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" 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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Andrew Farley on Growing in Grace

Over on our Growing in Grace podcast we posted the first of three podcasts with special guest Andrew Farley.  Check it out here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Prostitutes, Heaven, Faith and Works

Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him. (Matt 21:31-32)
The "them" that Jesus was speaking to were the "chief priests and the elders of the people" in the temple in Jerusalem.  They were the holy people.  The set-apart of the set-apart.  And while it's true that some of them were corrupt, these priests and elders may very well have been as squeaky clean as they come.  And Jesus is telling them that women who sell their bodies enter the kingdom of God before them!

Why is that?  Is it that God loves it when women prostitute themselves?  Is He happier when people commit harlotry than He is when His own chosen (holy, set-apart) priests and elders do their holy, set-apart jobs?  Of course not.  So what's the deal?

The deal is that entering the kingdom of God isn't about the things that a person does.  It's not about a person's good and righteous deeds, or lack thereof.  Rather, it's about a person's belief (or lack thereof).
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.  But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (Rom 4:4-5)
But isn't faith without works dead?  James is the one who said that, and he gave two examples of what he meant.  The first example was Abraham offering his son Isaac on the altar.  Here's the second example:
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? (James 2:25)
What were Rahab's "works"?  Was it that she turned around and changed her behavior and gave up harlotry and started following God's law?  Now, of course it would be a great thing for Rahab to turn around and change her behavior and quit harlotry.  But that's not her "works" by which she was "justified."  (The word "justified" in this case doesn't mean "made righteous," but rather "shown to be righteous.")  Rahab's "works" were that she hid spies and lied to those who came to her house to find them!

Her "works" were the result of what she believed.  What did she believe and why did she believe it?  She told the spies that her people had heard of, and feared, the great works of the Lord, and that He was giving their land to Israel.  She told them, "the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath." (Joshua 2:11).  She believed God.  That's why she did what she did.  It's not that she was made righteous by what she did, but rather what she did showed that she believed, and that's why she was credited with being righteous.

That's why harlots can enter into the kingdom of God before God's chief priests and elders.  It's not about what any of these people do or don't do.  It's about what they believe

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

God's Law and the Crowd-Thinning Words of Jesus (Part 2)

Wow, do I love the gospel!  The good news!  When Jesus was born, a scene appeared in the countryside in which "a multitude of the heavenly host" was praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

Who had "goodwill toward men"?  God did!  And what "peace" was this? God's peace! (Rom 5:1, 10:15, Eph 6:15).  In Christ, God would be reconciling people to Himself, not counting their sins against them (2 Cor 5:19), and anybody ("whosoever") could receive all of this as a free gift, by God's grace, through faith (John 3:16, Rom 3:22).  What's revealed in the gospel is God's very own righteousness given as a free gift to sinners - not through anyone's law-keeping or good works (Rom 1:17, 3:21, Eph 2:8-9, Titus 3:4-7).  That's the gospel! That's the good news!

As I mentioned in Part 1 (please read it before reading Part 2), God's good, holy and just law is not the good news, although it did have a lofty God-ordained purpose.  The law's purpose was to minister death, bondage, guilt and condemnation.  Anytime death, bondage, guilt and condemnation is produced, that's not good news!

So why is it that Jesus, whose coming was highlighted with a trumpeted declaration of "good news," is often found speaking to people with words that don't sound like good news at all?  If Jesus said He didn't come to condemn people but to save them (John 3:17), then why did His words often bring condemnation upon people?  If the good news is that sinners gain a righteousness that is a free gift by grace through faith, and not at all according to their own good works or law-keeping, then why did Jesus raise the bar and call for even greater works than the law called for as a means of people gaining entrance into the kingdom of heaven? We'll get to that.

But first I'll ask a few more questions that will hopefully spark our thinking about why Jesus said the things He said.  Was it was actually the gospel that Jesus was preaching in these crowd-thinning sermons that caused many people to turn away and leave.  When He said "cut off your hand" and "pluck out your eye" if they cause you to sin, and when He warned of hell fire in the Sermon on the Mount, was this in line with the angel's prior declaration of good tidings and great joy?  In saying, "Your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, or you won't enter the kingdom of heaven," was Jesus delivering the message of the gospel?

Have you ever considered or wondered about these things?  Has it ever occurred to you that these particular words of Jesus were not good news.  They were not the gospel.  So what did Jesus mean to accomplish with His "bad news" words?  If the gospel is good news, and God's intention was to draw sinners to Himself and save them, not according to their works and law-keeping, then why did Jesus speak such hard words to them about their works and law-keeping that ended up driving them away?

The Bible says that Jesus was "born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law..." (Gal 4:4)  Jesus first had a ministry to those who were under the law.  This ministry to the Jews - those under the law - was a law ministry.  It wasn't a "good news" ministry.  Jesus was using the law with law-people for the very purpose for which the law was intended to be used.  Romans 3:19 says that the law speaks to those who are under the law, for the purpose of 1) stopping their mouths and 2) making them guilty before God.

In His ministry to the people of Israel, Jesus not only taught the law but He put a magnifying glass on it.  He amplified it.  "You have heard that is was said... But I say to you..." (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-37, 38-39, 43-45).  "It's not just the act of adultery, it's looking at someone with lust." (Matt 5:27-28)  If those under the law thought they were righteous because of their law-keeping, Jesus was showing them just how unrighteous they really were.  His teachings brought out their guilt and it stopped their mouths!  He was preaching the bad news to them, showing them that the law was far more severe than they had previously thought.  These teachings weren't able to help them live right any more than the Law was able to.  He was actually making it even harder for people to enter into the kingdom of God through their own works.

One time Jesus told His disciples that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  The disciples reacted with great astonishment, saying "Who then can be saved!"  Notice that Jesus' words caused them to think that it's impossible for anyone to be saved.  After all, how possible is it, really, for a camel to go through an eye of a needle?  So the statement "it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" isn't good news.  It's bad news.

However... Jesus then adds something.  He says, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  The former declaration  - "this is impossible" - is bad news!  But when "it's possible for God" is added, it turns into good news!  Do you see it?  Light at the end of a very dark tunnel!  When a person comes to truly understand, through the bad news, that he falls short of God's glory and that it's impossible for him to save himself, it makes him feel hopeless.  But that all changes when he finds out the good news that what's impossible for him is possible with God!  The bad news points to, or leads to, the good news.

Can you see, then, that Jesus had good reasons for preaching the law to those who were under it, even when His ultimate aim was to get them out from under it?   Can you see why He preached the ministry of death and condemnation, even when He came not to condemn but to save and to give life?  We know that Jesus said He didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and that's exactly what He did.  And all the while, we also see Him preaching it for the exact purpose for which it was given.

Part of the confusion regarding these particular words of Jesus comes from the fact that He didn't come right out and say what He was doing: preaching the bad news in order to show man his need for the good news, so they would repent of their self-righteousness and turn to God instead, by faith alone.  He let people (especially those who trusted in their own righteousness) go away sad, angry and confused, without filling them in on the grand scheme.  He left it to them to work it out in their own hearts.  But as we saw in Part 1, years later Paul did come right out and lay out the law's purpose in great detail, leaving nothing for us to guess about.  Paul helps us to understand why Jesus said the things He said.

So you can see from all this that we're not neglecting the words of Jesus.  We don't discard any of His words.  We don't run away from the words of Jesus.  To the contrary, we highly respect the words and the entire earthly ministry of Jesus, and we take His words very seriously.  To take His words seriously is to pay close attention to the context, to who He was talking to, and what His purpose was in saying the things He said.  Understanding the purpose for the harsh sayings of Jesus helps us to love and appreciate the gospel all the more!