The “Platinum Rule”

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We just talked about this yesterday.  Message unchanged….  There is a definite call to humble ourselves and to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think … as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (Cf. Romans 12:3) This reminds me of when Jesus taught His “Sermon on the Mount” and said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Cf. Luke 6:31) Perhaps, a “Platinum Rule” should read: “Treat others in the same manner that God has treated you in Christ Jesus.”  I think that raises the bar a notch….

We need to remember that God has been more kind, more gentle, more longsuffering, more patient, more forgiving, more compassionate, and more loving towards us than we ever tend to be towards one another; yet, we are made in His image and called to live as Jesus did. (Cf. 1 John 2:6) So this brings me back to two key passages:

Galatians 5:22-26 (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

It is only by the Spirit of God living within us that can ever hope to attain the godliness He desires within each of us.  And a person does not receive the Holy Spirit except that he/she believes in Jesus Christ … placing their faith in His life, death, and resurrection for the assurance of this gift. As Peter affirmed (and I often quote): “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3) And indeed, we need the power of God to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our relationships with one another.  I can see no other conclusion for a believer … a child of God.  As John emphasized in His epistle: “Dear friends, let us love one another … for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and know God.” (Cf. 1 John 4:7)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Dealing With Sin

Matthew 18:15 (NIV)

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

It appears that the Holy Spirit wants us to deal with the issue of sin within our relationships.  As the Apostle John admonishes us:

1 John 3:1-10 (NIV)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the Law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

So in the context of this “post resurrection” understanding brought to us by John, let’s go back to the matter Jesus discusses with His disciples and followers while He was still with them:

Matthew 18:15-20 (NRSV) – Dealing with Sin in the Church

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out their offense when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that brother or sister16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Cf. Deuteronomy 19:1517 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a pagan or a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

An authentic encounter with Jesus Christ should produce a discernible change of heart within an individual.  It is not enough to simply know about Jesus; rather, a person must enter into an intimate relationship with Him … experience the new birth (born of God through His Spirit) … conceived in deep repentance and complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior.  John tells us that one who is born of God will not continue to sin because the Holy Spirit within them will bring conviction to their heart. This conviction will lead to confession of the sin. And as John instructed: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9) Likewise, we are called to have this same mindset of forgiveness with one another. (Cf. Colossians 3:13) Indeed, I think the Apostle James brings additional perspective on forgiveness when he enjoins us “to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed.” (Cf. James 5:13-16) I think his message is that not only should we “release” the one who sins against us, but we should advocate in prayer for their “release” in heaven.  In other words, when we forgive someone, we should ask God to forgive them as well. It does not necessarily change the consequence(s) of their sin(s), but the intent is to release the debt owed for their offense just as God in Christ released you….

Jesus taught that when we pray to God, we should ask for and receive forgiveness for our sins (trespasses or debts) because we have forgiven those who have sinned or trespassed against us.  What we are asking for is the “release” of the debt we owe for our own conduct toward God. We plead for the blood of Jesus to atone for our sin. We ask for His grace to be extended to us. So it is “expected” that we have forgiven others with the same grace that we have asked of the Father for ourselves. Jesus noted: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Cf. Matthew 6:9-15) With this context in mind, I encourage you to revisit Matthew 18:18 again: “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven.” Consider that if you or I withhold forgiveness from someone (bind it on earth); then it could be that our own prayers for forgiveness will be withheld from us (bound in heaven). It could be that we are guilty of the same sin(s) committed against us. Just a thought … in case you never committed the act of adultery but did so in your heart with a spirit of lust or covetousness.  Remember, Jesus has extended the threshold of sinfulness beyond physical deeds to include the malicious intentions of our hearts. For example, our tongues (our words) can wound the spirit or even murder the life of another person. If you have ever physically or emotionally bullied others, you have in essence murdered them in your heart….

Matthew 5:21-24 (NIV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder (Cf. Exodus 20:13) and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (an Aramaic term of contempt or verbal abuse) is answerable to the council. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

More than our tithes and offerings … more than our gifts or sacrifices of praise … God is concerned with the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He observes how we demonstrate our love for other people.  Is our love sincere or just lip service?  Is our love for others manifested in our prayers? God knows in truth.  In Christ Jesus, the love of God embodied in the greatest act of forgiveness … the release of our own sin debt.  Likewise, it is our forgiveness of others that expresses our love for them. Oh, it may be difficult in our human nature to do so; but the precepts presented here in Scripture are too obvious for us to disregard or dismiss.  Forgiveness does not mean what someone else did to you was acceptable. It was wrong. It was painful.  It impacted, diminished, or desecrated your life in some way. What they did should NOT be tolerated; however, it can still be forgiven. You can still “release” them and pray for them … even if reconciliation with you is not possible. In doing so, you affirm God has been merciful to you….  Remember, God did not excuse our sins! What He did was release us from the judgment for them (death). In most cases, we all still suffer from the consequences of our sin. Perhaps this is why James encouraged us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed of our brokenness….

Consider what Paul declared: “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!  “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (Cf. Romans 5:9-10) I believe forgiveness is probably the most powerful demonstration of love ever conceived in the heart of God.  And if we are to love one another as He has loved us, then forgiveness of others must be within our hearts as well.  The riches of His kindness, longsuffering, and patience is intended to lead us to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4) Perhaps, if we too acted with kindness and forgiveness, the one who offended us might be granted repentance as well. (Cf. 2 Timothy 24-26) As the Apostle James pointed out: My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (Cf. James 5:19-20) And we should take to heart the lesson Jesus taught us:

Luke 6:27-37 (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most-High God, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

When you love your enemies and do good to them, your reward will be great!  We were once enemies of God; and yet, for the JOY set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) We have been called in Christ Jesus to share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. (Cf. Romans 8:17) Peter affirmed this reward as well: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (Cf. 1 Peter 4:12-14) Yes, somehow we need to find it within us to be kind to those who sin against us.  To me, the greatest kindness we can extend is forgiveness.  We can release them to God for His judgment.  Perhaps they might respond to His kindness.

Romans 12:17-21 (NIV)

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:3520 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, then feed him; if he is thirsty, then give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Cf. Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Well, I see that I have covered quite a bit of ground on the issue of forgiveness.  A final thought to share is that communication and interaction are essential for forgiveness and reconciliation to be realized.  We are expected to “confront” our offenders.  We should go to them in love … even when we should feel righteous anger toward them.  How we feel is important … but how they are separated from you and from God is the greater issue to be addressed.  When people sin against each other … we must realize that we sin against God.  There should be a deep sense of sorrow for the offense.  There should be a great desire to effectuate reconciliation. The impulse to seek revenge should be counterbalanced with a deeper desire to see repentance and restoration. And even though you act in a spirit of grace, there could be ambivalence or indifference on the part of the offender. Still, you and I should do what is best and just commit them to God.  And do not be offended or upset with God because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  His kindness once led you and I to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ. So I believe that we should pray that God would do the same for those who offend us. For God is longsuffering toward us all – not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (Cf. 2 Peter 3:9)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Law of the Spirit

Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

This verse is a great encouragement … and opens an entire chapter of Scripture focused on the immutable love of God for those who believe in the Lord Jesus.  Beginning with the word “therefore” to connect this affirmation of “no condemnation” for those who are in Christ Jesus, we should probably go back to Romans 7 to understand the “conclusion” Paul is bringing to the forefront.  It is Romans 7 where we find a detailed description of the spiritual conflict within us … the struggle to put our sinful nature to death.  Paul shares his insight on how the Law and its commandments work to reveal our sinful nature and to articulate how our sinful behavior and conduct manifest: 

Romans 7:7-13 (NIV)

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

In dealing with sin, we have to recognize that the Law and the Commandments were spoken by God through Moses to instruct His people … to impart light, wisdom, and knowledge to those He chose to be His people from all the peoples of the earth.  God said, “ Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Cf. Exodus 19:5-6) And, “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Cf. Leviticus 20:26) Indeed, the will of God has always been for His people to obey Him; and it is our obedience that should set us apart (sanctify us) from all other people:

Deuteronomy 26:16-19 (NIV)

16 The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to Him, that you will keep His decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to Him. 18 And the Lord has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised, and that you are to keep all His commands. 19 He has declared that He will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations He has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as He promised.

We need to get this historical understanding and perspective because Paul indicates there is “new covenant” of obedience that will not come through the Law and its commandments; rather, it will take a spiritual form brought forth through the death and resurrection of Christ. Through the wisdom given to him, Paul shares how the Old Covenant administrated through Moses worked to expose the depth of moral corruption within us by giving us the knowledge of it.  And the sacrificial system instituted under Moses was a constant reminder of the need for atonement through the physical death (shed blood) of a “substitute” for the person who sinned … who violated the Law of God.  Paul explains that the commandments let us know when we have transgressed the holiness God expects of us … and through sin we have entered into condemnation and death.  It is this picture of the Law and the condemnation it brings forth that has awakened Paul to the truth of the New Covenant through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Romans 7:14-25 (NIV)

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I believe what Paul is articulating here is the internal struggle with the sinful nature we experience as humans. The conflict between our spirits and our flesh is ongoing; and we are in need of rescue from this spiritual war (the Law is spiritual).  Though in our spirits we desire to do what is right and good, we are unable to do so within our own power. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:6-8) Yes, it is Jesus Christ who has delivered us from the death brought through sin.  Jesus, the Son of God, became the eternal atonement through His physical death (shed blood) on the cross as our “substitute”. As the Apostle John affirmed: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (Cf. John 3:17)

God declared you and I are forgiven if we believe in His Son and abide in Him. Though as transgressors we are worthy of the condemnation of death, God in His great love and mercy ordained that in Christ Jesus there would no longer be condemnation for our sin. The penalty required for sin has been paid. Restitution has been made on our behalf. But we need to be careful to observe that this liberty from the law of sin and death is for those who are IN Christ Jesus.  Forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration is afforded to those who believe and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Let’s return to the Apostle John on this matter:

John 3:16-21 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Our human rebellion against God did not change with the introduction of the Law and commandments; rather, it only afforded the knowledge of our sinful human nature so that we would know what God desires of those He created in His image. “All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:3-6) Thus, it is only by the grace of God that we are saved. He sent His Son, Jesus, to not only bring true light into the world but to save the world from the condemnation of sin and spiritual death. As Peter informs us: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3)

So what is the application for us?  How do we live in obedience to the Law … and deal with our sinful human nature that draws us into rebellion against it?  Paul explains that we must live in the Spirit in order to accomplish the requirements of the Law.  And it is through believing in Jesus Christ that we receive His Spirit to abide in us forever.  For the Holy Spirit is the seal of our redemption … deposited as a guarantee of what God has promised to those who love Him. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:4-5; Ephesians 1:13-15) And so we are called to be led by the Holy Spirit and to live in Him:

Galatians 5:13-25 (NIV)

13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We cannot change what the Law and commandments bring to our conscience; nor can we resolve the conflict produced in our flesh because of our sinful nature.  We have to see and understand that a spiritual problem requires a spiritual solution.  And the Spirit God gave us affords us power, love, and self-control. (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7) Through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive His Spirit to indwell us and conform us to His image.  For this is the will of God!  This is the fulfillment of His commandments.  This is the New Covenant we enter through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is why we believe the love God has for us!  The “Law of Love” is put into our minds and it is written on our hearts because He abides in us and we abide in Him. The intimate relationship that God desires with us is perfected in love. This is how we know Him!

1 John 4:7-16 (NKJV)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

If we walk in the Spirit, we will walk in love. Through His indwelling Spirit, we will love one another as God through Christ Jesus has demonstrated His love for us. As Peter wrote: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  (Cf. 1 Peter 4:8) Love keep no record of debts. (1 Corinthians 13:4-6) This is why God will remember our sins no more. Our debt has been paid. We have been forgiven. We have been redeemed from the law of sin and death. There is now no condemnation! And this is why we praise and worship Jesus! Oh, how I pray these truths will encourage your heart to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Cf. Ephesians 3:18-19) And I pray we will love one another as He has loved us! (Cf. John 15:12) For love is how we will keep the Law of God so that our hearts will not condemn us:

1 John 3:11-24 (NIV)

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. 23 And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

If My People…

2 Chronicles 7:13-14

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people; if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

We have heard this passage from 2 Chronicles quoted several times since the Coronavirus Pandemic began; and I saved it for today: Our National Day of Prayer!  Although I realize this is being sent out quite late in the day, I hope it will impact our thoughts and attitudes about prayer everyday….

I believe the context of 2 Chronicles 7 is important for us to review. Beginning with Chapter 1 of 2 Chronicles, we learn about the heart of King Solomon and his prayer for wisdom. God granted the request along with wealth, possessions, and honor. Then beginning in Chapter 2, the narrative shifts to preparations for the building of the Temple, and construction begins in Chapter 3. The furnishings are reviewed in Chapter 4, and the entire work was completed in Chapter 5 when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the innermost sanctuary (Holy of Holies) of the temple.  There were sacrificial offerings and worship, and the manifested glory of God filled the temple as a cloud….  I invite you to read this historical account when you have the time….

But it is Chapter 6 that sets the stage for our call to prayer.  Here, Solomon addresses the assembly to bless them and then offers a public prayer of dedication.  He expounds that the Temple cannot contain the God of Heaven; but Solomon asks that God be attentive to the prayers and supplications offered before Him there, and to hear from heaven … to forgive, to judge, to heal, to restore, and to show mercy.  What you will note in his prayer, is the acknowledgement that people will sin against God – for there is no one who does not sin. (Verse 36) But the holiness of God has to address the issue of sin.  There is an expectation of repentance on the part of people and forgiveness on the part of God.  And this interaction is what occurs during prayer.  God judges the sin … but He is sovereign to justify the repentant sinner….

In Chapter 6, as Solomon prayed, there is a list of the judgments or afflictions that he shared as examples:

1.         When anyone wrongs their neighbor and is required to take an oath before the altar

2.         When the nation is defeated by an enemy because they have sinned

3.         When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned

4.         When famine or plague comes to the land; blight or mildew; locusts or grasshoppers

5.         When enemies besiege in the cities; whatever disaster or disease

Solomon goes on praying, asking the Lord God to be responsive to prayers offered:

1.         When the foreigner (outsider) come and pray toward the Temple, grant their prayers for Your glory

2.         When the nation goes to war against their enemies … grant their prayers and uphold their cause.

3.         When people sin and repent … forgive and restore them.

Beginning in Chapter 7, when Solomon finished praying, the text states that “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple!  What a powerful manifestation … revelation of God in response to prayer!  The people saw the power of God fall, knelt with their faces to the ground, worshiped, and gave thanks to God.  And then an incredible time of sacrifice and worship followed these events over the next seven days.  And this sets the stage for our verse:

2 Chronicles 7:11-16 (NIV)

11 When Solomon had finished the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the Lord and in his own palace, 12 the Lord appeared to him at night and said: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. 13 WHEN I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

Did you note the word “when” in Verse 13?  It indicates that God will engage or allow His natural creation to bring affliction to His people.  We could view the ensuing suffering and consequence as judgment for sin; but perhaps, the purpose of God is to recapture our attention. Maybe these things “happen” because of sin … our sinful nature … and God wants us to recognize we have offended Him; that we have transgressed His commandments and need to repent. He desires us to repent, to seek forgiveness, and to receive restoration.  It is not about what God allows to happen to us; it is about our response to God’s correction and discipline!  It is about our hearts … our sorrow … our reverence and love for God.  Whatever happens … whatever we observe or encounter in our physical life … it should prompt reflection and repentance and restoration in our spiritual life.  As Solomon prayed:

2 Chronicles 6:28-31 (NIV)

28 “When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when enemies besiege them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, 29 and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of their afflictions and pains, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— 30 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know the human heart)31 so that they will fear you and walk in obedience to you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors.

What you and I do in prayer … how we respond to God in whatever situation or circumstance He brings into our lives … impacts relationship with Him and reflects our faith in Him.  It means that we should keep a humble spirit and attitude. It means that we should realize we are not perfect and need to repent and confess our sins to Him. God wants us to carefully observe His commands … and to endeavor to fulfill His will in our lives. (Cf. Deuteronomy 4:6; 11:22) But when we fail, we need to see it.  We need to recognize it and respond in humility and transparency. As the Apostle John affirmed: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9) Father God wants us to enter His presence and to seek Him.  He is willing to hear … willing to forgive … willing to heal. But His response is conditional.  It is conditioned upon our willingness to humble ourselves; to pray; to seek His face; and to turn from our sinfulness.  This is the key to effectiveness in prayer.  This is the message for the Prodigal … for the wayward and lost! God wants the attention of His people, and He will allow adversity to accomplish His desire.

So in our prayer time, let us humble ourselves and seek God while He is near.  While we are still and focused, let us repent of every sin that offends and separates us from intimate fellowship with God.  And let us give thanks to God for Lord Jesus Christ … for His atoning sacrifice and redemption.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; yet God did not leave us in a desolate place of hopelessness. God is far too concerned about the destructive power of sin and its assault our well-being.  So He laid the iniquity of us all upon His Son to rescue us from the dominion of darkness and to bring us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. (Cf. Isaiah 53:6; Colossians 1:13) Yes, let us praise God today for His mercy and grace.  And may we fear God with all reverence and walk in the obedience of faith. As Paul urged: “Whatever happens, let us conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. (Cf. Philippians 1:27)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Parameters of Prayer…

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him. ~ 1 John 5:14-15

We have been talking about being faithful in prayer; and this verse reviews some appropriate parameters of prayer….

First of all, we need to realize that asking God for anything must certainly be aligned with His will. For why would God grant anything that is contrary to His will and desire for us?  Think about that for a moment.  He allows or permits us to have thoughts and to conduct ourselves against His leading, guidance, and the precepts of His Word.  But if we ask Him to do so in prayer, it is not something that He will grant us.  No, John tells us that we must ask according to His will and He will hear us….

Therein lies the challenge for us.  If we want to know if our prayers will be answered … if we want to have confidence when approaching God in prayer … the key will be to know His will!  This means we need to have an understanding of what the will of God might be in order to have confidence that we will receive what we ask.  So some thoughts arise here as I mediate on this verse.  When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, we learn that God is to be approached with reverence and to acknowledge His authority over heaven and earth:

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Luke 11:1-4 (NIV)

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Our Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’”

What is the difference between “your kingdom come” and “your will be done?”  Is not His kingdom … His sovereign rule in accordance with His will? I sense that asking for His kingdom to come so that His will is done is the point … the application. The kingdom of God must first come to our hearts in order for our thoughts to be changed so that our behaviors (conduct) will change. We know Jesus as Savior but we know Jesus as Lord also.  We must surrender all to Jesus if we are to ever to know His will and to ask according to it.  So what John shared is consistent with what Jesus taught….  Paul weighs in on this point as well; explaining that the intercessory prayer of the Spirit is in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

So what would be some examples of approaching God according to His will?  Do we have anything explicit in the Word of God to guide us in prayer according to His will?  Well, the Bible is filled with the will of God – expressed as His commandments, statutes, ordinances, and precepts. And we know that with the law comes the knowledge of sin (Cf. Romans 3:20) because sin is the transgression of God’s law by definition. (Cf. 1 John 3:4) Paul reasoned that whatever is not of faith is sin. (Cf. Romans 14:23) So when we sin, we are not acting in accordance with the will of God.  Thus, God will not answer a prayer that leads to sin; rather, His desire is for our obedience … our holiness.

2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not willing that any should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance.

John 6:29 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”

John 6:40 (NIV)

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (NIV)

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorablenot in passionate lust like the unbelievers, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you His Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 (NIV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 

1 Peter 2:15-16 (NRSV)

15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.

So, I am confident that anyone who prays to be obedient … to repent and believe in His Son … to receive salvation through Jesus will receive answered prayer.  I am sure that anyone who prays for sanctification will experience that process in their heart. I am certain that God receives our thanksgiving and praise in prayer. And I believe when you pray to do the right thing, God will hear you.  But what about prayers and requests that are improper … even asking in opposition to the will of God?  The Apostle James addressed this matter when he wrote:

James 4:1-4 (NASB)

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You desire (lust) and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasuresYou adulterous people, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

It is probable that if we ask anything according to our own will, God will not be inclined to hear.  Unless our personal will conforms to the revealed will of God, John indicates that God will not hear that prayer. Silence is the response … the answer.  Indeed, James indicates that prayers focused on ourselves or our worldly passions are in opposition to God and offensive to Him.  He compares such prayers to infidelity and unfaithfulness.  The Prophet Isaiah makes similar commentary:

Isaiah 59:1-3 (NIV)

1 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wickedness.

So what is the application here?  Confidence in prayer stems from confidence in faith! Anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) We cannot be double-minded or waiver when we approach God in prayer. James gives us this admonition: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”(Cf. James 1:5-8) Likewise, James instructed: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

As we can see, doubt or unbelief can be as great a hindrance to prayer as any other sin.  So, trusting God at His Word … asking according to His Will … and believing you have what you ask are great steps to take when it comes to prayer. This is what Jesus taught as well: “So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.  Indeed, our prayers will be heard when we position ourselves within these parameters of prayer that God has revealed to us.  And I hope this study will encourage you in your prayer time.  Be bold and courageous … and believe!    

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

1 John 5

Faith in the Incarnate Son of God

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Concluding Affirmations

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

FAITHFUL IN PRAYER

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. ~ Romans 12:12

Perhaps our verse is a timely word … as events continue to unfold that bring us ever closer to our day of full redemption … complete salvation.  Paul urges us to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. I cannot think of any greater advice for believers in these days of disorder and darkness.  For what we sense in our spirits is very real; and Paul explains these feelings in some detail … that we might understand and find comfort in the love of God who will work all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose:

Romans 8:18-28 (NIV)

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. 21 For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, with those who have been called according to His purpose.

While all three of these exhortations are important to practice, I especially want to encourage all of us to be faithful in prayer.  Yes, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to pray for you when you are not sure what to pray or how to pray.  For the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans … but God understands what is being said and what is in your heart so that your prayer will be in accordance with His will.  And His will is to cause all things to work for our good. What has been meant for evil … God Himself will work for good in your life and mine.  Yes, the Lord Jesus will bring us through this present darkness and fulfill His promise.  He will come! He will return for us! At the right time … when all hope might seem lost … Jesus will appear and we will meet Him in the air. Those who have died will be resurrected … and those who are alive will be changed.

John 14:1-6 (NIV)

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I amYou know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”

John 11:21-27 (NIV)

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Luke 21:25-36 (NIV)

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Yes, Jesus told us to ALWAYS be on the watch … and to pray two petitions:

1.         That we may be able to escape all that is about to happen

2.         That we may be able to stand before the Son of Man

Jesus also taught us to “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Cf. Matthew 26:41) And Paul urge believers to: “Devote yourselves to prayer – being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message … so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ….” Yes, we need to be faithful in prayer for those who preach the Gospel … for those who will be persecuted and imprisoned for preaching the truth in love … for those who will be sharing the light of God with others … that each will articulate and proclaim it clearly!  And we should be wise in the way we act towards non-believers and make the most of every opportunity we have to share the love of God.  Our conversation should always be full of grace and seasoned with salt so that we may know how to answer everyone.  (Cf. Colossians 4:2-6)

Indeed, the day is approaching.  It is a time for faith to triumph over fear.  It is a time for us to be faithful in prayer for the prodigals … for the wayward and the lost.  It is a time for harvest … for the Word of God to be preached … for the message of Christ to accomplish faith unto salvation. “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:17) So let us heed these words of Jesus:

Luke 12:35-40 (NIV)

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when He comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for Him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when He comes. Truly I tell you, He will dress Himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if He comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Romans 12

Living Sacrifices to God

12 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Serve God with Spiritual Gifts

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Behave Like a Christian

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation,  continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. 17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance  is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Lord. 20 Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Ultimate Price…

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1:18-19

Redemption…. We have heard that word.  We have used that word in our studies.  And here, Peter tells us that we were “redeemed” from an empty way of life through the “precious blood” of Christ … as a perfect, unblemished lamb slaughtered for sacrifice on the altar of a Roman cross.  Indeed, our redemption was “purchased” with something of far greater value than perishable silver or gold….

To redeem something has several meanings.  Let’s look at some of these from Merriam-Webster:

1.         To buy back or repurchase

2.         To get or win back

3.         To free from captivity by payment of ransom

4.         To release from blame or debt

5.         To free from the consequences of sin

6.         To change for the better

7.         To repair or restore something (i.e. a relationship)

8.         To remove the obligation of by payment

9.         To exchange for something of value

10.       To atone for; to remove guilt; or expiate

There are more, but I think you get the full sense of what redeem can and does mean.  And as I review this list, I think to myself: Every one of these definitions articulate what Jesus Christ accomplished through the cross on our behalf.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) And, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Paul explains that we were “sold as slaves to sin”. (Romans 7:14) The sinful human nature has held us captive … like prisoners of darkness.  But Christ Jesus redeemed us! He repurchased us from the slave owner of darkness! He released us from the consequences of our sins! He paid the price of death for our sins … and removed our personal, individual obligation of the required payment.  This how we need to understand redemption!

But there is more that Jesus accomplished!  His selfless sacrifice was done to brings us back to God … to change us for the better … to restore our broken relationship with the Father.  These are the outcomes of His atonement for our transgressions while held under the power of sin.  His sacrifice removed our guilt while fulfilling the judgment required for our rebellion.  And all this required a high price.  The value of our redemption was set higher than the value of all the gold and silver in the earth.  God decreed that the just punishment was death … and then took that punishment upon Himself as a demonstration of His passionate love for us.  How can we even understand what God has done … except that Jesus Christ fulfilled it before the eyes of His disciples and followers.  And His resurrection from the dead confirmed: “It is Finished!”  There is no more payment required! An eternal redemption was paid in full on our behalf….

The writer of the Book of Hebrews offers us some insight on this matter:

Hebrews 7:23-27 (NIV)

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore He is able to save completely (forever) those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, Jesus does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.

Hebrews 9:11-14; 24-28 (NIV)

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did He enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

So I pray that we will spend some time mediating on this concept of redemption.  It is rooted in Jewish culture and theology; and it best articulates the message of the cross … explaining its necessity and affording a clear visual image of the infinite price exacted by God for our sin.  We need to see that the mission of the Messiah was to defeat the kingdom of darkness and to establish the kingdom of light.  And this is how Jesus fulfilled the purpose for which He was sent.  The kindness of God is seen in the redemption of the cross.  His kindness is intended to lead us to repentance.  Repentance will prepare us to reconciliation.  Reconciliation will bring us to resurrection.  Resurrection offers us restoration.  Restoration equips us for replication.  Replication will complete the love of God is us….

1 John 4:10-17 (NIV)

10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

So I hope each of us will internalize the unsurpassed value of our redemption … and how it should move us to the goal of replication.  And remember, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  He is interceding for us!  He is for us!  Indeed, Jesus wants us to grow in our faith and to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head! (Cf. Ephesians 4:15) It begins at the cross … the payment for our redemption. May God be forever praised … in the name of Jesus! Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

1 Peter 1:13-25 (NIV)

13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at His coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

Ephesians 1:3-14 (NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 11 In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.

My Redeemer Lives….

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth. Job 19:25

We have probably read or heard this verse from the oldest inspired text of the Bible … and I think it might be a word for us to revisit this morning.  We know the story of Job … the incredible losses that he suffered; the intense physical and emotional anguish inflicted upon him; and the deep lessons of faith that he learned as he persevered through the experience.  In the midst of this time of great pain, we find these comments which expressed the hope Job found within his soul … the hope of vindication … the promise of redemption … a confident assurance of resurrection … and a prophetic knowledge of a literal face-to-face meeting with the Lord at the end. 

Job 19:23-27 (NIV)

23 “Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, 24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! 25 I know that my redeemer (vindicator) lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth. 26 And after I awake, through this body has been destroyed, then in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

Job addresses not only the resurrection, but he declares we shall see God … with our own eyes!  And I think, “How my heart yearns within me!”  And, yet, is there not an element of “fear” that accompanies that thought?  When He stands upon the earth, and I stand before Him, what happens next?  I think about the Apostle John who personally witnessed the resurrection and the later ascension of Jesus … and while in exile on the island of Patmos He sees the Lord Jesus again and writes: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.” (Cf. Revelation 1:17a) I believe that is probably what will happen to most of us. There will be the undeniable reality (not faith) of what we have believed all these years standing right before us!  Oh, I think many of us will be filled with awe and wonder … and gripped with a certain element of fear.  There will be a long, hard gulp … a skip in our heartbeat … and intense reverence to worship Him.

I imagine there will be a swell of thoughts crashing and foaming in that moment.  Perhaps, a common thought will be: “Did I accomplish what I was created in Christ to do?”  “Did I miss His will … His call?” “Was I faithful at all times … in all circumstances during my life?” And yet, are those not questions we should be asking ourselves right now?  If we lived with Jesus in full line of  “sight” each moment, how would that change us now? Oh, how my heart longs to see Him now as I ought…. Oh, how my ears need to hear His voice now ….  Oh, how I need to do what I have been created in Christ to do now … what was prepared in advance for me to do.  (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) If we all lived as righteous Job, I believe there would be more confidence within each of us when we stand before God on that Day. Yes, we can be about the Father’s business right now … for He has equipped us to do so! “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7)

We know that our redeemer lives! But do we live in this awareness?  The Apostle John brings us this guidance for introspection: “We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands. Whoever says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did. (Cf. 1 John 2:3-6) Perhaps, we should all ask ourselves: “Do I live as Jesus did?” “Do I love others as I have been loved?”  “Do I forgive others as I have been forgiven?”  “Do I see others as I am seen by the Father?”  If we feel conviction with our answers, then we need to look deeper within ourselves. Consider this passage: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Cf. Hebrews 10:30-31)

Well, a short verse from the Book of Job can challenge us if we let it. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Cf. Hebrews 4:12) And so, I pray that we will always endeavor to apply the Word of God to our hearts … to change our thoughts and attitudes … so that we might have confidence and assurance when returns to the earth and we see Him as He is….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Job 19

1 Then Job replied:

“How long will you torment me
    and crush me with words?
Ten times now you have reproached me;
    shamelessly you attack me.
If it is true that I have gone astray,
    my error remains my concern alone.
If indeed you would exalt yourselves above me
    and use my humiliation against me,
then know that God has wronged me
    and drawn his net around me.

“Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response;
    though I call for help, there is no justice.
He has blocked my way so I cannot pass;
    He has shrouded my paths in darkness.
He has stripped me of my honor
    and removed the crown from my head.
10 He tears me down on every side till I am gone;
    He uproots my hope like a tree.
11 His anger burns against me;
    He counts me among His enemies.
12 His troops advance in force;
    they build a siege ramp against me
    and encamp around my tent.

13 “He has alienated my family from me;
    my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
14 My relatives have gone away;
    my closest friends have forgotten me.
15 My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner;
    they look on me as on a stranger.
16 I summon my servant, but he does not answer,
    though I beg him with my own mouth.
17 My breath is offensive to my wife;
    I am loathsome to my own family.
18 Even the little boys scorn me;
    when I appear, they ridicule me.
19 All my intimate friends detest me;
    those I love have turned against me.
20 I am nothing but skin and bones;
    I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth.

21 “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity,
    for the hand of God has struck me.
22 Why do you pursue me as God does?
    Will you never get enough of my flesh?

23 “Oh, that my words were recorded,
    that they were written on a scroll,
24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
    or engraved in rock forever!
25 I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end He will stand on the earth.

26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see Him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!

28 “If you say, ‘How we will hound him,
    since the root of the trouble lies in him,’
29 you should fear the sword yourselves;
    for wrath will bring punishment by the sword,
    and then you will know that there is judgment.”

SEEK AND SAVE

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10

When we think about Jesus, do we think about Him or His mission?  I know that I spend time mediating on Him … His person … His character … His example … His majesty.  But I think it is important for us to spend time mediating on His mission.  As our verse points out: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  And we, as born-again believers, are the evidence of His successful mission … a mission that was completed on the cross.

What we might on occasion overlook or forget is that His mission was for everyone … for the whole world.  As the Apostle John so eloquently put it: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) The mission … the purpose for which Jesus the Son was sent to the world is salvation of man.  It was through the redemption obtained by Jesus that God would reconcile the world to Himself.  The goal was to bring light into the world … understanding and the wisdom of God … so that we might know the only true God and Creator … that we might reverence Him … that we might surrender ourselves to Him.  When we think about Jesus, His Being is tied to His mission. And Jesus went to great lengths … even an undeserved death on a cross to complete and fulfill the will of God for us who believe.  It is now our responsibility as the Church to continue the mission….

What we need to realize and remember is that every human ever born is lost….  Think about that for a moment.  Every human ever born is lost and in need of salvation.  It is not our human nature to seek God. The Father has set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what He has done from beginning to end. (Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11) Therefore, the Father seeks us! And God does so in a personal way … through Jesus His Son! Indeed, God has revealed Himself … He has spoken to us through His Word … through His Prophets … and in these last days through His Son.  (Cf. Hebrews 1:1-3) Through Jesus, we see the kindness of God seeking us; leading us to repentance; and reconciling us to Himself. (Cf. Romans 2:4) God implores everyone to believe in Him and to sanctify ourselves for Him.

In Romans 10:14-15, Paul asked: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” And, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17) So, I pray that as we identify with the mission of Christ … we will join with Him in the mission.  The good works for which we have been created in Christ is to seek and to save the lost on His behalf. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) As Paul affirmed:

2 Corinthians 17-20 (NIV)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Dual Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:20-22

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Our verse (last Sunday) presented some incredible theology regarding the resurrection of Christ … and I believe it prompts further examination for us.  I have taken some time to let it penetrate my own heart and renew my thinking. I hope it will resonate in same way with you – to more deeply examine the implications of the resurrection both in the present and in the future. Let’s break down 1 Corinthians 15 and let it be the outline for some study:

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NIV)

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Here Paul begins with the affirmation of the Gospel and its salvific message.  He then reviews the three pillars on which the Christian faith rests (Christ died, was buried, and was resurrected) – which is the core of the Gospel message and the creed of our faith. And then Paul recounts those who were witnesses to the fact of the resurrection … lastly including himself during his “encounter” with Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Paul will contend it is the literal, bodily resurrection of Christ that supersedes the entire Gospel narrative as he continues to reason:

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (NIV)

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Paul is quite adamant that the resurrection of Christ has indeed occurred:

1 Corinthians 15:20-26 (NIV)

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him. 24 Then the end will come, when He hands over the Kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Indeed, in Verse 22, we see the theological implications of the resurrection from Genesis to Revelation.  In one sentence, Paul contrasts Adam with his Seed who will strike (crush) the head of Satan under His foot. (Cf. Genesis 3:15) Paul explains this victory in further detail through his letter to the Romans:

Romans 5:12-21 (NIV)

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. 15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. 20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:30-34 (NIV)

30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (Cf. Isaiah 22:13) 33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (Here Paul quotes the Greek Poet Menander34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

I believe the point Paul intends to make here is that the preaching of the resurrection has brought extreme hardship and death threats to him.  So if the resurrection did not happen, why would he put himself in such peril?  If the resurrection of Christ did not occur, then there is no atonement … our faith is in vain … we are still in our sins and salvation is just some sort of myth.  We might as well just eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we will die….  But Paul warns against such thinking; and he advises us to be careful not to listen to people who have no understanding or faith in the truth of the resurrection.  In a sense, unbelief in the resurrection is tantamount to unbelief in the Gospel – the testimony or word of God….

Paul goes on to surmise that someone will ask, ““How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” (Verse 35) And while it seems that Paul finds these questions somewhat “silly,” he proceeds to explain the process of our own resurrections using “natural” examples to teach “spiritual” truths.

1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (NIV)

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as He has determined, and to each kind of seed He gives its own body39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.

(Note: this quote is found in Genesis 2:7) Then the Lord God formed a man (Adam in Hebrew) from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Paul uses this contrast between the “first” Adam with the “last” Adam to highlight his following thought process:

46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

To me, the pertinent question here is: “What seed is it that we sow?”  “What seed is it that we bury … to die … so that it will emerge in a new form … as God determines?” I believe that seed to be buried is our life … the life we now live in our body.  And this brings to mind what Jesus taught:

Matthew 16:24-26 (NIV) (See also Mark 8:34-36; Luke 9:23-25)

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

It is clear that we are to die to our sinful nature; and I believe this is the seed we sow!  Our former life (our natural life) is to be buried with Christ Jesus through baptism into death in order that we too may live a new life … a resurrected life now (our spiritual life).  Just as Christ Jesus was raised from the dead after His crucifixion, so we are raised to new life … a new creation … that does not bear the image of what was sown; rather, it bears the image that God has determined.  Yes, He conforms us to the image of His Son!  (Cf. Romans 8:29)

Romans 6:1-11 (NIV)

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with HimFor we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. 10 The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

What I think we need to understand is that there is a spiritual resurrection that occurs now when we die to self, repent, and place our faith in Jesus. And there will be a resurrection of our bodies after our physical deaths that occurs later when Jesus returns for the day of judgement and His rule. But Paul goes on to assure us that the image we will bear in our resurrected bodies will be the same as the resurrected body of Jesus Christ. Oh how I pray that we get the importance of this revelation … because it sets the foundation for what Paul declares next:

1 Corinthians 15:50-55 (NIV)

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all die, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (Read Isaiah 25:6-8) Where, O death, is your sting?” (Cf. Hosea 13:14) 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Before He was sentenced to be crucified, Jesus told Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not from here.” (Cf. John 18:36) This is an interesting statement Christ made; but it does confirm that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God?  It is similar to what Jesus disclosed in His prayer for believers:

John 17:14-18 (NIV)

14 I have given them Your Word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.

Although we are not of this world, we are still in this world. Even though we serve the Kingdom of God within our physical flesh and blood, its realm will not be of this world! As Jesus explained to the Pharisees, “The Kingdom of God does not come with observation; rather, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Cf. Luke 17:20-21) Indeed, at the new birth (after we have died to ourselves and been resurrected in newness of life), the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us and we submit to His authority over us. Our citizenship is transferred into heaven – from which we await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. (Cf. Philippians 3:20) So even though the Kingdom of God is not of this world … our service to God IS within this world, and we are exhorted to continue the work of sanctification; that is, to set ourselves apart unto God and to lead others out of this world and into the Kingdom of Light. As Paul concluded in Verse 58: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

The concept of the Kingdom of God has its roots in the Old Testament – when YHWH (God) was thought of as the King of Israel … the ruler of His people. But with the birth of Jesus, the Kingdom of God entered with new power and redemption (i.e. the New Covenant – when God will put His law into our minds and write it on our hearts. See Jeremiah 31:31-34)   Jesus clearly taught that the “Kingdom” is present through His life and through His Word; yet, we must enter it of our own free will. So how do we reconcile the tension of these two views? Well, my thought, is that we must recognize that the Kingdom of God “embodies” a spiritual dimension.  Just as salvation has already been effectuated through the cross and we receive it in faith; the Kingdom of God was effectuated through the resurrection of Christ Jesus and we enter it through the Spirit! Both are available to us now. Both are realities in the future.

Death has reigned because of sin … from Adam until Jesus Christ. But we have been given victory over the sting of death and the power of sin. Sin no longer reigns; rather, Christ reigns in our hearts! Death from sin is being destroyed now by the preaching of the Gospel … it has been nailed to the cross! And when the Gospel has been fully preached to the ends of the earth, then the end will come. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” And the Apostle John tells us that when believers are resurrected (the first resurrection), we will reign with Christ Jesus in His Kingdom! (Cf. Revelation 20:4-6) Perhaps this is the Kingdom that Paul indicated would not be inherited by flesh and blood. Perhaps the Kingdom we enter now is not the same as the Kingdom we will enter after death. This is a mystery…. But we do know that Jesus Christ is the King Eternal … Immortal … Invisible. (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:17)

Jesus told us to pray: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your Kingdom come … your will be done … on earth as it is in heaven.” (Cf. Matthew 6:10) What does this mean in the context of our study? Well, understanding that the will of God is for all people to come to a knowledge of the truth (Cf. 1 Timothy 2:3), there is a Kingdom where God Himself has sworn by His own mouth, and His Word will not be revoked: “Before Me every knee will bow; by Me every tongue will swear.” (Cf. Isaiah 45:22-25) Paul quotes this passage in his discourse regarding our individual spiritual journeys in Romans 14. And in Philippians, Paul asserts sovereignty of God is fulfilled in our Lord Jesus.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;
rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest placeand gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.

Yes, in the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ rules in our hearts … and we bow to Him and acknowledge Him as Lord! And God invites all people to enter His Kingdom through His Son because Scripture tells us that submission to Jesus as Lord is required. Jesus declared, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (Cf. John 14:6) This is what God has ordained for His plan of redemption before the creation of the earth! So even though the Kingdom of God to come will not be experienced by flesh and blood, it will be experienced by our souls … which are ever present within us even now. And it appears that our souls will indwell our resurrected bodies … which will be like the resurrected body of Christ.  This should make us even more introspective of the question Jesus posed: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

As we think through the issues of faith, I think it is important to note that this tension between the present and the future should not be viewed as a hindrance to our understanding of Scripture; rather, I believe the “dualism” flows from the truth we encounter each day. As Paul explained, “there is a natural body and a spiritual body. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.” But we should recognize that the spiritual is readily manifested in the natural even now. Perhaps this experience should be considered an “integration” because each one impacts the other without reference to time.  There is a salvation now … and a salvation later.  There is a resurrection now … and a resurrection later. There is a Kingdom of God now … and a Kingdom of God later.  There is eternal life now … and eternal life later.  Yet, for God, it is the eternal present.  There is no time … and that is the mystery for us to reconcile. 

So, I hope that we will see these patterns and relationships between the physical (natural) and the spiritual (supernatural) presented here.  I pray that we will come to understand that what we do and how we respond to God impacts not only our spiritual birth and maturity within the physical reality of life we experience now, but I hope that we will come to understand how this impacts our inheritance of what God has prepared and declared for the new heavens and new earth to come. (Yes, even the heavens will experience a resurrection to come!) So while there is a reality of physical and spiritual integration in the present; there is a similar reality to be experienced in the age to come.  This is the hope of our salvation to come! And I believe the challenge is this: To enter the kingdom of God now … to deny ourselves and the attachments of darkness now … in order to inherit the kingdom of God to come – when Jesus returns in glory to take us to the place He has prepared for us. Yes, the body of sin must be put to death so that a spirit of holiness will prevail in us. Perhaps, this is why we are admonished: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  (Cf. Luke 9:23) Yes, for the Christian, death to sin is a daily decision. But the promises of God and our inheritance through Christ Jesus is worth it all – both now and in the age to come.

I realize this has been quite lengthy; and I appreciate your patience with me if you made it through…. I may not have articulated the points very well; but I hope you have been intrigued enough to examine these Scriptures for yourself and to consider how they should engage deeper thought on key theological issues of the faith.  I pray you and I will continue to grow in our knowledge of God through His Word and be changed by its truths….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!