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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Prepare for the Shock of Advent

The coming of Jesus confronts the most important beliefs of God’s people. It was true for the Jews, and it will likely be the same for Christians.

Advent is a term used to speak about the coming of Jesus, which we now understand has two occurrences. The first happened about 2000 years ago, when the Creator God came to earth as a human baby, as celebrated during Christmas. The second advent is prophesied to happen sometime yet in the future.

When God shatters human history with his own bodily presence, many things happen, but one of the most dramatic, and frankly disturbing truths, is that he confronts what his people believe about him, and what they believe about their own connection to him.

Those two beliefs form the most important doctrines: What we believe about God and what we believe about ourselves in relation to God.

Jesus’ first advent shocked the Jews at the deepest level of their religious belief. God declared to Moses that there was one God. That was the most important belief held by the Jews. No other belief was as big a deal as the understanding that there was only one God.

Pagan religions often taught that spirit gods could have god/man sons—like Achilles and Hercules—but not in Judaism. None of the Israelites, those known as the People of God, allowed for such a revelation.

When Jesus came in his first advent, he declared himself to be both human and the Son of God. His preaching appeared to have more in common on this issue with pagan religions than with what they thought the Bible taught about the one true God. Jews were confronted at their most important belief, Commandment #1 out of the Ten, and the vast majority, simply could not accept such a disturbing claim. The idea, that this one God must be accepted in more than one person, was simply unacceptable to most believers at that time.

The second most important belief to a Jew was in how they viewed themselves as the people of God. They were Abraham’s descendants and therefore they firmly believed that they were promised and guaranteed salvation. Nothing could shake their confidence that they couldn’t lose.

The first advent of Jesus shocked believers by revealing that God’s promise didn’t actually mean what they thought it meant. The promised seed of Abraham was a reference to Jesus, not specifically to the physical race of people. Thus, only those who accepted Jesus as Lord, Savior, and the incarnate one God, would be accepted as those promised eternal salvation.

The foundation of Jewish faith rested on how they interpreted the Mosaic Law. Their rejection was not because the Law was misleading, but because they were unwilling to accept God’s own revelation regarding what his scriptural words meant. They were self-deceived, thinking they belonged to God, but by insisting on holding onto their own explanations, they have been rejected as God’s people.

Christians had best take warning, because the second Advent will be aimed at them.

Again, there are two beliefs that are most important to Christian theology: how we explain the nature of God, and how we explain our own salvation. Both are likely to be confronted once again when Jesus returns in all his glory to draw his faithful to himself. Scripture declares that at that time, many will say “Lord, Lord”, but Jesus will reject them.

Regarding the nature of God, orthodox Christian theology, and that which most professing Christians hold as the most significant explanation about God, is defined under the label of the Trinity. Like the Jews who rightly accepted that there is only one God, so many Christians accept that God represents himself as one God through the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And, like the Jews who were confronted by Jesus, so Christians will likely have to grapple with the eventual revelation that the Bible doesn’t actually define God as a trinity. That doctrine, as helpful as it may be, must be held cautiously, so that believers remain open to accepting the revelation of Jesus, that we currently are told we can only see “like through a glass darkly”, and again, what we can currently “see in part”.

If Christians hold onto their human-explained doctrines and traditional teachings, without remaining sensitive to the shocking advent of Jesus, they may well fall into the same self-deception as the Jews. How God explains himself is far more important than how we may try to define him.

On the second most important belief, that of our view of personal salvation, Christians should take to heart the same warning given to the Jews: “Do not say, but we are Abraham’s children, because God can raise up rocks to provide children for Abraham”. The wording may be different, but the claim of guaranteed salvation is identical. Orthodox Christianity teaches that if a person claims faith in Jesus, then they are guaranteed salvation no matter what—it is what is often labeled as “faith alone” or “once saved always saved”.

Thinking you are saved, does not make God obligated to save you. Remember, the Jews had God’s word too, but they didn’t interpret it correctly. As the Spirit declares to Christians, “do not merely listen to the word, but be doers, so that you will not be self-deceived”. According to Scripture, it is entirely possible for Christians to claim a personal guarantee of salvation, but end up being cast away with the goats.

The foundation of Christian teaching is established on how believers interpret the parables, passages, and ideas recorded in New and Old Testament Scripture.

“When he comes, we shall see him as he is”

When you see him as he is, what will you do with your previous ideas about him and about yourself? The Jews put their traditions, explanations, and expectations ahead of Scripture and ahead of Jesus’ revelation, to their own horrific loss. Are you prepared to be shocked by God?

Like those early disciples who were confronted by Jesus’ requirement to eat his flesh and drink his blood, when the vast majority of followers left in disgust, the faithful responded: “where else could we go. You have the words of truth.” Is that submissiveness of faith-without-full-understanding in your heart?

At the coming Advent of Christ, will you accept his revelation of himself and how he chooses to extend salvation, or will you insist on holding to your own traditional explanations of doctrines taught in your church? Even more importantly, can you hear what the Spirit is teaching now, and prepare yourself to measure every belief, and especially the core foundational doctrines, to what Scripture actually says, rather than to how people have historically tried to explain and limit it?

Expect Jesus to shock, and to test your faith in accepting him, as he reveals truth more clearly in the days ahead.

Come Lord Jesus come…and give your faithful people the ears to hear and the heart to submit to your revelation!

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Complacency Kills

Danger lurks everywhere, but sleep is sweet when a guard is well posted.

Have you ever watched a bird or deer feeding? Animals that know that predators lurk in the shadows, eat with a constant alertness. They may drop their heads to pick at a juicy worm, or munch on some spring grass, but they quickly raise their heads again to scan for danger. Those that survive beyond infancy learned to stay vigilant in everything they do. They never let complacency overtake them.

Watch a horse in the field, and you will likely see that when their head faces one direction, their ears are typically turned backwards. Herd animals often rely on the leading buck or main cow elk to keep watch and sound the alarm at the first snap of a twig or blur of fur. The carefree yearlings, of bison or duck, learn quickly to stay close to mom and not stray too far, in spite of their desire to skip and frolic in the warm summer sun.

It is a statistical fact that most auto accidents occur within 3 miles of a person’s home. The repeated conclusion is that drivers are inclined to let their guard down when in the most familiar territory. Most ladder accidents allegedly occur to the experienced contractors who push the boundaries, rather than observe the safety limits. Most child abuse is said to happen from among those whom a child is inclined to trust. It is a human reality that we are very often at the most risk of injury when we are the most confident. Life bites when you least expect it.

Nature teaches that complacency kills. According to Scripture, the same is true for Christians.

“We are not unaware of Satan’s tactics”, reminds the Apostle Paul.

Because Evil is very real, and stalks those who let their guard down–those who believe the lie that the enemy can never reach them, those who think that their castle is impregnable.

God has provided watchmen on the walls, shepherds for his sheep, and supernatural power to destroy the siege-works erected against his people; however, he also warns his people to stay alert and not wander into complacency of thinking or doing or even believing. Christians are commanded to stay awake and watch!

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim 4:15)

The Spirit declares that what you believe, as well as how you live out those beliefs, will directly contribute to your eternal safety “if” you follow “closely” what the head buck says. Many churches teach that believers don’t need to worry about anything–they are repeatedly taught that they are guaranteed safe passage through this field of green, even if they disregard the sudden trumpet alarms, and even if they indulge without bothering to stay alert for danger.

It is to these professing Christians, who disregard his warnings and teach his flock that their hope of salvation can never be lost or taken away, that God declares that he has “given them over to believe the lie”.

Christians have been grafted into the Great Olive Branch, by his grace, but their standing remains vulnerable to both pruning as well as to being completely cut off and thrown away. The Apostle says to Christians who think they are safe, even if they wander beyond the walls of protection:

“do not be arrogant, but rather be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” (Rom 11:20-21)

The danger of twisted teachings to Christians is that they are lulled to sleep by ideas of eternal safety that do not submit to biblical truth. Just like the Jews and Pharisees who thought they were guaranteed salvation because they were the descendants of promise through Abraham, so many Christians today claim the same lie of eternal safety.

No matter what anyone tries to sweet-talk into you, hear the word of God to Christians:

“He who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”

Our promised eternal safety is conditioned on our willing obedience to Jesus’ teaching:

“remain in me, and I will remain in you,”

and again

“if you hold to my teachings, then you are truly my disciples, then then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

and again

“In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God; but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.”

and again

“They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity…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.”

Those Christians who teach and live in complacency are identified as pigs that have been washed and then return to the mud. Faithful believers are commanded: “have nothing further to do with them”, and “those who welcome them, share in their wicked work”.

We have been warned. Stay safe. Stay alert. Don’t be seduced by pastoral idolatry and theological adultery. As we nibble in ancient pastures of Church doctrines and traditions, alert Christians will keep their head about them. They will not allow such history, popularity, or orthodoxy to induce a foggy stupor of false safety. Every thought, every teaching, every practice must constantly be examined in the light. Assumptions of safety in numbers does not help protect the vulnerable along the edges who are easy prey.

Our safety is entirely dependent on following the Lord, not on the pasture, not on our church membership, not on our ability to explain our doctrines, and not on superstitions or beliefs. It protects us as we do what he stays, as we stay self-controlled, as we fix our eyes on him. Satan can never snatch anyone from Jesus, but Scripture repeatedly warns believers that he can deceive sheep into wandering away from the safety that is “in Him”. If a person is no longer in him, then they are no longer under his eternal protection–it is what Peter warns believers as to “fall from your secure position”.

Those who were granted the amazing blessing of participating in the supernatural victory that God provided through Gideon, did not include those afraid of the enemy, nor those who took their wary eyes off their surroundings at the water-hole. Rather, it was only the few who kept their heads up and drank water from their hands. God chooses those who stay alert.

Bride of Christ, pay attention to the words of the Lord:

“You women who are so complacent, rise up and listen to me; you daughters who feel secure, hear what I have to say!…Tremble, you complacent women; shudder, you daughters who feel secure!…Yes, mourn for all the houses of merriment…the fortress will be abandoned…”

Complacency kills. Those who are faithful to obey the gospel message remain under the protective covering of the Lord.

Come, let us graze together in green pastures, alert to those who carefully keep watch over our souls, sensitive to the sudden warnings of the Spirit, and quick to flee from sin.

Don’t sniff the drug of complacency. Stay sensitive to dangers that threaten your Christian soul. Watch and pray!

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The Legendary Artist

Art has power beyond most other subjects or disciplines. In varying degrees, it has existed in every society throughout history. Art is comparable to the tip of the spear—one often stained in blood.

There is coming a day when a magnificent artist will rule the world. Legend has it that this person will govern by the power of their craft, in a way and to an extent never before expressed. They will become the greatest artist this world has ever seen since the dawn of creation.

Art is the discipline of creative expression of an individual. Per an online dictionary, Art is:

“the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Art emphasizes attractive personal ideas that have the power to move others.

Back in the day when I was taking art in school, I quickly learned the trick of the twist. Art is not primarily about skill at expression, nor about the ability to replicate reality, as much as about moving others through the unexpected. Celebrated artists push the limits of the status quo. They inject twists that cause viewers to tilt their heads permanently, as a result of exposure to whatever medium of expression that artist uses to convey their thoughts. Art pushes society to the new, which by design is anything other than what is established.

Art can be both wonderful and dangerous.

It can inspire and it can destroy. It can wake people up to question unhelpful traditions. It can also ridicule healthy patterns, simply because they are commonly accepted. It has the power to construct or to destruct, but by its nature of pushing the boundaries of what already is accepted and expected, it inherently leans toward destruction-through-beauty. Art strives to change what is, by overwhelming with attraction. Art prefers the role of the harlot, and therein lies the serpent.

Tending a garden, or painting a building, or dressing a bride-to-be, combines structure with creativity for the purpose of enhancement. It adds a creative twist that injects a uniqueness, and draws greater attention, but it does so to build. However, art can also sling paint, carve twists, and intoxicate with pleasure for a very different end-game; one that intends to undermine what is deemed acceptable purely for the sake of change. It is not looking to build, but to alter.

Art that twists, while respecting both standards as well as the welfare of the observer, is commendable; but, expressions that twist for the intent of undermining all standards, and thereby harms the well-being of the observer, is called lawless and is condemned by the original Artist called the Creator. There can only be one Grand Master of art, but that is not to say that another won’t attempt to dethrone for the prize of their own majesty.  The Legendary Artist is testing the canvas, and soon will be released to operate in complete defiance of all standards.

“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day [that day when the Lord will come with majesty to be glorified by his people] will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now hold it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” (2 The 2:3-12)

The display of counterfeit wonders will expressly defy all acceptable standards. It will be lawless art hung in God’s holy gallery for the design of defiance, deception, and destruction of all those who celebrate its absolute freedom of expression. Those who find delight in artistic defiance, rather than upholding lawful standards of biblical truth, are deluded into thinking they are free, when they are actually headed for death.

Roman history records, like so many other grand empires, what happens when pleasure takes the lead in governing over the standard of common law. As their wealth and intoxicating entertainments expanded uncontested, they lost their will to rule, and ended up crushed by random tribes of barbarians. It was not the magnificent buildings, or ornate marble statues, or volume of creative artistic expressions that caused that grand society to crumble, but rather their disdain toward sustaining standards of honorable behavior, reliable leadership, legal justice, and social structures like the family unit.

Unrestrained art can be breathtakingly beautiful, but it will always eat you alive.

The vast liberal and selfish wave sweeping over our world is neither random, nor without consequence. The social reasons fueling dysfunctional behaviors, aberrant sexual expressions, horrific violence against the defenseless, insatiable appetites for wealth, pleasure, and power, and acceptance of any boundary-defiant activity, can be seen especially in art, because by definition it is the power of self expression through whatever is deemed especially attractive.

What is often identified as “modern art” takes advantage of the natural human desire to seek answers, to understand, or find meaning. When a horrific crime occurs–a canvas of reality that only the perpetrator considers attractive–victims, media, society, everyone struggles to find a reasonable explanation for why this happened. An observer stares intently at such art, in a vain search for structure or purpose, only to be confronted with the raw reality that often there is nothing there, no design, only an expression of creative emptiness, a canvas that points toward nothing. It appears to be the ultimate statement of lawlessness, but there is yet another depth of depravity, that of delusion of belief in nothing as if it were something. Such mind-blowing attractive art can only be produced by supernatural power.

And so the question: What attracts you? Do you celebrate creative expression within godly boundaries, or do you indulge in defiant individuality? Do you fix your gaze upon the creative wonders of the Lord God, or do you find sick pleasure in pushing his boundaries, indulging in sinful pleasures, or philosophically distorting the truth that otherwise could set people free? Do you paint a pretty picture, but use toxic and subversive ingredients?

“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. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death”. (Rom 1:18-32)

Preferred images of foolish art. There is no man-made art, no matter how amazing or magical, that lasts. It all gets old. It all wrinkles. It all decays. It all returns to the dust from which it was made. There is not a single element on the Periodic Table that can escape this rate of decay. Everything in this universe is subject to a constant half-life.

True, endless beauty remains partially hidden within the canvas, skillfully and mysteriously expressed for the constant exploration and discovery of wonder and joy by the observer, but it always exists within standards, not outside of them. As for me and my household, there is only one Sovereign Creator of lasting beauty.

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Psa 27:4)

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Identify With A Jew, To Understand Yourself

Antisemitism is just as rampant today as ever. Jews have been vilified throughout their history to a degree unlike any other historic group of people. Although there certainly are reasons, I suggest that they are often misunderstood to our own detriment.

You are about to travel a shocking, scriptural path that few, even among Christians, have likely recognized. In spite of all the swirling hatred between people, it must be clearly acknowledged that Jesus, the one and only savior of mankind, was a Jew!

Relating more carefully to a Jew will directly impact our own ability to see ourselves more clearly. Not only is the Son of God revealed to humanity as a Jew, but the entire Israelite race functions as a reflective mirror of the intersection between humanity and God. Understanding Jews as real people with real struggles, who are passionate about God and strive to live according to a God-given standard, translates to our own level of self-perception before a holy God.

To dis a Jew is to disrespect ourselves. To single them out for special judgment, is to ignore how the sliver in their eye should remind us to look for the mote in our own.

To recognize their flaws and failings, is to highlight our own shortcomings. They are a historic and contemporary mirror. What we see in them ought to forewarn what exists in ourselves. When it all comes down to how we stand before a holy God, we are not so different, in spite of what we think of their history, and in spite of what we see of cultural oddities.

As a Christian, of likely Gentile roots, I am not suggesting that Jews are good of themselves, any more than I am suggesting that Christians who profess faith in Jesus are good of themselves. Both groups of people have a biblical history of engagement with God. Both are mirrors to the rest of humanity of why we exist on this spinning orb, of why we are all similar in some respects and starkly different in other ways, and ultimately both groups demonstrate a very unique and special revelation of God’s expectations and interest in people.

Recently, I listened to a pastor that spoke about the wicked Pharisees. The picture painted was not pretty, and frankly factual and justified in some respects, but we would do well to not distance them too far from ourselves. To use their own words prayed regarding their view toward outsiders, “God, I am glad I am not like that sinner”, would be an unwise approach to repeat back toward them.

Ancient Israel became the people of God through fulfillment of a promise and not because of a law. The Law came later; Grace came first. That is not all that different for a Christian. However, in their freedom of identity as God’s chosen people, they drifted into idolatry and pursuing their own ideas on how to live in and interact with this world. The result was God’s judgment of sending them into captivity and to the sword.

Christians have been called by Grace to New Covenant faith in Christ, set free from living according to that Old Covenant Law, and are also warned to not use our freedoms to indulge ourselves, but rather to serve the Lord alone and to put to death our own natural-focused desires. To dismiss the Jews as failures in this life, which in many ways history does confirm, is to ignore our own peril in how God expects us to live.

“’Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again…I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited”. (Rom 11:19-25)

Notice how the Spirit speaks about how Christians are to view the Jews, as well as themselves: “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.” They are not all that different from us, nor from revealing what God expects of those who are graciously called his people.

At the time that Jesus walked this earth, the Jewish people as a whole, and especially the Pharisees, rejected the Lord. Paul, a Christian and an amazing Apostle of Christ, belonged to the Jews and was a zealous Pharisee. In his own words, he admitted that he and they were wrong, but still deserving of respect, both for who they still are to God, as well as for the evidence of their honorable passion toward God.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Rom 10:1-2)

Do you have that view of Jews? Does your heart go out toward them for their good? Do you recognize that as a people, a huge part of what makes them stand out so much in this world is their passionate efforts to try and follow God? That was Paul’s view, and by example ought to be ours.

As God reveals, “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile”. The concept is that one of the ways humanity ought to recognize the expectations and revelation of God for themselves is by first looking at the Jews. What God has done, is doing, and will do regarding Jews, is directly linked to the rest of humanity. Jewish history is recorded as a significant part of the biblical record: “for us upon whom the ends of the age has come, so that we will not set our hearts on what they desired.”

Of course, not all Jews want to obey God, nor do all have pure hearts cleansed from private agendas or selfish interests. The Jewish people then and now, and those Pharisee’s in Jesus day, are (and were) real people who struggle with all the same issues evident in every race of people.

One might ask, how can they be credited as truly zealous for God, if they wanted to kill Jesus, and eventually succeeded in leading the Creator of Life to be crucified? Listen carefully to this answer. Without excusing the jealousy and wicked motives also present at that time, their desire to specifically kill Jesus came directly from God’s own Law—God commanded them to kill prophets like Jesus! They were trying desperately to obey God (as will be quoted from God’s own mouth shortly), so be careful about the degree to which you are inclined to vilify them for the crucifixion.

They were not simply fulfilling prophecy; they were striving to obey God by trying to kill Jesus. When Paul contributed to the stoning of Steven, and then went about trying to destroy the early Church, he did so because he understood God’s own Law that commanded such an approach. He, and they, were wrong, but not because they were entirely disobedient.

Think about the life and ministry of Jesus from a faithful, religious, Law-abiding Jewish perspective. Jesus was heard teaching things like: “you heard it said in the past [by God]…but I tell you” to do something completely different and in many cases the very opposite of what the Law of God commands. The Law required that a woman accused of adultery while within the city to be killed, but Jesus wouldn’t do what the Law commanded.

The Law expressly stated that no Jew was to go out into the fields to gather food on the Sabbath. In fact, that was the exact context of the very first time the Sabbath was commanded by God at the time he rained Manna down as food. Yet, that is exactly what Jesus was teaching and leading his followers to do—to go out into fields and gather food off the ground to eat, in direct violation of God’s Sabbath command.

Jesus answer to this was in two parts. The first was that he was Lord over the Sabbath, which meant that, unlike all other worldly kings, he was not under law, but over it, in such a way that he could change it whenever he wanted. According to the OC Law, his disciples were violating God’s commands, but as Lord over those Laws, Jesus was demonstrating his Sovereign right to allow them to eat in violation of that Law, but without sin. The same truth is displayed when Jesus tells the healed paralytic to take up his mat and go to the Temple (through the city gates from where he was when he got healed)…in direct violation of God’s command that no one carry their mat through the city gates.

Secondly, Jesus asked a question about what is lawful under the Sabbath “to do good or to do evil”. This was an invalid question for a Jew. They did not ever have the right to disobey God’s Law whenever they thought they were doing something that would be better or good. Remember when Uzzah was leading the return of the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel, to the celebration of the people of Israel and the passionate dancing of King David? He thought he was doing right when the oxen stumbled and the Ark was at risk of falling over—he put out his hand to stabilize the holy box, and in anger, God struck him dead on the spot in front of everyone. They did not have the right to “do what is good” according to their own minds on the Sabbath, or in any other circumstance, if it violated the directly stated command of God. Jesus confronted them with this question to emphasize his divine shift toward New Covenant living before God, rather than under OC obedience, but that was not something they understood was allowable under that previous system given by God.

Over and over again, Jesus did things that taught the people to act in ways that violated that former Law of Moses, but without sinning. He even called himself the Son of God, “making yourself equal with God”, when they all knew that there was only one God. This was an idea about God that they did not know, that was not taught by Moses, and looked suspiciously like he was promoting a false god, even allowing people to worship him. How could they view him as doing anything other than leading people away from God, with strange and new teachings, and into idolatry?

The fact that he was performing amazing miracles was not sufficient for them to dismiss their concerns. It is easy to ridicule them for not celebrating when Jesus healed someone, but they were under the direct command by God to focus on the words given through Moses, and not be distracted by amazing activity. In fact, that was something that God warned them would happen—that prophets would come and even perform amazing things, but if they taught the people to stray from how the Law pointed them toward God, they were to be killed.

Did you hear that? God commanded the Jews to kill people, and especially prophets who performed miracles, but led the people in ways that conflicted with God’s commands under that Old Covenant.

“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God…you must purge the evil from among you.” (Dt 13:1-5)

With regard to followers of Jesus, those Christians who were teaching people to worship a human named Jesus, the Jews were under strict orders to stone such people:

“If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closets friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods”…do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the Lord your God…You must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock.” (Dt 13:6-18)

Jews who obeyed by killing such people, were then promised to be blessed by God, that he would increase their numbers and show them mercy, because they did “what is right in his eyes” (v.18).

Is this how you view Jews? That their passion to kill Jesus and get rid of Christians, who all live and teach contrary to that former Law of God, could well be thought of in their mind as right in God’s view? In truth, they certainly were not right in killing the Messiah, nor in abusing Christians, but without understanding the cosmic shift revealed through the NC gospel in Jesus, they were trying desperately to obey what God commanded. Jesus’ ministry looked very much like a biblical test from God, to see how much the Jews, led especially by the passionate obedience of the Pharisees, truly loved God.

Are you passionate toward striving to obey Jesus like Jews who still try to obey pre-Jesus Scripture? You might think so, but repeatedly Scripture warns Christians that they are equally susceptible to thinking they are right with God, when they are not. Christians can be deceived into religious arrogance, just like Jews. We are not so different. It is a human problem, not specifically a Jew flaw.

Many Christians throughout history, including influential names like Justin Martyr, Chrysostom, and Martin Luther, have vehemently attacked Jews as somehow worthy of greater rejection and abuse than other people, but that is not godly or biblical. The Jews are not primarily responsible for Jesus dying on the Cross–every human being holds that hammer in their own hand! Jesus was crucified from the foundation of the world for the sins of humanity, not because of rejection by one small tribe of people in history.

Jews certainly were the instruments, along with the Romans, who put him to death and shouted, “may his blood be upon us and upon our children”, but don’t forget that Jesus shed his blood because of your sin and mine. That blood is on our own heads, too, because all have sinned. As Jesus declared, the greater sin belongs upon those who turned him over to die on the Cross–ultimately that means Jew, Gentile, Christian, everyone. We are all naturally evil and unworthy, no more and no less than a Jew! Racism is ignorant because it claims superiority over others who all came from the same family tree and who all have committed the same thing against the Lord.

The Jews thought they were guaranteed to remain the people of God, no matter what, because they were the obvious descendants of Abraham, but John the Baptist and Jesus both warned them against thinking like that. Believers today tend to make the exact same mistake. Christians think they are guaranteed salvation, no matter what, because they profess faith in Jesus, but the writers of New Testament Scripture warn believers not to think like that.

Admittedly, Jesus is confusing at times. Many of his disciples left him because his teachings were hard to accept (like eating his flesh), and often his faithful didn’t understand him any better. However, true Christians have learned the approach expressed by Peter and by Martha: “where else can we go, you have the words of truth. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.

“Blessed are those who do not fall away on account of me”. (Jesus)

Do you see yourself in a Jew? You should.

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Jesus Looks At The Way We Obey

It seems unthinkable that the Lord would reject Christians who claim faith in him and who do what he says to do, like sharing the great commission. Why would he do that?

It is so unthinkable, that most churches teach that this cannot happen. They reject the repeated evidence in Scripture, to promote what people prefer to hear, that once a person makes a genuine profession of faith in Jesus, they are guaranteed salvation, and nothing they do can ever separate them from Christ.

As highlighted in the last two posts, the Bible teaches that not all who say Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom. Not all who claim to have a profession of faith are thereafter acting with faith as the manner in which they approach decisions. Many people will think they are saved, but Jesus will reject them as wicked. What is missing in their Christian faith?

According to the Spirit, it is entirely possible, even common, for Christians to rightly claim faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, to even grow in their knowledge and practice by obeying what he says, and still miss out. Christianity is not just simply about knowing rightly, nor about doing right; it is designed to be about reflecting rightly, and that requires that our motives for why we do what we do to come in line with the heart of God. In other words, Christianity requires that we obey in the way that fits with and reflects the nature of God.

Christian history has shifted the biblical focus of the nature of God toward an intellectual description of how there can be one God in three persons. The Trinity may be a helpful concept in trying to understand the Godhead, but Scripture emphasizes the nature of God in terms of righteousness. As the Apostle John noted succinctly, “God is Love!”

If you want to understand the way to live faithfully, with genuine hope as a salvation-promised Christian, you must focus not simply on what you do, but on the way you obey. In a word, you must seek the way of love.

In the context of Paul’s instructions to the Christians in Corinth, he identifies that there are numerous parts or roles in the Church into which the Spirit of God places and gifts people differently, like apostles, prophets, and teachers. He then proceeds to say, “but now, let me show you the most excellent way” to apply yourselves in these different responsibilities. 1 Cor 13 is known as the love chapter, but it is easy to miss the larger context for why he teaches on this topic of love.

As the text states, you might have incredible faith, prophetic preaching, extraordinary knowledge, and obedience all the way to death, all given by the Spirit, but if you don’t practice these things for the reason of expressing love as you do them, then ultimately they are worthless. God may well still use such people to accomplish his purposes, but they personally will be considered wicked, because they didn’t reflect the right way to obey.

As Paul revealed about his own ministry, it remains completely possible for him to preach to others and still end up disqualified (1 Cor 9:27). He earlier revealed that if he served as an apostle and preached the gospel for reasons other than voluntarily—like to make money, or to have a good job, or to develop a successful track record of ministry—then he would be “simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward?”

The Holy Spirit may endow people with special powers, abilities, callings, and gifts, but if those expressions are done for any reasons other than to primarily honor the holy name of Jesus, to build up other Christians in the Church, to reflect the living nature of God in Christ, to demonstrate love in everything and for every reason, then it may look good on the outside but remain dead on the inside. Our motives matter to God.

The Spirit clearly warns believers who are willing to listen carefully, that in these end days there will be terrible times where professing Christians will actually be “lovers of themselves”. Their focus will emphasize what looks most beneficial for self, rather than expressing themselves primarily toward what is most beneficial for others. Their attempts at love will flow the wrong direction, like blood that is backing up in a body and trying to go the other direction.

This is the very judgment Jesus pronounces on the Sardis Church as recorded in Revelation: you have a reputation of being alive, but are dead! Or, as he says to the Ephesian Christians, you are obeying and maturing, but I have this one thing against you, you have lost touch with doing what you do in the way of love.

This love is defined by the nature of God, not by the preferences of others, so don’t be deceived into thinking that the world can tell you what this love looks and feels like. They are devoid of anything that comes from God, so their ideas of love are all distortions of the truth. The love of God is modeled in the person of Christ.

This truth might help to clarify the meaning of Jesus’ statement about the servant who brings the food of the master on time, and that after he has done his duty he should still consider himself an unworthy servant. God is after more than just right actions; he desires a right heart in his people–a heart he will provide through Christ, but not one he will impose against our willing participation and faithful application.

“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Lu 17:10)

As James wrote in his letter, Christian religion that doesn’t keep a tight reign on the tongue is worthless. Even claims of faith in Jesus, that lack the actions of the “royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”, are dead. As Jesus confronted the religious Pharisees who were meticulous in obeying Scripture and thinking that it assured them eternal life, “I know your hearts, that the love of God is not in you”.

Profession of faith in God, and even obedience to his commands, remains empty of eternity if it lacks the purpose of expressing the love of God in how we live. This is why the Bible declares that God will judge each person by looking at the motives of their heart. Telling Jesus that he owes a person heaven, because they were faithful in preaching his name, healing people, and casting out demons, just doesn’t cut it. A Christian must obey by demonstrating a desire to love and benefit others rather than gain for self.

It is a sad truth that many professing Christians “live as enemies of the Cross of Christ”. They may believe in Jesus, and even obey what Scripture dictates to Christians, but they live contrary to the “pattern we gave you”–that special, Spirit-led “way” that expresses the God-like love shown through the Cross. This pattern is not about church liturgy, but our active, daily faith-dependent approach of expressing the heart of God in ways that reflect Jesus. In context, Paul says that his prayer is that believers would abound in “greater love”, “filled with the fruit of righteousness”.

“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” (Phi 3:17-18)

Doctrines that promote “once saved always saved” deceive believers away from this truth, because such a teaching of salvation is entirely based on a claim, rather than on the Christ-reflecting way in which that claim is lived, as Scripture teaches. Ministry and Christian service are ultimately acceptable to God as they reflect the loving way of Christ, as they demonstrate the daily bearing of the cross that through Jesus “so loved the world”.

Mercy, as another word often used in Scripture, is a specific form of love that is expressed as an act of grace toward those who are in debt and can’t pay. Like all of us who owe a debt of death because of our sin against God, the Lord extends mercy toward those who accept his sacrifice on their behalf. This kind of mercy expresses godly love to those who are in desperate circumstances. In turn, those who uphold lawful judgment, but don’t seek for appropriate expressions of mercy, the Bible prophecies will not be shown any mercy by God.

Mercy triumphs over absolute-justice; love triumphs over rote-obedience. Neither ever deny or distort justice or obedience, rather they are the driving desire that lead the way toward righteous, godly, Christ-like living. Christianity must actively express the love of God as the reason and constant purpose for everything done, or it is an empty claim with lifeless activity.

In turn, the word grace, as typically used in Scripture, is another expression of this nature of love that encompasses the very concept of the Christian gospel message as demonstrated by Jesus toward those who believe in him. To express grace, like God expresses it toward us, is to “forgive as God has forgiven you”. This means that grace must be more than just a message that is taught and accepted like facts or knowledge. It must also become an expression toward the salvation and healing of the soul of others. Teaching the gospel must involve the expression of the gospel-truth with an inner desire to extend grace, forgiveness, and mercy to others who are willing to accept it, but who can never earn it, pay for it, or deserve it.

Christians must love one another! To trust and obey, must be according to his Way!

If you want to study further into this amazing love, I recommend the book “Love by definition”.

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