different to defend oneself or ask for a restraining order than to go beat him up at his home, or sue to take away everything he owns. God will take care of the getting even part. We are to trust him to do what is needed. Revenge shows a lack of faith.

“Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)

We are not to hold grudges. That he has done wrong in the past ought not prevent our doing right. We should still treat the man who did wrong just like anyone else. In doing so, we set an example before him. That does not mean he will always feel guilty about his actions, although some will. It does mean that they cannot use the us as an excuse for their sin. They will bear the full responsibility. We don’t “kill them with kindness,” we just remove their excuses.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Translating Spiritual Attitudes To Practice

Romans 12:9-15

I have enjoyed learning how “magic” tricks are performed. Some of them are very ingenious. The reality is that what actually happened is very different from what appeared to happen. It was an illusion. The very fact that the performer took the trouble to develop the illusion implies that he does not believe it can actually be done. He was knowingly settled for an illusion.

While attending a Youth Camp, a young man I know was taught how to “speak in tongues” so that “he could be filled with the Spirit like the disciples on the day of Pentecost.” To me, that sounds kind of like the Children’s Miracle Network, asking “help us make a miracle happen.” A true miracle is a when the actual laws of nature are violated, as when Jesus fed 5,000 men with 5 loaves and 2 fishes, then collected 12 baskets of leftovers. To teach people how to speak in tongues implies one does not believe God actually gives such power, so he fakes it.

Our society often makes statements such as “Appearance is everything,” or, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The philosophy has been widely accepted in “Christian” circles. People are taught to “act” like Christians. I was pleased to find a book, Stop Acting Like A Christian and Be One, in a bookstore. To act is to pretend. Real Christians don’t have to act like one, they just are. Being Spiritual isn’t about what you do, but about who you are. You can be real, no longer pretending, because that is how you actually think, and feel. You don’t love some one because that’s what you are supposed to do, you just love them. You hate evil because it is offensive to you, not because it violates some standard. You instinctively react that way. It is characteristic of spiritual people.

“Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.” (Romans 12:9)

Godly love has no agenda. It is not concerned with itself. I Corinthians 13:4-7 describes the attributes of Godly love, or ‘charity‘. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” There must be no element of pretense. I Peter 1:22 commands, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” That love indicates our relationship with God is clear from I John 2:10-11. “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.”

Genuine love and respect for God involves actual hatred for evil according to Proverbs 8:13. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” Hebrews 1:9 tells us that Jesus was exalted by God because of his hatred for evil and love of good. “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” If we have the mind of Christ, we will have the same attitudes about the same things.

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;” (Romans 12:10)

When the Holy Spirit has changed the attitude, it will change our treatment of other people. Respect and yielding to their desires should typify our behavior, rather than efforts to promote ourselves ofr trying to get our way. We are instructed, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves,” in Philippians 2:3.

“Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;” (Romans 12:11)

As we think more like Christ, everything we do is done for God, rather than for ourselves. We not only do our ministry, but our secular jobs and our personal business for him. Colossians 3:23-24 describes the motivation. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” Ephesians 6:6-8 describes the resultant behavior. “Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.”

“Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;” (Romans 12:12)

Because “…we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” according to Romans 8:28, we can do as we are instructed in I Thessalonians 5:16-18. “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” We no longer have reason to complain.

“Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)

Sharing with others, whether giving to help some one else or inviting them into our home for a meal, acknowledges what God has given us, and reminds us that we can expect him to continue to bless. Selfishness denies God’s love and blessing.

“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.” (Romans 12:14)

Our attitude toward others is totally different if we think like Christ. We become like the cowboy who doctors the cow who just tried to kill him, knowing she will try again, but he doesn’t want to see her suffer. Jesus described the difference between the natural attitude and the Spiritual one in Matthew 5:43-44. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.“ (Romans 12:15)

We ought to not only understand in but share in the hurts or blessings of others. While we don’t know what they are feeling, we can tell they are feeling it. Telling them they can’t or shouldn’t feel that way is ridiculous. They do. Even when the emotion is based on incorrect understanding, it is real. Proverbs 25:20 makes it clear that inappropriate behavior only makes things worse. “As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Developing a Spirit of Meekness

Romans 12:3-5

One of the worst days of my life resulted from not knowing what was expected. My wife made it clear that she wanted me to take her out for a ‘nice’ dinner. She’d made arrangements for one of the families at church to babysit so we could have the evening to ourselves. Since we’d been having some marital problems, and I’d been given the impression that the future of our marriage was at stake, this was definitely not a casual date.

Having grown up in areas where there were not more than three cafes less than fifty miles from our home, eating out was a matter of going to the closest cafĂ©. She wanted a ‘nice’ place. Finally she told me about a new restaurant she’d heard about, so I called and made reservations. She refused to tell me what she was expecting, but with so much at stake, I was quite tense as we prepared to go. I had not been to the peoples home who were to babysit, and missed the turnoff, then discovered that the house numbers were missing and had to stop and ask where the house was. By the time we had dropped off the kids, and found the restaurant, we were quite late and there was hardly anyone there.

Since so much was at stake, and I had no clue what I was expected to do, everything that went wrong increased my anxiety. After beein told that the first two items we ordered were no longer available, I was in full panic mode, almost unable to speak. I have no memory whether the food was good or not. My wife was visibly upset, and I had no clue which things were upsetting her, increasing my stress. By the time the meal was over, my only interest was in getting away from the situation.

Had I been sure she wouldn’t leave me if I didn’t get it right, my level of stress would have been greatly reduced. Unfortunately she put it in the form of an ultimatum. Not knowing what was expected, I had no way of judging success or failure, and no guidelines at to what to do if it didn’t seem to be working. Panic was the natural outcome of any sign of failure.

Many people try to live a Christian life in similar circumstances. They believe that their salvation depends on pleasing God, but they have little or no idea what that entails. Seeking advice from others may or may not alleviate the problem, since they may not have any better idea than you do.

In writing Romans, Paul has focused on the things every Christian ought to know, and he has not failed in this area. He has made it very clear that neither our salvation, nor our remaining saved depend on our doing some specific set of things. We will not lose our salvation if we mess up. Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “…for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” what a relief it is to understand that.

In chapters 12 through 15 of Romans, Paul specifically designates what is expected of us. The focus is not on a set of rules, but on the attitude which results in such behavior. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” These are not fruits, but parts of the fruit. Just as the peeling, the flesh, the seed cavity, and the seeds are all essential parts of the fruit, each of these parts are essential.

If we examine each part of the fruit of the spirit, we find that the represent an attitude or mindset. Just as the fruit can only be produced by the particular fruit tree, so only the Holy Spirit can produce a spiritual attitude or mindset. The flesh may recognize that a behavior is unacceptable and be able to act in a specific manner, but it still has the old mindset to contend with. Romans 6-8 showed why we can have the new attitude. Now Paul is laying out what is expected so we can understand when we are not living under the Spirit’s control. He starts with the attitude we have towards ourselves as compared to other people.

“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Romans 12:3-5)

I Corinthians 3:3 makes it clear that strife and contention are clear indicators of an unspiritual state. Proverbs 13:10 states, “Only by pride cometh contention…” We are to have an attitude that doesn’t create conflict, in which pride is not present. Philippians 2:3 directs, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

Just as in the human body, different parts serve different functions, in the church different individuals have different functions. I Corinthians 12 describes the Holy Spirit as providing different spiritual gifts and duties as he sees fit for the benefit of the entire church. Every individual is critical to the proper function of the church, and as Paul pointed out, many times the most important was least noticed. In the body, the thyroid gland is seldom considered, yet it affects the function of every other organ in the body. The same is true in the church. We are not to consider one member, including ourselves, above others. Each one is there because God put them there. They are to function as a single unit.

Philippians 2:5-8 instructs us to have the same attitude as Christ. “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: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Jesus himself gave some specific instructions as to the attitude we are to have toward one another in Luke 22;25-27. “And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.” We ought to have the attitude of a waiter at the tables, a slave, or a little child, waiting for the pleasure of others. Titus 1:7, describing how to tell if a man was spiritual, says, “not selfwilled, not soon angry.” We must not be determined to have our own way. Jesus went even further, stressing that we were to avoid titles that set one above another. As an example, Matthew 23:8 commands “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.”

The Corinthian church was a carnal church. I Corinthians is entirely devoted to pointing out teachings and practices that they doing in the flesh rather than as directed by the spirit and telling what needs to be done instead. Because of their carnal idea of setting some positions as more important than others there was considerable jockeying for the best positions. Chapter 12 stresses that it is God who assigns the jobs, and the struggling to get a better one is displeasing to him. We ought not to get upset or leave a church because they don’t give us some coveted position.

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6-8)

Rather than trying to get a better ministry, although it is something to be desired, we need to focus on the Job he has given us. Only when we have performed the present job satisfactorily will God assign a new one, and sometimes the one he assigns may initially appear as step down. Whether your job is just giving, or encouraging, teaching Sunday school, preaching or paying the bills, do it to the best of your ability. II Timothy 4:5 directs, “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” It is what Paul was referring to when he said, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office,” in Romans 11:13.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Reasonable Request

Romans 12:1-2

One of our professors used to say “when you see a therefore. You want to see what it’s there for.” In mathematical proofs, it is used to identify the conclusion. Each preceding statement has been proven to be true. And thus, the conclusion is inevitable. Throughout the book of Romans, Paul reviewed a series of known facts, and concluded that as a result a certain thing is true, gradually building to this point, Just as we established the basis for many solving many problems in geometry.

Paul initially established that all humans are inherently sinners, deserving judgment. He then established that keeping some set of moral values could not provide escape. He went on to establish that faith in Christ could eliminate any guilt, paying the debt in full, in Romans 5:1. Chapter 6 describes how sin’s hold was destroyed, while chapter 8 shows how a Holy life can be attained. Paul then shows us what is required on an individuals part in order to be saved. Chapter 11 has shown how God has planned every step to provide salvation for each person. On that basis, Paul states that it is only reasonable that we devote ourselves to God. After all, look what he has given for us.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

God did not demand that we straighten out our lives before he would save us, nor did he threaten to take it away if we did not live up to it afterward. Romans 6:23 says it is a gift. Once a gift is given, the giver has no right to take it back. That would just be a loan. God does ask that we do live in a certain manner, as a favor to him however. Paul says it is a reasonable request if we appreciate what he has done. Since Jesus Christ gave his life for us, it is not unreasonable that we give our lives to do what he wants, a life that is pleasing to him.

Romans 8 told how to live such a life that is pleasing to him, that it can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot allow the world to mold us to be like it, but must allow the Holy Spirit to change our attitude and thought patterns to conform to that of God. Instead of trying to guess “What would Jesus do?”, we think like him so that we respond as he would naturally. As I Corinthians 2:16 says, “… But we have the mind of Christ.”

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

It is easy for a Christian to get caught up in living in the world and thinking like the world. Both Matthew 6:19-34 and Luke 12:13-40 address this very issue. When we try to serve God while living “the good life” in the world, we find ourselves stumbling into trouble like a person with double vision, until we finally make a choice whether to serve God or not. The world will force us to make the choice. I John 2:15 warns, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” You can’t have it both ways.

Ephesians 4:22-24 expresses a need to eliminate the old lifestyle. “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” As we see in Romans 6-8, we have the power and provision, Now Paul is asking us to live accordingly. He will describe some of the characteristic behavior of living such a life.

The Infinite wisdom and Planning of God

Romans 11:25-36

One of the justifications for hating the Jews has been that they killed Jesus. It was used to excuse attempts at genocide repeatedly by so-called “Christian” groups, from Constantine’s day to the present. While it is true that the Jews demanded his crucifixion, It was illegal for them to authorize his death according to John 18:31. “Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:” Pilate authorized his execution after finding him not guilty, and the Roman soldiers conducted the execution. Both Jews and Gentiles were equally guilty.

Paul warns of the danger of feeling somehow superior to the Jews because they haven’t believed. One reason they didn’t understand was to give the gentiles an opportunity to be saved. Time after time we‘re told that the apostles went to the gentiles because the Jews refused to listen. It is still the reason why few of them turn to Christ. When the Gentiles have had their time to choose God, then Christ will come again and establish his kingdom here on earth. He will destroy their enemies, and Israel will serve him completely. The Tribulation period is not for the Gentiles, although some will turn to God in that day. It is last week of the seventy weeks that God told Daniel was determined on Israel, in Daniel 9, known as the “time of Jacob’s trouble.” Israel turns to God for deliverance as a result of the events of that period.

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-27)

Though they have rejected him and become his enemies by trying to destroy the gospel, God will still honor his promise to the patriarchs. He never changes his mind. Just as we had the opportunity to hear and be saved as a result of their rejection, The Jews of that day will hear because of the gentiles who have preached and preserved the word of God until that time.

“As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” (Romans 11:28-32)

God knew that while some Jews would believe, the main part would not. He planned that the few who did believe would be forced to reach out to the gentiles. He would then use the gentiles to preserve and spread his word and one day the Jews would accept it from them. The same salvation was made available to every human being as a result.

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.“ (Romans 11:33-36)

No created being, whether human, angel or devil, could have ever made such a plan work so that it was fair to every individual throughout history. Governments and leaders always have unforseen consequences of decisions. Frequently, the unexpected consequences are worse than the original problem. God worked out every detail to eliminate all such problems. What a wonderful and wise God!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

God Hasn’t Changed The Rules

Romans 11:16-24

I am sure most people have seen or heard that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. There is a considerable amount of truth to the statement. The basic principle upon which all science is founded is that the same conditions will always produce the same results. A different result implies that some condition was different.

In Romans 1:16, Paul stated that the requirements for salvation were the same for everyone. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” No distinction is made between races. “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him,” according to Romans 10:12. Galatians 3:28 eliminates any distinction on the basis of financial standing or gender. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Discrimination or distinction because of customs, or culture or skin color are invalid according to Colossians 3:11. “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” The same rules apply to everyone.

In cooking, if one samples a little of a batch of dough and it is good, it is safe to assume the rest is good as well. If a tree has a good root, it will support good branches. Paul says, “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” in Romans 11:16.

Sometimes even branches on a good tree fail to grow or break off. It is possible to graft in branches from another tree of the same kind, even though the fruit may be somewhat different. The grafted in branches become a part of the original tree and receive nourishment and support from it. While the tree receives some help from the new branch, the original root supplies all of the branch’s needs.

“And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.” (Romans 11:17-21)

The Jews, the natural branches, were broken off because they tried to obtain salvation through their own efforts, as Romans 10:3 tells us. “For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” If Gentiles do the same thing they can only expect the same results. As Galatians 5:4 states, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

“Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:22-24)

We find a very similar situation when God delivered Israel from Egypt, and both Hebrews and I Corinthians compare it to the present situation. All of Israel followed Moses out of Egypt, but in just a little while many wanted to go back. They all had and followed the Law, and experienced the same things, yet the majority died in the wilderness because they refused to go into the promised land. Hebrews 3:16-19 describes the reasons.

“For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:16-19)

It appears that most were caught up in the emotions and movement of the crowd, rather than having real faith. They did what they were told and listened when Moses told what God told them, never really believed. Hebrews 4:1-2 Expresses the same concern about people in churches. “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”

This mental assent and belief without real faith is a major concern throughout both Galatians and Hebrews. It is not about losing one’s salvation, but about never having that real faith. Keeping the law or some other set of standards win neither save us nor keep us saved. In Galatians 3:11-12 we find that keeping the law is not faith. “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” As a result, Colossians 2:20-22 asks, “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?”

Many of the Galatian church members were depending on their keeping the law for their sanctification and holiness. Galatians 3:1-3 challenges the practice. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”

If, like the Galatians, we begin to depend on some moral code such as the law to sanctify and justify us, we need to understand what Paul told the Galatians in Galatians 5:4. “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” As Hebrews 10:38 points out, “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.

Friday, April 23, 2010

God Doesn’t Disown Or Forget His Kids

Romans 11:9-15

One of my bosses and I went on a service call near Durango, Colorado. The directions were somewhat confusing, but at least some of them included road numbers, and we were pretty sure we were in the right area, but the since we were in a forested area, one instruction seemed a little unclear. We were to turn right just past the tree in the road. Our cell phones were not getting a good signal and we were unable to call for clarification, so we continued driving down the road, hoping we hadn’t passed it.

Suddenly, we came to a place where the road divided, passing on both sides of a large pine tree, and rejoined on the other side. The tree was literally ‘in’ the road. Just beyond it was a road going to the right. There was no longer any question as to where we needed to turn. Experience made a the instructions clear.

Sometimes children do not understand what is going on until they actually experience what they have been taught. Parents and schools can expend vast effort trying to teach, but many people only learn by repeatedly making the same mistake. The prodigal son was one of these. Losing his money didn’t stop him. He continued living as much the same lifestyle as he could until he reached the point of starvation before admitting it wasn’t working. His lusts almost killed him.

By letting him go, and not sending food when he needed it, his father sounds cruel, but had he sent help, the young man would probably never been forced to consider his state and would have continued until his activities totally destroyed him. Parents need to let children have bad experiences and make mistakes when they are young so they learn that there are natural consequences for their actions. God has done exactly that with Israel.

“And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense unto them: Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.” (Romans 11:9-10)

The very things Israel was most proud of, their traditions and heritage, became the thing keeping them away from God’s blessings. God instructed Israel to build the Tabernacle and use it to worship God. The Ark of the Covenant represented God’s throne in heaven, and was where the atonement sacrifice was offered to God. Unfortunately, Israel began to worship the Ark, rather than God. I Samuel 4 describes them as trusting the Ark to fight for them. They were horrified when God allowed it to be captured, believing God had been taken away. It was more than twenty years before they fully recognized God as God and the Ark was restored to it’s proper place. Israel made the same mistake, worshipping the law and their traditions, rather than God himself.

“I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” (Romans 11:11-12)

In spite of their worshipping their traditions and the law instead of God, he has not forgotten his promises to Abraham. Because of their worship of their heritage and the law, They persecuted the Christians who didn’t worship it. This led to many Christians being driven out and preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, or non Jews. Envy of God’s blessings caused the Jews to stir up riots in city after city in the book of Acts.

The prodigal son’s older brother felt cheated that he’d never had such a feast thrown for himself despite all his obedience and never having turned away. His father reminded him that the younger was still his son in spite of his rebellion. While they were celebrating his brother’s return, and sharing with him, everything the father had belonged to the older son. The younger had already got his cut. There was no reason to be jealous of him. We who serve God during the period before Israel turns to God are in the position of the older brother, experiencing life with God day by day, and guaranteed the rewards at the end. The Jews turning back and being blessed is just a reminder of how much better we are blessed.

“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:13-15)

That God would still remember Israel and keep his promise to them reinforces his our confidence that he will keep his promise to us. While the struggle may seem hard now, we can be like Paul in II Timothy 1:12. “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” He’s not going to forget about us and our effort when the time comes.

We need to approach everything we do as something we are doing for the Lord. Is it something he would want us to do? How would he want it done? Colossians 3:23-24 commands, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Unending Love of God

Romans 10:19-11:8

Jesus told the story of rebellious son in Luke 15:11-32. It is a common story today, and I will try to tell it in modern terms. The young man did not want his parents to tell him what to do, so he determined to get away from their control. At the same time he wanted his father to provide for him just as he did for the rest of the family, and demanded that he be given enough money to set him up on his own and support him until he could get on his feet. His loving father realized that the boy would continue to rebel as long as he stayed at home, and allowed him to leave, hoping he’d eventually realize what he was giving up.

The young man went into the city and indulged in all the things he thought would be so satisfying. He was undoubtedly proud that he was not so stupid as his brother who’d stayed behind and missed out on the wonderful things. Eventually, he ran out of money, and the glamour disappeared. Ashamed to admit the his failure, he tried to make it on his own. He lost his friends, and became homeless. As things got worse, unable to get a job capable of supporting him, he volunteered to do a menial job for free in order to get access to the dumpsters where he might find something to eat.

Finally recognizing how badly he’d messed up, and hurt his family, the young man returned home to apologize and ask forgiveness. Humbled, he asked if there was some job he could do to support himself. Instead of holding his indiscretions against him, his father welcomed him home with open arms, treating him as if there had never been a problem.

Israel had been much like that rebellious young man. They wanted God’s provision, but did not want God to have any say in their lives. They were determined that he should fund them while they did their own thing. Like the prodigal son’s father, God has not jumped to their rescue as their situation has deteriorated, waiting until they humble themselves and admit they need his help.

“But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” (Romans 10:19-21)

The entire time, the prodigal sons father had waited, hoping for his son’s return. When he saw him coming, he ran to meet him, and to do whatever he could for him. It was not in a manipulative sense of victory, but a frank outpouring of love, not waiting for an apology or setting any conditions. Unlike some parents I know, he had not disowned him or cut him out of his will because of his failure to do what his dad wanted.

“I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” (Romans 11:1-4)

Like the Prodigal son’s brother, Elijah became resentful that God blessed Israel when he thought about how inconsiderate and selfish they’d been. He didn’t understand that there was still a connection on both sides. The prodigal son was still his father’s son. There were still Jews in Israel who loved God, although they were not readily observed.

“Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.” (Romans 11:5-8)

The prodigal son didn’t understand that he hadn’t earned his share of his fathers wealth, so he demanded it as something he was owed, not understanding that it was a gift(grace).Israel made the same mistake, convinced that God owed them. Believing they could do a s well or better without God to direct them, Israel set out to do it their way. They ignored God’s suggestions and warnings, like the young man did his father’s. Like him, they did not get the results they expected, and like him they have continued to ignore the problems, sure that they can make it work if they just do it right.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Power of The Word

Romans 10:17-18

Several years ago, my wife and I stopped for gas in Liberal Kansas. About an hour later, our car began to run poorly. It didn’t seen to be getting gas properly. Finally, I stopped and checked the fuel filters. The inline filter was almost full of water. I drained it and then stopped at the next station to get a bottle of gas dryer. When we got to her dad’s house, I pulled the filter again, and found it more than half full, so I drained the gas tank and removed a lot of water.

On our return, I remembered the incident, and made remembered which gas station I had gotten the bad gas at. When I stopped at a station across the street, I noticed that one I had stopped at before was closed. When I went inside I heard a one of the employees telling a customer that the other station had been shut down by the state because they had been caught deliberately adding water to their gas in an effort to increase their profits. Complaints had led to an investigation that resulted in the closure.

While minute amounts of water can improve engine power, just a slightly larger amount can prevent combustion, causing the engine to miss, or even to stop running. Engines were designed to run on gasoline, not to run on water. Just adding a little water can make the gasoline unusable. Just as the car is propelled by the engine, which is powered by the gasoline, Faith is propelled by the understanding, which is produced by the word of God.

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)

In the second letter to Timothy, Paul is very insistent that if Timothy wants to please God he will need to study and accurately understand the word of God. In II Timothy 3:16-17 He explains that it is so important because it completely prepares and enables a person to do everything good, as God desires. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Nothing else is required, no other books, or teachers, or even examples. Everything that is required is in the word of God.
John 15:3 is clear that Jesus’ words are what results in our freedom from sin. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”

Human wisdom and effort has nothing to contribute to salvation or pleasing God, as jesus states in John 6:33. “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Just as adding water to gasoline can reduce or block its effectiveness, adding a little human wisdom or ideas can prevent the word of God from doing it’s job.

Paul is very explicit in stating that it is telling the word of God, not the human explanations or interpretations, traditions, or philosophy that results in salvation. Any of those things make it less effective. “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:17-18)

As a result, Paul avoided flowery speeches, and psycho local tricks and sales gimmicks. He depended on the Holy Spirit to do his job, and the power of the word to produce the results. People would not depend on Paul’s or some other man’s words, but on the power of God.

“And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (I Corinthians 2:4-5)

This would result in their assurance coming from the Holy Spirit rather than from man’s assurances. Romans 8:16 declares, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” When the Holy Spirit is blocked from fully developing real saving faith by human appeals and fleshly efforts, they may be unaware of his presence, or they may not be saved.

Jesus gave a command to his disciples, those who believe in him in Mark 16;15. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” The Gospel is a subset of the word of God. It is the message of Christ’s death burial and resurrection, and how it applies to mankind. Preaching a diluted or modified gospel, or not going at all is disobedience to that command. Romans 10:14 asks, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Many have implied as a result that believers are wholly responsible for everyone to whom they haven’t preached the gospel. It has become an unbearable burden to some, but Paul addresses this as well.

“But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:18)

While we will be held accountable for telling them, we are not responsible for their damnation. Colossians 1:23 stresses that we stick to the Gospel, emphasizing that it was preached to every created being. “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.” Paul was not responsible for people’s not being saved.

Romans 1:18-20 makes it clear that even a person who has never heard a message about Christ has enough to come to God because God has revealed it through nature. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”

God has planned the entire world so man could be aware of hin, and if they would turn to him, he would show them what they needed, as Acts 17:26-27 makes clear. “And (He) hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.”

It is not our fault, nor is it God’s fault people go to hell. We ought to love them and try to warn them, because God doesn’t want them to go to hell either.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Power to Witness

Romans 10:14-16

When I first went to Bible college, our church was planning a “soul winning trip” to help a small church in rural Missouri. To help us know how to win souls, a series of classes was held in advance to teach us a popular “soul winning” program developed by a well known evangelist.

We were taught that you started by asking a series of three questions related to being a Christian. The only one I remember was, “Have you ever thought about becoming a Christian?” Their answer was not really important, but in the process, you were to nod your head when you asked each question. You were then to explain how the Bible said all were sinners and ask if they understood that since all were sinners, they were a sinner. Again, we were to nod yes when we asked, because it is much harder to say no when the person asking is nodding yes. We were to then proceed through the “Romans Road,” asking if they believed at each step, and nodding. Finally we were to ask them if they’d pray after us, still nodding, and if they said yes, lead them in a simple version of the sinners prayer. It was a far more detailed plan than what I’d been taught.

Since I was the bus driver, I didn’t get to start as early as some of the others, and so selected a small group of older homes to start with. At the first house, was an older man who greeted me freely. After introducing myself, I started with the program, carefully following each step. After the second question, the man answered “yes” every time. When I started leading him in prayer, he suddenly asked, “What are you trying to do?” and I took time to explain. He wasn’t interested in becoming a Christian. Shocked, I realized he’d just been responding to the nodding head, not to what I was saying. I am so glad God made me aware that he still would not have been saved, even after completing the prayer.

Over the years, I have been in a number of sales training classes, and several have used similar psychological ploys to get people to say yes. One of the most common is to post confederates in the crowd to start the buying or keep it going. People tend to follow the example of others, even though they have no desire for the product themselves. We see these same techniques used to get professions in churches. Unfortunately it ignores God’s drawing, and faith. Simply praying the proper prayer will not automatically save them. This is the point of Paul’s next series of questions.

“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)

A confession to a faith one doesn’t have is a false confession, just as confessing to a crime one didn’t commit is. It is a lie. If it were obtained by coercion or fraud, it must not be considered. Most states now allow a purchaser three days to change their mind after signing a sales contract in case they were unduly influenced. A confession without faith is worthless. How can a person who has never heard the gospel believe in Christ? He has no idea what to believe. How are they to learn without someone who is qualified to teach them? The teacher cannot teach what he doesn’t know himself.

Acts 1:8 advises, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” It is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to witness to others effectively. We are commissioned or sent on the basis of that power, as we see in Matthew 28:18-20. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Some pupils refuse to learn unless they are forced to. Some people refuse to buy unless they are forced to. Some people will reject the gospel. The Catholic church got such a high percentage of members in many countries by killing those who didn’t join. Many Muslim countries do the same. That does not make them Christians. Matthew 7:14 tells us comparatively few will be saved. “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Paul mentions Isaiah’s questioning whether anyone believed.

“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” (Romans 10:16)

Paul describes what happens in I Corinthians 3:6-7. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” If we have spoken through the power of the Spirit, the results are up to God. It is not our fault if they do not get saved. For those who do, it is aq wonderful thing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What Must We Do To Be Saved?

Romans 10:5-13

Highway signs, such as speed limits, stop signs or caution signs warn of dangers ahead, paying attention can prevent accidents. That is their purpose. They will not tell you how to fix your engine if the car breaks down, or how to cure a heart attack. They were not intended to do those things. While they need to be followed, they will not solve every problem.

The Old Testament law warned of sin, and promised a better life on earth. It made no promise to correct sin or take anyone to heaven. Violating it, on the other hand guaranteed God’s judgment. It was to make us aware of our guilt, according to Romans 3:19. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” It was not there to make us sinless, but to make us aware of our guilt. To try to live by the law demanded total obedience, but could not deliver justification. As Romans 3:20 states, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.”

Paul refers to this in Romans 10:5. “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.” The consequences for breaking the law are imperative for those who live by the law. The story of the lawyer in Luke 10:25-29 portrays man’s efforts to get around the guilt from the law. “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” He was seeking a way to show he was obeying the law, and didn’t deserve judgment.

The righteousness of faith, on the other hand doesn not try to hide or excuse our sin. It recognizes the natural tendency to sin, and the importance of having an advocate before God. While sin is not approved, we still do it. I John 2:1 states, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” It accepts his resurrection and ascension to heaven as critical to salvation. It also accepts that his death was essential for the atonement for sin. The sin could not just be overlooked.

“But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)” (Romans 10:6-7)

The righteousness which comes by faith recognizes man’s inability live to God’s standard in order to be saved, or to keep oneself saved. Such faith demands action to produce results. James 2:14-26 cites several examples. Believing that God wants people to be fed doesn’t accomplish much if we don’t give some food. Believing that God would save Isaac’s life would not have meant much if Abraham had not put him on the altar. Believing that God would destroy Jericho would not have saved Rahab if she didn’t help the spies. Faith has to be acted on to produce results. Otherwise it is dead, and has as little benefit as the devil’s belief in God. James 2:19 states, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Without acting on that belief, they still face God’s judgment.

In each of the cases described in James 2, there is a potential cost to be counted. To give money would reduce what was available for personal wants. To kill Isaac might well cause a problem between Sarah and Abraham. Rahab risked her life to help the spies. Once the action was taken there was no changing one’s mind. Jesus was talking about counting the cost in Luke 14:26, when he said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Such faith will act despite the cost. So what do we need to do?

“But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:8-10)

The words are so simple, just believe Jesus paid in full for your sins, and that he was raised to both keep you from sin, and to take care of it when you do sin, and to confess your belief and recognition of your sin to him. Inherent in that belief is the conviction that nothing else is so important as having Christ. Paul describes what was required for his own conversion in Philippians 3:7-9. “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

Such faith is the gift of God according to Ephesians 2:8. As John 6;44 states, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” Time after time in Acts, when God drew them, we see people asking “What must I do to be saved?” The answer is always the same. There is no difference.

“For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:11-13)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sacrificing Pride

Romans 9:30-10:5

At the tribal sawmill in Navajo, New Mexico, there was a walkway marked with paint that came up to where the carriage for the logs was. There was a sign just past the walkway that warned of danger when if outside the lines. At one point, it was necessary to step over a chain mechanism which carried logs from the debarker to the carriage. A step had been provided on each side, and signs warned to avoid stepping onto the chain or getting close to moving logs. When taking tours through the mill, people often became so involved in watching the machinery and reading the warning signs, they failed to see the step that helped prevent catching their foot on the chain.

God gave the Law to make man aware of his sin. It was very much like the sign, warning that if you were in the area, you were in danger. Romans 3:19-20 describes the purpose. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” While the sign made you aware of the dangers, one still needed to look where to step. Like many of the visitors to the mill, the Jews had focused on the signs, without looking where they were stepping. The Gentiles were like someone who couldn’t read. While they didn’t have the warnings, by being careful and observant, they could avoid tripping over the step, and might avoid dangers the readers didn’t see.

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 9:30-33)

Pride in their reading in the signs could result in carelessness and injury to the readers. Pride in their knowing the law and keeping it caused many Jews to not see Christ as the way of salvation, even though he was unavoidable. To them he became something to trip over, rather than a savior.

The marked walkway and the warning signs gave an illusion of safety, but a single stepping out of bounds or carelessness could result in injury. A single violation of the law was a disaster. James 2:10-11 tells us, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” All the care up to that point could be wiped out in a single instant.

Romans 3:10-12 describes man’s nature. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." As a result, Romans 3:23 concludes, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” This means we deserve the punishment prescribed by the law for our sin.

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” (Galatians 3:10-12)

Paul was very concerned about Israel’s salvation. They had a great zeal to please God, but it wasn’t based on the facts. In their pride in their own ability, they were rejecting the solution God offered, nor acknowledging their sin. I John 1:8-10 warns, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Matthew 18:2-4 stresses this essential humility. “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Israel was not willing to humble themselves and admit their sin, and thus could not be saved.

“Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.” (Romans 10:1-5)

Until a person recognizes his own inability to earn his way to heaven, and acknowledges his sin and need for Christ’s salvation, he cannot be saved. God does not want us to take the credit. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast,” (Ephesians 2:8-9) In effect, he is calling God a liar.

God’s Right To Decide

Romans 9:14-28

I am presently building a metal working shaper in my free time. The other night, I cast an aluminum piece for the framework. When I opened the mold, I found that my sand had been to damp, creating voids in the casting. I re-melted the aluminum and cast another part from it. I had the right to decide how the aluminum would be used as the owner and builder. God exercises the same right as regards the people he has made.

“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” (Romans 9:14-18)

The aluminum I melted had no power or ability to melt itself or cast itself. It was totally dependent on my power and skill for the results. I have no idea whether it would have chosen to be one part or the other, although I suspect it would have preferred not to get so hot. I demonstrate my ability by what I make. God had that same right, to use Pharaoh as he saw fit to accomplish his purpose. Just as I was not forced to settle for a piece that did not turn out properly, neither is God.

“Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24”

The aluminum had no right to be upset that I recast it into something else. I had already put in the effort to try to cast it into the first form, and it did not comply with what was desired. Rather than scrap the entire project, I re did the one part. In choosing to save others who were not Jews as well, God has done much the same thing. Rather than scrap the entire human race because of sin, he has chosen to save some who were not Jews.

“As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.” (Romans 9:25-29)

There is no question whether God had the right to choose who could be saved. That we could not even be saved without his work is also clear. John 6;44 declares, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” Ephesians 2:8 tells us even the faith to be saved is a gift from him. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” A man could do nothing to cause his own salvation, and neither can any one else. Until God causes it, the person will not be saved.

That God should choose to base his choice on the future decision of a man is entirely his right, and according to Romans 8:29-30, that is what he did. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” It is why God could say, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” in Romans 10:13. Though he knows what their choice will be, they still need to make it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Salvation is Personal and Individual

Romans 9:1-14

Being saved is often spoke of as being born again, and Jesus described it as such in John 3, talking to Nicodemus. Understanding why Jesus described it as such, and examining the similarities to the natural birth help us to understand a lot about the spiritual birth, and what is required.

Most mammals give live birth. They carry the baby inside their own body and protect it until delivery. At birth, their baby is essentially a small, immature version of the adult. The platypus, and most birds, reptiles, insects and fish lay eggs. The baby develops inside the egg until he is ready to be born. Some have little resemblance to the adult, while others are very similar.

Every species has an innate instinct to reproduce, and will risk their lives to do so. Mammals and birds have far fewer babies than most of the cold blooded species, so they devote far more effort to protecting them and teaching them to fend for themselves than most cold blooded animals. Many insects, reptiles, fish and amphibians lay a huge number of eggs, then leave with no concern whether any survive. The sheer numbers of births mean some are likely to survive. An animal that gives birth to only a few cannot afford to take that chance. A primary purpose of their existence is to perpetuate their species.

Jesus gave a specific mandate to Christians to reproduce themselves. It is very similar to the mandate for the warm blooded animals, who give birth, then nurse the children , and finally teach them to care for themselves. Matthew 28:19-20 presents the mandate. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

They are go and teach(Gr: matatheno- to disciple), to cause to become Christians. This is essentially to cause to be born. They are then to baptize, which we looked at in Chapters 6 and 7 of Romans. This is essentially the nursing stage, and has been the main focus of Romans up to this point, gradually transitioning to teaching everything they need to know to live as Christians. The rest of Romans will be devoted to this last aspect of the mandate, teaching(Gr: didasko-to teach)what needs to be done.

Unfortunately, many have neglected all or part of the Great commission or mandate. Some have acted more like the coldblooded animals, counting on a great number of professions to result in a few Christians. Others have nursed them until they could be weaned and then abandoned them, counting on them to figure it out for themselves. Hebrews 5:12-14 describes som who had been left in that state. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

The author of Hebrews then goes on to explain that reaching the point of being fully equipped will require going beyond the basics of the nursing stage. Hebrews 6:1-2names some things that we need to go beyond. “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”

Having dealt with those basic issues in the preceding chapters, Paul is now moving to more mature issues. The first he will address is that of Christian reproduction, the discipline or winning others to Christ.

He starts by showing that the desire ought to be like that of animals, willing to risk even their own life for their offspring. Paul declares he would almost be willing to lose his own salvation if it would cause others of his own people to come to Christ.

“I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” (Romans 9:1-5)

The group Paul is most concerned about is not some unknown tribe in some remote place, but the people he grew up with, the ones he knows. He was not like those who send millions to aid homeless in Africa while ignoring the poor in their own neighborhood. He tried to reach his own at every opportunity.

These were not people who had no advantages, or who had not heard. They had the word of God and the traditions and customs that God had commanded before anyone else. That did not make them Christians. They needed salvation just as badly as anyone else. Many did not receive it despite their advantages.

“Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. Ro 9:8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.

And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Romans 9:6-13)

God knows before hand what every person will do. He knew that Esau would value a bowl of soup more than all God’s love and promises. As a result, he chose Jacob over Esau. Romans 8:29-30 describes God’s actions. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”

This does not make God unfair. It was Esau’s personal choice, even though God acted before he made it. Romans 9:14 makes it clear there is nothing to be said about God’s decision. “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” God already knew what Esau would decide with total certainty.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Secured By God’s Power

Romans 8:35-39

When my children were small, taking them into a crowded area required maintaining a constant contact to prevent getting lost. We soon figured out that if we depended on tem to maintain a hold, they might forget and let loose. If they tripped, or someone bumped into them they might not be able to hold on. We had to hold on to them because we were much stronger than they were, and it took far more to break the hold.

God recognized our weakness and forgetfulness. He did not depend on our strength to maintain our relationship. The Law had demonstrated that the weakness of the flesh would preclude attaining salvation. Instead, I Peter 1:5 describes the believers, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” He is holding us, whether we hold him or not. We might forget to hold on or lose our grip, but he will not.

Jesus described the situation in John 10:28-29. “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” Only something strong enough to break God’s grip could take us away from him. I can’t even jerk myself away from the almighty God. What could possibly break his grip?

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37)

No attack using starvation, abuse, or murder can ever result in God deserting us, even if we turn from him. Peter was forgiven for his denial of Christ, and he will forgive us as well. We do not need to fear our response in such a case. It is our denial of him when we are not under duress that is a problem because it implies we are not his.

Because God is greater than all, and we can be separated from him only by breaking his grip, and nothing is strong enough. Our death cannot separate us from God, even if we commit suicide. Our life cannot separate us from God’s love, whatever lifestyle we might choose. Neither angels from God, nor Satan’s demons can separate from God’s love. Governments, and world powers don’t have the power to break God’s hold on his children. There is nothing in the present , or nothing that will come in the future that will have such power.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

No amount of separation can overcome God’s love, and neither can any other created thing, including yourself. God’s power is unlimited, and it is what keeps you saved.

Assurance of Present Forgiveness

Romans 8:34-39

Several years ago, I sat up late, working on something, leaving my TV on. One of the Infomercials that came on was for a series of booklets and CDs about how to get rich by finding the right people and suing them. Certain industries would rather pay a bogus claim to maintain their reputation than risk being sued. As a result, even a frivolous claim with no evidence had a chance of being settled out of court, making the plaintiff, and his lawyer some money. Many lawyers will take such cases on a contingency basis, taking a third of the proceeds if they win, but charging nothing if the lose.

One caveat was offered, however. This only worked on people who feared an investigation of their activities might reveal other problems. Those who truly had nothing to hide were apt to counter sue for damages and penalties instead. They were sure any claims were bogus. This is why the information focused on picking who to sue.

Satan is like the dishonest lawyer, encouraging people to make bogus claims in hopes he will make a killing of some of them. Revelation 12:10 describes final victory over him. “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” He constantly accuses believers before God, while getting people here on earth to accuse as well.

John 8:44 describes the devil, and the attitude of those who follow him. “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” They are inspired by him, and try to fulfill his desires. Both they and Satan will lie to accomplish his purpose, to God, to other people, and to us.

Romans 8:1-2 declares, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” There is no penalty that can be applied to those who walk after or in the Spirit. Christ made us alive in the Spirit, as we’ve already seen, and Galatians 5;25 tells us, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

Our actions should not be an act but a reflection of the truth. We are not to act like a Christian, but to be a Christian. When we have sinned, we need to confess that sin because as I John 1:8-10 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Refusal to acknowledge sin indicates that we are not his children, but confession will result in forgiveness and removal of the sin.

While we have the power not to sin when walking in the Spirit, there are times when we act according to the flesh, and sin. Ideally, we shouldn’t sin, but when we do Christ is there to take care of it according to I John 2:1-2. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Any charges against us are thus bogus.

“Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34)

As our advocate or intercessor, Christ deals with each sin as it comes up. When it occurred or how serious is not a problem, because of who he is, as Hebrews 7:24-25 shows. “But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

Rather than giving in to fear of having lost our salvation, or committing the unpardonable sin, Peter says we need to trust God. By confessing our sin, we can maintain a good conscience, and the accusations will have little effect. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing” (I Peter 3:15-17).

Assurance of Sanctification

Romans 8:29-32

I have two daughters. When I would pick them up to go out and eat I would ask where they wanted to eat. I was nearly certain tht Charity would say Taco Bell. Tabitha was almost certain to say Arby’s. Even though I knew what their choices would be, I still gave them the choice. Occasionally they surprised me, saying Big Cheese Pizza. When they did, I knew without doubt they wanted a cheese pizza. Even though I asked, I could have called ahead and predestinated a pizza because I foreknew their choice.

I hesitated to commit because they sometimes surprised me. God is never surprised, because he knows absolutely what we will choose, yet he still gives us the choice. Had I ordered ahead and been wrong about their choice, I would have had to choose between taking away their choice and buying the pizza and what they chose. God would be willing to do so, but he never has to.

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29)

Had I been able to predict their choices with certainty, to foreknow what they wanted, I could have had a table prepared, and the pizza already cooked, and still have given the girls exactly what they chose. The all knowing God is capable of doing so. He doesn’t have to force us to eat what we didn’t want. Furthermore, He was able to make the order before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:4-5 declares, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Just as I could have made the decision as to what we ate, but chose to give my girls their choice. God has exercised his sovereignty by giving us the choice whether we wished to be saved or not. He magnified his omniscience, by being able to predict with certainty.

“Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)

In order to take the girls out to eat, I had to call at the door to let them know I was there, transport them to the restaurant, and then get them seated at the table. God didn’t just order our salvation, he called us. He then justified us, taking away the things that kept us away from God. Finally he glorified us, putting us into a position where we can enjoy what we chose and he desired for us.

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.” (Romans 8:31-33)

When I took the girls out to eat, no one could refuse them admittance because they were to young, or didn’t have money enough because I was paid and accompanied them. The girls had no reason to complain because they were getting exactly what they wanted.

If God has done the same for us, giving his own son to make it all possible, we can expect him to do what ever is necessary, and no one has the right to deny him the privilege, or even to say we don’t deserve it. It is his choice. He is the one who said we could have salvation.

Assurance of Answers to Prayer

Romans 8:26-38

One of the greatest statements of faith in the entire Bible is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s statement to Nebuchadnezzar when he ordered them to bow before his statue. “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up,” (Daniel 3:16-18). They were going to obey God whether he did what they wanted or not.

Many have taught that God is obligated to give you anything you pray for if you believe it, or if you ask ‘in Jesus name’. Two verses are the basis for these beliefs. One is based on Jesus’ statement in John 14:13-14. “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” The second is based on Matthew 21:22. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” When God doesn’t give what is demanded, people are often discouraged, but the problem is a misunderstanding of what it means to ask ‘in Jesus’ name’, or to believe.

As an employee of R.A. Plumbing and Heating, I was authorized to purchase things in the company’s name. My authority to buy was limited to the things that were needed to do company business, but anything that was needed was okay. Often, I had not seen the job before going to do the work. Sometimes called ahead to change my order, after looking at the job I was buying for. I could be confident of getting what was needed, although not always what I expected to get.

This is the concept behind John 5:14-15. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” The order may well be modified to meet the need, rather than what I asked for. So often, we don’t know what is really needed. We can believe God will supply the correct things.

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

Many times I found that people either did not know the best way to do the job, or did not know the proper terminology, with the result that I went to resolve a different problem than actually existed. By looking at the job, the boss could determine what I had guessed wrongly about. The Holy Spirit does much the same for us in our prayers, ordering what is needed accurately, using the correct descriptions.

Because the boss changed my order, I was able to do the work immediately, rather than having to wait for parts. This was definitely to my advantage, even though I didn’t always get what I expected, or asked for. We can be assured of the result of the Spirit’s changes, just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Assurance in Trials

Romans 8:18-25

If you’ve watched episodes of the Biggest Loser, You may have been stricken by the different attitudes of the contestants. Some are only there because they want the big prize while others are more concerned with getting their health back for one reason or another. Most want to quit when it becomes difficult, or they don’t win an episode. The trainers work to try to make the contestants understand that the long term benefits to their health will greatly outweigh the physical discomfort.

Some never get the picture and drop out rather than keep struggling. Others continue a while, focused on the money and prizes, but if they do not begin to see the health improvement itself as a desirable result, they quit if they lose a few times. Almost none finish who do not begin to look at their health as the primary goal. None finish who do not decide that the goal is worth the pain and struggle to keep up. Those who become convinced their health is worth the pain continue even when voted off the show.

Some of those who quit feel they just aren’t good enough or that others just have it so much easier. Many Christians develop similar attitudes, and become discouraged or quit. Without the reassurance of their salvation all would probably quit. What many do not seem to understand, especially those who have had relatively easy lives, is that struggles and trouble are normal. Those who have usually gotten what they wanted give up over things others consider irrelevant or insignificant.

Job 5:7 makes it clear that trouble is normal for everyone. “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” Not having trouble, not being picked on, and not having to struggle and do without that is abnormal. Not understanding that has a created a very selfish and self absorbed society. Many bring the same philosophy to being a Christian. They believe that if you are God’s child, you ought to live as a child of the king, prosperous and protected from every problem. While it is quite popular, it is an invalid belief.

Jesus warned us that as Christians we are going to have problems. In John 16:33 he warned, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Our peace must come from him, because we are surrounded and inundated with problems. Being more spiritual and living better, or a better prayer life does not alleviate the problem. Paul warns, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” in II Timothy 3:12.

Matthew 14:22-33 tells the story of Jesus walking on the water to meet his disciples in the midst of a storm. Peter requested permission to go to the Lord, and Matthew 14:29-31 describes the results. “And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”

The storm did not get worse when Peter saw the wind and waves. He just began to pay attention to it, and that’s when he began to sink. It is a good picture of what happens to many. Usually, the problems don’t get worse, we just notice them more. As long as Peter was focused on going to Christ, his goal, he wasn’t troubled by the waves. Paul is teaching that we need to stay focused on the end result here.

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21)

Most of the struggles are not the result of some failure on our part, nor are they aimed at us specifically. They are a natural consequence of sin in the world. We didn’t ask for them or cause them all. They would have happened regardless of us. Mankind only escape them when God ends the state of sin in the world. In the meantime, all of creation, not just humans suffer from the consequences of sin. This includes Christians.

“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:22-23)

Like the contestants on Biggest Loser, we have to have hope of a time when the goal will be attained. It is that hope that sustains and enables one to keep on going. Those who have completed the course no longer hope. They know the effort reduced their weight. It did. We need to have the patience, like they did, to keep hoping until the end is achieved.

"For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” (Romans 8:24-25)