Thursday, May 12, 2016

It's All Grace

God's grace doesn't "make up the difference." It's not that we've got a certain amount of ability to do good, and grace is meant to make up for whatever we're lacking or wherever we fall short. You will not find a definition or description of grace that is anywhere close to that in the scriptures!

The Apostle Paul didn't say, "I put forth my best effort and grace covered the rest." No, Paul chucked aside all his best (see Phil 3:4-11), counting it all as loss, and counting it all as bull dung, so that he could know Christ alone. When it came to living out our daily life and living out our various ministries, Paul said it was all grace. He said that his holiness and sincerity were from God, "not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace." (2 Cor 1:12).

Paul talked about his great accomplishments and abundant work that he'd done, but he said, "yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." "By the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Cor 15:10) Our gifts and callings aren't our own, but solely the result of God's grace. (Rom 12:6). Our ministry/serving is "according to the gift of God's grace" and "the working of His power." (Eph 3:7).

If your ministry is about you and your wonderful work "for God," give it up! Don't be so foolish. "Neither is He served by human hands, as if He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things." (Acts 17:25). It is God who works in you (Phil 2:13). God began a good work in you and God will be faithful to complete it! (Phil 1:6).

Sunday, May 08, 2016

By Teaching the Sermon on the Mount as a Christian Teaching, We Nullify the Word of God

One of the things Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount was countering the teachings of the Pharisees. The Pharisees had created rules and traditions that watered down the Law in order to make it "doable" for them. (Jesus told them, "you nullify/make void the Word of God by your tradition" - Matt 15:6, Mark 7:13). In the sermon, Jesus made clear what the Law really said and meant, as opposed to the spin the Pharisees had put on it. Let me emphasize something: in the sermon, Jesus was teaching the law, bringing back its true meaning and intent (which effectively showed just how impossible it is to keep it).
Ironically, what the church has done today is they have watered down the Sermon on the Mount, putting a spin on the various things Jesus said in it, in an attempt to make His hard words "doable" or to make the sermon into a "Christian" teaching. Most likely unknowingly, what they have done is diminished, and thereby nullified, what Jesus was actually saying. In trying to make this difficult law sermon into a teaching on practical Christian living, they are oblivious to how they have made void the Word of God.
I don't say this to complain about the church, but to make the larger point that in order to truly understand the gospel, we have to recognize the things that are taught in the church today as the gospel that really aren't the gospel.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Persecuted for Preaching the Good News

In today's Christian culture, we tend to think of persecution as "good Christians" being put down or made fun of by "sinners." But that wasn't how it was in the early church. The persecution that they received was from the religious people! Jesus Himself was not put down and mocked - and ultimately killed - because He went around telling "bad" people to start being "good." He was hated by the religious people because He put His arms around sinners. He supped with them. He loved them.

The early church preached the good news - that people are made righteous by the gift of God, not by righteous behavior - and they were persecuted for that. Again, the ones who persecuted them were the religious people who stood firmly on their law-based, performance-based religion.

Somewhere along the line, the church lost the plot. They started becoming like the religious do-gooders and finger-pointers, and they themselves (the church) began persecuting those who were preaching the gospel of God's grace and who put their arms around sinners. We today who preach grace are simply doing what God has called the church to do all along.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Rahab's Faith

A prostitute named Rahab is one of several people who are recognized for their faith and called a "great cloud of witnesses" in the book of Hebrews.

No effort is made to disassociate Rahab from her life as a prostitute. She is actually called "Rahab the harlot" right there and then, as she is being recognized for her faith along with all the others (Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Samson, David, etc).

Does this mean that she's being lauded for being a harlot? Of course not. But surely it means something to be purposely remembered as "Rahab the harlot" in a list of great witnesses to faith in God!

One thing that it means is that faith isn't for the "perfect." By no means does a person have to have it all together in order to have faith in God. Do you know what Rahab's great act of faith was that she was remembered for? Two spies from Israel came to her house and she hid them on the roof, and she lied to the men who came looking for them.

THAT is what Rahab did that showed her faith! And guess what? She revealed that the reason she did it was because, although she had never known God, she had heard of what He did with the parting of the Red Sea, and also how He had "utterly destroyed" two kings (Sihon and Og) and all their people. This caused her heart to melt and she knew then that "He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath." (Joshua 2:11)

And here we are, trying to get people to be "good." Haha! Nothing wrong with doing good things, of course. It's good to do good! But that's not where faith is found. It's found in recognizing that God is God in heaven and on earth, and believing Him!

Monday, August 03, 2015

Promises and Blessings of God Not Found in the Law, but in Christ

The promises and blessings of God have all been fulfilled in Christ.  In Christ, we don't then turn to the law to find the blessings that were promised there.  We look solely to Christ, who is our all in all, in Whom we have everything!

2 Cor 1:20-22
For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Gal 3:13-14
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Gal 3:16-18
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

Eph 1:3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ…

Heb 8:6
But now He [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises [than the Old Covenant - the Law]. For if that first covenant [the Law] had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.

2 Peter 1:3-4
His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature…

1 John 2:25
And this is the promise that He has promised us — eternal life.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Instant and Permanent Sanctification

Is there a difference between sanctification and justification? Sure there is. Sanctified means "holy, purified, set apart" (to God) and Justified means "to declare one to be just, righteous" (with God's very own righteousness, not your own). Both of these are not something we do, but are conditions that we have received freely as gifts, by grace through faith.

While some people correctly believe that justification is instantaneous, they yet believe that sanctification is a process over time.

So what does the Bible actually say?

"By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Heb 10:10

"For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." Heb 10:14

"I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." Acts 20:32

"...that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me." Acts 26:18

"To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus..." 1 Cor 1:2

"But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God - and righteousness and sanctification and redemption..." 1 Cor 1:30

"But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Cor 6:11

Again, Sanctification means "made holy" and "set apart." Our sanctification was just as instantaneous as our justification! It's not an ongoing process.  It already happened and it remains who we are at all times. It's something we received as a gift when we first believed ("by grace, through faith"), not something based on what we do or don't do.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Through faith we establish the law?

Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (Romans 3:31)

This is one of those solitary verses that has been ripped out of context and has thereby tripped up many people for a long, long time.  Is there anything wrong with this verse?  Of course not.  The Apostle Paul is telling the truth here!  However, this verse, Rom 3:31, was not written all alone in a void. By the time we get to this verse, Paul has already spent a large part of three chapters explaining a very important contrast. "For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'the just shall live by faith.'" (Rom 1:17) "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe..." (Rom 3:21-22).  Notice the contrast: "faith" and "apart from the law."  This is huge when it comes to understanding Romans 3:31.

Paul's big point is that the gospel is all about God's righteousness that we've received as a free gift.  This is the "good news." This is the gospel - God's righteousness, received by faith, apart from the law.  In all the verses in between the ones I mentioned above, from Rom 1:18 to Rom 3:20, Paul writes about the "bad news." "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." He lists 20-30 things that represent man's unrighteousness. In Chapter 2 he then shows the Jews that just because they have the law, that doesn't make them righteous, because it's not the hearers of the law who are justified in the sight of God, but the doers of the law. He's pointing out to the hearers of the law (the Jews) that just because they have the law, they're not justified unless they do the law. And he tells them that Gentiles can be justified if they show the work of the law written on their hearts - even though they had never even heard the law!

However, that's not the end of his point. As we move into Chapter 3, we see that "we have previously charged both Jews and Gentiles alike that they are all under sin." The reality is that neither Jews (who have the law) nor Gentiles (who don't have the law) are actually doers of the law! (Otherwise, according to Chapter 2, either of them could be justified by the law). But no, "there is no one righteous, not even one... There is no one who seeks after God... There is no one who does good, not even one..." (Rom 3:10-12).

Romans 3:19 says that the purpose of the law is to stop mouths and make people guilty. That's all that the law can do, and therefore no flesh can be justified by the deeds of the law. "But now," Paul says, "the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed." (See, we're not "against" the law. Rather we believe in life and righteousness in Christ apart from the law). This righteousness (God's very righteousness) is a gift we receive by grace through faith.

The huge contrast in all of this is between a righteousness that is obtained by doing the law and a righteousness that is received by grace through faith, apart from the law.

That's why all that Paul says leading up to Rom 3:31 is essential for understanding that verse. The reason that through faith the law is "established" (or "upheld") is because when an unbeliever turns to faith it means that they have realized the full weight of the law, and that no one can actually keep it, and that all it does is stops mouths and makes people guilty, and can therefore justify no one.

In the entire context of Romans 1 through 3 and beyond, Paul isn't talking at all about law in the life of believers. He's talking about law in the lives of unbelievers, and how the ungodly and unrighteous have no hope in the good, just and holy law and must instead turn to the free gift of God's righteousness received by faith.

The word "establish" here means "to uphold or sustain the authority of something."  Through faith, we don't make void the law.  Rather, we uphold and sustain the true authority and purpose of the law.  What is the purpose of the law? Again, according to Romans 3:19 its purpose is to stop mouths and make people guilty.  In 1 Timothy 1:9 Paul said that the lawful use of the law is not for righteous people, but for the ungodly and for sinners.  Galatians 3:19 says that the law was added "because of transgressions, till the Seed (Jesus) should come, and Galatians 3:24-25 says the law was a tutor to lead to Christ so that a person would be justified by faith.  When a person turned to faith, the law's job was then done.

We see this great contrast of faith and law all throughout Paul's writings!  By faith, we truly do uphold the reason the law was given.  It was given to lead unbelievers (and specifically unbelieving Jews, not Gentiles - but that's for another day) to faith in Christ.  That's it.  The law's job is then done.  Again, none of Paul's "law" talk in Romans has to do with the law being established or used in the lives of believers.  It all has to do with leading unbelievers to faith, apart from the law.