Forgiven, Yet Still Under Judgment

Why are Christians under judgment? It seems absurd for Peter to inform believers that they are exposed to some divine review that demands obedience, if they have already been forgiven. Human courts don’t even allow offenders to be exposed to double jeopardy.

If Christians are truly forgiven before God, then why does the Bible say that the Church is facing judgment now?

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet 4:17)

As you might imagine, there are endless explanations, interpretations, and excuses for why Christians shouldn’t be concerned. Most fall under one of two common ideas. Either, believers are told that this judgment is against the “old man” of their past that has effectively died, since they have crossed from death to life and are living as a new creation in Christ; or, they are told that since they belong to Christ, the judgment is a fait accompli and they are guaranteed to pass with flying colors, like some rubber stamp process. This latter, foreign sounding fait-idea means “a thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it.”

Fewer go with a third explanation, though it is out there, that their forgiveness through faith in what Jesus did for them on the Cross is only about past committed sins, and they are under scrutiny over any new sins they do. All three interpretations are bunk, and do not fit with what Scripture says.

The Spirit has revealed that in these latter days, it will be extremely common in Churches for believers and ministers to gather around them people who say nice things that are encouraging and attractive while avoiding the real truth. That is the same approach taken by the majority of God’s people under the Old Covenant, and it remains the dominant style today for those who claim to be under the New Covenant.

The general teaching is “don’t worry about it, no matter what, you will still be saved.” However, for those who are more sensitive to the gentle voice of the Lord, can you sift through all that noise to hear what the Spirit is actually saying to the Church?

In order to rightly divide the word of truth, it is important to grasp the larger context of who we are and of what God’s plan is in addressing our condition. From day one (or should we say, day six), God created humanity in his image, without any stain of sin or defect, and declared that it was very good. We were made with an eternal purpose, but formed in temporary mortal existence.

In genuine freedom, mankind was given the right and ability to choose whether to submissively live in line with that design, or to veer toward a path of self-actualization. The evidence of history, as well as the preservation of Scripture, shows that humanity wanted to live under self-rule and make our own path. We botched the whole thing, defying God’s command and authority, which he allowed, but which also came with a dire consequence: death.

From the very beginning, before sin ever tickled the desires of lust, God knew what unsubmissive self-rule would cause, and so Christ was determined to both allow its eventuality as well as provide the means for rectifying it. God could declare death for sin, and then allow himself (through his Son, Jesus) to pay for that penalty by taking that curse upon himself through actual physical death upon the Cross.

The glorious truth of the Christian gospel is that God offers complete forgiveness for sin through faith in Jesus and what he accomplished for us. That’s it. Believers are truly and fully forgiven. No double jeopardy; no fake-forgiveness; no time-limited forgiveness (to just the past). Christians have been set free from sin, from its ultimate penalty, and from any threat of being re-exposed.

By way of clarification, there is a very huge caveat here. Many think they belong to the Lord, but he doesn’t agree. Many think they have been forgiven, but they remain under God’s wrath. Many think they will be saved, but there will be great weeping and gnashing of teeth, when the truth comes out that they were deceived in their claim of security.

So, before we can consider this judgment upon the church, we ought to consider what is the difference between those who truly are forgiven and those that think they are, but are not? This church-judgment does not apply to this latter group of deceived believers who say “Lord, Lord, but do not do what I say.” Remember, there are many weeds and wolves intermixed within the Church, and although they claim to believe, they do not have the same hope granted to the faithful.

This difference gets down to a matter of belonging. Scripture declares that many are called to faith in Christ, but few are chosen to actually belong to him as his own. Although God knows the heart in ways that no human can ever recognize as clearly, he does tell us that it is fully possible for us to get a fair idea of our condition and relationship with God by the evidence of what comes out of our life. If we claim to have faith, then our life will “walk as Jesus did”, and be according to how he defines that, not per our own justification of self-assessed religiosity.

Those who look very religious, but in some detail harbor sin, or repeatedly misrepresent God’s truth to others, exhibit the fruit of “having a form of godliness, but deny” God. They remain under the pending judgment that will come upon all unbelievers beginning at the dramatic return of Christ to this earth.

Genuine Christians, have passed beyond that judgment, because Jesus took it upon himself. The reason the two groups are so hard—or better yet, impossible—to tell apart is that both still exhibit sin in themselves. In fact, John confronts believers who claim they are beyond committing sin, by calling them out as liars who have zippo truth in them. Christians remain capable of sinning and do still sin at times, but through faith in and repentance toward Christ they also enjoying both forgiveness for such ignorant offenses as well as freedom from the declared penalty. So is that what this judgment is about, dealing with those later pesky sins?

No. The momentary sacrifice of the eternal Christ is designed to radiate in both directions of time—into the distant past, all the way back to the very first moments of sin developing within humanity; and, all the way into the future, proving a covering for all post-baptism sins unfortunately still committed by struggling believers. His blood has no restraint or limits in what it covers and thereby in what Jesus is willing to forgive.

The provision for future sins by a committed Christian, involves repentance, not additional sacrifice. It is that horrific recognition of failure before a holy God that compels a believer to cry out for forgiveness. His grace is such that even after having come to faith, a brief stumble, though regrettable and damaging here-and-now, can still be cleansed simply by calling out for that eternal blood of the Covenant provided by Jesus.

Don’t assume, however, that such forgiveness is automatic, for Scripture is replete with examples of arrogant believers who don’t think they need to ask for forgiveness, who indulge in their sinful desires, and foolishly think God will save them anyway. This is not to suggest for a genuine believer, that they never were forgiven, but something much worse—that now that they know the Lord for who he really is as Immanuel, and still insist on “continuing in sin”, that new sin of willful rebellion crosses the line into the second court of judgment.

This is where Christians face the trials of this life. God’s intent, however, is for believers to discover not only the peace provided by forgiveness for their former ways, but to go way beyond that to discover the power to live a new holy life through the presence of God’s Spirit.

So why the current judgment upon the Church?

This is a new judgment based upon the expectations of the New Covenant, not past choices. It is a review of how well a believer is becoming Christ-like. It is an assessment of transformation, from natural orientation, to internalized righteousness.

The Righteous One has granted us his own nature, but that is not like some automatic computer upgrade. Rather, God implants his own presence within a believer through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and that person, who retains the same, original freedoms to choose from the life set before them, is guided to become what God has declared upon them.

This is the biblical shift between the doctrinal truths represented in justification and that of sanctification. So many get derailed into thinking that the “it is finished” of justification, means salvation is fait accompli, but that violates many passages of Scripture. We are in-process, participating in sanctification upon the basis of our justification, and that is under review by God’s high court.

That is what Peter was speaking about. Notice his own words in this regard, on either side of his Church-judgment revelation:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…So then, those who suffer [under these court trials] according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Pet 4:12, 19)

This divine review is about assessing the evidence of “doing good” while facing trials in this life as a new Christian. This is the reason that in his next epistle, Peter speaks about apparent Christians who are not developing this righteous evidence as blind.

“For if you possess these [righteous] qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Pet 1:8-9)

Notice his reference to believers who disconnect from the truth that God forgives their past, and that their current judgment is supposed to be about increasing in the character and new life of Christ. The warning here is not about double jeopardy. Rather it is about turning away from participating in God’s holy expectations for this new life. Those who show such fruit, will never fall from their promised salvation (see the next verses in 10-11). The implication, and actual statement later in this same letter, is that those Christians who can and do fall away, will be judged for their present rebellion, not for their past choices that had been forgiven.

“These [Christian] men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” (2 Pet 2:17-21)

God says here that some Christians will actually know Jesus, and then turn away forever from him. Grace is not a rubber stamp on guaranteed salvation. This judgment that has begun with the Church is very real and continues to have a serious warning attached to it. In fact, failure under this judgment, unlike the natural one, can never be forgiven, for it exposes Jesus to open crucifixion again, and God will not allow that to happen, not for anyone, not even for a currently-believing Christian (Heb 6:6).

The intent of this judgment upon the believers is to help them actively choose what is right in what they believe and in what they do throughout their life, but Scripture is very clear that this New Covenant still has a warning for those who enter into it. Whether by the Mosaic Law (for ancient Israel), or by faith (for Christians), the biblical expectation is still that believers learn to obey what God has declared upon them. The standard and specifics have changed, but the freedom to choose to obey or disobey, remains just as possible for both groups of believers as confirmed in Romans:

“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” (Rom 2:13) [Referring to a theological truth regarding Israelites under the Old Covenant]

“Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Rom 1:5) [Referring to a theological truth regarding Christians under the New Covenant]

This continued expectation to restrain our human tendency to self-regulate, and submit ourselves to the commands of Christ, as it impacts our expectation of eternal salvation, is specifically called out by Paul in this corrective letter “to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”:

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”

[Notice, this is speaking about this new judgment that Christians face]

“God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Rom 2:5-8)

This judgment is about what we do with what we have been given in Christ, not about what we did in the past, nor really about whether we still struggle at times with human desires and sin while still in this fleshly life–so long as we repent and obey his instructions on what we need to do thereafter in order to not continue in such error. This truth about the need to obey is confirmed repeated in the New Testament, but most specifically, Paul acknowledges near the end of his own physical ministry, that Jesus will destroy those who refuse to “obey the gospel” and who are unwilling “to do the things we command” (2 The 1:8; 3:4).

Like worded by the Snake in the Garden, many Christians are side-tracked away from considering “did God really say”, and taught that they cannot lose their salvation by what they do, but that is not sound doctrine. Believers remain under judgment, and remain susceptible to the eventual wrath of God, but not because of double jeopardy for things which they have already been forgiven, but rather for how they obey Christ in their expression of claimed faith.

However, there is also something very unique about this new judgment that Christians face. In all my years of prison ministry, I constantly was reminded of how legal courtrooms work. Human courts will only consider past history, never current or future developments. If an accused is brought before a judge, it is always to face what they have already done (or not done), for which there is absolutely no way to change what has happened.

That is not how this new Church judgment works. This one has been set up as a pro-active trial court to help each participant succeed in doing what is right, while they still have the chance to do something real about it. Think about it: God so much wants his weak, little children, who are so prone to sin, to find a way to break the cycle of addiction and failure, that he not only paid for our entire debt before him for sinning, but he has transferred us over to a whole new and better court system that is designed to help us win.

This holy court is active and in session right now for every believer, but instead of being dragged in after we blow it, we are invited to come in for checkups, guidance, and extra strength to choose what is right. The very real process involves suffering, trials, and exposures to challenging circumstances in order to help us find ways to apply his words to discover righteousness, show true love, and become more excited about obeying than about stimulating temporary pleasure glands.

The idea is that “he who is faithful in little, will be faithful in much.” As such, God is putting each believer through the gauntlet of divine and angelic help, rather than abuse or condemnation. As we start to taste success, it ought to fuel even greater hunger to please him and deny our natural self-indulgence. As we start to show little starts of divine fruit, it ought to encourage us greatly that we are finally getting on track with God’s eternal plan for our forever-life.

There is nothing easy about enduring this new judgment. Life as a Christian is full of internal peace, while at the same time oppressively hard. God disciplines every child that he loves, and no such discipline is ever felt or received as pleasant, but when one understands the court they are now in, everything in heaven and earth is cheering them on, and it makes sure that nothing exists in each believing-person’s way that is more than they could get through with what God has so far developed and given to that person.

Everything on earth is struggling to tear you down—Satan, society, and even your own natural desires. However, everything from God is set up in your favor, even if it doesn’t look or feel like it. This doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to succeed, especially if you go AWOL, rebel, or try to save your natural ways and desires. The help is there, and it is very real and completely sufficient for all you need, but it does not possess you like some foul demon.

You have to want it, because you still have the same right and ability to choose, which God granted humans from the very beginning. Many will claim to believe in Jesus, but “by their actions they deny him”, because they are unwilling to put his words into actions. What we hear from his biblical word, we are duty-bound to find some way to put it rightly into practice; to become doers of his word and not hearers only.

This is the reason Jesus taught his disciples with the analogy of branches attached to the vine that are either cut off or pruned, depending on whether there is sufficient fruit that the Father finds in a person who claims to believe. The concept of being pruned means that a person is disciplined; they experience loss and trials that limit them, but the reason is not to harm, but rather so they may produce even more fruit of Christ-likeness.

It is also the reason Paul spoke about eventual worthiness. Many seem to understand that Christ alone is truly worthy before God. As the angels sing around the throne of God, he alone is worthy. However, believers can take the life of Christ in an unworthy manner, such that they can bring upon themselves the judgment of sickness and even premature death (1 Cor 11). This truth is why this Apostle wrote that the identification of spiritual growth through trials is “evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God” (2 The 1:6).

This idea of a pending “worthiness” for entering the Kingdom, seems contrary to the doctrines of many churches, but this is what Scripture teaches. This is even the point of Paul’s prayers for believers, who have already responded to the initial call to faith in Christ and are under this active judgment, that they would strive to express their faith through active deeds, and thereby be counted worthy of Christ being “glorified in you”:

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” (2 The 1:11)

This is a primary objective of this divine court of judgment before which Christians stand: God has called you to faith in Jesus, forgiven your sins, granted you his very presence through the Spirit, and equipped you to become Christ-like…Will the evidence of your choices and life convict you as worthy of all God has offered to you and done for you? Grace has made it all possible, but it won’t force anyone into the righteous life God desires for you. You must submit and participate in how you live and interact in this new life.

It is the same truth expressed by the Apostle James who prophesied about those who persevere in expressing their faith in harmony with their deeds, rather than those whose claim of religion is worthless:

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (Jms 1:12)

As a believer, you have already been given everything godly you need to succeed, but while court is in session, you must strive to live by his Spirit rather than fall back into old patterns and destructive relationships. If you still have breath between your teeth, then give yourself no rest, if there is any detail that still pricks your conscience.

This court allows do-overs. It accepts requests to go back out and try again. It even sends you out with friends, family, and faith—all of God’s choosing—to give you company, encouragement, and help to imitate your Lord and Savior, our glorious God, Jesus Christ.

The one common admonition, the repeated refrain of advice from the holy bench of this court is this:

“Do what it says!”

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Understanding God-talk

Have you ever wondered why God talks the way he does? So often, in Scripture, his words are shrouded in mystery, or stated in very curious ways. When people had the opportunity to ask him questions, his answers typically were given in ways that seemed to raise even more questions, rather than actually satisfy what was being asked.

This issue is so huge that theologians continue to struggle with biblical interpretation. Pick just about any passage, and you will be likely able to find someone, even entire denominations, that are convinced that what it says is very different from what you believe.

Two of three major keys, on this issue of rightly hearing God, are directly stated in Scripture. In confusion, the disciples finally got to ask God what all of us believers throughout history have wanted to ask: Why do you talk like this?

In a rare moment of directness, Jesus spoke clearly to his followers, that the reason he spoke in parables, figures-of-speech, analogies, and through mysterious declarations, was to hide the real meaning from the majority of those who listen to God. This truth is a reason why smart people are so easily deceived.

Biblical history records that it has always been God’s intent to speak to humanity in ways that appear obvious, but actually result in the wise and educated completely failing at being able to rightly understand what he says. Natural approaches, linguistic analysis, and face-value interpretations are designed to make most people who hear God’s words think they get it, when they actually don’t.

Although this reality certainly applies to unbelievers as well, the context of Jesus’ revelation was aimed at those who followed him, those who called him “Lord, Lord”, and at those who think they are his sheep. Their inability to actually understand the real meaning of what he is saying is divine evidence that they belong with the goats. They think they understand and they are convinced they will be saved, but their approach toward his words show they are deceived.

It would be in error to interpret this as meaning that God deceives people. God does nothing evil, but he does remain sovereign over such evil. It is easy to find biblical evidence for God intentionally doing things to mislead people, but one needs to be careful about what is actually occurring at such moments. It might be more helpful to recognize that God often gives the wicked what they want. His allowance for a person to choose evil, does not mean God caused the person to shift from what is right toward something wrong. We are all from the fall in the Garden, by nature, evil, so for God to set a temptation before a person who is already inclined toward such evil, is not the same thing as tempting them. Knowing that such a person would be inclined to do what is not right, and intentionally allowing that inclination to be exposed for what it already is, is very different that what Satan attempts to get those who are striving to obey God to disobey. In this way, God opens the door in speaking toward what such people are already wanting. This is why he tells his people, “Be careful what you ask for, for I may well give it to you.”

The second key, that God has directly revealed within recorded Scripture about right biblical interpretation, is that his spoken words are forever dependent upon Spirit illumination. In other words, they have been spoken and remain cloaked in mystery, for only “in Christ” can they be known. As our Lord told Nicodemus, a believer must become born-again through the Holy Spirit, before they will be allowed to travel along the path of starting to grasp the truths hidden in plain sight in Scripture.

Most Christians think they understand this, and assume that this is the core of what it means to interpret Scripture. Scholars, seminary students, ministers, and parishioners all want to study the word of God and all make great strides in identifying spiritual truths. Most are tempted to think that this ability is evidence of right understanding, but this is the same belief held by the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. The Lord confronted them because their diligent study of Scripture, and religious heritage, convinced them that they knew better than all “these people [who] are ignorant of the Law”.

Although everyone likely recognizes that a parable is not the primary meaning, few are as careful in their recognition, either that God intends such basic language to mislead most students of Scripture, or that apparent identification of spiritual meanings is not necessarily coming from the Spirit of God. When skilled interpretation is the pursuit, rather than seeking the Spirit to reveal truth the way the Bible says that it ought to occur, error is not far behind. It is probably safe to say that most people commonly assume that biblical meaning is simply a function of this second key in interpreting, and pay little attention to either the first or third in how they impact a person’s ability to hear the truth.

Paul confirmed this when he stated to believers in Corinth, that the things of God can only ever be understood through the Spirit of God, and that the spirit of man by itself is entirely incapable of figuring out truth by human effort, no matter how intelligent, no matter how reliant upon church tradition, no matter what position of high ministry.

In other words, just because a person thinks they have evidence of Spirit activity through them, or just because they can do amazing miracles, or just because they have lots of evidence of a successful ministry, or just because they are a long-time believing Christian, they remain easily deceived, unless they rightly “hold to” the teachings of Jesus. Those who put his words into practice as he expects will be firmly grounded in their faith and will be granted the grace to endure eventual storms; whereas, those who are firmly convinced of their belief in Jesus, but do not rightly understand and then apply some passage of what he requires as recorded in Scripture, will find that “even what he thinks he has will be taken away”.

Lots of people think they understand Scripture. Every denomination, non-denomination, and pre-denomination is led by trained ministers who are absolutely convicted of their rightness in understanding God. They all firmly believe that their doctrines are right, and that everyone else is wrong. Very few will ever show the continuous humility of the original 12 Apostles, when confronted with the possibility of self-deception in thinking they are right with the Lord, and say “could it be me, Lord?”

A suggested third major key in rightly dividing the word of truth can be discovered within Scripture, but only through observation of the repeated patterns. Of course, the first two keys still govern this third insight, so this isn’t about human skill or extra-biblical interpretation. This key is about three levels of intention.

Whenever God spoke directly to his people, or when he so often spoke in such odd prophet-talk through his chosen human instruments, or even when he inspired Scripture to be written by ministers who really, really wanted believers to understand the truth, it has always been presented with three distinct layers of intended meaning.

Those who approach the words of God with this insight are far more likely to get it, than the vast majority who have no clue about the different meanings. If you want to hear God rightly, you must understand that everything he says has more than one purpose to it. Yes, this means that God has several motives at work in everything he says and does. If you don’t understand this, and thus don’t look for it, you will always misread his words.

A caution here. This key about multiple intended meanings in every declaration of God, does not mean there are different interpretations that are equally correct. That lie is very common in Christian history and continues to enjoy rampant application in every denomination that I have ever come across. Do not be deceived. God’s words do not have competing truths or different meanings. The word of God is always in agreement with itself, such that any apparent conflicts are always in the interpretation, not it the text.

By different intended meanings, I am referring to different purposes, not different interpretations that are acceptable. So let’s take a look at several easy passages that might help reveal this important truth about how to begin to understand rightly.

You may recall when Jesus said to his faithful disciples that “Lazarus has fallen asleep”, that they all immediately thought he meant natural sleep. So ask yourself, is that what the Lord meant?

Most who know the story would be inclined to answer, no, but that is incorrect. Jesus is fully aware of what his words cause in human minds. Those who answer yes, are also incorrect, because Jesus made it very clear, after they revealed their understanding about sleeping, that Lazarus was actually dead.

If you said nothing to yourself, then you are not likely to have trusted the Spirit to be guiding you into all truth, because you chose the safe path of not being exposed. Been there, done that; so I can easily relate. However, the answer that more likely will lead into all truth, is either a yes-and-no answer, or an answer of partly-yes.

This is why understanding the three purposes of intention can be so helpful. Jesus said that his friend Lazarus was asleep, when he knew that he was actually dead, because he fully intended for his disciples to think about natural sleep. Remember the first key noted earlier, that God speaks in mystery so that most people will go with the obvious and be fully convinced that they understand, when they don’t. That is what Jesus was doing with his Apostles at that moment. He led them into the natural interpretation to expose the error of a quick interpretation. He fully intended for them to go there. Jesus was not deceiving his followers. It was his purpose to get them to think that way, so that he could teach them how to listen rightly to God, but it was not the ultimate meaning about Lazarus.

It would seem likely that the next layer of meaning could be seen in the classical pattern of physical-spiritual, where this is then the actual spiritual meaning. That is partly correct, but the second and third purpose should divide the spiritual yet again, in order to understand God’s real intent in speaking.

When Jesus used the word asleep to reference a dead man, he had two more major reasons for saying this. The first of these two (or the second major intended reason for speaking in what some refer to as prophet-talk) was to reveal something true about that moment, circumstance, immediate time, specific context, or named person. This is the layer of intended meaning where the Lord would explain the meaning of a parable to a select group of followers at that time.

So for those disciples, they were expected to come to rightly understand Jesus as referring to Lazarus as asleep, but in a way very different than either naturally asleep or simply dead. This sick man had naturally died, but Jesus didn’t want his followers to view this circumstance like any other death of a human. As you might imagine, the minds of these disciples were likely spinning with confusion at this point.

They were not to view Lazarus as asleep, even though that is what the Lord said about him, and then when they found out that he was naturally dead, they were also not to view him as just naturally dead. Jesus fully intended for them to understand the second layer of what he was teaching them, that Lazarus was asleep in natural death. But why not just say he was dead?

This gets us to the third, and most often missed layer of truth. This is where the real, full, and ultimate purpose in God speaking as he so often does is finally recognized. The third intended meaning in whatever God declares is to reference the ultimate truth as it applies throughout time to all people.

This is why everything God states, even those words that are now 2000 years old or more, are living, just as powerful in transforming, and relevant to our day, lives, and cultures. We are not in need of some fresh word from God, but rather to listen more carefully to what we have heard so that we will not drift away from how his recorded words speak truth into our every struggle and desire right now here today. But you can’t discover it, if you don’t even know that you ought to look for it and ask for it, without expecting him to update it to better fit with modern preferences.

In this incident, Jesus was teaching his disciples that for anyone who is viewed by God as “in Christ”, their natural circumstances are not the most significant or final answer for their life.

A Christian who dies naturally should be viewed by fellow believers as preserved differently by God than all others who experience that similar end of life. God is the God of the living, not the dead, as Scripture interprets it: because he “speaks of things that are not, as though they were”. All humans will be raised again to life, so this truth connected to Lazarus is not about simply being “raised in the life to come”, but rather about shifting how we view genuine believers who physically die as still possessing a living hope in Christ. To God, a deceased believer like Lazarus is simply in a temporary condition that is no different in God’s eyes than a person who is naturally sleeping. Scripture says about such people that they simply “rest in death” for what they have coming at the return of Christ is more reliable and certain than even their physical passing from this life.

When God speaks he fully intends for all people who listen to grasp the face-value, natural words like some instructive fable or memorable narrative. Such a level of meaning, however, will leave such people convinced they understand, but blind to their own ignorance. Sadly, the evidence is this layer of biblical interpretation is extremely common within the church at all levels and on both sides of the podiums.

A dominant example of this revolves around interpretations of the word “body” and “flesh”, especially as used by Paul in Scripture. It is very common to hear preachers interpret this as the biological body of a person, and not as a reference to the natural person in this fleshly life. This popular meaning taken from the level-one surface is very likely the reason the Spirit inspired Paul to write as he did–so that most would think he meant the physical body as distinct from the mind, soul, heart, spirit, or person. Major doctrines have been established on this interpretation, and much blood has been spilled throughout history for those who said otherwise.

Many will show the grace of God to delve deeper into the mysteries recorded, and discover the intended meanings as they were delivered. This layer is very significant and can only be really grasped by the activity of the Holy Spirit in revealing truth, but again, many find their theology stunted by jumping off too soon in their interpretations.

In order to rightly hear the fullness of God’s declared word, a person will need to eventually discover how those words go beyond that initial, historical context and are intended to impact their own lives. Application is not so simple. For example, how should the revelation about Lazarus be applied in your life and how are you demonstrating that you get the actual intended meaning of what Jesus said then? If you believe what is most often stated at Christian funerals about deceased believers looking down from a better place, then you ought to go back to what he actually taught.

When Jesus stood in the Jewish Temple and said to that audience, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again,” there were as usual three layers of intended meaning. People didn’t typically refer to themselves as temples. That would have been odd, and Jesus didn’t tell anyone at that moment what he actually meant. Rather, he said it like that with the full intention of his audience thinking he was speaking about the Jewish Temple. It was impossible for anyone, including his immediate followers, to have any reason to think he was speaking of his own physical body. Such a view was not made clear until later, and even then, it was only revealed to his faithful disciples. Everyone one at that time thought he meant one thing and he fully intended for them to think that.

It is very important for biblical interpretation to understand this first key that God speaks in ways that invite people to jump to conclusions in what they think he means, but have no clue about what they so confidently believe and teach.

The second layer of intended meaning, which likely remained hidden even from his closest followers until after his resurrection, was that he was speaking of his own physical body as that temple he would raise to life again. Academically, that truth is recognizable to anyone who reads what we have preserved in Scripture. Understanding that truth is not dependent upon further leading of the Spirit. As a result, I would strongly suggest that there is a deeper truth spoken there and intended by the Lord for us to grasp, if we seek out how he intends that truth to impact us now. Jesus’ words and life are not just ancient history any more than that which is recorded about the nation of Israel, for all of those real events and words were recorded for us today. They have a very real intended meaning that was designed to impact and transform believers today.

The natural benefit of stopping with the second key and not striving to grasp that deeper and ultimate application in the meaning, is we can inject our own preferences in what to do with our historic doctrines. In other words, Christians can take one level of assumed spiritual revelation and then apply it as they see fit in their culture or circumstances. In this way, we can still act like gods over our own lives; there is no desperate need to be led by the Spirit in how to rightly apply some old biblical words.

Unless a professing believer remains submissive to the continued leading of the Holy Spirit and strives to obey everything the Lord taught through his original Church leaders, their claim of historic church doctrines can never progress beyond that second intended layer. Tradition is important, but it is also very tempting to become complacent with our beliefs and no longer ask, seek, and knock with God’s recorded words. The more such a believer disobeys, the more their own understanding will grow darker.

Most Christians, it seems, are content with their church, their doctrines, their beliefs, their traditional explanations of God’s words, and even their own personal relationship with God. Few exhibit that required fear-of-the-Lord as they strive to hear his words rightly. Expecting that ongoing revelation of being led into all truth, as one puts his words into practice, is often set aside for the preferred comfort of “proven” and orthodox teachings, that when challenged by the actual wording of Scripture, convince many to protect their turf more than strive to honor His holy name.

As cautioned earlier, this does not imply that God’s words can morph into new truths, private interpretations, or other nonsense. It is about holding tightly to what he has said, recognizing his intent is to allow many to hear what they want and go astray, both at the natural level as well as at that initial spiritual level.

You may recall that genuine Christians are often compared to the true prophets of old who were persecuted and killed, in contrast to the false prophets who enjoyed the religious support of God’s people. If you are willing to consider it, that pattern is very likely the same today. The faithful will be marginalized, persecuted, fired, kicked out of church, and even killed by fellow believers, whereas the false believers who surround themselves with many leaders who sincerely agree with their distorted beliefs enjoy the favor of the religious. Their support and dominance, as well as their prophesied treatment of anyone who challenges their leadership, will develop into a majority with claims of orthodoxy that appear spiritual, but no longer show the ability to hear that third layer of what the Lord has already said.

This reality is the reason Jesus declared that there would be no need for him to judge such religious leaders, because “the words I have already spoke will judge you on that day.”

When the Lord told his disciples that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he gave no further explanation. He dropped a bombshell on their belief in God, knowing full well that most wouldn’t accept the underlying meaning because of their disgust at the surface meaning. His first layer of meaning was intended to clean house, to thin down the ranks of believers, to challenge every single disciple present on whether or not they would continue to follow him because of faith in who he was over-and-above their understanding of what he was saying.

Most thought they understood his words perfectly well, and turned away from following him. The second layer of meaning was to expose the primary need to follow by faith, not by sight. In this case, the mental sight of understanding was withheld from everyone, even from the 12. That moment was a critical test of faith, to which Peter revealed, that there was no better place to go, since those who were still standing there were convinced He was of God and alone spoke genuine truth.

It could be suggested that the spiritual meaning of eating and drinking of the Lord also involved the eventual revelation of Communion as a way of relating to the Lord’s crucifixion. In my mind, this is still another aspect of that second layer of intention. Participating in communion through this very important and special symbolic ritual is still not the primary meaning.

The third layer of intended meaning, for those remaining disciples and for us today, uses his later revelation of the symbols of Communion, but goes beyond to a way of living. It is God’s expectation that we live our every moment, every thought, every detail through the indwelling of his Spirit as we embrace the struggle of how that leads us to constantly bear the Cross and identify with the Lord’s suffering. In this way we each commune with the Lord in his death, individually as well as in faithful community, by living out his New Covenant expectations, with the hope of resurrection. Just as the Israelites went out each day to gather Manna, Christians are intended to survive, live, and exist in constant eating of the Lord’s life through application of his words and dependence upon the leading of his life-blood Spirit.

To understand that the Lord didn’t mean his actually physical flesh, but eat of symbols that represented his flesh and blood, is only a surface read. To participate in Communion, of itself, is not magical, beneficial, or even wise. Unless we step forward and live by ingesting his every word and approach, in a very real and literal way, of a constant diet of Spirit activity, we can’t grasp the true and ultimate meaning intended in his shocking call to supper.

So here is a simple test to tickle your thoughts. In Proverb there are two declarations of truth: one says, “answer a fool according to his folly”, the other says, “do not answer a fool according to his folly”. So if you are to hear God’s words rightly, you may think you understand what answering means and what a fool is referring to. You may even think to understand the rest of those back-to-back verses which give the reasons why (kind of like when Jesus explained some parables). You may even grasp the explanation that both can’t be done at the same time or circumstance, so they appear to be giving directions that you can chose whenever you think one is better or the other. However, if you are to hear that third and ultimate layer of meaning, how can you know which one to apply and when, when faced with a fool?

Want to try a more challenging one? How about when Jesus said: “I will lose none of those given to me by the Father.” It is easy to think back to sermons that have interpreted this statement, or to recall official doctrines about personal assurance or destiny. His statement is intended to make most who hear it think it applies to themselves. Many will point to biblical evidence to help confirm their claim of belonging to that special group, but the Lord dealt with that by saying such people are wicked and will not enter his Kingdom.

If you are to grasp that primary, ultimate, intended meaning, if you are to show yourself approved as one who rightly handles the words of God, then how are you showing greater concern for upholding all of God’s words that address that subject? Jesus himself declared that the church would be full of both wheat and weeds, without any of us really knowing the difference for now, and that many would turn away from the faith, so have you considered what Scripture specifically says about who knows who has been “given to me”? A little hint, Scripture directly says there is only one who knows that.

This idea about multi-layered meanings within the words of God is a major contributor for conflicting theologies and church divisions. Many Christians will try to defend their practice, beliefs or traditions by quoting one or a few passages that seem to support their understanding, but intentionally avoid, hide, and even deny other passages that undermine such a view. Most creeds and statements of faith use this method. If however you really want to see yourself more clearly, try asking your opponents for their input rather than your friends.

It is shocking to hear sincere Christians using preferred passages of God’s word to beat up on other passages spoken by the same God. Such a surface level of interpretation can be often recognized simply by shining God’s words, which say something very different, on a belief or practice, and then observing that person’s response that either seeks to justify themselves or strives to keep God’s full words in agreement with itself.

The second layer of intended meaning often provides significant truth on a given subject. The third should never be expected without a firm grasp on this second. What the Lord is instructing may have multiple truths within it, or may have one main truth that is being highlighted, and although understanding it is dependent upon the work of the Spirit, it is not yet at the “what now” level.

This third purpose and layer of meaning is where genuine transformation takes place. This is the realm that Scripture speaks of living by the Spirit, not just understanding an answer or definition or doctrine. This is the level of living the truth, which will always remain rightly within the boundaries of the doctrinal revelation that often is grasped at the second layer.

This third layer of distinction is the reason why John writes about professing Christians who are actually liars, because their doctrinal claims don’t match with their living. It is why Paul warns believers that “those who live like this” in on-going sin, will not inherit the Kingdom of God. It is the reason that Peter confronts those false ministers who have come to faith, but then return to their vomit, and of whom he says it would have been better if they had never known the truth than to have actually known it and turned their backs on that sacred command.

By God’s grace, if you hear these words, I hope this will help you to know what to listen for when considering the words of God. More than that, I hope you will hunger deeply to hear and know the full gospel of Grace as the Lord taught it and preserved it in his holy Word.

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Divine Direction – Seeking Clarity

We all want to know the right answer. Whether it is a student in school, or a businessman evaluating a new investment opportunity, or a mom trying to raise her child, or a Christian looking for direction in choices they are facing, we all desire to know what would be the best thing to do. We want to know what will give us what we want, and we want to know clearly and without any doubt.

Does God provide such clarity to those who pray and seek him?

There is an insightful story about the former nun known as Mother Theresa, who responded to a priest who was struggling with what next to do with his life and ministry. He came to visit her in India and asked that she pray for him so that God would grant him clarity in what to do. She refused.

Apparently she disputed his observation that she seemed to always have clarity in following God in her life. She was unwilling to ask God to give this man anything that would remove the need to living by faith. Clarity was one thing she would not seek.

I would suggest that she was on to something very important about the Christian walk, but only partly correct regarding clarity, because the Bible specifically states that God does provide clarity! Consider the following passages:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:8)

Scripture declares that God has made his expectations of what he requires of believers clear. How has he “showed you”…through revealed and recorded Scripture. The Bible provides complete and irrefutable clarity in what it states.

Consider, however, that not every word of God has been recorded. As John states in his gospel account, that there would not be books enough to record all that Jesus said and did, but that what he chose to record (by the leading of the Spirit) was what was needed to provide sufficient clarity so that a person could believe.

God declares that his recorded words are truth itself, they are living and and have life-giving power, and they can never disappear. By divine pronouncement, the Bible cannot be lost, nor its clarity distorted. The word of God provides complete clarity in what it states.

This trustworthiness in biblical preservation is the basis for why a Christian can rely on Scripture and what is says without doubt. To be sure, many have tried to distort translations of the Bible, but God sustains his truth so that his revealed words can always be found somewhere, although it is not likely to be in any physical entity like one translation, one book, or one church (like many cults like to claim). This makes a faithful Christian dependent upon the Holy Spirit, as a born-again believer who strives to live by the Spirit and not by fleshly methods, to recognize and understand the clear truth found in Scripture.

This truth, is not just some secret clarity for special inductees. This level of clarity is global and universal:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:18-20)

Everything in this physical life points humans toward God. He has made “what may be known about God” clear. He can be recognized and understood with such complete clarity “that men are without excuse” for rejecting him.

Scripture declares that God can be known by humans with clarity because he has made himself plain through the evidence that we can see and measure. He has also made his expectations completely clear by his recorded words in the Bible, so that every person can be able to discover with clarity what is expected of them. In these details, it is right and even expected that everyone seek such clarity.

God does make some things absolutely, and irrefutably clear. It is right to seek such clarity, and even to pray for others that they too may come to recognize this clarity that God has provided to those who seek, ask, and knock!

However, clarity in everything would remove any need for faith and that God will not allow. Per God’s own words: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God”. God refuses to allow clarity beyond the above noted details. God wants humans to seek him, but not to demand beyond what he decides to reveal.

There are some things that God wants us to both seek and to find. Those things are the clarity that we ought to persistently seek to know and passionately pray for.

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings”. (Pro 25:2)

God delights in hide-and-seek with his children. He loves it when we desire to find what he has hidden. Those who seek such details and truths honor the glory of God, and they gain the blessed glory like a king. He wants you and me to find him, to know his goodness, to relish his love and his comforting presence, to trust in his promises, and to long for his coming and our resurrection to eternity with him. He also wants you to desire to know how to live like him, to imitate him, to honor and please him, to seek the leading of his Spirit without demanding satisfactory answers to all our questions. His recorded word points a hungry believer to find the clarity he has preserved for such direction. There is clarity there! Look for it, long for it, and don’t give yourself any complacent rest until you find it. It is there for you to find.

That said, be ware of looking for what he has not intended to reveal. That is what, I assume, Theresa was refusing to pray about for that priest who wanted clarity in what to do with his circumstances. God wants Christians to learn to seek his will and trust in his guidance through our circumstances and decisions by faith rather than by clarity. There is a danger with clarity, because it eliminates the need for relying on faith.

Notice the conclusion that Jesus gives to a parable about being persistent in prayer:

“However, when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?” (Lu 18:8)

There is a warning here about being persistent in praying for clear answers to what we desire. We may well get what we seek from God, but that does little for developing our faith, which is what the Lord seeks of us.

This is why the Bible encourages believers to make their plans and step forward in their life’s circumstances with the mindset of : “Lord willing we will do this or that”. In other words, we ought to be more persistent in seeking his will in our life, than in seeking that he intervene according to our will or desire.

Are you ok with living with some mystery? Can to trust that God is Lord and Provider even when your circumstances look stormy? Do you have the faith to allow him to continue to be asleep on a cushion, like when the 12 disciples were rowing their boat through a major storm, and faced imminent drowning, showing the faith that you trust he is in charge of your life and every detail you are facing, even when he seems to be sleeping?

If you know him and know what his words reveals with clarity to believers, then you won’t be as desperate for clarity in your circumstances. You can live by an informed, clear faith: a belief that is based on the proof of who he is and of what he expects of all who worship him, without demanding proof in all your personal details.

This is how you can trust without doubt; how you can have certainty with faith.

This is the mystery of knowing. It has two parts: what is now, and what will be later.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Dt 29:29)

Clarity is offered to all who want to know God and what he has chosen to reveal. Those details and truths are preserved for eternity. They can never disappear or be taken away from those who belong to God. Our Lord and God has decided what details about himself, about ourselves, and about life that will give us everything we need for life and godliness. But that is not everything. Some things are still hidden and not allowed to be revealed yet.

We should want to know those details, but not insist on getting them all answered now. Don’t insist on clarity. Accept and seek it in those things that he has chosen to reveal, but trust that whatever he keeps hidden is not safe or necessary now. Faith is what is needed to fill that gap of longing.

When he returns, however:

“But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:2-3)

That is the clarity we seek: to see our Lord face-to-face, in all his glory. It is coming, because he is coming to reveal all that remains hidden. At that time, nothing will remain hidden, for everything will be revealed by his Light!


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Jesus Broke The Law – or did he?

It is one of those disturbing questions that haunt the theology and teaching of many Christians. Did Jesus perfectly keep the Mosaic Law? It seems unthinkable to even ask such a question, since it is rightly believed that he always did everything right. However, the truth is often stranger than fiction, and the intersection between Jesus and the Law has caused more than one ulcer of the mind.

By way of definition, the Law mentioned here is a reference to the Old Covenant Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai for the people of Israel, and all the scriptural clarifications and additions thereafter given through the various prophets of God. This would include the 10 Commandments, as well as all the other 600-some-odd commands, and also every prophecy. That Law makes no distinction between supposed moral and ritual laws — to violate any command of God, is a moral failing.

This full reference, for what the Bible refers to as the Law, can be confirmed in many ways, but a quick look at the footnotes around Romans 3 for the dozen-plus quotes from “the Law” come not from the traditional law section of Genesis through Deuteronomy, but actually from what is known as the Writings and the Prophets, like Psalms and Isaiah.

This fundamental question then, is a query about both the purpose for Jesus coming to earth, as well as the purpose for that great Law of God. And so, since we ought to be interested in knowing our Lord, we must be brave enough to ask the question: Did Jesus come to keep the Law?

Many churches and ministers teach that Jesus was a faithful Jew under that Law and must have flawlessly kept that Law of Moses. Even more importantly, they will teach, that Jesus came to do what no one else was able to do — to obey that Law for us, so that all who put faith in him can be credited as if they too can stand righteous before God in the Law. Many even teach that since Jesus succeeded in keeping the Law, through his Spirit in a Christian, that they can now also keep the 10 Commandments and other big commands in that Law.

That my friends is a dangerous lie! It might sound good, but it undermines the truth of the gospel, let alone directly violates what Scripture actually says.

“Clearly no one is justified before God by observing the law” (Gal 3:11)

Jesus did not come to keep the Law for Christians, or for Jews, or for himself. Keeping the law never causes anyone to be justified as righteous before God. Not only was that not what the Law was designed to do, righteous comes to Christians through a very, very different path. That truth applies both to Christian believers, as it also applies to Jesus himself.

Jesus did not become identified as righteous because he somehow was recognized as having kept the Old Covenant Law. Jesus is called “the Righteous One” because of who he is inherently from eternity. This righteousness is a reference to his identity and character and holiness; something that no law, not even the Mosaic Law, could ever establish.

This is why the gospel teaches that:

“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last” (Rom 1:17)

The righteousness that God seeks in believers can never come from a measurement of how well a person observes and applies any law. It can only ever come through faith in the person of Jesus from heaven, who already is and has always been Righteous. Such righteousness is about identity, not about law keeping. Keep in mind, however, such faith does require effort at applying it, but it comes through walking by faith in being guided by the Spirit, rather than through some defined law by which we can measure our success or that of others.

So, it might be said, “fine, Jesus didn’t become righteous by keeping the Law, but as a Jew, he still had to obey it, like all other believers in God”. Really? Let’s see if Scripture supports such human reasoning. Consider what the Lord said about his keeping of this Law:

“Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread — which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.” (Mt 12:3-4)

This divine response was given to confront the challenge as to why Jesus was leading his followers through the grain fields on the Sabbath day. As the Pharisees rightly observed: “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath” (v.2).

Sadly, many ministers distort this event by suggesting that this claim of doing something unlawful was the result of the Pharisaic additions to that Law, not because the followers of Jesus were actually doing anything wrong against the Law, but that is not what Scripture says. Consider the words of God from within that Law:

“‘Six days you are to gather it [the food out in the fields called Manna], but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.’ Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?'” (Ex 16:26-28)

This command in the Law was the very first detail ever given about the Sabbath. It even predates the Sabbath definition given in the forth of the 10 Commandments. God expressly commanded his people not to gather food out in the field on the Sabbath day — the very thing that Jesus’ disciples were doing.

A careful student will notice that Jesus does not reject the accusation of breaking the Law; rather, he challenges their understanding about innocence. He and his followers were being accused of doing what is unlawful, and to that he says: so did David and yet he remained innocent. Again (as noted in Mt 12), he compares what was happening to the priests who work on the Sabbath day, which was unlawful (aka: they break the Law), and yet are innocent before God.

How is it that a Christian, let alone a Jew, could knowingly break the Law, and yet somehow be innocent?

This gets to a fundamental truth of the Word of God. The Law provides no end. There is no point at which a human could ever be said to have “kept the Law”. It just doesn’t exist, because that is not part of the purpose for which God established it. One can strive to “be keeping” the law, but the past tense of having “kept” the law assumes that what the law continues to require is somehow finished with no further expectation. Even after a person dies, the Law continues to demand things that that person no longer can do. It might be theoretically possible to say that a person has never broken the law, but the Law can never be satisfied in its thirst for obedience, such that it could ever be accomplished, achieved, or concluded. This is why Scripture speaks of the Old Covenant sacrifices as being offered “endlessly, year after year”.

For this reason, Jesus did not come to keep that Law. And yes, shocking as it sounds, he led his disciples (and thus retains the ultimate responsibility for what they were doing in eating grain in the fields on the Sabbath day) to do things that broke the Law of God.

If the priests were identified as breaking the Law when serving in the Temple on the Sabbath, then any type of “work”, even that which is part of ministry, is a violation of the Sabbath command. This is why the Jews were so disturbed about the healings that Jesus kept doing on that special day. Those who try to suggest that they should have been praising God for the miracles, rather than criticizing him for what he was choosing to do on the Sabbath, are like those who “want to be teachers of the Law, but don’t know what they are talking about, or about what they so confidently affirm”. The Law commanded against any and all work, with no exception, by anyone of the people of God. Amazing displays of supernatural power are not allowed for with in that Law as an excuse for breaking God’s commands. Jesus was violating that Sabbath law and that was one of the problems that the Jews struggled against.

Jesus was not denying that he was working. In fact, he specifically agrees with this observation, and even goes so far as to claim that God the Father also works on the Sabbath day:

“‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working’. For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:17-18)

Notice the phrase in the above text that was written by the Apostle John which says “not only was he breaking the Sabbath”. This does not say that this was wrongly being claimed by the Pharisees. This is what the Holy Spirit inspired John to confirm about Jesus, that he broke the Law and that he also made himself to be equal with God — both of which are true, and both of which undermine what the Law of God said was acceptable for God’s people.

In another case, Jesus reveals something extraordinary about his authority as it relates to the Law. The ancient King Darius revealed his limitations of authority when he created a law that unintentionally ended up putting Daniel into the lions den. He could create new laws, but then he, like all other humans, remains subject to and under such laws. He was powerless to change the law. The same thing is revealed through Esther about the genocide law Haman had legally set up with the royal seal against all Jews at that time. In civilized societies, laws cannot be freely changed whenever a king wants to do so. No one, not even the king is above the law…except Jesus.

“For the Son of man is the Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:8)

The law that established the seventh day with all its restrictions was not over Jesus; rather, he was Lord over it. Jesus, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, has an authority over everything, including over law. He is not, nor ever can be subject to law. Rather, he is Lord over law and so laws do what he wants. He demonstrated this shocking truth by defying the law of gravity through walking on water, and by defying the power of death, by raising back to life people whose bodies had already started to decay. He even demonstrated this authority over God’s Law by forgiving the woman caught in adultery even through that Old Covenant Law was very clear in requiring that she be stoned to death for her sin. He is the source of righteous laws and thus all such law must remain subject to his divine right of application. This is the very substance of grace. It is what allows for forgiveness — something that does not exist in or can ever be found in law.

This is not to suggest that Jesus is somehow lawless, but that all authority, including the legal authority of laws, remain subject to him and how he chooses to use it. He is very much in support of the use and value of laws, but they do not exist to restrict him. He always keeps his word, which is a far greater foundation for reliance than any law could ever establish. Ultimately, laws can be useful for governing because they depend on the eternal nature of trustworthiness in the Word of God, whom we now know as Jesus. Laws can be broken, but his word stands forever and can never disappear or be distorted. In this way, Jesus is an eternal law unto himself. This truth is the bedrock of grace, something far greater than even the Old Covenant Law.

This fundamental truth can be verified in one verse (not to mention in many other places as well), where the Lord speaks about the scriptural source of what makes God’s word “unbreakable”. In the following quote, you can see that the Law contains and records a statement of truth that is unbreakable, but not because it is in the Law, but rather because the word-of-God is found inside that Law. In other words, it is the word of God that makes a statement eternal and unbreakable, not its location or recording within a law. It is what comes from Jesus, the living Word of God, that establishes and sustains life, law, trustworthiness, truth, and absolute certainty.

“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods’, to whom the word of God came — and the Scripture cannot be broken…” (Jn 10:34-35).

Scripture makes the striking comparison that Law came to humanity through Moses. In contrast, grace and truth come through Jesus — the Word who was God and was with God in the beginning. The ability to grant absolute absolution and forgiveness comes from a source that is above law and always will reign sovereign over such condemnation for violation. As it says elsewhere, the Law is only a shadow of the true reality that can only ever be found in Christ himself.

This is how we come to discover the purpose and limit of the Mosaic Law. “Law was made for man, not man for Law.” Remember, this “Law” is not plural, like Luther and many other Christians assume when they speak of the apparent problem of legalism; rather, it is a specific reference to that Old Covenant Law given to Moses for the ancient people of God called Israelites. God created that Law to help lead his people to Christ. He created Law to help people recognize their sinful condition and desperate need before a holy God. He created Law to instruct, which it continues to do because it is the very word of God, but never to provide righteousness or salvation. That could only ever be found through faith in Jesus.

Think about Jesus’ words when he challenged the people’s understanding of obedience to the Law of God:

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mk 3:4)

Can you answer that? You might want to bite your tongue and consider that no other human being was capable of answering that question. It is not scripturally possible to answer it, because one must first address what law is being considered when he asked “which is lawful”. If you, like everyone in his audience at that time, think he was speaking of the Old Covenant Law, then you can read what the Law says like everyone one else could then. The specific context of doing work on the Sabbath day was a sin under that Law and doing good was not an acceptable excuse for such willful rebellion, not even if it might save a life. There is no allowance for violating the Law simply because we think we are “doing good” or because we think we are “saving a life”. Under the Mosaic Law, good intentions do not provide a get out of Hell for free card.

That Law did not allow for anyone to make such a choice. Think of Uzzah, who put his hand out to stabilize the ark while everyone was celebrating and worshiping God as it was being carted back to Israel, and God struck him dead on the spot. Doing good, was not an acceptable excuse for disobedience!

Jesus’ question, however, does have an answer, but as alluded to earlier, one must first consider which law Jesus was referring to, which was not the one his audience would have assumed he meant.

This is the same frustration that all Jews would have felt when Jesus gave his parable about the Good Samaritan. He clearly applauds the Samaritan for being compassionate, and he rebukes both the priest and the Levite for walking on by. Do you know what the Law commands about priests and Levites in regards to touching or even getting near a bloody person? I’ll let you look up the many references, if you’re interested, because these restrictions were not Pharisaical additions, but explicit commands from the mouth of God. By avoiding that person, they were obeying God’s direct commands, and yet Jesus expects something that cannot be done by anyone who continues to live under that Law.

Jesus was forcing a change of standard in how to live before a holy God. Those who live under any part of that Mosaic Law cannot ever live by righteousness through faith. Law inhibits walking by faith, because it can be measured and achieved, whereas faith must operate on trust for living within godly boundaries that cannot be fully seen or recognized. They are incompatible, like new wine in old wineskins, or old patches sewn onto new clothes. Such attempts to mix them together will destroy both.

Jesus was intentionally breaking the Law of God, and yet he remained innocent. The appropriate question at this point ought to be, “how in God’s name is that possible?”

The answer here can be found in reflecting on the purpose for Jesus coming to this earth. Knowing the consternation and confusion that his confrontation of the Mosaic Law would cause, Jesus preempts this question by saying:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:17)

Notice this statement is addressing assumptions about the reason and purpose for Jesus coming to earth. He is teaching here on why he came from heaven and how that dramatic event would impact the Law and how it  (the Law) would forever thereafter apply to believers.

He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. If you read the rest of this above text, you will see that Jesus was about to repeatedly challenge what the Law required and in several cases he would directly change what it demanded to something that everyone would hear as the very opposite expectation (like making oaths in God’s name, to which he said stop doing this). His words and life would often look like a direct challenge to core aspects of the Old Covenant Law. He would break laws and that would understandably look like he was abolishing it.

He certainly was changing the Law, as well as the entire covenant expectations to an entirely New Covenant, but that is not the same thing as abolishing. Scripture says this Law and Covenant would become “obsolete”, now that Jesus had come, but the purpose for this change was specifically about fulfillment.

This “fulfill” does not mean that he came to obey it for us. Again, he repeatedly broke that Law, while somehow remaining innocent. By fulfill, he was revealing that his mission for coming to earth was, among other details, to specifically accomplish all that the Law said and prophesied about the coming Messiah — as the biblical text itself words it: “until everything is accomplished” (v.18).

Unlike the Law which has no capacity to be completed or fulfilled, prophecies can and must once-and-for-all be proven, completed, fulfilled, and accomplished. As the Lord confirmed, “Moses wrote about me”, and “all that the scriptures have said, must be fulfilled.” This is the very reason that Jesus spoke those amazing final words upon the Cross: “It is finished”. The purpose for his first Advent, his coming as a human to this earth, was to fulfill all that the Law and the Prophets foretold about that coming. That is what he came to perfectly do — to finish fulfilling all that it said about him.

He did not actually fulfill or accomplish everything in the Law about him, however. Whenever the Law speaks of things related to what we now understand as part of his second Advent, those details are still working themselves out toward a final fulfillment, but with regard to his purpose in showing himself as a baby in a manger, he came to do the will of his Father, and he did it flawlessly and completely.

One of those details within the Law that he came to fulfill was to become a curse for us. Keeping the Law would not provide anything for us, but resolving the curse from disobedience against that Law would save us. That Law, and the divine demand of God, is that “in the day you sin, you shall surely die”. That curse — that horrific condemnation under the wrath of God — is defined by the Law’s phrase: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree”.

That is what Jesus came to fulfill. He came to hang himself on a tree, so that you and me who put our faith in him and what he did on that Cross in our place, might no longer be under that eternal curse. God’s legal expectation would not simply be dismissed, but rather it would be fulfilled, only not by us directly, but by the suffering of the One who created that Law.

Wow. He didn’t come to keep the Mosaic Law. He came to fulfill what it demanded of our souls and life, by putting himself to death and then raising himself back to life so that through faith in his grace toward us, we might live a new and eternal life in grateful worship of him.

Now, for Christians, Jews, and all who want to truly live, Jesus becomes our new standard. We don’t look to that former Law which can only ever end in death. Rather, we look to our Lord, holding to his words, putting into practice his expectations, measuring ourselves to his pattern and ways, seeking to live by faith through the leading of his Spirit.

Those who strive to keep any detail of that former Law are “alienated from Christ” (Gal 5:4). Jesus did not come to keep that Law, nor should you attempt such dishonor. He is our righteousness, so make every effort to live by his living words and active Spirit.

Those who rebel against him, who refuse in some detail to obey his revealed words, violate the eternal Source of all righteousness. They do something far more vile than any disobedience against that former Law of God, for they willfully reject the Lord of that Law and of everthing. They disobey the gospel, for which Scripture prophecies that such apparent believers “will never see the Lord”. Jesus is our new law. He is our righteousness, because of who he is, not based on some human accomplishment at keeping the Mosaic Law.

This new righteousness comes from heaven in the person of Jesus; it does not come from his earthly efforts at keeping Jewish laws.

“We have been released from the Law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6)

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Every Sin Forgiven, Except

There are dramatic reasons for eye shadow. Whether applied by a stage actor, or an adolescent looking for attention, or even by a prostitute, there is something well known about carefully applied eye shadow: it draws greater attention from others to the eyes, and thus to that person.

Like looking for the proverbial polar bear in a snowstorm, it is the need for the distinguishing influence of shadows that often helps us to better identify a subject. In this regard, as shadows help to highlight features in a scene or of a person, so the extent of God’s amazing grace is also highlighted by considering the dark boundaries along its outer edges.

It is not comfortable territory into which many like to travel, but it is biblical and can be extraordinarily helpful in recognizing truth.

When it comes to understanding amazing grace, there is a dark shadow along its outer space. Grace, for a Christian, involves the recognition of the shocking mercy of God in dealing with the penalty for our sins through Jesus’ all-sufficient sacrifice. That grace, however, is neither universal, nor without exception. There is a dark and ominous underbelly to our human condition that not even grace will remove.

Hear the word of the Lord:

“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Mt 12:31)

Whether or not preachers are willing to speak this truth, the Word of God remains clear: there is a sin that not even grace will remove. It is a dark truth of ugly rebellion, so despicable and so rotten, that not even the sacrifice of Jesus will remove it—not by repentance, not ever!

“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (v.32)

The unpardonable sin cannot be forgiven. Grace has a boundary; it is not endless, as many like to teach. There exists a dark shadow where Jesus’ sacrifice will not ever cross.

If you want to truly understand the grace of salvation, you need to listen very carefully to what God whispered three times in the shadows. Blasphemy is a very big deal to God. It is a line, that if crossed, renders a person beyond salvation.

In addition to Matthew’s recording, it is repeated by Mark:

“I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mk 3:28-29)

And Luke:

“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Lu 12:1)

All sin can be forgiven, except one. Is that what you believe? Is that what is taught in your church? Grace has a limit, imposed by the will of God, and declared by the Lord himself. Even blasphemy can be forgiven up to a point, but somehow, in some way, some expression of blasphemy creates a line-in-the-sand between God’s grace and his eternal wrath of Hell.

All sin can be forgiven, but not all sin will be forgiven, because when it is all said-and-done, every human sin will be exposed to the Cross and a choice will be forced: Bow the knee in surrender, or bow the knee in defiance. That choice will expose the sin of blasphemy, for how God measures it, as either forgivable or eternally unforgivable.

The sad truth is that most Christians have been deceived away from the truth of blasphemy. Some are taught to effectively ignore the unpardonable sin, and are thus deceived into thinking that no sin is beyond the grace of God. But even more likely, Western orthodox Christianity has elevated the doctrine of the Trinity above the foundation of the gospel taught by the Apostles in Scripture, causing centuries of believers to think that the unpardonable sin has something to do with speaking against the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Godhead.

Jesus was not teaching about the Holy Spirit, when speaking of the unpardonable sin. He was speaking about himself! Blasphemy is a distinction about how a person views Jesus for who he is.

Notice the wording in Matthew’s Gospel. The Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, to which our Lord reminded them that a divided kingdom cannot stand. However, once a thief ties up the strong man, then he can rob his house: meaning that once Jesus deals with Satan, then the possessions he seeks can be safely taken. It is this context which the Lord then says:

“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Mt 12:28)

The subject being highlighted is not the power behind the healing as much as the identity of the One doing the healing. This is why he continues in the next verse saying: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (v.29). The focus is emphasizing Jesus who displays the power of the Spirit of God, because that is a dead give-away about who he is as Lord God.

This truth, about recognizing Jesus for who he really is, is why he then says, “And so I tell you”. This statement regarding blasphemy is a distinction about knowing Jesus. Either people accuse him falsely as a man, or they accuse him falsely as God. Notice in the text (quoted earlier), that those who blaspheme against him with the view that he is the Son of Man—that sin has a chance of eventually being forgiven, once God enables a person t realize what they have done and then repents.

However, if a person knows who Jesus is as divine, as one born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit, then they are not deceived or ignorant in their understanding. Such a defiance against Jesus as the Son of God, is unforgivable! As the Mosaic Law revealed, sacrifices where only allowed to take away sin, if they were “sins of ignorance”. Willful sin could never be forgiven; can never be forgiven, and never will be forgiven.

Notice how Mark summarizes this truth (quoted above) in his Gospel.

“He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’” (Mk 3:30)

The focus is their accusation against who they think Jesus is, not about how they dishonor the Holy Spirit. In each gospel account, this warning about blasphemy is not a declaration that they actually committed this unpardonable sin at that time. If this was about dishonoring the Holy Spirit in distinction to dishonoring Jesus, then they would have committed an unforgivable sin at that point, but there is absolutely no evidence to that in Scripture. In fact, as we shall see, Jesus was actually protecting them from such a sin. Stay tuned for this amazing grace.

Mark then records an event immediately following this, which helps to clarify the meaning just recorded about blasphemy, when Mary and Jesus’ brothers come to rescue him from working so hard (Scripture says that they were concerned that he was not eating). She was trying to impose herself as his mother, showing that her view of him was as her boy, rather than as her Lord God. She got publicly corrected by Jesus because, although he was certainly her son, he should have been approach by her primarily as Immanuel.

Luke, the master historian, introduces this section by talking about things concealed in shadows that will eventually be disclosed, things whispered in the dark which need to be proclaimed from the rooftops. It leads into a warning about Hell, in which God will destroy both body and soul. This is the context for presenting this teaching about an unforgivable blasphemy, to which our Lord says:

“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.” (Lu 12:8-9)

The focus is about who we think we are professing or rejecting. How a person views Jesus is the key here. Most people at that time viewed Jesus as a man, a powerful teacher and rabbi, but nothing more. Not even his disciples began with a correct view of his origin or his identity. This truth about a limited, natural, fleshly view of Jesus was entirely intended by God.

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would have a child when the Holy Spirit over-shadowed her. Jesus was human by Mary, and divine by the Holy Spirit. Who else would believe such a thing, even if Mary had tried to share this truth? Instead, the Bible tells us that “she pondered these things in her heart”. For this reason, no other people knew where he was truly from, nor who his Father really was. That was God’s gracious plan to hide his Son in skin, at least to start with.

Whenever Jesus healed someone, he often gave explicit commands that they not tell anyone. Doesn’t that seem strange? Jesus’ brothers thought so. At one point, they even instructed Jesus that if he wanted to be famous, he needed to stop hiding and go up to the Feast in Jerusalem to be seen openly by his followers.

God incognito. Jesus intended to skirt the shadows and hide his real identity to protect people.

At one pivotal point in Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus asked his 12 disciples who others thought he was. Some were saying one thing, others another, but all were claiming material, earth-bound, fleshly, natural, human origins. And then the Lord asked, but what about you?

Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. The shadows were retreating. The Lord responded, “no human told you that”, because such a divine view of Jesus could only come from God the Father. But then another shocker:

“Peter answered, ‘the Christ of God’. Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.” (Lu 9:20-21)

Why? Why would Jesus repeatedly tell people not to share who he was? Grace, my friends. All because of grace! Stay with me here.

Then came the demons. “We know who you are, the Son of God”. Every time, the Lord shut them up. Time and time again, evil spirits tried to announce the full identity of Jesus, but our Lord protected people from being exposed to such a damning truth.

Then consider the revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration, where God himself thundered, “This is my Son”. As the three Apostles walked off that holy mountain with Jesus, he commanded them to tell no one what they saw or heard, until Jesus rose from the dead. Seeing him as the Son of Man was allowed, but his identity as Son of God remained hidden, for a very important reason: to keep all people within reach of grace.

Jesus allowed people and followers to see him as a man, as a teacher and rabbi, as a miracle-worker, a fulfillment of promise as the Son of David, and even as a lord and master, but his divinity presents a one-way-door.

Then came the Cross, which changed everything. The curtain was torn in two, showing that the way to God through Jesus was wide open. The Spirit glorified Jesus as God-with-us by raising Jesus from the dead to eternal life again at the right hand of God.

While upon the Cross, our Lord prayed specifically about grace.

“Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”

The Jews, the Romans, and by extension every human being who has ever existed, all have sinned, all have fallen under the penalty of death, all are in desperate need for grace made possible through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

All humans have blood on their hands. We have all rejected Jesus. However, his grace is more.

Jesus protected all those Jews who spit on him. He protected all those Romans who ridiculed him and beat him. He spared those who turned away from his teaching about eating his flesh. They all rejected a man, but not one of them is recorded within Scripture of having knowingly rejected God in Christ.

If Peter could deny Jesus, even after having declared him as Christ, and still be forgiven, then his own understanding must have been still under developed in fully recognizing Jesus as the very Presence of God. That may well be the very same limited understanding in which Judas sinned in betraying Jesus–for only blaspheming against God is unforgivable.

They didn’t know that they were crucifying and rejecting the Son of God, because Jesus, in his incredible mercy hid that truth from them while they all remained vulnerable to eternal blasphemy.

This is the same act of grace behind why Jesus commands faithful Christians to “not give what is holy to the dogs.” They can’t handle it without the Spirit’s activity and the truth could expose them to eternal condemnation. Grace gives God to those the Spirit reveals are open to Jesus and mercifully withholds the truth about Jesus from those absent of the call of God. Only those led by the Spirit can navigate this commission rightly.

Grace protected people from their own eternal failure. Sin can be forgiven, but rejecting Jesus with the understanding of who he is as Lord God is unpardonable. That truth didn’t gain the light of day until after the resurrection of Jesus.

Then came the Spirit on Pentecost.

Without the Spirit of God, Scripture declares that it is impossible for humans to understand the things of God. The same is true about knowing Jesus. The only way to rightly follow Jesus for who he eternally is as Son of God, is to have his very life dwelling in us through that same impregnating Spirit. You must be born again through baptism!

Then, and only then, is it possible to worship, follow, and represent Jesus with the power to not cross that dark line at the far edge of grace. It is what the Bible refers to as having the eyes of the Spirit, of sharing in the Holy Spirit, and of living by the Spirit.

This truth about the identity of Jesus, and the distinction about blasphemy, is confirmed again by the word of God which says,

“The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (1 Cor 3:17)

This declaration is rejected in the way many theologians try to teach the Trinity, namely that “Lord is not the Spirit”, and “the Spirit is not the Lord”. In one sense, it is supportable in Scripture to teach the distinction of person between Lord and Spirit and Father, but it is a direct violation of the inspired word of God to teach against the above quote breathed by God: “The Lord is the Spirit”. To speak against the Lord who is the Spirit is to blaspheme against Jesus and commit an unforgivable, eternal sin that will damn such a person to Hell.

As Paul wrote to the Roman Christians,

“the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature [flesh] was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:2-4)

Again, this isn’t a truth about understanding the Trinity, as otherwise helpful as that doctrine can be. Rather, this is a truth about the identity of Jesus as the God/Man. The gospel is about knowing Jesus. How we approach Jesus is extremely important. Now that he has been revealed as the eternal Son of God, there is no going back for any Christian.

Christians who have the Spirit are not like those early disciples or Jews who thought of Jesus as just an amazing man. We have been granted the glory of God in the face of Christ. We know Jesus as Lord God, the Son of God, the Spirit of Truth. We have put our hands to the plow and must never look back.

Most people remain void of the Spirit, and so remain void of being able to receive him as he truly is. Think of all those people around the world and throughout time who have not known Jesus as Lord God and Savior…their sins can still be forgiven. Grace can even reach across the divide of life and rescue those in darkness, because grace is powered by the resurrected, life-giving, and eternal Living One. Grace is that amazing and that powerful, that not even death can limit its reach.

Being told that Jesus is Lord God is not the same as accepting that as true. Many go to church, hear the truth preached, and may even mouth the words, but only God knows whether or not they “get it”. This is why Paul turned some fellow Christians over to Satan “to be taught not to blaspheme”, in hopes that even if they die, they in spirit may still be forgiven when raised to life.

To come to actually recognize Jesus as Lord God, but while either void of the Spirit, or when quenching the Spirit, is to step into the abyss of impending Hell, with no hope or further sacrifice. Blasphemy against Jesus as Lord God is unforgivable.

Satan can never be forgiven! The Beast and False Prophet, identified in Revelation, can never be forgiven, for their fate is the Lake of Fire which will also consume all the other enemies of God whose sin will never be forgiven. The reason? They know Jesus is much more than just a Son of Man; he is the eternal Son of God and Creator of Life.

Such blasphemy is not some idle threat. It is a dire warning. Sins of ignorance can be forgiven, but rebellion against the Spirit is willful and eternal. This is why ministers who get off course and start teaching things that undermine the truth of Jesus are identified as worse off than those who never knew the truth about Jesus.

 “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit.’ And, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’” (2 Pet 2:20-22)

In the same way, it is impossible for grace to cross over to re-save those who have had their eyes opened to accept Jesus, but then turn away:

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace…in the end it will be burned.” (Heb 6:4-8)

Notice this unforgivable denial is against the Son of God, no longer against the Son of Man.

Those who claim to follow Jesus as the Spirit-revealed Lord, but who do not do so according to the will of God, will be rejected from his Kingdom. Those who are considered his virgins, but who don’t maintain full lamps of oil, will be rejected at the eternal gates of salvation. Those gifted the Spirit with talents, but who bury it even though they know he is a hard master who reaps where he has not sown, will have their gift taken away and be thrown out of his Kingdom. Those who know the good they ought to do, but don’t do it, commit eternal blasphemy.

In the Ten Commandments, one command stood out with a warning not connected to any of the other commands. The third command reads:

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Ex 20:7)

Blaspheming the Lord with the recognition of him as God, is a misuse of what his name represents and such a person can never be freed from such guilt. It is unpardonable. Many have assumed this is a command against swearing, cussing, or mispronouncing YHWH, but that is not the context of scriptural revelation. For example, consider Moses who disobeyed by striking a rock for water, when God told him to speak to it. God revealed his specific judgment against Moses in refusing him entrance into the Promised Land, because “you did not uphold my name as holy before my people”.

Misrepresenting Jesus to others, by twisting Scripture, by living hypocritically against Christian faith, by adding opinions and interpretations that are not from him, by offending little believers away from God, by living in sin even while claiming to have the seed of the Spirit of God in you, misrepresents the name of God. Continuing to live in sin without truly repenting and changing, knowing that such attitudes and actions dishonor the Lord, is willful rebellion, and is guaranteed a place in raging fire. Such blasphemy against God will result in eternal damnation, under both the Old Covenant as well as under the New Covenant.

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26-27)

Notice how the author includes himself when addressing the Christian believers in his audience, because this possibility can occur in anyone. There is no such thing in Scripture as a guarantee against committing the sin of eternal blasphemy. This is the same reason why Paul warns believers not to be arrogant in their claims of salvation, but rather to be afraid of their own natural inclination toward apostasy.

Those ministers who teach that “a person cannot out sin grace”, are lying to you. Telling people at a funeral that God’s grace will grant mercy and entrance through the pearly gates to anyone, no matter whatever a person has done in this life, are speaking attractive deception to the crowds. Those who stand up in church and encourage believers that there is no sin they could ever commit that could separate them from Christ, are preaching Satanic words. The idea of an unlimited or unconditional grace is not Christian. The biblical gospel declares that anyone who continues to live in sin, after having come to know Jesus as Lord God, will be thrown out of the Kingdom for eternity.

In a phrase, this blasphemy is judged upon a rebellious believer as one who has “fallen away from grace” because they have known better. Unpardonable blasphemy is not a specific sin; rather, it is any sin committed with the Spirit-enabled knowledge of Jesus as Lord God.

The Lord is full of grace and longs to show mercy, but his grace is not without shadow. His grace is truly amazing. His name is worthy to be praised. His words are the very breath of God and not to be ignored or replaced with personal ideas.

Christians have been given a glorious truth of God in Christ. We are also on notice to endure in faith, showing Jesus as holy and Lord God of our lives, without shadow of turning.

Walk in the light, and you will not stumble. Amazing Grace.

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Who I AM?

Questions are often recognized as the most powerful tool of human language.

Whether through the Socratic method, or through some form of art that raises unexpected thoughts in the observer’s mind, questions confront assumptions and cause us to seek answers. Information can be taught by statements and by official declarations, but the most powerful transformations seem to occur when a student discovers answers to questions they have done battle with themselves.

Unanswered questions make people feel like their world has a leak, out of which their very existence drains out, if they don’t find a way to plug it. As parents discover, even a two-year-old child is consumed with finding answers to a million questions. Mental health, and even human survival, demands satisfactory answers.

Regardless of our education level, cultural heritage, or measured intelligence, people all face that same major questions in life, and we all struggle to find answers that both internally satisfy as well as can endure external challenges. Our sense of personal stability depends on it.

They may begin with What: “What is that?”, “What does that taste like?”, and “What time is it?” Then we mature into questions of How: “How do birds fly?”, “How do I win?”, and “How come I feel like this?” As we develop, we take on Why questions: “Why do I have to go to bed?”, “Why can’t I do what I want all the time?”, “Why is the sky blue”, and “Why do I exist?” And then somewhere along the way, the questions start to show a recognition of others, like “Who is that funny person with the round red nose?”, “Who are you?”, and “Who is in charge here?”

The answers can be either specific or multiple, and the variety of what can be explored is endless. However, there is one question elevated above all others. It is the central question to which all others point. In different ways, it asks the same ultimate thing; someway of asking about who is responsible for life?

The record of Scripture is the testimony of God answering the major questions faced by people. That big question, about who is behind all this, led people to the conclusion that the One True God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, is to be worshiped. Many related answers have been given, evidences tested, and beliefs established, as a result of what God had shown to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, and to the Israelite people of long ago. But then came Jesus.

The first coming of Jesus rocked the world. He questioned nearly every answer that people had previously found satisfying about themselves and about God. The Jewish people, in particular, thought they knew God, but Jesus rejected their claim, and said that he alone could reveal God the Father. Knowing God was declared to only be possible by knowing who Jesus is.

Whether recognized yet or not, at the core of every human mind and soul burns the same question: “Who really is this Jesus?” In fact, every question about self-awareness–like “what do I want to be when I grow up”, or “what gender am I?”, or “why am I alive?”, are all dependent upon being able to rightly answer that great question behind self-existence.

New Testament Scripture, from Matthew through Revelation, records how the early disciples of Jesus struggled with this question, and it also presents the instructions on how all future Christians must discover and accept the same dramatic answer. Like an introductory band prior to the main show of ourselves before God, Peter struggled with how the promised Messiah could be both man (who shouldn’t have to die) and God (who is holy and intends to destroy the wicked), and by extension he also wrestled then with how such a divine Lord could still want to be friends with a sinner like himself.

This “Who is this” question was asked by Jesus-The-Teacher in three ways.

Followers of God through Jesus admitted, when asked “Who do others say that I am?”, that they had heard others try to answer this question by calling Jesus a great prophet and teacher. Some even thought he might be the ghost of John the Baptist or Elijah. He was certainly a miracle-worker; a man powerful in word and in deed. But ultimately, he was viewed as just a man. Whatever the response, none of them knew the right answer, and as a result none of those people were allowed to know God. They thought they knew him, but he remained hidden, obscure, and out-of-reach to them, because they could not rightly answer “who is this Jesus”.

The next, more personal question Jesus asked was “Who do you say that I am?” Many today have been taught that this is the most important question a Christian could ever answer. Although it is not the most important question, it is certainly an essential one that every person must answer. How you and I view Jesus, is absolutely central to being able to declare faith in him.

The problem with this question, however, is that it allows for God to become defined differently in each person’s mind. You may have heard people say things like, “my God would never do that”, or “I believe in Jesus as ‘Lord, Lord’”, or “my God forgives everyone”. God does not accept polytheistic definitions for himself. You and I don’t get to declare who-is-this on our own. The answer to that great question can only be found through the most important question of all.

“’I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.’ ‘Who are you?’ they asked. ‘Just what I have been claiming all along,’ Jesus replied.” (Jn 8:24-25)

The most important question presented in Scripture is: “Who does Jesus say that he is?” The answer to that question forms the basis for all other answers to all other questions, and it alone provides satisfactory and sustainable truth for real life. It doesn’t really matter what I think, only if I accept what he says!

When the disciples saw Jesus walk on water and then calm the storm simply by his words, they asked in fear and amazement, “Who is this?” It was a question they repeatedly asked. They wrestled with what they saw and experienced, but such empirical, human-controlled methods of discovery, remained limited and assured of error, unless they came to accept what he declared about himself. This is what Scripture refers to as: taking him at his word.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (Jn 8:31-32)

Only those believers who accept his teachings, and show it by how they rightly and faithfully live out each detail, will be granted the insight about who he really is—this truth that has the power to set a person free forever, from the burden and threat of all other questions, can’t be learned primarily by study, education, intelligence, or good deeds. The answer to who really is Jesus must be discovered by each person on the basis of what the Bible declares about him.

As referenced in a previous article here, many early believers in Jesus accepted him as Lord, but what they meant at that time was leader, teacher, and a master over their lives, but not that he was Lord God. That understanding of Jesus as Lord didn’t sink in until he declared himself to be the “I AM”, or until the Spirit raised him from the dead, or until those believers where filled with the Holy Spirit and allowed to recall what Jesus had previously told them about himself.

The timing was likely very different for each of those early Christians to know Jesus as the Lord that he claimed to be, but the requirement remains the same even for us today. Will you accept Jesus for who he says he is? If you think so, how does the way you respond with your life show that you rightly view him as Lord God? For example, when you recall his own words recorded by the writers of Scripture, do you obey as if they are the very commands of God? Humanly, we have a common tendency to measure ourselves by degrees, but God measures us by absolutes.

The majority of the churches that Jesus confronts in the book of Revelation are commanded to repent or face the wrath of God. They claim to accept Jesus as Lord, but their some seemingly small part of their lives dishonor his words, and shows that they are not fully accepting him for who he claims to be.

Many churches have become distracted with their doctrinal claims, by answers to the big questions which they think are sufficient, but who have gotten off course from what the Bible records as foundational. They appear to elevate questions about assurances of salvation, where the dead go, or the nature of God, like the Trinity, and answers about who is the Holy Spirit. Such questions may well be worth considering, but they are not the primary. Details within the Gospel of Jesus must always remain submissive to the truth about the focus upon the identity of Jesus. Even religious questions can distract from keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, as Scripture commands.

The Lord declares that Christians will be held accountable for every careless word, be expected to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, be perfect as God the Father is perfect, obey every word of Jesus without giving excuses or expecting to be forgiven for continued sin, and teach others to obey every word without adding to them or skipping over any parts that seem disturbing. Those who reject who Jesus is–as worthy of worship as well as worthy of absolute obedience–will find their personal claim of faith in Jesus as Lord rejected and their right to the tree of eternal life sucked out of them. It sounds mean, but that is what the Lord himself says to Christians, because some will be careful with his words and others not so much.

“’I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star….I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev 22:16-19)

The message and mission for Christians is to hold onto Jesus for who he claims to be. As God himself has thundered from heaven, in the context of considering three possible approaches to hearing God in Scripture (the Old Covenant Law-giver, the biblical writings of the Prophets, or Jesus himself):

“This is my Son whom I love, listen to him!”

If you really want to know yourself, or be able to find solid answers to why this life is what it is, or discover what is coming around the next corner, or how to get through suffering, seek to know God in Christ Jesus. He is the rock and foundation for everything else.

Jesus is the only way to God. There is no other acceptable path. There is no other answer more important to discover, from the greatest question every posed to man, than “Who do you want me to say has sent me?”:

“I AM, who I AM”

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Mystery of Jesus as Lord

Many call Jesus Lord. Few really understand what they are saying.

The name Lord, much like the name God, into whatever language or culture it is spoken, carries a wide range of intended meanings. As a pastor recently taught in church, “when Paul and Christians heard the name Lord as applied to Jesus, they were not just meaning Master, but Sovereign Master”. It sounds like an improvement, but that is not what it means to Jesus.

To call Jesus Lord is more than just a title of respect. It is also more than just an acknowledgment of his authority as a master or leader. And, although it certainly includes the royal level of one sovereign, like a king, the name Lord is much more than any of these.

This name of Lord is a name of God.

None of those common meanings require worship, and Jesus as the Lord presented in Scripture is worthy of worship! To call Jesus Lord is to identify him as divine. To a first century Jew, such a name applied to anyone other than the one true God was blasphemy. But, that is how Jesus represented himself.

Come, let’s take a closer look at who this amazing Lord really is:

When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced that she would become pregnant while still a virgin, the identity of Jesus was first made known.

“you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David” (Lu 1:31-33)

With that glorious revelation direct from the Lord God, Jesus was given his name as well as his lineage. He would be identified as both the Son of the Most High God as well as the son of his father David. He would be both God and man.

Notice that the name Lord at this point in the text is still limited to God, but that is about to change. When Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, the older woman spoke by the Holy Spirit and prophesied the shocking distinction of God in two Lords just like King David understood.

“But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?…Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Lu 1:42-45, underlines added)

The reference to “the mother of my Lord” is about the child in Mary’s womb. The reference to “what the Lord has said” is speaking of the Lord God who commissioned Gabriel to talk to Mary. Here is the exact same revelation, written in Scripture about a thousand years earlier, that the one true God can be known and worshiped somehow in two Lords. Also, the Lord, which David specifically had a relationship with, was the Lord at the right hand of the Most High God.

The Lord said unto my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psa 110:1, underlines added)

This very distinction is quoted by Jesus when he questions the Jewish religious leaders about who is the Christ. He asks them how it could be that this promised messiah could be both David’s son as well as the Lord that David worshiped. They had no answer. Such a Lord seemed incomprehensible.

But there is more.

The name Lord has a very special beginning. It is a name of God that remained hidden for 2500 years of human history. It was not until God decided to make a covenant with a special group who would be called the people of God, that he revealed this name.

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” (Ex 3:14-15)

This “I AM” name is stated three times here and is given as the meaning of the Lord God worshiped by the forefathers. It is also declared as the specific name by which he wants to always be known. Most often in Scripture, this name is simply written as “LORD”.

“God also said to Moses, ‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them…therefore say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians’…Then you will know that I am the Lord your God…I am the Lord.” (Ex 6:2-8)

The sad irony is not only was this name hidden prior to Israel, but in their sinful rebellion they eventually lost both the pronunciation and unique meaning of this name. The letters that form this name in Hebrew Scripture are called the Tetragrammaton, and their mystery are simply referred to as “LORD” in Scripture. As to why, some Bibles show footnotes that the world Lord, in Hebrew, “sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM”.

The one person in all of human history who knows exactly what that name means and sounds like, Jesus, did not correct the error when he walked this earth. He chose to allow people to continue to refer to God and to him with the name, Lord. But make no mistake, that great name is what he had in mind about himself when he said:

“Before Abraham was born, I AM.” (Jn 8:58)

Jesus revealed that he was the Lord that walked with ancient Israel. This “I AM who I AM”, when translated as became typical in that first century of Palestine, would be the same as saying “Lord, Lord”. You may recall, that Jesus makes a sobering reference to those who use this name towards him, but do not do the will of God. They pronounce him as Lord, but dishonor his I AM, I AM name.

That same truth, that Jesus is that great and holy Lord who walked with Israel, is confirmed by the Apostle Paul as well.

“They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Cor 10:3-4)

Jesus the Christ was the Lord who revealed himself to Moses, gave his name of Lord to his people, and sustained them as the very presence of God. Notice the detail that God gave to Moses in this regard. God refused to go personally with Israel as they headed for the Promised Land.

“But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

Moses pleaded with God about this, praying that God would help him to lead these people, and this is what God says he would do instead:

“The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us. What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’” (Ex 33:14-17)

That Presence of God was Christ the Lord! God was pleased with Moses, so he blessed him and his people by giving them Christ the Lord. If you read further in the above passage, you will find that this is the very moment that Moses requests to see the glory of God, to which God says that he will show himself in all his goodness (as the Christ the Righteous One), and as Lord (Christ named the Lord), and he put his right hand over him (the Son of God who is the right arm of God that works salvation).

Christians who accept Jesus as Lord are not simply calling him master of their life, nor just sovereign ruler of their life. They are worshiping God through Jesus as Lord, the very Presence of God. This is why the prophets foretold that Jesus would be called Immanuel, God-with-us.

“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father…I and the Father are One.”

It is this shocking identity that Jesus is the very Presence of God with people that most humans find disturbing. Especially the Jews, to whom this new name of the Lord was revealed, have stumbled at accepting Jesus as Lord God. That is why he challenged them with this name:

“You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus is not requiring that Jews simply accept him as a lord, like a leader, or master or king; rather, he is referring to the fulfillment of Scripture in calling him by this revealed name of God given to his people. That holy name of God must be credited to Jesus, or no one will be allowed to enter the presence of God. His name as Lord is that important. He is not just another lord, nor is he the highest Lord. He is Lord God:

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes…Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God.” (Psa 118)

Jesus is that stone rejected by men, but glorified by God. He is the Lord who has done this; he is the one who has come in the name of that Lord. He is to be known as ”the Lord is God”. So the Apostle John also declares:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Jn 1:1, 14)

“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—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:20)

This Lord and Word is to be granted the name Lord God. And as Peter declared:

“We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69)

This praise is not something Peter made up. He was granted this prophetic understanding by God to name Jesus as “he is called the God of all the earth”, which comes from Isaiah the prophet, who wrote:

“the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (Isa 54:5)

As the Prophet Jeremiah records:

“No one is like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not revere you, O King of nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you…But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” (Jer 10:6-10)

Those who accept Jesus as Lord are declaring him to be this Lord Almighty, the Holy One, the Lord of his own people, God of all the earth! Anything less is not the Lord that Jesus has in mind. God has declared Jesus to be our Lord, and worthy of our worship as God’s very Presence, with the name that is above all names under God our Father: God with us!

Jesus is far more than just our sovereign master; as Lord, he is our Holy God—the I AM, I AM, I AM.

As the Apostle Thomas finally got around to believing: “My Lord and My God”. (Jn 20:28)

But this is not the Lord that most followers of Jesus initially had in mind. Just as Jesus came as a baby born in a manger, with obscurity, humility, and acting very much like a mere man, so his name as Lord also remained obscured during that time. In this same way, just as Jesus continues to be viewed as a great teacher, important prophet, and leader of a religious movement called Christianity, so many still can’t recognize who he really is.

Not only were the religious leaders and even the general populous confused as to who this Jesus was, so the early disciples also struggled with conflicting input as to how to rightly understand him. They called him Rabbi, which means teacher, and they called him Lord, which simply means master, but at rare moments they acknowledged that he was also the prophesied Christ. At such moments, Jesus repeatedly warned them to not tell anyone that he was the Christ. He even commanded the demons to stop speaking whenever they rightly announced his divinity.

At that time, Jesus was not willing for his true identity to be openly recognized. While he walked this earth, his divine identity was to remain cloaked with his fleshly humanity. For the same reason, the understanding of his name as Lord, also remained obscured by the plainness of the commonly used word Lord. Notice how he referenced their use of this name:

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am.” (Jn 13:13)

He accepts their honoring of him as a teacher, and as their leader, but he then begins to shift their understanding of those terms:

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (v.14-16)

He re-orders the titles putting Lord first, while still connecting it to the idea of a master. Jesus is more than a great teacher. He is first their Lord, and must be imitated, not simply because of what he taught, but more because of who they serve. He then tells them why this is so:

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” (v.19)

Did you catch that name? Jesus would not initially allow anyone to grasp the enormous significance of him as the I AM Lord, but shortly that would all change. The early believers were slowly being allowed in on a great mystery: that Jesus was the Christ, that he was the great I AM, that he was the Lord God with men, but that shocking revelation was slow to sink in, even after his resurrection, and even after the sudden indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Christians.

As Paul admitted on behalf of all believers:

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer…all this is from God…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor 5:16-19)

Anyone can say the common words lord and master, but that is not the name for Jesus. The word may still be fleshly, common, and reflective of one who is the master. However, it is not even humanly possible to rightly profess, with the intended meaning, this mysterious name of Lord without the power of God:

”Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:3)

Many will say “Lord, Lord”, but it will not do them any good. Many may say Jesus is Lord, even those who have the Holy Spirit in them, but unless they submit to what God declares in his holy word about Jesus as this Lord, as inspired and led by God’s Spirit, they remain incapable of declaring him or knowing him for who he truly is. This tells us that knowing this Lord is not a linguistic issue, nor an archeological discovery issue, nor a dictionary definition issue, nor something that can be discovered by human effort, rather it is a relational knowing issue.

There was a time for everyone, when Jesus was viewed as a mere man. There was a time when he was honored as a mere Lord. There was a time when his flesh appeared dominant, and his existence appeared limited in time, but that time has passed. Jesus is not some amazing, leading creation of God–he is the eternal I AM, who is, was, and always will be!

The first words chiseled in stone by the finger of God were these:

“I AM the Lord your God” (Ex 20:2)

The most important command of God given to the people of God is this:

“’The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’’” (Mk 12:29)

It is God’s intent and will that Jesus be glorified as I AM the LORD.

“Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1 Cor 8:6)

Worthy is Jesus the Lord our God!

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Mere Infants – Passionate Christians who are Worldly

Mirrors are not always kind, especially if we are Snow White or we are getting older. Still, we find them very useful in being able to see things about ourselves that otherwise are hard to recognize.

The letters Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth serve as a mirror for Christians today. Surprisingly, the mirror of 1 Corinthians says that many believers are far more worldly than anyone wants to admit. If you have ever heard anyone present themselves as a Methodist minister, or Catholic Priest, or Baptist member, or Pentecostal missionary, then you likely have heard a repeat of the problem that infected those early Christians in Corinth.

The Corinthian Christians were rebuked for taking sides in their faith, for claiming a sub-identity in Christ as followers of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, or other popular leaders. They were corrected for promoting a divided Christ:

“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:1-3)

That is a disturbing reflection of passionate Christians who have sought local membership in congregations, taken on identities as followers of specific denominations, promoted allegiance to human leaders, and claimed belief in preferred doctrines.

When mirrors don’t tell people what they want to hear, they avoid looking in them, or often smash them, or ridicule, reject, and even abuse those who point out their flaws. Do you see yourself in this mirror? The evidence of history shows that most professing Christians take sides and form allegiances to people and groups other than just Christ himself.

It was to these Corinthians that Paul declared:

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise…It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus”. (1 Cor 2:27,30)

Christians belong only to Jesus, not to any group or person. They become believers because of the work of the Holy Spirit, not because of any preacher, or friend, or self-study. For sure, God uses people and servants to spread the gospel, but they are not the cause or reason for faith, and should never become our identity in contrast to other Christians. We are told to limit our allegiances to leaders “as they follow Christ”, which implies an ongoing and constant measuring to the word of God, as well as changes to our fellowship when the two don’t line up.

It is well observed that those early Christians living in Corinth were both passionate and messed up in their beliefs and practices. Rather than striving “to agree with one another”, they took sides and claimed to follow leaders and teachings that were preferable to each of them. In so doing, they demonstrated such an extent of infantile immaturity that they were shown to be immersed in worldly sin and distorted thinking.

All Christians who claim the same kind of divisional thinking and preferences for doctrinal explanations of some group or person other than Christ and his Church are mere infants in need of repenting and starting all over again:

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s world all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:11-14)

No matter how much Bible knowledge a person may have learned, such infants don’t actually understand the foundation of righteousness in the gospel.

Traditions and people are often worthy of our respect and honor for their contribution and service to our faith, but never are they to fill that singular devotion to Jesus. Believers are intended to all belong to the same Body, to the one people of God, to one head, through one Spirit, with one profession of doctrinal belief.

This is not about a call for a singular organized church, which implies a hierarchy of human leadership, which is not reflected in Scripture. Rather, it is a call to unity and oneness between believers, regardless of the locations, traditions, or understandings. The command of God is not to “agree to disagree”, nor to limit our associations by local or denominational membership, nor to accept whatever others want to believe or do that violates God’s word, nor to divide beliefs into core and non-core theologies that don’t exist in Scripture, nor to limit our participation to what we find comfortable, but instead to “seek to agree with one another” under the sole headship of Christ our Lord.

Christians are meant to belong to the same body and grow together in holy unity by constantly bringing our differences of understanding and practice to review and adjustment under the commands of “hold to my teachings”, and of “put the interests of others ahead of your own”.

Is your mirror being kind to you today? Either way, you now see what needs to be done.

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Whispers of Salvation–Are you listening for details?

Listening is a skill rarely taught in schools, in work, or even in church.

Most people use listening as a method of personal benefit, rather than to learn or understand. Typically, we listen just enough to decide if there is any value for ourselves in what we are hearing, or just enough to decide on what to declare back in response. Listening is used to decide what we want, rather than to develop ourselves or understand others. Like so many other methods of interaction, we are selfish at the core.

When we approach God with that self-centered type of listening, we set ourselves up to be deceived; thinking we understand, but ignorant of the truth.

In order to avoid deception, it is important to understand the meanings of words used in Scripture. One of the tactics of false teachers is to cast doubt on what God says. Satan did it in the Garden: “Did God really say…?” So even today within churches, or through media, or in popular Christian teachings, the lines are often blurred, leaving people confused and easily misled, by “fine sounding doctrines” that distort the truth of the Gospel.

Two of the most adulterated words in Scripture are justify and sanctify. They show up repeatedly in both the Old and New Testament, and they often appear interchangeable. Especially as they are used to describe the doctrine of salvation, justification and sanctification often are assumed and taught to mean the same thing. The common explanation is that they speak of what Jesus has done for us, that the foundational belief of “faith alone” informs believers that neither word has any significant distinction regarding salvation.

Sadly, many teachers will interchange justification, sanctification, and salvation, as if they are synonyms of basically the same thing. Bible writers, like writers and speakers today, will often use parts to reference the whole, or at other times to identify some subset detail of the whole. The audience must consider the context to understand what purpose is intended in using words. As such, when Paul references justification, especially in his letter to the Romans, he is most often speaking of that subset detail of what actually causes a believer’s moral rightness with God, rather than instructing on understanding how salvation occurs as a whole. In turn, when James uses the word justify, he clearly is referencing the foundation upon which a believer expresses their sanctified actions to “prove their faith”.

Salvation is typically the word used to speak of the overall purpose of God in redeeming humans, but it also is used to reference that more specific moment of eternal transformation into the Kingdom. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are most often referenced as subsets of salvation. There is enormous danger in generalizing the details, when biblical statements are being presented for the purpose of instruction on a subset detail. Such an approach will destroy any ability to recognize biblical truth.

For many, to be justified, is to be sanctified, and vis a versa. But that is not how Scripture teaches on these words.

Justify means “right standing before God” and thus is a moral-reference and always points toward salvation.

Sanctify means “set apart for holy use by God” and thus is a use-reference, and may be limited to uses in this life, or extend all the way to salvation if grounded upon justification.

To be justified is to speak of righteous standing before God. It is a declaration of acceptable moral, sinless perfection as viewed by God. Prior to the advent of Jesus, this positional identity was declared upon people who responded to the call of God by faith, and thereafter confirmed it by obedient actions according to the command of God. Actions that confirm identity do not cause or earn that identity, but rather are outward sanctifying proof of one inwardly justified. Such believers were called righteous, which did not mean they were inherently sinless, but rather that God viewed them as rightly-connected-to-him. They were declared morally clean by identity even though not one of them would have been morally clean in practice.

That former possibility of being viewed by God as righteous (pre-Jesus), was a reference to temporary representation, not to a righteousness sufficient for salvation. It was a justified standing that pointed toward salvation, but not that could gain salvation. Able, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, all were called righteous, but all were still “in their sins” when they died. The Cross was determined “before Creation” to be that historic hinge-point for salvation, past and future. What Jesus did on the Cross was an act of perfect sanctification, demonstrated upon the basis of his own inherent righteousness. His justified, eternal, rightness with God has always been the required basis for salvation, since “in his forbearance, he left the sins committed before unpunished” (Rom 3), so that only through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice would anyone be declared righteous unto salvation!

The hope of salvation is not so different today, than yesterday.

Since the Cross of Christ, Christians are labeled scripturally as justified when called by God to express faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Like those before the Cross, Christians are likewise expected to continue in their declared position before God by obediently and submissively striving to sustain that righteous reflection of the Righteous One. Such efforts do nothing to acquire the label of one justified, because obedient activity is always a reference to sanctification.

Perfect moral standing is not humanly achievable by effort, but only by attribution. In other words, justification can only occur by God’s declaration of acceptance of absolute righteousness. Now that Christ has been revealed, it is understood that that can only occur by faith in Jesus, by which he then lives in that person. Since Jesus is the only one who will ever be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, so only those who have Jesus dwelling in them can be identified as righteous for salvation. When all of humanity is eventually resurrected, every knee throughout history will bow and every tongue must confess that “Jesus is Lord to the glory of God”—whether that be by faithful submission of acceptance or through rebellious defiance of understanding.

To be sanctified, however, is not a moral reference, but rather a matter of being dedicated for holy use. Objects, like buildings, kitchen utensils and dishes, animals, and things can all be sanctified, but that does not mean they are also justified. A candle-stand may be set apart for holy use, but that does not mean it is considered righteous by God. A church building, a human body, and even names can be considered sanctified, but that does nothing of itself for salvation, because sanctification does not produce justification, whereas justification is the foundation for sanctification.

Children of believing Christians, and even unbelieving mates, are declared by God to be sanctified, but that does not mean they are either justified or saved. It means they have a very special dedication to God, and probably an extra blessing and protection because of their sanctified position as a direct relative of one considered by God as justified. Their sanctification rests upon another’s justification.

A believer who has the hope of salvation—in contrast to pots, pans, and unbelieving people—becomes sanctified upon the basis of justification. Justification is not something a person does, rather it is something we accept and then have declared upon us. Sanctification, on the other hand, is very much something we are expected to participate in, as we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. God says to all believers, “come out my people and be separate”.

The call to Christians is to be justified. The command to Christians is “be sanctified”. Through these, the hope of glory is to be saved at the return of Jesus.

The question may arise about those who are set apart for God, but are not themselves yet believers. They are sanctified, but not justified. However, their dedication for special use and connection to God is not without hope of justification, because moral righteousness has always been the basis of humanity through our Creator, in whose image we have all been made. This does not mean we are all naturally justified, but rather that justification will always be the foundation for anything and anyone dedicated to God, whether morally or functionally.

So, even children of Christians, who have yet to profess their own faith in Jesus as Lord, are sanctified in themselves for some limited purpose of God, and that upon the justifying work of Christ. When they come to their own senses, bow their knees and receive Jesus through personal faith, the sanctification they enjoyed remains and must continue to mature, but their own faith is grounded upon the primary work of Christ as one newly declared as justified and promised salvation. In this way, Jesus gets all the glory and his work remains the only foundation for salvation.

All who are justified automatically begin as also sanctified, because such standing implies a dedication of use as well. However, one sanctified, is not assured to also be justified. There is a choice of free will that the Bible says very clearly can impact a person—both their justified standing as well as their evidence of developed maturity in sanctification.

Both of these words, justify and sanctify, are presented within Scripture in past, present, and future terms. This detail is extremely important for sound doctrinal formation, because many deceptive teachers want to imply that both are effectively only past realities—automatic guarantees that have no chance of alteration or removal.

This distinction of time informs us that these words are intended to be living and not just a historical snapshot picture of some past declared event. Like a video that must be watch all the way to its conclusion, to really understand its message, one who is justified, is declared to be morally right before God because of Jesus’ life in them, but there is nothing in Scripture that says such a view of God toward that person can never change. In the same way, one who has started well in following God as one sanctified, is never guaranteed they will always remain holy and useful to God. Both must remain “in Him”, or risk having their “name erased from the Book of Life”.

False teachers will vehemently reject this biblical truth, but one initially justified, must remain justified, so that when Christ returns, they will receive the salvation promised to those who will be forever declared justified.

This same teaching of Scripture, says over and over again that those who have put their hand to the plow must not look back, or they will no longer be considered fit for the Kingdom of God. One who has begun their new life as sanctified, must devote themselves to producing the maturing fruit of life-long sanctification, so that when Jesus returns to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him, they will be accepted as holy and not shut out from eternity like foolish virgins.

Remember Nadab and Abihu. Aaron and his sons were divinely declared by God to be righteous representatives of God to his people and set apart for holy use in his tabernacle. They were justified and sanctified, but in spite of their status and identity as holy Priests, they offered fire and incense contrary to the specific instructions of God, and the Lord killed them both. They lost both their justified and sanctified status as well as their lives, however, the vessels they used were only sanctified and not justified and God told Moses that those objects remained holy since they had been dedicated for use to God.

Remember the Parable of the Soils. The gospel is spread to everyone, but for many they will neither be justified, nor sanctified, for the truth will be taken from them. For the next three groups, Jesus declares that they were all justified and sanctified believers, but two of those remaining three groups thought they were saved, but their moral and devoted identity to Christ was choked out and lost. Their ministers probably deceived them into thinking their justified standing was guaranteed, and they lost their fear of the Lord in their arrogant expectation of salvation.

Listen carefully, so that you will not lose out on salvation, you who think you are saved! (Heb 2:1)

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Some Things God Will Never Share

There are two aspects of independence that God reserves to himself—two expressions of his will that he refuses to allow separately in any other living being. They are the two extremes of interaction. These two, God will not share with anyone else.

The first involves his glory, and the relational expression involves worship.

 “I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” (Isa 42:8)

“He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’”” (Rev 14:7)

Scripture reveals that God fully expresses and shares his glory with Jesus “from before time began”, and upon that basis he intends to grant Jesus the right to share his glory with Christians when he resurrects them to life. Sharing glory as an extended honor under the primary worship to God is allowed, but independent worship that glorifies another who is not in right submission to God will never be allowed.

Such glory worshiped independent from God is idolatry and will never be tolerated. As Jesus retorted to the temptation of Satan:

“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’’” (Lu 4:8)

Believers are commanded to “give honor where due”, so long as such respect and praise remains subject to the glory of God and never separate from him. Glorifying politicians, leaders, sports stars, popular musicians, or actresses, who dishonor God, violates this exclusive right of worship. Like ancient King Herod, who accepted the praises of the crowd saying “his voice is like that of a god”, and did not give that glory to God, so his fate of being eaten alive by worms, will cast the same decay of living-death upon all who accept worship to themselves.

The second divine-right that God reserves exclusively for himself involves his wrath, and the relational expression involves revenge.

“Have I not kept this in reserve and sealed it in my vaults? It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” (Dt 32:34-35)

“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.” (Rom 12:19)

“God is just. He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you” (2 The 1:6)

Judgment and punishment is a biblical right that God extends to worldly authorities, even to the extreme of capital punishment, but revenge is not simply a correction; it is the complete expression of righteous wrath and anger at sin. This revenge rights the scales; it does not just discipline the behavior, or remove the offender.

No other authority will ever be granted this divine right to resolve the penalty for sin, nor to make everything right again for those who have been deeply hurt. God keeps this right to himself alone. He alone will execute final judgment, and he alone will permanently resolve all offenses.

We see this truth in the dramatic execution of Jesus upon the Cross. We will see it culminated in absolute finality in the horrors of Hell for those who arrogantly refuse to accept the revenge of God upon Jesus.

There are some things that God will not share with anyone else—extremes of relational interaction that can never occur rightly in any being other than God alone. Parents, judges, governors, ministers, and all leaders had best take notice whenever they feel emotionally inclined to lash out at violators. To accept glory meant for God, or to punish with anger, would be to self-destruct.

The moral of this story? Worship God and give him only all the glory due his holy name! And, secondly uphold all righteousness by dealing honorably with life, expressing both justice and mercy, but do not ever cross the line by striking out in wrath.

No one should take upon themselves the right to sit in the place of God. Worship and glorify God, and leave room for him to pay back all evil.

He is coming soon, and he will not delay! Hang on and wait for the Lord.

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