Archive for October, 2012

Doctrinal Perfection

Does God Require Doctrinal Perfection? The Mosaic Law was perfect, but it could not be perfectly kept by fallen humans. In fact, Jesus Christ was the only one to ever keep it. But it still served a useful purpose in that it convicts of sin and brings us to the foot of the cross with the realization that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Jesus died and freed us from the law of sin and death that was against us, nailing it to the cross.

But did He in effect transfer us from a Law that demanded moral perfection into a new law that requires doctrinal perfection? I don’t believe He did. But let me also quickly state that I am not saying that false teaching has no consequences, or that we are free to disregard the teaching of Scripture. Jesus himself said that is we love Him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15)

What we need to focus on is that all of the commandments and doctrine of the New Testament points in one direction — Jesus. Jesus not only taught the truth, He is the truth! (John 14:6). Correct doctrine and practices are a means to an end, not the final goal. For too long we have scoured the scriptures to find what is allowed and what is not. While I am all for a diligent study of the Bible, trying to extract a legal code from the New Testament instead of reading it to draw closer to our Savior and to know Him better is to misuse Scripture. Israel used to be under a “letter of the law” covenant where perfect performance was demanded and nothing specifically authorized was permitted. But we are under a new covenant that changes our hearts instead of just our actions. Where there is no specificity, we follow the spirit of the law.
Paul described it this way in his second letter to the church at Corinth:

You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:2-6 NASB)

We no longer are under a system where anything not specifically authorized is a sin. Again, we are not free to violate specific commandments, because that is sin.

We do not earn salvation by our perfect interpretation of the Bible, any more than we earn it by our good works. It’s not that doctrine doesn’t matter. But we do need to make a distinction between what is essential, and what honest Christians can read and still end up coming to differing conclusions on. Plus, who of us has never had an erroneous idea that was later disproven by something we read or by a deeper understanding? There has to be room to grow in the truth as we grow closer to Christ.

In fact, if we make doctrinal perfection a condition of salvation, we are not trusting in the finished work of Christ, but instead are placing faith in our ability to properly interpret the Bible. No fallen man will ever have a mind so perfect that he will achieve perfect doctrine. And keep this in mind as well. On our best, most mentally alert day, dripping in spiritual anointing, and seeing more clearly than we ever have before, we still “see through a glass darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

If you want to read about some messed up churches, both in doctrine and practice, read about Corinth, or some of the churches in Revelation chapters 2-3. There were definite consequences to their error, but at no point does Jesus say they have lost their salvation. They were expected to change in the light of the truth Jesus was speaking to them or they would die out as congregations.

So in the end, what shall we do? I would say to be firm on that which is plainly commanded (like what must I do to be saved, and who Jesus Christ is, the Gospel, etc) and where there is no specific directive, or just one example of a way a thing may be done, follow the spirit of the law without violating other principles of the Word. Avoid the works of the flesh, and cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. Realize that we are all at differing levels of understanding and that as long as we love the truth and draw closer to Jesus, we will finish the journey to our eternal home.

20121010-004440.jpg

Advertisements

Can You Be Sure?

I can’t stand that sinking feeling I have when I am going into a meeting unprepared. Can you imagine going into court to be judged and being unsure if you will be found innocent or guilty? Well the apostle John takes time in his first letter to reassure the persecuted disciples and to help them to be sure that they were in fact saved. Later on in chapter 5:13 John will state that we can know we have eternal life. At the end of chapter 2 he restates some things to emphasize his point.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:28, 29 ESV)

John revisits the promise God has given us from verse 25, which is eternal life. Eternal life is not just life that does not end, but rather includes a quality of life that is only possible in the presence of God. So we are not just talking about existing forever. But how do we know that we have that life now, and will also inherit that life in the end? By whether we “practice righteousness” or not.

First of all, we need to know what this does NOT mean. It does not mean constant sinless perfection. If that we’re the case, we would be constantly slipping in and out of salvation as we sin and then confess. If this were the case, our entire eternity would be based on the timing of our death. And you had better hope you never committed a sin and didn’t realize it, especially if you have forgotten about it!

John also is not saying that by the performance of one righteous deed we are saved. We can no more earn heaven than long jump to the moon. The righteousness we have is as the result of appropriating what Jesus Christ has done for us, and not trusting in our own merit for salvation. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul said:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB)

Our righteousness is the result of being in Christ. But you cannot be “in Christ” and not have it change you. But even as fruit requires growth, often slow growth, we must realize that we are not going to instantly be sinless, but will need time to mature as we bear steadily increasing fruit.

We have to realize why it says “practices” here. John is talking about a lifestyle characterized by trying to do what is right. Are we following after Jesus, or are we following after the world? Ae we acting in faith, or have we decided to define good and evil for ourselves? So let us test ourselves to see if we are growing in righteousness. In 2 Corinthians, Paul puts it this way:

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5 NASB)

When reading the Bible, ask God to open your eyes to areas that need fixing in your life, but also see where you are doing well and begin to increase in those areas. But know this — don’t stay there constantly wondering if you are saved. Be about the Lords work and be confident that when he does appear, He will say to you “well done”.

20121008-155332.jpg

Da’ Vine Is Divine

A well kept, fruitful vineyard can be a thing of beauty. The meticulously dressed rows and the lush fruit require careful pruning and cultivation. It is no job for an amateur, that’s for sure. Vineyards were common in the agriculture of the ancient Near East, Jesus used them as analogies for teaching spiritual truths.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:1-8 NASB)

What causes a branch to bear fruit? It’s connection to the vine. If a branch is not bearing fruit, it is because it is dead. And Jesus makes a very strong point about fruit bearing. A branch will bear fruit, not by sheer will, but by staying connected to the vine. If we are not bearing fruit, it is a sign that we are no longer connected. Bearing fruit doesn’t keep you connected; being connected produces fruit!

Another fact of life that Jesus draws attention to is that in a vineyard, there is a season where there is a whole lot of cutting going on! The dead branches are cut off because they take up space needed for the live branches. But even live branches get pruned so they can produce more fruit. Why is that? It’s because fruit is only produced by new growth. The point is that we cannot rest on old fruit. Pruning keeps us from thinking that we are the ones producing the fruit. Apart from the vine, we can do nothing.

So what is this life giving flow that comes from the vine to produce spiritual fruit? His Words abiding in us! As we stay in Him, and His word keeps abiding in us, we WILL bear much fruit. I want to be clear in this. Just as we cannot bear fruit apart from Him, we cannot help but bear fruit if we are abiding in Him. Real fruit proves we are disciples, and a lack of fruit proves we are not disciples. How serious is this? Well Matthew 28 says our mission is to make disciples, and Acts 11 says the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. If we have no fruit, we are not disciples, and thus are not Christians!

Again, this is not something you can accomplish by your own effort. You are either connected or you are not. And the proof is in the spiritual fruit. It is fruit from a divine source, because da’ vine is divine!

20121002-233847.jpg

It’s All About Jesus

When attorneys are preparing a case for court, one of the things they normally do is to find witnesses to the event in question. A believable witness under oath is a powerful weapon they can use to prove their case. In addition, written testimony may be presented in the form of sworn statements. If someone wants to investigate Jesus of Nazareth, where can they find witnesses, since He lived so long ago? That testimony is found in the Scriptures, and in the First Century it was found in the Old Testament.

When New Testament writers refer to “the Scriptures” they are usually talking about the Law (or Torah), the Prophets (major and minor), and the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, etc). S why do I mention this? Because Jesus was talking about these Scripture when He said this:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; (John 5:39 NASB).

And later, after the resurrection, Jesus used those Scriptures to open their minds to comprehend what they had witnessed a few days before.

And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 KJV)

Phillip, and the road with the Ethiopian eunuch started in Isaiah chapter 53 and “preached Jesus unto him”, which resulted in salvation (Acts 8).
There is also a reason that the Apostle Paul was able to go into synagogues every Sabbath and prove from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

So why doesn’t everyone see the references to Jesus in the Old Testament? Mostly, it is because they don’t realize that He is in there! Just like some optical illusions, once you know where and how to look, the references to Christ become clear. For those who refuse to believe, they can’t find Jesus for the same reason a burglar can’t find a policeman. God only rewards those who “diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

What we as disciples of Jesus Christ need to do is to take a fresh look at the Old Testament. For one, it provides the context for the New Testament. But it also contains types and shadows that not only deepen the meaning of many passages in the New Testament, but also give us a glimpse into how the message would have made sense to those first Jewish believers who left all to follow Jesus.

Along with that, as you are reading, meditate and pray, and look for things that hint about, or downright shout about Jesus. I doing so we can gain a fresh appreciation for the depth and congruity of Scripture. Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us (John 1:12) and He still desires to take us deeper into the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that can only be found in Him (Colossians 2:3). And may The Lord open our eyes to discover great and marvelous things in His Word!

20121002-004643.jpg

Strong And Courageous

Times of transition in leadership can be stressful. When the lives of others are in your hands, and there has been a sudden departure of the only leader the people have ever known, the prospect of assuming leadership can be even more intimidating. Such was the situation that Joshua was thrust into upon the passing of Moses.

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. (Joshua 1:1, 2 ESV)

Joshua was probably feeling very inadequate to the task at hand. I believe that because of what God says to him after this. I don’t think God wastes words, and He would not have said what He did next in order to give Joshua the confidence needed to accomplish the mission God had given the nation.

God begins by assuring Joshua that he would have God’s backing in the same way Moses did.

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5 ESV)

He then goes on to tell Joshua what would be required for him to succeed. The problem Joshua must have been contending with was fear of failure in such a monumental undertaking. Otherwise, why would God have repeated the same instruction three times?

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9 ESV)

The positive command is given to be strong and courageous, and is restated in the negative a fourth time as “do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed.” And He did not just give the command, but told Joshua how to gain the courage and strength. He was to constantly talk about and meditate upon the Book of the Law. By keeping the promises of the Word of God constantly in his mouth and mind, his courage and strength would not be rooted in his own abilities and talents, but upon God.

By constant meditation on God’s Word, he would also be better equipped to mentor those who would someday replace him when he died, in the same way Moses had done for him. Centuries later, Paul would give similar advice to Timothy.

and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV)

This was very effective, as we can see at the end of the Book of Joshua. Those who served with Joshua and witnessed his example were all faithful to the God he had served, and led Israel in the right path.

Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel. (Joshua 24:31 ESV)

So whatever situation or circumstance is before you, be strong and very courageous. Keep the Word of God “dwelling in you richly” and believe what God says and not what man may say. In doing so you will be brought safely through to the other side of the problem, and will set an example for others to follow after you are gone!

20121001-004638.jpg

%d bloggers like this: