Posts tagged ‘grace’

Two Men Praying

This is a story, aka parable, is based on the story Jesus used that is recorded in Luke chapter 18 of the Pharisee and the tax collector. I wanted to update the characters, without changing the story, but the first obstacle was that some may think I am referring to specific people I know. That could not be further from the truth. Both people are conflations of many hundreds of people I have met in 50 years of living. So if you think I am talking about you, you are wrong. If, however, you are convicted by what the story says, then maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to get your attention regarding some things and attitudes you may be harboring. As before, I still get none of the credit or blame for the results. So here goes.

One day in a church building in a typical city, a lifelong churchgoer stopped during lunch to pray. He had been reading many stories about various ones who were preaching error, as well as articles on apologetics aimed at exposing false doctrines that disagreed with the conclusions from Scripture of the author. With all this going through his mind, he prayed this way:
“Lord, I thank you that I am not like others who go to denominational churches. I don’t listen to worldly music, I attend every church service, I only associate with those who teach correctly and agree with me, I partake of weekly communion, don’t believe any false teachings, have been baptized in water, and worship only with those acts you authorize. Thank you that I am we’ll pleasing in your sight and am doing those things necessary to stay saved.”

Out in next to the curb by the church building is a man who is too ashamed to come inside. His guilt from sin is overwhelming and he is at the end of his rope. He cries out to God and can only say a simple prayer. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

One of these men went home that day justified.

Why? Because whenever we start thinking that our standing with God is based on the quality or quantity of our performance, we are basing our salvation on our works, not on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Our standing with God produces good works, and not the other way around. When we deny salvation to those who have not performed a ceremony, or are not doing some list of required works to maintain their saved status, we have fallen from the gospel of grace.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2, 3 ESV)

But wait, those men in Luke 18 were under the old law and not under the new system. For one, are you saying that under the New Covenant it is more difficult to be saved? Well not to worry. In Luke 16:16 Jesus said that the law and the prophets were only in force until John the Baptist, but after that people could enter into the Kingdom of God. Yes, people were being saved when they believed on Jesus even during His earthly ministry.

So I would ask you to read the little story again and ask yourself this question in light of Romans 10:9-10 –
In the story above, which one went home justified before God?

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The Blood Cries Out

Murder is a terrible thing. That is especially true when it involves family members. When a murder happens, there is instinctively a desire for justice and punishment. There is a felt need for justice to be done and for retribution to be handed out. Such was the case when e first murder occurred in Genesis as Cain killed his brother Abel.

Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. “So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. (Genesis 4:8-11 NKJV)

Because of his crime, the blood of Abel cried out from the ground and brought down upon Cain a curse for his crime.

There is another time in Scripture that there is blood that cries out. During what is commonly called the passion of Christ, his blood was also shed. During the beatings, the scourging, and the crucifixion, Jesus shed blood. Like Abel, it was blood that was being shed by an innocent man, and was in connection with the offering of a sacrifice. The Hebrew writer says this about that blood:

to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12:24 NKJV)

Abel’s blood, when it was shed, cried out to God for judgment, justice, and condemnation. The blood of Jesus also cries out, but speaks of better things. The blood of Jesus cried out “atonement, grace, forgiveness, and salvation!” The blood of Abel was like the sacrifices of the Law which only had the power to condemn. But the blood of Jesus is the blood of the New Covenant that brings forgiveness instead of guilt, grace instead of law, and salvation instead of condemnation!

In context, the Hebrew writer was making reference to an event that happened on Mount Sinai when Moses came down the mountain and found that the people were reveling in their sinful passions. On that day at Mount Sinai 3,000 people were killed as God judged them for their sins.
So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. (Exodus 32:28 NKJV)
Later, when the church was born at the feast of Pentecost, this time on Jerusalem (Mount Zion), the Holy Spirit descended, the Gospel was preached, and 3,000 people were saved. That is the difference now that the blood of Christ has been shed. Instead of instant judgment by the Law, those who received the Word and were baptized that day were forgiven and given eternal life! All of this was and is made possible by the blood of Christ that “speaks better things” for those who believe and obey the Gospel!

So come by the blood. Come to Christ and appropriate for yourself that cleansing power and have the blood cry out “forgiven, justified, and set free” over you today! Have peace with God because of the blood that was shed for your salvation.

and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:20 NKJV)

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In the Glory Land Way

Navigation systems.
Seems like nowadays we have to have them. They are useful, when the work correctly. But many things can go wrong. Sometimes, if you put in that you want to go to Appleton, you have to make sure you specify the one in Wisconsin. Following directions to Appleton, Illinois will not get you home any time soon!

We are all on a journey, and we need to make sure we are on the correct path, and also in the right kind of vehicle if we are to arrive at our desired eternal destination.

The onramp: Salvation
Before we are delivered from sin, we are all on the wrong road. It is a very wide and spacious road, and no one gets in your way. Most folks are on it, and who are we to say that they are wrong? Right? Well Jesus said otherwise.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13, 14 NASB)

The vehicle: Grace
In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul wrote that we are saved “by grace through faith” so I am making grace the vehicle, and faith the engine. For after we are saved, we must remain in grace in order to make it to our heavenly home. At no point in the journey are we ever without the need for grace. So now we have the vehicle, and discovered as well that it is ours as a gift! So how do we make it go?

The Engine: Faith
We must have faith to make any progress on our Christian journey. And faith we must have, without faith we cannot please God, nor receive the reward for those who diligently seek him.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 NASB)

But how do we get this faith and make it strong? By taking in the Word of God!

So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17 WEB)

So we now know we need faith for an engine, and we know where to get it. Now we need some fuel.

The Fuel: Love
The fuel our faith engine runs on is love.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision amounts to anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6 WEB)

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, (Ephesians 1:15 NASB)

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of love. Without it, your entire journey is for nothing. Nothing else matters if you don’t mix it with love.

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, (Ephesians 3:17 NASB)

We have our vehicle, the engine is in, the tank is fueled, and will continue to be refilled, with love. What kind of highway are we supposed to drive on?

The Road: Patience
Back in Matthew 7 we saw that the road is narrow and few people will find it. Once we are on this narrow road, what kind of road is it? It is a road of patience. If we were to receive everything instantly, we would have little opportunity to build our character. It is in the waiting that we learn to trust God.

so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:12 ESV)

Yes, our final salvation must be hoped for with patience.

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24, 25 ESV)

Paul commended the Thessalonians for their patience, faith and love.

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; (1 Thessalonians 1:3 KJV)

Now we are equipped for the journey. We have to remember that not of the things I have mentioned above are optional. They all are essential and there are no substitutes for them. Take away any of them, and the others are ineffective and/or nullified. If this is not a journey you have begun, or if you realize that you thought the journey had begun but find yourself on the broad road, come to Jesus and begin the journey on the narrow road. Get in the Glory Land Way!

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Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:14, 15 NASB)

I would like to pose a question to you. Which is easier to do, weeping with those who weep, or rejoicing with those who rejoice? Before you answer please consider the following points, because I am convinced that it is easier to weep with those who weep.

Of course it is easy to rejoice with a family member or close friend that is joyful over a happy turn of events. But what about the co-worker who gets the promotion we felt should have been ours? Do we succumb to envy, or do we rejoice with them and really mean it? When the Apostle Paul wrote these words, he didn’t put any qualifiers on it. We are to rejoice with those that rejoice, period!

“Yes, but what about those who persecute me?” I’m glad you asked! Did you notice verse 14 above? It says to bless those who persecute you. Again, there is no exception clause here. But what does it mean for us to bless them? It means we are to speak well of them, even when they are speaking evil of us. We are to pray for the conversion and salvation of their souls, not for their eternal destruction. Later in this same passage, he puts it this way:

“BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20, 21 NASB)

Sounds to me like we don’t have any choice in the matter if we want to be pleasing to God. So if your enemy is rejoicing over receiving something good, then rejoice with him. Even if they are going behind your back and despise you, follow the biblical admonition to “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Romans 12:17 NASB)

In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5, Jesus addressed this subject as well.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NASB)

But why does God require us to treat “evil” people this way? Because that’s the way He treated us!

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 NASB)

Yes, while we were sinners and His enemies, Christ died for us. He didn’t wait until we changed our minds and wanted to have a relationship with Him. He died for us while we were squarely in the dominion of darkness. And if we have received the mercy and grace ourselves, we would be despising the love that was demonstrated for us to withhold that from others who are our enemies.

So when someone who is out to get you gets a promotion, or when another who is less deserving gets a raise, or someone else marries the one who you once were so close to, rejoice with them! The only way way to overcome darkness is with the light. And the way to overcome evil is with goodness. In the end, you will preserve your soul, and may deliver theirs as well!

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A Learning Experience

Jehovah God is omniscient, knowing all that is, all that has been, and all that will be. He has always been that way because it part of His divine nature. Jesus, in whom the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, shares this attribute (Colossians 2:9). So why would the writer of Hebrews say something like this?

“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation”, (Hebrews 5:8, 9 NASB)

Jesus did something His heavenly Father had never done — He learned! As Almighty God, Jehovah had never needed to learn anything! But since Christ had “emptied himself” of His divine prerogatives in order to be incarnate and come to earth as a man, He grew and had to learn obedience. God has never needed to obey anyone, either!

If Jesus was without sin (and He was), the what does the writer mean when saying Christ was “made perfect”? Perfect here in the Greek is not talking about sinless moral perfection, but about completeness. To be our high priest, Jesus had to not only be fully God, but also fully man. He would have to be tempted in every way men are, yet without sin. This could only be a completed by learning to be obedient.

And because of the obedience He exhibited, Christ is the source of eternal salvation. To whom? Those who say a prayer of salvation? Those who, deep down, believe? Those who He has elected ahead of time and regenerated before they decided either way? No! He is the source of eternal salvation to only one group of people — those who obey Him! As I have said in previous posts, I am not saying we are not saved by faith, but rather that obedience is a part of faith, and without it faith is dead. Can you imagine how something dead and lifeless could transmit eternal life? Of course not!
If I were a reporter, I would summarize salvation this way:
Who saves us: Jesus Christ
What saves us: grace
How grace saves us: faith
When and where faith saves us: baptism
Why: His love for us.

I cannot think of a better way to summarize my thoughts than what was written by John Sammis in 1887 –“Trust and Obey”.

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

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The Opposite Of Belief

The Opposite Of Belief
In modern English usage, belief can be defined as mental assent to an idea. But what is belief in a biblical sense? Is it mere mental assent, or trust, or confession? One way to see what belief means in the Bible is to see what it is contrasted with. Let’s go to the foremost authority on the subject, Jesus Christ.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)
So according to Jesus, the opposite of belief is disobedience! In fact, belief and obedience are inextricably linked together. This link is so strong that to speak of belief or faith without stating or implying obedience is to take it out of context!
Even in Mark 16:16, where Christ says that, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved, and he who does not believe will be condemned” many teachers try to twist the verse to say that it refutes the essential nature of obedience (in this case baptism). But in fact, since obedience is implied whenever belief is mentioned, the verse in no way weakens the command to believe and be baptized!
So am I talking about a salvation by works? Of course not. In baptism, it is God who is doing the work of regeneration. When Paul speaks of works, he is usually referring to “works of the Law” and not obedience in faith. And he is correct! Law keeping has no power to save! But James speaks of works as a natural consummation of saving faith. Again, we are saved by faith in the resurrection of Christ, but that salvation is effected at baptism. (1 Peter 3:21)
So what is it that we are supposed to obey? The Gospel!
“in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV). But what is the Gospel? According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, this is the Gospel:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5 ESV)
But how does someone obey an event like the death, burial and resurrection?
According to Romans 6, it is done in baptism.
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:4-6 ESV)

When we participate in the death, burial and resurrection at baptism, we obey the Gospel and our faith saves us! As Peter wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21 ESV). Write all you want to explain this verse away, but you can’t force it to say anything other than “baptism saves you”!

Remember, the opposite of belief is disobedience. You cannot speak of faith without obedience, or you are taking belief out of context!

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How Much Forgiveness Did I Need?

How Much Forgiveness Did I Need?

To begin, I want to start with an encounter that Jesus had with a Pharisee and a sinful woman in Luke 7.

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisees house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisees house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner. (Luke 7:36-39 NKJV)

There are some things in this story that stand out to me.
1. Despite of the reputation of the Pharisees of being holy men, this “sinner” was not hesitant to go right into this one’s home. There is no indication that the servants had tried to resist her entry. Why is that? Could it be that they were used to seeing her there?
2. Extravagant forgiveness provokes extravagant love in response. No one had to tell this woman that she was a sinner. The knowledge she had of her sinfulness and her desperate spiritual bankruptcy is what motivated her to seek out Jesus in the first place! Only a deep sense of gratitude for the magnitude of what has been blotted out of our account would cause such a spontaneous outpouring of worshipful adoration! Jesus had spoken about this in Matthew 5 when he said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NKJV) Only when we comprehend our spiritual poverty will we run to Christ for rescue from our helpless estate.
3. Yes, Jesus knew EXACTLY what kind of woman this was, for she was just the type of person He came to seek and save.
“For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13 NKJV)

But the narrative does not end here.
And Jesus answered and said to him, Simon, I have something to say to you. So he said, Teacher, say it. There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more? Simon answered and said, I suppose the one whom he forgave more. Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. (Luke 7:40-47 NKJV)

When Jesus had arrived at Simon’s home as an invited guest, he had been treated with rude indifference. The woman, on the other hand, responded with such humility and love, that she had the attention of everyone present.

And she didn’t care who saw her or what others opinions were of her. Love makes us that way. And Jesus tells Simon that this s because she had been forgiven much and therefore loved much. Notice that Jesus did NOT say it was because “she had a lot worse sins than you did, Simon.”

You see Jesus didn’t link the love to the amount of sins, but to the amount of forgiveness granted. Jesus did’nt say it was because she sinned much, but because she had been forgiven much. That is a critical distinction, because Simon the Pharisee was in just as much need of forgiveness as the sinful woman!

Sin carries with it a death penalty. And since all have sinned, everyone is under that sentence of death (Romans 3:23). That is why John 3:17 says Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. It is because the world was already condemned!

And a death penalty is a death penalty, whether you were sentenced for a murder or 100 murders. When the condemned is pardoned, he is taken out from under that penalty and should be thoroughly grateful. The real problem in the story is not the woman’s lavish, unsolicited, and unauthorized response. The problem was Simon’s lack of any response other than indifference.

So with this story in mind, let us examine ourselves and ask who we are most like in this story; Simon, or the woman.

I conclude with words of ex-slave ship captain John Newton.
“My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things; That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”

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