The Doctrine of Assurance–An alternative to Faith

When studying the word of God, there are times when I feel overwhelmed by some insight declared through the pages of Scripture and it compels me to respond. If no one is around to share the wonder, then I sit down and blog out my praise of what God appears to have revealed.

Today, as I read through Hebrews chapter 10 and into 11, I was struck by the contrast between the popular Doctrine of Assurance of Salvation and how the text describes that this confident assurance is actually the definition of Faith.

As the Spirit reveals in Heb 11:6, Faith has two primary aspects that establish a biblical confidence: an accepting belief in the existence of God, and a recognition that he rewards those who “earnestly seek him”. Claiming faith in God is “impossible to please God”, if we only accept him without responding rightly. It is what the Bible identifies as a “shipwrecked” faith.

In order to solidify this fluid nature to faith, many churches have turned their teaching about this confidence into a law. In other words, the doctrine of assurance has become for many a legal guarantee with no need for faith to remain active. They reject any need to earnestly seek, to do the will of God, to endure to the end, to obey, to stay faithful.

The twisted idea is that because the facts about who Jesus is are unchangeable, that makes their application to every individual who claims it, also unchangeable. The problem here is that what is absolute in Christ, is not equally absolute in a professing believer, who “deliberately keeps on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth”. Hebrews says that such confidence for this believer has changed into “only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire”.

The writer appeals to Christians to pay more careful attention so that our claimed faith doesn’t “drift away”. This drifting of faith, he says is threatened by ignoring such a great salvation (chapter 2), by hardening our hearts by sin’s deceitfulness (3), by a lack of maturity (5), by falling away and never being able to repent (6), by throwing away our confidence and by shrinking back (10), by sins that so easily entangle (12).

No law can prop up faith. No doctrine can replace faith as the foundation of assurance. There is no acceptable license or guarantee that can replace faith as our confidence in what Jesus has promised to those to love him.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1)

Those who persist in sin, damage their personal faith, and undermine their offered assurance. Many who promote their doctrine of assurance, do so as if it is a law that cannot be revoked, a license that protects their desire for salvation even while living immoral lives—a license for immorality. In this way, their doctrinal tradition is set up over the word of God.

Thinking that you are saved doesn’t work. Claiming a church doctrine as your guarantee also doesn’t work. Many think they are saved, but are actually self-deceived.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Mt 7:21-23)

Our assurance of salvation is our faith. Believers are initially given this faith as a gift by the Author of our salvation. From there, we are taught that Jesus is also the Perfecter of our faith. This does not mean that the gift of faith is imperfect, but rather incomplete. The gift of faith must thereafter develop and mature inside an individual in order to please God.

This is the difference between justification and sanctification as they work together to bring us to glorification. Justification is entirely about the work of Jesus on the Cross in causing salvation, in providing the means of forgiveness for all sin (past, present, and even future). This is where faith is offered as a gift of God’s merciful grace to a person he chooses to call. This is where a person can taste of the heavenly gift, to experience the joy of hope in salvation, to be reconciled to God even while still struggling against sinful temptation in the flesh.

But no doctrine can replace the truth that God expects a return-on-investment for this gift of faith, for granting us a deposit of his Spirit, for applying this one-time sacrifice of Christ to cleans us from all that had separated us from him. This is where faith must mature through sanctification, through our willing participation in the internal working of the Spirit. We are not possessed here, or forced to automatically comply; we are prompted with the freedom to respond as a reflection that will demonstrate our faith.

This is why we can still be choked out by weeds and scorched by the burning sun in temptations, like warned in the parable of the soils.

In spite of this, we have an assurance to approach the throne of God with confidence. That assurance is in who Jesus is, not in what we can or cannot supposedly do. Our faith must stay focused firmly on him, for he cannot fail, but if we let go of our faith, we certainly will fail. Our assurance is in the unchanging nature and eternal power of who Jesus is, not in some legal guarantee that allows us to continue living our way and still be saved.

Faith in Christ cannot fail. Faith away from Christ, which still could only ever have occurred by gift, will not produce the fruit God requires, and in the end the person who had that initial faith will get burned up with the chaff. The command is to be holy, to be sanctified, to come out and be separate. Unlike the elements of nature which always perfectly and automatically respond to the words of Jesus in obedient compliance, humans are an expectation.

We have been given the freedom to choose. From the start we could choose between the trees in the garden of Eden. The Bible declares that God has called heaven and earth as witnesses against humanity, because he set before humans the ability to choose between life and death (Dt 30:19). The rest of the material world does not have that freedom. This is why the Holy Spirit doesn’t posses and control a person against their own will. We must willingly choose to submit to and participate in the work of God. Our faith must grow and mature.

Like the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews chapter 11, who all were commended for what they did in demonstration of their faith, so we must respond to the gift given to us.

Our confidence remains assured as our faith is actively lived. This is saving faith. Our confidence is misplaced, when our faith is replaced with alternative guarantees of human origin, like doctrines of assurance which eliminate any need for obedient faith.

We do have assurance; it is our faith. Our victory and hope is in Christ through a living faith.

Advertisements
Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

To Be Righteous

Only those believers in Jesus who are maturing in their Christian faith are capable of understanding righteousness. What it means to be righteous, let alone to understand the concept itself, remains hidden from all others, even from many church members.

“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 5:12-14)

It seems so simple. Righteousness, by dictionary definition, is “the quality of being morally right or justifiable” or “free from guilt or sin”. Can such a quality-of-being exist in what is created? Was Adam righteous, prior to his fall into sin? Or, is righteousness just one of those theoretical concepts that doesn’t actually exist in reality?

As the above Bible passage clearly states, not even long-time believers in Christ are capable of understanding this. And yet it is stated as being critical to those who claim salvation. It might seem simple, but that view is immature and blinds a person from seeing their need to reach out for the truth about righteousness.

Those few, who recognize the importance of knowing biblical righteousness, will avoid the common religious error of claiming “but we have Abraham as our father” or “but we are guaranteed to be saved”. We naturally want to control our destiny with absolute guarantees, no matter what we do, probably because we all know that no matter how much we believe in Jesus, we still recognize our own sinful tendencies, just as Paul wrote about in his letter to the Roman Christians. However, claiming what God does not state is foolish.

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God himself states that even if he clearly tells a “righteous man” that he is certain to be saved, but later on in his life this person returns to sinful ways, “then he will surely not live!” God will reject his own promise of salvation to that person, because they refused to stay living in that righteousness that had been identified in them. Paul, Peter, John, Luke, and Jude all write the same warnings to believers in the New Testament.

Thinking you are saved, doesn’t make you saved, even if God himself has declared you to be a “righteous” person. Understanding the teaching about righteousness is only available to the spiritually mature. This is not about some kind of higher knowledge, but about three things: knowing what it means to be righteous, about how this righteousness it attained, and about living in the “way of righteousness”.

There are also two primary obstacles that prevent a person from recognizing the truth about righteousness: sinfulness and distorted doctrines. Living contrary to Christ will drive him away, and believing what your church teaches, if it is not careful to Scripture, will blind you to the truth. What we do and what we believe either confirm our faith or they are the very tools that undermine a claim of faith in Christ. So it is with this subject.

If you want to know the amazing righteousness offered in the gospel of Jesus, be willing to put to death “the sin that so easily entangles” and “do not be deceived by fine sounding arguments”. Equally, seek the truth of righteousness—about the who, the how, and the way—that can only be grasped by mature believers.

From here we will consider a number of biblical passages to try and cut through the fat layers of traditions, in order to reveal the actual meat at the core of what it means to be righteous. It is not human skill, education, or years of tradition that establish the truth, but the living word of God:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. (2 Tim 3:16)

Discovering righteousness will require submission to what the Bible actually teaches, and may require rebuking and correcting, especially for those still living on milk.

To start with, it should be stated unequivocally, that no human is, has ever been, or ever could become righteous! Jesus challenged a kingdom-seeker about why he was calling a human being righteous.

“Why do you call me good?…No one is good—but God alone.” (Mk 10:18)

Righteousness is not simply some virtue of moral goodness; it is a state of being. Think about that. To be righteous, is to be absolutely good. That doesn’t exist anywhere in creation because inherent goodness of that kind, can only ever exist in God himself. To be righteous is to be God.

Such moral perfection cannot be transferred or created, because that would mean creating another god. If you want to grasp true righteousness, you will need to bow to the reality that such a being is “God alone”.

Many false teachers have promoted the idea that Adam was created righteous prior to his fall into sin. Human dictionaries, as noted earlier, suggest the idea that righteousness is the absence of sin; however, the absence of something never causes the existence of anything. Un-ness is not something; it is nothing.

When we humanly lack the ability to define something new, we often give it a label of non-existence—like wireless phones and horseless carriages—but that inability to identify something for what it is, describes what is missing, not what is new. The lack of wires on cell phones is the result of sound wave technology which resulted in the lack of needed wires. The missing horse on an automobile was the result of the combustible engine invention, not what caused cars to exist.

Righteousness is not morally good because it lacks sin. Sinlessness is a result of being righteous, not a cause. In this way, Adam was “innocent” prior to his sin, but not righteous. The Bible never says he was righteous; that is an editorial addition to the text that has become popular tradition in many Churches. If Adam were righteous, he would have acted in line with his inherent being, which means that he would NEVER have done anything contrary to being righteous. History proves that Adam was not righteous, because he freely chose to sin when given the freedom to do what he wanted to do.

From that point on throughout history, we all have confirmed our origins by acting in line with our nature. No one, not even Adam, has ever been righteous. As such, there is no reason for us to attempt to “get back” to our original goodness. That never existed, even though there was a time of sinless innocence. Humans have never had such goodness. We do not have inherent good inside that just needs to be found and released. Righteousness doesn’t exist in us, it never did, and never can by anything we ever do!

“There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Rom 3:10)

As a point of clarification, when Genesis records God’s observation after his 6 days of creation, that what he made was good, even very good, he is not speaking about moral human goodness. In fact, he is not saying anything about Adam or his character. Rather, God is declaring that what God did in creating was exactly in line with what he wanted. It was good. It is a statement about God, not about man.

What it means to be righteous, is a statement about internal nature of being, that can only ever exist in God alone. For those who accept the exclusive belief in one God, and his inherent nature of righteous goodness, can still stumble at Jesus.

Jesus said only God is good, but then later identifies himself as the “Good Shepherd”. He never said that he wasn’t good. Rather, he confronted the belief that such moral goodness could exist in any natural human. It can’t. However, it can and does exist inherently in Jesus. Wow. Jesus is declared to be Immanuel, God-with-us. He is the complete embodiment of God. This is critical to grasp. Jesus is the Righteous One.

“we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1)

He does not just reflect righteousness. He is Righteous. This is a declaration of being; a statement about his inherent nature; a revelation about his eternally divine identity. He has not been created. He never was some kind of angel or first-creation. He is what God is—Righteous.

This is why Jesus can never sin, never fail, never do anything other than what is righteous, because he is the One being that inherently is righteous. That is his nature, his character, his being, and his will—to always do what is right in God’s view.

When the Bible declares that “in him was no sin”, it is not primarily a statement of result—that he didn’t commit anything wrong when he lived on earth, though that is also true—but rather a statement of pre-human identity: neither sin nor its tendency ever could exist in him, because that would be incompatible with what it means to be God. In other words, Jesus didn’t become recognized as sinless, by how he lived among us, but he has always been righteous and thus without sin. Remember, sinlessness is a result of being, not a cause.

Regarding our savior, the prophet records:

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord…My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way…my righteousness will never fail. Hear me, you who know what is right”. (Isa 51:1-7)

It was not possible for Christ to sin—not because he wasn’t tempted exactly like we are, but because he was the one and only, morally-perfect Righteous One, who could not fail.

Righteousness can’t be created, it can only be extended and developed. This is essential for Christians to understand. Humans are not, never have been, and never can be righteous. However, we can reflect God’s righteousness. It can become who we are, but only through the internalized life of Christ in a person.

This is the gospel truth about the righteousness from heaven.

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Rom 1:17)

All three main points are in this verse. This righteousness comes directly from God. Without any regard for human effort at generating goodness, it can only be extended to a believer who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior in faith. And, it is required that such faith demonstrate itself through maturing in righteous living. This is the gospel regarding righteousness.

Sadly, some professing believers have been choked by doctrines that teach that righteousness can be found beyond just Jesus. Some have been misled by beliefs that righteousness can be earned or achieved by human effort at doing good or at following the 10 Commandments. And unfortunately, many have been deceived away from the requirement that faith must be fruitfully matured or this righteousness from heaven will remain an unfulfilled promise.

As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”, so it applies to the Christian ability to recognize righteousness. While Jesus remains out-of-sight, so our minds are easily distracted away from focusing on the Lord alone for maturing in righteousness. It is easy to drift into the belief that “faith alone” is a guarantee of this righteousness from heaven, or that good deeds and general good living can earn the label of righteousness. Jesus said he would send his Spirit to his followers and in them he would confront this common distortion regarding beliefs about righteousness—in those who, like the world, think they already understand sin, righteousness and judgment:

“When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer”. (Jn 16:8-10)

The second main point about understanding this righteousness is that it can only ever come to us by grace. There is nothing innately righteous in any of us. We are not even capable of ever being righteous. There is nothing of redeeming value. Human decency, which may be seen in some, is not the same thing as eternal righteousness. We can never go back. We can never return to Adam’s state of innocence. We need the righteousness of Christ to be granted to us upon his mercy and not due to anything we are, have, or could ever do.

When the Bible speaks of a person, like Abraham or a Christian, being righteous, it is always about their demonstrated choices at obediently striving to follow God. It is always a matter of reflecting the activity of God within them. It never implies than any person is capable of generating righteousness on their own, nor through their own deeds. It is also a temporary label that can change as their life-choices shift over time, because it is never a reference to their inherent, unchanging nature. The only point at which the identity of being called righteous becomes permanent is when Christ returns with the gift of eternal life for those who come to faith and remain faithful through this life as he requires. Righteousness cannot be generated from within a created being; it can only be received and displayed, so that God will always receive the glory for what is right.

Our value as humans to God is entirely about his purpose and not about anything we offer. Once we fulfill his purpose, then our value to God is complete and there is nothing left worth sustaining. The exception, thank God, is that if Jesus remains in a person who comes out the other end of the fiery trials, then such righteousness is eternal and cannot be extinguished and that person shifts from promised-salvation to glorified-salvation at the return of Christ.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”. (Rom 3:22)

Faith at this point does not involve human effort. We have nothing to offer. Jesus has it all, has done it all, and is all we need. This gracious gift of faith is not forced on anyone, however, so it does involve personal acceptance, but that is not adding anything to the mix. Christian faith is a willing act of surrender in accepting his gift of himself. In this way, “he has become…our righteousness” (1 Cor 1:30).

This faith is not a dead-end punctuation to claimed guarantees; it is a beginning, the start of a glorious transformation. It order to understand this teaching about righteousness, that can only be recognized by those who are mature in Christ, this third aspect needs to be put into motion in a believer.

Many Christians have been slaughtered by other professing Christians over this point, so this is no small issue. But the Bible says what it says, and the truth will remain hidden from those who refuse to submit to what it says, regardless as to who appears to swing the bigger sword or remain standing after the dispute. The Cross reminds us that the bigger sword, larger church, more entrenched religious beliefs, louder voices, and established traditions which twist the word of God have a fine way of looking like they have won, but they don’t understand the power of resurrection. Righteousness came up out of the grave; it did not emanate from places of established worship.

The wise will follow the pattern of the Bereans and look to the word of God. Those who promote the teaching of “faith alone”, do so at their own peril. In spite of the 500 years of tradition, Paul did not write that nor teach it. It was actually added into the text of the Bible in Romans chapter 3. Rather, Paul stated:

“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” (Rom 2:13)

Although the source has certainly changed, the principle of how righteousness is finally declared hasn’t changed. It is those who obey, who in the end will be declared righteous. This does not mean that such righteousness is earned, but that the conclusion must be proved by demonstration. Paul quotes this passage to make a point. The point is that righteousness must be absolute, “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. It is impossible for any human to absolutely keep that Law, for when we break one, it is the same to God as if we have broken them all.

So how can one be identified as righteous if that law is impossible to perfectly obey? Enter Jesus. Because of who he is, he alone would be capable of keeping it, which the Bible says he did by perfectly fulfilling everything it demanded. Both the origin and conclusion about Jesus is that he is declared righteous—his identity and his actions worked together to prove the consistency of being perfectly righteous. The same degree of absolute perfection is required on all who desire to be declared righteous in God’s sight. Enter the gospel.

Because of all the errors taught over the centuries about this, many will find this difficult to grasp. Paul is writing to the Roman church to confront the twisted idea that Jewish Christians have a better way to honor God through mixing the Mosaic law into Christian beliefs. As a result, he writes that letter to help identify the question of what specifically causes salvation. His point: faith in Jesus and what he has done causes salvation, not any amount of effort at keeping the Old Covenant Law.

Jews who had come to accept Jesus as their Savior, still thought (like all devout Jews) that keeping the Sabbath, and similar commands under that former covenant, got them right with God, and thereby were necessary even for Gentile believers. Paul tries to help them understand in this letter that a new righteousness, one that can last for eternity and that can only be found existing in God, has been revealed through a new covenant. Followers of God are granted this righteousness, not by earning it, but rather by accepting it in faithful surrender to Jesus as their Lord. This righteousness can only be found in Jesus, not in obedience to the old law, either by Jew or Gentile. However, he is not suggesting that believers have a pass around obedience now. Rather we remain slaves, either to sin, or to righteousness: Slaves who obey their master.

This is why righteousness that is caused by faith and gifted to a believer, must be thereafter matured or that person is stuck on milk and “not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.”

Many Christians have stumbled at this truth. They think that Paul was also implying that no human effort should impact salvation. This is why so few are able to understand righteousness. They think it comes by faith and that’s the end of it, but that is not what the Bible teaches. Paul makes it very evident that he is not under the Mosaic Law, but as a Christian he does live under Christ’s law. This is why he defines his gospel at the very start of that letter as a call to a new basis for obedience, rather than a rejection of obedience:

“Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Rom 1:5)

His entire letter to the Roman Christians is about the reason for our obedient allegiance. Living by the Law not only doesn’t work, such continued efforts undermine faith in Christ. Being identified as the people of God no longer comes through that old Law given to ancient Israel. It is now to come through faith.

This occurs, he teaches, by accepting Jesus as Lord and by demonstrating it by how we follow his life, words, and Spirit. Remember, such demonstration can only be a result of what has already been caused and initiated in us; our efforts and expressions of righteousness never can earn salvation, nor God’s favor. We are capable to earning heavenly rewards, but those are only available to those who are first given the gift of salvation which can’t be earned.

Again, expressions of obedience can be a result, but that does not mean they automatically will occur. We still have to willingly and obediently participate. How we do so, has changed to trusting Jesus, which is shown by how and whether we mature in living by the word and Spirit of God.

During the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic church was not promoting Mosaic obedience, but they were teaching and doing things contrary to God’s word. In order to combat this, dissident leaders apparently felt that they needed more powerful biblical support, so they shifted the teachings from Paul away from confronting Mosaic obedience as the cause of getting right with God, to a rejection of works of any kind. In this way, they had a large sword to swing against indulgences and other human-imposed activities that were being taught as efforts that could get a person right, but were probably more about ministerial greed.

Now they could say that the Bible teaches against any human effort, any proscribed penance activities, any free will choices, any continuing sin, any good deeds, any behavior, anything-at-all having any ability to undermine a person’s claimed salvation.

In contrast to this view, the works were not the problem being confronted by Paul; rather, it was the belief in what causes right standing with God. We are not made right by what we do, even though God has always required obedience, because righteousness never exists by effort—only by being. We can only be made right by who Jesus is, when he is allowed to live unrestrained through a person.

Such things don’t get a person right with God, but God does not say that obedience is not required on Christians. In fact, there is only one place in Scripture where the Holy Spirit wrote the phrase “faith alone”, and it says the exact opposite:

“You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (Jms 2:24)

In John chapter 14, we are repeatedly told that obedience is the proof regarding those who actually love Jesus, and the lack of obedience that reveals those who think they believe, but are not accepted by God. So, a Christian is not to walk on their knees for a mile after confessing to sin (for that is a human-invented penalty that suggests a person can get right with God through their act of suffering and does not promote repentance simply upon the blood of Christ’s own payment of all penalties for sin). However, the same Christian is required to forgive their brother or never be ultimately forgiven by God; and, to share the name of Christ with others or Jesus won’t share their name with God; and, to give without expecting to receive back in return; and, to mourn with those who are mourning; and, to turn the other cheek when struck offensively; and, to put their fleshly desires to death; and, to stay faithful to their marriage partner for life, even if divorced; and, to honor all authorities without rebellion, for that will be counted as rebellion against God.

Paul wrote to the Roman believers—who “belong to Jesus Christ”:

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgement will be revealed, and he will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger…For God does not show favoritism”. (Rom 2:5-11)

Those believers who seek righteous goodness through faithfully following Jesus are the ones who will be given eternal life. Their seeking never earns it, but it certainly proves that it was extended to them. That is not the kind of guarantee of salvation many Christians have claimed. They have been taught that they can’t lose, but Paul warned those who belonged to Jesus that they could still lose out on eternal life, if they refused to live in a way that reflected the righteousness of Christ.

Paul make this point repeatedly, but somehow many can’t hear it. Many false teachings have swirled through the church for the last 2000 years. This is one of the early ones, for “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.” (Tit 1:16) Faith with disobedient actions demonstrates that “they are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” They think they are saved, but they are unfit to be called righteous.

Peter taught the same thing about those who “know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome”:

“Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.” (2 Pet 3:17)

Jesus himself taught regarding those to whom he has given himself, that if they bury their talent, or are not diligent in keeping their lamps full of oil, or who put their hand to the plow and look back, that “even what they think they have will be taken away and given to another”. He repeats the same warning to Christians in Revelation, who when judged according to their works can have their candlestick placement removed from around his throne, or their names erased from the Book of Life, or their crown taken away, if they don’t repent of the things he confronts them with and do the things they did at first.

The call for Christians is to grow, to mature and produce the fruit of righteousness that God requires. It is by “constant use” that believers are led by the Holy Spirit to learn how to distinguish between good and evil—to identify the righteousness of Christ. Human words can’t do it justice; it must be put to use. Living and consistent application is not an option. It is the only way God will grant a person the insight to know the teaching about righteousness.

Of course, we have the freedom to try and distinguish between the knowledge of good and evil by eating from the forbidden tree, like Adam and Eve, but that ends in rejection away from God. This issue is the primary desire of humanity—to try and figure out a way to make life work on our own terms and by our own effort and without any expectations. This is at the heart of our god-complex. 6000 years and trillions of failures to boot. Constant use in submissively living out our faith by Jesus words, in step with the Spirit, is the only way to the tree of life, to know his good, his righteousness.

We don’t cause it, and we can never earn it, but we are commanded to apply it. The expectation is laid upon every believer to live Christlike, seeking outlets for him to live through our choices and circumstances, to let his righteousness mature in us. The prayer is that as God provides the seed, we can devote our lives toward enlarging the harvest of his righteousness.

“filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Phi 1:11)

“offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness”. (Rom 6:13)

It is through the increasing evidence of this divine righteousness in a believer, that we can know both where it comes from and in whom it rightly exists:

“If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him” (1 Jn 2:29)

“Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”  (1 Jn 3:7)

The difficulty is that no document or statement can ever fully reveal the teaching about righteousness. It only purely exists in Jesus, and it can only become recognized by Christians who obediently allow Jesus to live through them by maturing in how they apply his words and Spirit in every corner of their lives.

The Righteous One has given his invitation and command, not just to those who claim him as Lord, but to those with ears to hear:

“Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you”. (Mt 6:33)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6)

Seek the righteousness of Jesus in place of your own, by striving to make it your own through lifelong surrender to his every word. In this way, Jesus will live through a believer and righteousness will mature, until he brings salvation to those who are waiting for him.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. (2 Cor 5:21)

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Lord of All: The Right of Expectation

Two thousand years of Christian history, and still people struggle with what it means for Jesus to be Lord.

As prophesied by the Holy Spirit, through nearly all the Bible writers, many ministers will look and sound good, but distort the gospel with subtle shifts of theology. Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and other; there is no human-labeled church that is exempt from this. Most think they got it right, that the problems only apply to others, and so they continue blindly in their denominational tradition, denouncing and demonizing those who shed light on their twists of the truth.

But, the Bible is clear. Jesus is Lord, with all authority given to him. That means that everything and everyone must demonstrate submission under his rule and follow his every directive and will.

Many sincere Christians are fine with the idea that Jesus is Savior. Nobody likes the notion of facing the wrath of God for our sins. The rub comes, however, when confronted with the meaning of Jesus as Lord of all, and in particular, Lord over me.

Along with very similar warnings by Paul, John, and Peter, this is the heart of the issue that Jude confronts.

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus our only Sovereign and Lord.”

We all like to hear about the happy promise of salvation and the good times ahead, but there is a dark problem in the Church. False ministers, who are well liked and sound so good, have changed the biblical meaning of grace, and many parishioners are swallowing it to their own destruction. This passage says that godless ministers are teaching a form of grace, that has no subsequent expectation on ongoing morality, which as a result denies Jesus as Lord and distorts the Christian faith.

In other words, the issue Scripture is addressing is not about the incredible extent of mercy inherent in grace, but the lack of moral obligation being taught. How a person views the grace of God is foundational to Christian faith. Per the words of God, many are being mislead with a teaching about grace that offers all the attractive benefits with none of the serious consequences. The idea is that if you want to be saved by Jesus, then you have a perfect guarantee of bliss, with no chance of the promise of heaven being taken away for disobeying the Lord’s recorded expectations upon his followers.

Those within whom the Spirit is at work are called upon to contend and wrestle to sustain biblical faith in themselves and with everyone with whom they interact in church. Keep in mind, this is said to be a Church problem, not a worldly issue. The deadly disease here is internal within the claimed Body of Christ, not external.

It is commonly explained that grace is “unmerited pardon”, or undeserved blessing especially toward eternal salvation. Like many ideas, however, it is the slight shifts of meaning that are added to this, that turn grace into no good news at all. The problem is not typically with the general definition, but rather with the details of application, which reveal the real intent of the heart.

As a pastor stated Sunday, “you cannot sin more than the grace of God”. It sounds good. Certainly God’s grace is greater and more powerful than any type or amount of sin. But this was not spoken to unbelieving crowds, who are wondering if God would really accept them because of what they have done in the past. Rather, it was spoke to Christians sitting in church, most of whom are baptized believers. Believers are being taught that there is no sin that they can continue to commit that is more than the grace of God will continue to cover so that they can be saved.

That is a lie! It is to gathered Christians that God declares:

“those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God”; and,

“but among you there must not be even a hint of [sin]…For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.”

Grace that supposedly continues in spite of ongoing sin is not real grace at all. Believers who choose to continue in sin, thinking that God will always cover their rebellion–like the movie gangster who tortures and kills some innocent person, but then does the cross pattern over their chest, or goes to church on Sunday for confession, or repeats the popular phrase once-saved-always-saved—has been given over to believe the lie by those who refuse to love the truth and so be saved.

Those priests who think they can abuse children or others in their congregation, or who protect those who do such things, have a planned date with the Devil, not with God, even though their official theology is that they can never lose out on their promised salvation. Those pastors who abuse their power, gather wealth by their ministry, sexually assault their sheep and commit adultery through repeated marriages while their earlier mate is still alive, are diluted in thinking they have it made because they believe they can’t out-sin grace. Church members who think they can live with one foot in this world, wave their political flag in the face of the opposition, learn the art of killing in the name of national patriotism, indulge in wine-women-and-winning, prove that Jesus is not their Lord in spite of their pious claim.

Such a person, and such a pastoral teacher, has distorted grace into a guaranteed doctrine of assurance, even though they knowingly continue to do immoral things. Such a person demonstrates that they reject Jesus as Lord. To be Lord, among other things, means that he has the right to expect something from everything. So he poses the question to those who say they are Christian:

“Why do you call me Lord, but do not the things that I say?”

Jesus has saved believers out of sin, not so we can live in sin. His command to those granted his grace is to “go and sin no more”. His tagline warning, recorded in Scripture, is “or something worse may happen to you”. While we remain in this flesh, we all still struggle with the temptations of sin, so a wise and humble Christian will avoid the arrogance of claimed perfection and hear Jesus’ words to his Church:

“Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place [where Jesus is].”

Because Jesus has been given all authority, he therefore has the absolute right to expect submission under that authority, even from individuals who enjoy his favor. Jesus is not an open-lid candy store. He expects his people to obey what he says, or hear his eternal rejection against those who called him “Lord, Lord”, but did not actually follow what he said.

Those who deny his lordship over every detail of their lives, think they have found a sneaky way to work around those boundaries of slavery, by claiming that grace means guaranteed-no-matter-what. Many claim that human participation in obeying the gospel is just works, thus obedience is not really required for salvation. Such teachings demonize any kind of works and turn many believers away from obedience in faith by a distorted gospel of guaranteed assurance with ongoing sin.

That is not the Christian gospel, even if you have heard it in church. Obedience can never earn or cause grace, but such works are not irrelevant to salvation. God states that our works don’t earn his grace, but they are expected to be willingly applied, in response to what he initiates, causes, and has done–if we want to remain under his created plan:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Massive and ornate cathedrals of theology have been erected to dazzle onlookers away from the truth. They promote the desired promises, but reject the connected warnings. Their fancy structures of core doctrine are so impressive and have so many overlapping layers, that the raw truth can no longer be recognized by those drunk on their traditional version of beliefs. The confusion is often confuddled at the scriptural crossroads of justification and sanctification, with the assumption that what Jesus accomplished means that we don’t fall under any salvation-impacting expectations.

Christians demonstrate that Jesus is their Lord, by how they submit to following and obeying the entire package of every word given by God through Christ. Grace upholds Jesus as Lord. Grace is unmerited in offering, and cannot be attained outside of faith in Jesus, like by keeping the Mosaic Law, but can only be accepted through submission. This is the pattern revealed by Jesus himself, through his submission to his own Head.

Jesus repeatedly made it clear, that he does nothing other than what he sees his Father doing. He doesn’t add words to what God wants. He doesn’t add his own personal style or agenda to anything that God reveals. He does nothing other than what God the Father speaks. The Lord Jesus submits absolutely, in every detail, without any wandering or personal preference, to his Lord God.

This is what it means by “seek first the Kingdom of God”. Such seeking is meant to be absolute, without exception, with no other competing Lord to divert our devotion. That includes not allowing ourselves, our ideas, our preferences, our desires, our agenda, our traditional doctrines and theologies to alter what the Bible declares. We cannot also be Lord; nor can our particular church or seminary or pastor or statement-of-faith be Lord.

This is also what is meant by the command to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. This is not a reference to coming to faith, but a command regarding living by faith now that a person has become Christian. Those who try to do both (live for flesh and Spirit), will find themselves excluded from the promise that had been extended to them—like a dog that returns to its vomit—because they distorted the grace that had been given to them. Or as it declares in Revelation, regarding professing Christians who twist the biblical words of God to mean something different than given to the biblical writers, they will have their right to the tree of life “taken away”.

When Peter gave his famous Pentecostal sermon, many were cut to the heart by the truth spoken and asked, “what must we do”. Many false teachers would retort, “nothing”, because their idea of grace is God gives unmerited pardon to sinners without any type of expectation. But the actual words, that the crowds were immediately responding to, were “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” It was the truth that this human that they had seen do such amazing things, and who allowed himself to be crucified to accomplish God’s preordained plan, is not only the promised Christ (“anointed one” prophesied as the coming Messiah), he has also been made LORD.

This truth rocked the early Church, not just the crowds. Only twice, prior to this foundational message, do we find the phrase “Lord Jesus” (though both were actually written later); however, after this point, the writers of Scripture use it 100 times!

If that is the case, “what must we do?” That should be our response, having been confronted with the truth about grace. Don’t let the false teachers distort the biblical truth in your mind. “Repent and be baptized [and]… save yourself from this corrupt generation”.

Yes, do something. Yes, grace requires that you demonstrate that Jesus is not just Lord of all, but that he is completely accepted as your Lord. Jesus expects those whom he identifies as “truly my disciples” to obey all his teachings as recorded in Scripture. Grace does not excuse works of obedience, it demands it.

If you find yourself coming up short, then repent while you still can, and completely get rid of whatever tempts you. If God knows that you reject Jesus as Lord, and that you intend on using redefined biblical words like grace to try and excuse your intent to live for yourself and your own desires, then be assured that God will blind you and not allow you to actually repent the way he expects. Human-defined doctrines are very effective at blinding religious stage-actors into thinking they are safe to keep doing what they want.

Jesus is Lord. He has the right to expect that his subjects follow him and do what he says in every detail, just like the wind and waves obey exactly, and just like the physiology of a diseased body obeys completely, and just like unclean spirits obey immediately. His grace is more powerful than sin, but it does not possess a person like some demon. You must choose to surrender your will completely to his lordship.

If you have been granted the grace of God to know Jesus as Christ, and are consumed with gratitude for your Savior’s complete forgiveness of all sin in you by his work on the Cross, then demonstrate your acceptance of Jesus as Lord of all of you and do everything he says, just the way he says it, as soon as he reveals it, without trying to improve it or alter it for personal gain or traditional preference.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Self-Rule Experiment

The exercise of power in human existence is concentrated in government, which establishes laws, controls and collects all types of value (like money, land, and rights), and enforces its chosen form of organization (through soldiers, police, and judiciary) at the point of a sword.

Whether governing billions, or just one, self-rule is an experiment of diversity with one primary purpose. Human government is a study in abject failure of every conceivable method.

This is not a condemnation of any existing government, but rather an observation about why history discards one type of government after another, like some monstrous defect factory. It doesn’t seem to matter where one lands their time machine, human government, like human physiology, is a record of constant and repeated death.

The variations of human government are a study into the ability of man to manage himself. As the saying goes, “there is nothing new under the sun.” However, that doesn’t mean that there are not new combinations or styles of self-rule; rather, as it might apply to government, that the experiment is guaranteed to prove the same outcome.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a monarchy, democracy, theocracy, dictatorship, communistic, a god-governed, a mob-governed, a strong-man, a crafty woman, an isolated island, a resource rich, a desert poor, a young or old leader, with devout or atheistic beliefs, small or large clan, an off-the-chart wise ruler, a mentally deranged or simpleton leader, a committee, a law-bound, a chaotic leaderless period, or any other possible form of self-rule. History documents that humans cannot govern themselves without eventually destroying everything around them.

There is a very important reason for this experiment. It would appear that the Creator who set history spinning is giving us every conceivable opportunity to test our ability to govern ourselves. In his amazing grace, he is allowing humanity to test their ability to be their own god, to do things their own way, to see what happens when we try to do life on our terms. So far, the conclusion is a dismal failure.

Even after the Lord returns to destroy the wicked in the great battle of Armageddon, and raise his faithful to eternal life as priests in his kingdom, the Bible prophecies that there will still be a form of human self-rule that after a thousand years will raise its ugly head. This experiment will continue through this Millennium, to provide one final set of options to human self-rule that have not been tested yet.

In some way, there will be non-Christian humans existing during this glorious time. Imagine, a time when there will be no wars for a thousand years. Imagine, there will be no Satan to fuel the fires of desire, and people can live entirely per their own compass. Imagine, there will be a time when you can actually trust your ministers to be righteous, to always say what is truthful, to never sin, to perfectly lead people in the ways of God. There has never been a human government that could try to fly with its own wings in such a favorable wind. If you have heard the story of Gog, then you know how it ends—just like every single form of human self-rule throughout history—complete destruction.

Lest you think this only applies to civil government, the same can be observed about religious government. No form of religion is capable of ruling humanity rightly either. Even when that religious government has been established by the one true God, it has still been given permission to experiment with human will.

The biblical record of Noah’s flood is a disturbing rebuke, not just against general immorality, but specifically against those who should have known better—those who belonged to God as descendants through the lineage of Seth. They eventually chose to cross the line and marry whomever they desired, rather than stay within the boundaries.

The historic tribes of Israel where given divine assistance and blessings, but they too chose to live and marry outside those defined limits given by God, and the text says that the Lord divorced her. Not even the glorious Temple, and practices that mirrored what exists in heaven, could provide enough staying-power so long as humans were allowed to still do things their own way.

Angering as it might be to many, this likely remains just as true within the Church. The experiment of self-rule through thousands of denominations appears to prove the exact same result. Professing Christians indulge their own desires, marry outside the faith, divorce and remarry in adulterous rebellion, set themselves up as leaders and teachers, just like the people of God in times past. Priests abuse children and church leaders allow it. Ministers revolt against the established church authority, thinking they have a better way to lead God’s people, but in so doing, they defy the scriptural commands that say that those who do so are rebelling against God. In time, their new version of Christian self-rule, distorts the gospel and proves to be just as unreliable.

The Lord himself has revealed that he has allowed wolves, weeds, leaven, chaff, and false teachers to enter his Church, to undermine the purity of Christian government, and lead many away toward believing things taught by demons without realizing it. But this experiment is not out-of-control, like some damaged fighter plane in a spiraling nose-dive. God has promised that in spite of the human distortion that infects everything we touch, he will intervene and prevent the gates of Hell from overcoming his Church—not meaning any organized form of human-defined government, but rather the hidden, Spirit-bound and preserved true people of faith.

A caution needs to be shared at this point. Just because human self-rule, both civilly and religiously, are destined to come up short of the glory of God, does not allow believers to reject either. Rather, God commands his faithful to remain submissive, to remain supportive of government, and to continue to honorably participate in his public Church Body. Just know, that all human self-rule is flawed.

Most parents come to recognized that even their own attempts at governing their family, though filled with many joys, are ultimately littered also with failure. Individual Christians, at least those who have the ears to hear what the Bible declares, have come to admit that their own natures prevent them from ever being righteous on their own—not even with some assistance from the Spirit of God. We stay in the game and continue to give it our best effort, but the lesson of life is that there is only one Lord of all!

We need to be saved. We also need, from that point, to learn to put every personal agenda and private will to death, submitting absolutely and completely to the lordship of the King of Kings. It cannot be a mix; there can be no 50-50. Self-rule doesn’t work.

This is not a call to abdicate responsibility; it is an invitation toward submission, while honorably conducting our established authority, to perpetuate the rule of heaven alone. Submission to the rule of the Lord is the only way. We demonstrate that desire by how completely we embrace the words of God—by how fully we live within the boundaries he has established—by how we restrain doing things our way, per our ideas, for our benefit, no matter the initial cost which will look and feel very much like the Cross. We show our true colors by how completely and thoroughly we repent whenever our efforts come up short of absolute perfection: “as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

Human government is a divinely established experiment in trying to live without God, or with only partial dependence upon him, or with only religious influence, or with at least some shred of independence and personal agenda still in operation.

The truth, which history will prove in its time, is that there is only one Lord, only one Kingdom, only one form of righteous rule by which humans can safely exist for eternity. His name is Jesus!

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith to Move Mountains

By its very definition, faith is mysterious and beyond full comprehension. It speaks of a form of trust that, though it is built on what is reasonable and knowledgeable, it goes beyond what can be understood.

For most Christians, faith emphasizes the active belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. That is certainly true, however, faith is often referred to in the Bible where there is little or no understanding of Jesus at that moment. As a result, in order to understand this faith that that God says is required in order to please him, it might be worth a more detailed look at a surprising revelation.

When Peter and John passed the blind beggar, the text says that all the man wanted was money. There is no reference to any knowledge about Jesus, let alone any faith in being able to be healed by him, nor any idea that Peter and John were even Christian. However, after he was healed, and all the people where amazed, the Apostles stated that, “It is in Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” In this case, the faith to be healed was not in the disabled man, but in those who gave the healing.

However, there is an important distinction that needs to be recognized here. Peter, with his faith in Jesus’ ability to heal, had likely passed lots of other beggars who wanted money, but only this one received the healing. Notice what it says: “Look at us!” There is something significant implied in this, for those with ears to hear.

When Paul and Barnabas began preaching the good news in Lystra, the response of the crowds indicate that the teaching about Jesus had not yet been conveyed when the crippled man suddenly was healed. There is no mention of Jesus and no reference to this man’s faith in being able to be healed. The people thought that their pagan gods had come in human form.

Notice, however, the hint in the text. In the middle of Paul’s speech, he stopped what he was doing, even though there were lots of people in the crowd, and likely other people in need of healing. We are simply told, “Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’” What kind of faith is this that would think a physical healing was more important than teaching truth? And, why did Paul look intently at this man? There is something significant here, for those with ears to hear.

When the crippled man was let down by his friends through the roof to be healed by Jesus, the text implies that it was the faith of this man’s friends to which Jesus attributes the healing. But their apparent faith could only have been in Jesus’ ability and willingness to heal, and not a matter of faith in him being their Savior. In contrast, when the disabled man by the wading pool was asked by Jesus if he wanted to be healed, he never even said yes. In fact, the text says that he didn’t even know who healed him; so where was the required faith? There is something significant here, for those with ears to hear.

When Jesus returned to Galilee, the Bible records that he could do few miracles because of the lack of faith in the people. Certainly Jesus had enough faith to heal others, but he didn’t this time. And, the text says that these people had been in Jerusalem and saw all the miracles he did, so they certainly had the knowledge that his man was fully capable of healing. But their lack of faith prevented healing. Why, when it worked at other times? There is a significant reason, for those willing to hear.

There are many other examples that could be highlighted, but these should be sufficient to demonstrate the complexity of faith as it might apply to receiving from God. To start the whole thing, faith is presented in Scripture as a gift that God simply gives in grace to those he wants to experience his goodness. At the end of the Book, it is those who endure in faith to their final breath, that God promises to bless. Sometimes living out our faith in Jesus as Lord of our new lives, is what Scripture requires. In other passages, it is an open profession of faith in Jesus as Savior, confirmed at the start of our walk through baptism. At other times it is about faith in God and what he promises. In some cases, it is faith in the possibility of being healed or blessed, without anything eternal in the mix. In other circumstances it is some kind of faith, without any reference to Jesus or salvation. Again, there are occurrences of faith of others that turns into blessings for us; and, there are instances where it all hinges on the faith of the person who seems intent on helping us in our plight. Of course, there are many examples where the lack of faith, in any of the above aspects, prevents experiencing the grace of God.

What is this faith?

Faith cannot be understood through extensive study or observation, like most all of what comes from God. It must be received from God as well as be revealed to us.

The first is a pure act of grace. Faith must be received; it cannot be earned, defined, or controlled by human effort. However, it is also something that ought to grow and mature in a believer. That requires our participation.

These distinctions help explain why there are so many different references to faith. The secret is not that there are different types of faith, but rather that God is doing something different at that moment.

In every recorded passage, the key to understanding what faith is required for God to intervene, is to identify what God intends to do, rather than try to assess the grasp of faith in a person. It is a matter of focus. The focus is not about the extent of faith in a person, but on the activity of God.

Consider the above passages. In Lystra, Paul healed the man in the crowd right in the middle of his sermon, because he saw something special going on. As he was preaching, he saw the Holy Spirit revealing something through the expressions of that disabled man, and it suddenly stopped his speaking so that he could respond. As he stared more intensely, he concluded that the Spirit was revealing to him that God was about to do something miraculous—what the Bible calls faith. In other words, it was faith in this man, most likely through his spirit having been suddenly opened and receptive to the work of God, that is defined as faith.

When Peter was accosted for money, he sensed something different than from all the other beggars he had passed. He not only stopped, even though he didn’t have what the man wanted, he specifically told the man to look at him. As Jesus taught, the eyes are a lamp into the soul. Peter looked more carefully to verify whether his initial sense that had stopped him was really of God, and saw God about to do something. That is the faith Peter spoke about later. The healing happened because Peter had responded in faith to what he sensed, through the request and eyes of this man, that God wanted to act.

When Jesus healed the man let down through the roof, it was not recorded as something do to that man’s faith in Jesus as Savior, but rather that Jesus recognized that this effort to put this man before him, was something from God. Faith is a gift, remember. God had given his grace to this man, and through this man’s friends, so that God could bring glory to himself through Jesus. Jesus recognized this. That is the faith being referenced.

The event when Jesus healed the crippled man at the pool, who didn’t know him or even acknowledge belief in God, when hundreds of other people there wanted to be healed, could only be explained as something Jesus sensed was of God. Like when he turned around in a crowd and asked who touched him, Jesus was demonstrating his human sensitivity to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was constantly looking for evidence of the Spirit to direct his words, choices, and activities.

That is what faith should look like in a believer. It is also what it means to see faith in another person—it is when we sense that God is showing us that he is about to act and is inviting us to participate. In this way, faith is more about the evidence of God in a person, than about the person’s view towards God.

The sad part of the revelation is that even when Jesus longs to bless us, the testing for faith sometimes prevents it. When the Lord traveled on this earth, he was limited in doing miracles, because the people were not showing the necessary faith. Although faith comes to a person as a gift, it must thereafter be something that person engages with and develops in submission to the activity of God. In truth, some receive faith, but don’t ever produce the demanded fruit, which limits Christ from blessing them. Even though Jesus healed and did amazing miracles some times in those with no personal faith, when people didn’t show any faith that God was intending to act in them, Jesus withheld his power to bless.

The key, once again, is to look for the revealed activity of the Spirit in that moment, circumstance, person, or need. Is God about to do something? The prophets record that God does nothing without first revealing what he is about to do to his servants. That is significant to understanding what it means to respond to faith.

Think about this in terms of Jesus’ teaching on the level of faith necessary to move mountains. Many have tried to strain their goodness glands into some amount of powerful faith, but what if we were to shift our focus away from trying to measure whether or not we have enough personal faith that something could happen, and toward trying to exercise the faith to recognize the activity of God that is about to happen. Looking toward self will always be limited; but, developing the eyes of the Spirit to see what God is about to do, and to alter our activity to participate, will have unlimited power—enough to toss a mountain into the sea, if that is what God is about to do.

Life goes on. People do whatever they want. All looks usual and expected, but then something catches our attention. It could be just our own desire or personal agenda, but no, this is something more. This looks very different. Could this be God breaking through our human shield of ignorance and inviting me to draw near to the burning bush?

Faithful and mature Christians live by the promptings of the Spirit rather than by the observations and preferences of the flesh. That is not just a suggestion. It is a description of the consuming orientation of those who have died to self and live entirely for the work of the Lord. The Holy Spirit doesn’t always reveal himself, however, so we go about our God-honoring business, while we are constantly on the watch for divine intervention. When we sense that, we drop everything in order to participate in what God intends to do, so that he will receive glory at our hand.

Then it happens. Subtle at first. Perhaps a gentle whisper or nudge. We turn to check it out; changing our course; pausing our activity mid-stream. We look intently with our spirit, to see if this unusual indication is truly an invitation from God. If we make it up, it isn’t faith, and we will come under judgment. If we sense it rightly, faith invites us to expose ourselves and declare what only God has the right to say:

“Be healed!”

“Stand up and walk!”

“Your sins are forgiven!”

“Receive Eternal Life in Jesus name!”

It is all a matter of faith.

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Believing in Fake Scripture

What we claim to believe about Scripture directly reflects what we believe about God. Scripture is the word of God. It is not simply a regurgitation that resembles what God thinks; Scripture is the very breath of God.

“All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16).

That is an amazing statement that unfortunately is not commonly accepted by many Christians. Consider the wording found in many published statements of faith:

“We believe in the holy Scriptures as the full and accurate word of God in their original form”.

It is that last clarification that is most concerning. The reason many conservative groups add that phrase, is that it is well known and accepted that all existing translations of the Bible have difficulties. Many, if not all, have errors. In fact, the very nature of translation, which uses different words from other languages to try and reflect the original words, cannot ever contain the complete and exact meaning of those words in that original. That’s why they are a different language. It might get close, but it can’t be exact.

As a result, it is only the original documents that can present the exact words as recorded at that moment of inspiration by the writers of Scripture. Therein lies the problem. There are NO known copies of any original documents for any part of the Bible. Everything we have today is a copy of a translation, with who-knows-how-many iterations.

Of course, another approach that many churches take in dealing with this issue, is to claim to accept Scripture in its intended references and not specifically as something that is completely accurate and trustworthy. That is much too literal and constraining to them, so they swing along the pendulum to the other end and claim to appreciate the literature of Scripture and not get embroiled in the messy inaccuracies of the details.

So, should we accept that the Bible is completely accurate and trustworthy, if no original documents exist, and all translations have issues? This is why many faith statements claim to believe in the accuracy of Scripture only in their original form.

The glaring problem, that few seem to want to admit, is that such original Scripture doesn’t exist, so their belief in the trustworthiness of the existing Bible is invalid. They are claiming to believe in a myth.

Think about it. Does it make any sense at all to say that you believe and trust in God’s holy words in a form that doesn’t exist. What does such a statement reveal about what these groups actually believe about the book that sits in their lap on a Sunday morning?

They don’t actually trust it!

The problem here is not with the reliability of Scripture, but with the scholarly philosophy that demands material proofs. It is an evolutionary error of judgment that claims to believe in origins that can’t be proven by any existing physical evidence. Many Christians have been suckered into this lie.

The Bible that we have today can and should be trusted!

Consider the opening quote above, that God has breathed all Scripture. When the Apostle Paul wrote this statement to the minister Timothy, the existing Scripture that he had at that time, and that he was speaking about, was NOT an original. All of it was from translated copies.

The word Scripture, up to that time, was understood to mean those accepted books from Genesis to Malachi, as recorded in two primary versions: a Hebrew and a Greek. The Greek Septuagint was clearly an old and accepted translation from the original Hebrew, and one that both Jesus and the apostles quoted from (as they also did from the Hebrew version). That means that the Lord didn’t have a problem with this translation, even though it is very different in various details from the contemporary Hebrew at that time.

The reason scholars know that many New Testament quotes from the Old come from the Septuagint and not the Hebrew text is because the Hebrew wording says and means some things differently. If the living Word of God, known as Jesus, chose to quote from the Greek translation rather than from the Hebrew, then we are compelled, out of respect for his sovereign judgment as the Son of God who originally spoke those words, to accept the Greek meanings over the Hebrew ones especially in those passages, and in turn to embrace the Hebrew quoted passages over the Greek when chosen.

The Hebrew Scriptures were also in many ways a translation. When the Kingdom of Judah was taken captive to Babylon some 600 years previous to Paul’s writing, the Jews who were able to return to the land of Israel had effectively lost their native language. What they still had were Hebrew words on biblical scrolls, but few if any other writings to preserve that language or to ensure the ability to accurately define what all those words meant. You may have noticed in the footnotes of your Bible, when reading in the Old Testament, that “the meaning of this phrase or word is unknown”. That is because, for the most part, Hebrew had been lost. [There are other reason too, like Hebrew words passed down in Scripture that do not match the original due to scribal errors, but those are irrelevant to the point being made here.]

This was the time frame when devout Jews feared to speak the name of God, because the written letters of YHWH had no accompanying reference to how to rightly pronounce the holy name of God. To mis-speak and butcher God’s name was tantamount to blasphemy.

Modern Hebrew, for those who don’t know, didn’t come into existence until after WWII. The new nation of modern Israel needed their own language and Hebrew didn’t exist. Jews were coming together with a potpourri of languages from the nations where they had been scattered many generations before. Old Hebrew was a dead language.

What they did was take words from Scripture that had familiar meanings and combined them into made-up words for new things, and effectively created an entirely new language from the ashes of pieces of ancient Hebrew.

By the time of Jesus life on earth, the primary language of the Jews had long been Aramaic. The educated spoke Greek. The business and governmental groups spoke Roman. Hebrew was used as a liturgy when reading from the biblical scrolls in a synagogue or the Temple.

All this means that the Hebrew language at the time of Jesus, and at the moment that Paul wrote about Scripture being God-breathed, was effectively a translation and not an original. Paul had no qualms, however, about confirming that these Jews in his day continued to faithfully sustain God’s words, for:

“they have been entrusted with the very words of God”. (Rom 3:2)

This is the historical context within which we are supposed to accept Scripture as God-breathed. It is those translations that continue to reflect the breath of God. Notice that Paul does not qualify his statement by saying that God’s breath was somewhere in there, or gave life to those words back in ancient past, or is some kind of symbolic reference. He simply declares that the Scripture translations were, continue to be, and forever will remain the breath of God–including Old and New Testament books–right down to today, as that special book sits in your lap!

This breath cannot be verified by human study, document verification, or original proofs. No Scripture can be rightly understood absent of the Holy Spirit. This amazing truth is how a translation, by the nature of language differences, cannot be an exact, and yet can still be accepted as conveying the trustworthy and accurate truth of God.

If there is an error, or a divergent word used to translate some part of Scripture, then the Holy Spirit will heal it in the mind of the faithful and ensure the truth of God is fully conveyed. If there is a wrong translation or teaching, then the Holy Spirit will deafen ears, or in turn open ears, so that God’s very breath remains complete and life-giving. If one translation gets it wrong, the Spirit can direct a student, who strives to show themselves approved by rightly diving the word of truth, to another translation that does preserve the truth in that passage. Truth is primarily a function of the active working of the Holy Spirit in a faithful believer, and not so much a discipline of academic scholars.

Details still matter. Careful attention to what the text actually states is still very important. Accepting and obeying what it commands, even in literal terms where the context supports it, is of paramount importance. The Spirit will not guide the casual, indifferent, or flippant revisionist. The point here, is that the original details, though important, are not the key; the work of the Spirit is the most important detail in preserving and instructing through those details, even when filtered through successive layers of culture, language translations, and traditions.

Perhaps a slight modification of Paul’s words that give a general truth could help apply to this specific issue:

“In the same way no one knows Scripture, in its original or translated forms, except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may completely and accurately understand the Bible that God has freely preserved for us.” (1 Cor 2:11)

You don’t need an original document to trust what God says in his Bible. You need to submit to and trust the leading of the Master Teacher, the Spirit of God, that dwells within a faithful believer in Jesus.

Perhaps a more careful statement of faith could include the belief:

“We believe in the holy Scriptures as the full and accurate word of God as preserved, revealed, and taught by the Holy Spirit.”

Posted in Approaching Scripture | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mysterious Humility

Of all the qualities of virtue, few are cloaked in as much mystery as humility. Like anything rare, the true nature of humility is not easily measured or known.

It is simply impossible to gather enough humble subjects to effectively conduct any reasonable group study. Genuine humility rarely reveals itself. It exists out there, but like some snow leopard, it strives to do its thing out of sight. To most, it is a mystery that few find worth the effort to pursue.

We speak of it with respect. We admire it when the strong appear to express it. Outside of training centers or religious fellowships, where the subject is often given a nod, we find that self-promotion is far more attractive and practiced.

Historically, the humble don’t get ahead in life. They tend to die early, lose more often, and receive more hurts. The humble are not viewed as the strong. They are easy targets that are known for giving ground and walking away from fights.

Governments don’t rule for long without a strong military or aggressive politicians. Companies can’t compete and survive by stepping out of the way of the competition. Death cannot be overcome with humility, so what is the point?

Like some misunderstood appendix that physicians prefer to cut out of patients, there simply is no worldly use for humility…unless one understands the mystery.

Per popular definition, humility is “a modest or low view of one’s own importance”.

Therein is the key problem. The educated pundits think that humility is about the person who expresses it, when in truth it is exactly the opposite. Humility is not about one’s self. It has nothing to do with how a person views them self, whether low, modestly, or high. It is other focused.

Humility is a social reality, not a private quality. It doesn’t even exist outside of relationships. Humility is about others, not self. That is the key to the mystery. In order to understand what God says, this distinction must be recognized.

A quality like love may be defined in the context of being “other focused”, but humility is more precise than that. It does focus on others, but it does so for a specific purpose. To grasp the real significance and power of humility, a person needs to recognize what humility tries to accomplish and why.

Rather than some expression of self-abasement, perhaps to combat some unwanted trait like pride, humility is principally about giving honor. That is its primary reason for existing. A humble person thinks and acts for the main goal of giving honor to another person. The humble always act in the best interest of another, not for anything about themselves.

In negative terms, the humble do not put themselves down, have low self-esteem, think less of themselves, distain what they have, let others abuse them, avoid pleasure, or reject praise from others. Such expressions that appear humble are fake replicas. That is not what humility is about, as we shall see shortly.

In positive terms, the humble give credit where due, including to themselves. They are not afraid of speaking about their accomplishments, positions of responsibility, received blessings, or developed skills. They are appreciative when others give them appropriate credit and respect.

Like all great qualities, there is no better source to study than the Lord Jesus. It is his humility that Christians are encouraged to imitate, so reviewing what humility is in him, and why he did what he did, will help confirm the insight to the mystery of humility.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phi 2:3-11)

The biblical idea of considering others ahead of self is not about lowering self, though that may often be the observed expression. It is done for the purpose of actually elevating another. That is an important difference. It is what Jesus focused on in doing everything to bring glory to his Father. That purpose of bringing glory is what is meant by giving honor.

The secret here is that Jesus did not take glory away from himself. Rather he stepped aside from receiving the full extent of what rightly could have come to him, for the reason of ensuring the fullest expression of glory could be given to his Father during that season. The humble don’t go around in sackcloth and ashes, claiming they are unworthy. A sinner might do that, but a humble person, alters the attention toward self whenever doing so could bring greater honor to another.

The reason Jesus set aside his unlimited prerogatives as the Son of God and limited himself for a time in the fleshly existence as a man under the subtle direction of the Holy Spirit, was to bring greater attention to God. He let the full attention that rightly was due him, be resisted but not rejected.

He resisted the moments of glory so that his humanity could be demonstrated per the plan of God, that he give himself as the human atonement to pay the penalty of death for mankind’s sin. He did not, however, deny the attention his followers gave him, nor refuse the worship of those who put their faith in him, nor claim that he was nothing when in fact he knew full well who he was, where he had come from, and where he was returning (as recorded in the Gospel of John).

The humility of Jesus shows restraint of self for the purpose of elevating the will of God. That same humility remains in Jesus, even as the exalted One. Self-attention has its place, but it is only rightly upheld in the context of honoring others.

Jesus didn’t reject his “equality with God”, or think it of less value, but willingly set it aside for a season in order to do the will of God. He deserved glory and honor and worship before he came to earth. In spite of his expressions of humility, he continued to rightly deserve the same worship as a human; and, as the above text states, he clearly has been exalted to that full extent of glory.

His current state of exalted position does not mean that he has stopped being humble. Accepting worship is rightly due to him and humility does not mean that he needs to lower his view of himself. The reason for lowering his radiance, was to take on a role of sacrificial lamb in human form, in keeping with the Father’s will. Doing so brought his Father glory. It also brought us salvation. He humbled himself to honor God and to share his glorious honor with us.

In order to honor God in becoming our Savior, Jesus needed to restrain what was due to him, until it had been accomplished. His humility demonstrated the social interplay between resistance and promotion. The reason for his recognized humility was to promote another. The method came through resistance of self-attention.

Observing the method, without understanding the purpose, is what leads to distorted views of humility. It is what it is because of what it seeks, not because of how it accomplishes its desire. Humility is about elevating others, through stepping out of demanding our due, while still appreciating our positions, abilities, and rights.

What looks like weakness, feels worthless, and often appears to end just like the Cross–in disappointing death at the violent hands of the prideful–is not what it seems. Humility allows self-benefit to be donated at times to lift up another, who is either in need or is worthy of honor, with the full belief that what we sow will come back to us in overflowing measure.

The humble are fully convinced that the momentary experience of loss is worth it even to self. Godly humility exists in the belief in promised glory. It never ends with loss. That is all the ignorant can see. Humility can give up self, even to death, for the benefit of another, because it believes in the resurrection. Humility can give the unthinkable, because it has a hope in experiencing the glory of the Lord which far, far outshines any and all things that may have been given up.

Humility never rejects what is good, but it is very willing to set aside experiencing the good to self whenever there is a chance to elevate the good of another. Amazing mystery.

In this way, our humility is not about denouncing self, demeaning ourselves, putting ourselves down, rejecting any attention to ourselves, or avoiding any references toward our accomplishments, abilities, or experiences.

Seeking a job is a good place to promote our perception of personal qualifications. Looking to attract a mate, when marriage is desired, is a great time for appropriate self-promotion. Sharing our testimony of faith is another time that is often fitting for speaking positively about ourselves. Admitting to our skill at a sport, a topic, or in solving certain types of problems, is often useful in developing social relationships and contributing to the mental potluck with others. Even in a teaching situation or parenting, personal experience or wisdom, is a very appropriate expression that directly translates into the benefit of those less experienced.

That said, all the above, and many other situations can equally be distorted into pride, mixed with inappropriate agendas, and simply masked for selfish gain. That is our natural tendency. As shown in Jesus, such self-attention in a Christian is kept in check when we bring it into the primary subjection of his will. That means that we need to restrain such references to self in ways that ensure that our relationship to God is kept as the primary focus for both ourselves and those with whom we are interacting.

Whenever a circumstance indicates that it would be better to hold ourselves back, so that “he can become greater”, as John the Baptist taught, then that is humility without twisting it into self-abuse. Whenever our own desires seem to be swelling up for our own private benefit, then that would be a good time to discipline ourselves by restraining our pride, so that Jesus would be honored inside ourselves. Whenever an opportunity presents itself to elevate solutions toward the God-revealed needs of others, that is a prime time to set aside our private preferences, so that we can honor God by blessing those around us.

The mystery of humility is about striving to give honor to others by getting ourselves out of the way.

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

More Blessed than Mary the Mother of Jesus

The disciples of Jesus were reprimanded for discussing who among them would be the greatest in the Lord’s Kingdom. However, Jesus himself taught about those whom God calls the greatest, and it may not be what you’d expect.

The Bible highlights two people who stand head-and-shoulders above all others as blessed by God: Mary the mother of Jesus, and John the Baptist. But they are no where near the top of God’s blessed list. Take a look at what Scripture teaches.

An angel from the throne of God came to Mary and informed her that she was “highly favored”. This declaration was not about her goodness or anything regarding her effort (for “all have sinned”), but because what would occur through her would be unique, holy, and of immense blessing for her and for all mankind. She was called blessed because she was the recipient of God’s incredible grace.

Such a status of being called “blessed” had nothing to do with her own righteousness. Much like when God told Moses to take off his sandals when at the Burning Bush, it had nothing to do with the specialness of that ground, but purely because God touched it. That truth–that her blessedness was due to God’s gracious choice to use her–was confirmed, however, by her amazing response of faith.

“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered, ‘May it be to me as you have said'” (Lu 1:38)

The Holy Spirit spoke directly through the mother of John the Baptist about both reasons for her being declared blessed:

“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear”…

“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Lu 1:41-45)

Yes, Mary is blessed beyond any other person because God chose her to birth and raise Jesus the savior of all mankind. She is additionally considered blessed, because she responded with such amazing faith and submission to what likely was beyond her comprehension and could have stirred up a great deal of fear. Mary ought to be recognized as amazingly blessed by God, but this truth does not give any reason for her to be worshiped, prayed to, nor viewed as above others in God’s Kingdom.

Consider what Jesus had to say about clarifying this very issue.

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.'” (Lu 11:27-28)

Jesus makes a direct contrast to the belief that Mary should be called blessed. He does not refute that she is blessed, but makes a startling confrontation to the assumption that she is somehow to be viewed as blessed above others. He makes it very clear, that he (and thus God) views those who put faith in Jesus as to be considered “blessed rather”, or of greater blessed status than Mary.

The truth that Mary is considered blessed because of what God did in her, as well as because of how she responded in trusting submission to what was said, does nothing toward ensuring her status for eternity! Don’t miss this distinction. Her status as blessed for these reasons are earthly and limited. Notice why Jesus confronts her about her own view of what rights she has over him:

“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him…’Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.'” (Mk 3:31-35)”

Once again, the Lord confronts Mary’s view of herself toward Jesus, as well as the crowds view toward Mary. Jesus is not casting doubt on Mary being his biological mother, but rather that such a position does not automatically qualify her to be viewed as part of his eternal family. That greater blessed status belongs only to those who put submissive faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Notice what the Bible reveals about why Mary was confronted in the above passage about her blessed position as mother of Jesus:

“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'” (Mk 3:20-21)

Mary thought that Jesus, the Son of God, the eternally existent Word of God who created her and allowed himself to be impregnated into her by the power of the Holy Spirit, the one who was perfect and sinless, was not doing what he ought to be doing and needed a mother to intervene and take control over him. Sounds like what Eve did in leading Adam into sin, doesn’t it? This second Adam was not going to fail by “listening to your wife”, or in this case, allowing his physical mother to exert dominance over the one whom she should have viewed as her Lord and Master.

Mary was being put on notice, that if she wanted to truly be blessed, to be blessed beyond this life and into eternity, she would have to submit to Jesus in faith for her salvation and let him lead her and not the other way around.

Like the Apostle Paul recognized about himself, that “whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ”, so Mary would have to come to view her blessed status as Jesus’ earthly mother as loss compared to becoming a Christian who puts their faith in Jesus solely for what he has done for them.

This shocking truth is repeated about John the Baptist. You can’t find another physical human who is considered greater than him. Per the Lord’s own words:

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Mt 11:11-12)

John is being honored here, not as a believer in Jesus, but as one “born of women”. In other words, it is his blessedness as part of his earthly life, as one specially chosen by God, infused with the Spirit of God from within the womb, and who also faithfully did what he was called to do in preparing the way for people to accept Jesus. Such status, as the greatest human ever, still does not qualify him for eternity.

John himself, acknowledges that even though he knew by the Spirit who to point to as the Messiah, that in personal terms “I did not know him”. In fact, while in prison and just prior to his horrible death, he sends his followers to ask Jesus if he is actually the Messiah. His own faith may have been a death-bed conversion.

Eternal salvation can only apply to those who set aside relying upon their worldly status, rights, abilities, gifts, resources, wealth, power, positions, titles, race, membership, personal confession, goodness and blessedness, to rather do God’s will by obediently submitting to Jesus as Savior and Lord. The least in the kingdom should be viewed as greater and more blessed than the greatest and most blessed on this earth.

This is not to suggest that John the Baptist will not be in the Kingdom of God, but rather than such an eternal blessing applies only to Christians.

Such faith, as taught in Scripture, involves accepting Jesus as well as thereafter participating. Mary needed to choose Jesus as her Lord. John the Baptist had to show that he accepted what he taught about the Messiah by personally submitting to Jesus as his own Lord and Master. The Lord requires that those “who believe him” must “hold to my teachings” to remain viewed by God as “really my disciples” (Jn 8:31-32). Each believer must “become like a little child, or you will not enter the kingdom”. Salvation is not simply imposed, like impregnation in Mary, or Spirit-led-life-and-ministry in John. Jesus requires that believers freely and willingly respond in faith for the rest of their lives.

“Dear brothers, take not of this:…humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you…not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.” (Jms 1:19-25)

Do you hear the word of God? If you have put faith in Jesus to forgive your sins by what he accomplished on the Cross, and now submissively choose to live the rest of your life, not by elevating whatever might normally be to your benefit (even if caused by God), but rather to obediently serve Jesus as Lord, then the salvation you have been promised will be confirmed in you when Christ returns to gather his own. You will also be considered before God as more blessed than Mary, and greater than John the Baptist.

This gospel truth has already been announced upon Christians, just as if the angel Gabriel had shown up face-to-face with such a glorious promise of what God intends to do, but will you respond like Mary initially did? Will you demand proof, like Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, who still received the promised son, but was rebuked for his lack of faith? Do you think, like Mary later did, that what Jesus is doing and allowing in your life is because he is “out of his mind?”

If God accepts you as a Christian, you are greatly blessed, beyond anyone or any reason for being blessed on this earth. Do you believe it, and does your living response demonstrate such humble and blessed faith?

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Work: The Blessed Curse

In many respects, work is a necessary evil. It demands participation by nearly every person throughout history, permanently deforms many backs and hands, distorts relationships and divides families, returns less monetary value than the blood and sweat equity most pour into it, and especially in our Western mindset is something to be retired from and replaced with a life of reward and ease, whereas in many other parts of the world is the hated act of survival that escorts most into an early grave.

There is something about work that is not right. It shouldn’t be like this. This is where we come to the theology of work.

Work itself is a good thing. God is always at his work. The problem being highlighted here, is not work itself, but the reason that work has become such a pain in our back sides. It needs to be noted that work can be viewed in both general terms as well as in more specific intent. Just as there is a biblical difference between general grace and salvific grace (like rain which generally benefits everyone versus selective revelation of Jesus as Lord to a certain person), so there is a similar distinction with work.

If a woman strives to plant and nurture a bush, and later enjoys the fruit that it produces, she is rightly the beneficiary of God’s general blessing. It truly is a blessing to eat tasty fruit gleaned from our own efforts, but that is only a general blessing. The time something becomes a specific blessing, is when it moves a person toward Christ. Such faith is not the typical result of eating strawberries. This reality applies equally to understanding God’s design for work.

Eating healthy food and enjoying pleasure purchased from our harvesting are general blessings from work that can apply to anyone. This is not the type of blessing being addressed here. Such a person remains under the curse and ultimately their work will do them no lasting good.

In truth, work involves both a curse and a blessing. In the beginning God placed humanity in a special garden to “work the ground” (Gen 2:5). The pleasure of tending a divinely established garden without damaging thorn or weed is practically incomprehensible to us today. We are the unfortunate descendants of many generations struggling through painful toil as a result of rebellion.

From Adam’s sin, we each have proved our family heritage by continuously repeating that hateful tendency toward doing our own thing our own way. From that fateful day, when the snake twisted his tale, God cursed the ground and work has never been the same since.

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen 3:17-19)

Work has been cursed. It doesn’t matter whether you like your job, or whether or not you make a good living—the ground from which you and I have been formed has fallen under a divine curse. No human can even eat without “painful toil”. The imagery is more than just about contaminated soil; it is about a contaminated heritage. All work, even the white-collar office job that avoids getting hands dirty, and even that penthouse job that collects millions off the backs of the poor, reeks from the stench of sin, abuse, greed, treachery, back-stabbing, loss, devaluation, and slavery. That is a lot of thorns to combat just for a morning bagel with coffee.

Work is designed to remind us of our sin through dealing with constant pain through what we labor at. Christians are the only ones capable of grasping this truth. For everyone else, work is simply the means to becoming a person of means.

However, work is more than a curse. It is at the same moment, intended to be a blessing. That ought to make your forehead crease. The two are not compatible, but they do play a simultaneous role.

To understand this extraordinary truth, it is important to reflect on an amazing revelation about our Creator. He actually likes us. Believe it or not, God wants us to still succeed. The following truism applies just as fully to Christians as to Adam when he was being sentenced with hard labor:

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Pro 3:11-12)

God may have cursed the ground, turned work into a painful struggle, and subjected all humanity unto the final paycheck of death, but he did so with a blessing in mind. To grasp how this is all possible, one must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, believing and obeying all that he said, and put all their trust in what he accomplished upon the Cross and in his promised resurrection from their pending death. That is about accepting the Christian gospel.

But here, we are looking more specifically at how to understand work through Christian eyes. For the vast majority of people who have little interest in Jesus, work has a few temporary perks but ultimately ends in getting fired for eternity. That special blessing that God intentionally included along with the curse is a specific, salvific blessing that is offered to the discerning few who have been given the ability to see it and reach for it. Work may have its thorns, but those who allow work to “train” them, are capable of receiving the hidden blessings.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12: 11)

Not everyone is trained by their work. Most assume they must be first trained in order to do their work. However, God does things differently.

Work cannot be approached in normal fashion, or it will perpetuate the curse. Our jobs and service tasks will produce diseased crops, if we do whatever we are trained to do for the purposes common to this world. Doing work to eat, is short-sighted. Doing work to benefit the company is worthless. Doing work to support a family is honorable but remains under crushing debt. Doing work to gain a sense of identity and self-worth is empty. Doing work to avoid idleness, misses the point. Doing work to live a good life, dons the mask of deception. Doing work because it is religious or because God says so, has a form of godliness, but denies the power. That is not what work (which has been cursed) is designed by God to accomplish.

Adam and Eve approached their work in the garden as something they thought they could do any-old-way-they-wanted, but it back-fired in their face. The same will be true for every person who thinks they too can approach their God-given command to work for their food on their own terms, in their own personal style, to whatever degree of effort suits their fancy. Approaching work like that is no different than the snake-oil which suggested that if you do your jobs the way you want to, by reaching out and taking what is ripe for the taking, then you will be like God, knowing how to discern good from evil in all your business ventures.

As a Christian, if you want to do your work in a manner reflective of God’s intent, which will transform everything you do, and even the very soil of your eternal heritage, into something glorious, then consider what the Lord has to say about work.

If your work can be done with routine effort that checks-the-box enough to get paid, look for how you can shift gears and “do it with all your might”. This is not to burn yourself out, or become the super-employee, or strain your limits, but rather to press against the natural tendency to go easy, to cut corners, to just get by, to only do what is required. Do what you do with the best of your ability, rather than per what comes easiest. The curse within work must be attacked by rejected the human nature approach and replacing it with devoted commitment. Of course, such commitment is first of all toward God, and as a result toward what you do and why, not principally about company loyalty.

If your job requires you to go a mile, look for what you can do to go two miles. This is not about making more money, or working longer hours, or trying to out-do everyone else, but rather about doing the extra for the benefit of others without measuring for personal gain. That disciplines the natural human tendency to work for personal gain, and allows work to train Christ-like character into what you do. Going above-and-beyond reflects Jesus’ instruction to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, and we can implement that belief toward work as an antidote against the curse of doing-for-self.

If you work to please the one who pays your salary, what about the one who paid your Debt? “You cannot serve two masters.” You may continue to serve under a boss, but how are you demonstrating that your eternal Lord supersedes the conflicting authority and godless rules imposed by your company? Does your work promote the work of God or do you save that for Sunday’s masquerade?

Do you do what you do to keep you job or to please God? Whose eyes are you laboring to impress? Believers honor authority, but “not to please men”. Rather, they do their job principally and without compromise “as working for the Lord”. If you believe that, then take a look at your desk, your car, your room, your outfit, your storage, your computer screen—would Jesus be pleased with what he sees?

Is your job so important, so necessary to your survival, that you are willing to compromise your beliefs to keep in the doe? Your next check may show 666, unless you are willing to put your job at risk, or even walk away from a good job, in order to put the honor and morality of Jesus as your priority. Work that rightly trains a Christian can only occur if the efforts remain submissive to his word and honors his name. Anything else is work for the Beast.

If your personal needs demand a high paying job and long hours, perhaps you should reconsider your lifestyle choices. Living like the world, and chasing what it values, can never produce the life that God designed for you. Specific and eternal blessings come to those who work as for the Lord and not for Lincolns. The two pursuits are incompatible, and though work remains a requirement on all, the reasons, pursuits, types, and costs will reveal whether you are eating forbidden fruit or fasting for faith.

If your work succeeds, is that determined by stock value, ROI, and promotions, or by upholding the will of God? Did you pick weeds per the will of God today? Did you make that call, write that brief, or dig that hole to honor what God wanted of you today, or did you even bother to ask God what he wanted? Your job operates under a curse and there is only one way to turn that bad omen into a blessing, but it will never happen if you keep feeding the vulture with what is natural. Success is not a function of momentary pleasure or increasing pay, but rather by surviving into eternity through surrender to the will of God.

What is the by-product of your work? Waste is often the tell-tale sign of a well designed process. Is the discarded leftovers of your work a blessing or a curse? Is the impact you leave on others received as a blessing or a curse? Is the use of your money a cause of blessing for others? The rich who were judged by Jesus as unworthy of his kingdom wanted to do good within their means, to offer help out of the excess of their abundance. What the wealthy refuse to do is put their hard-earned riches at risk or even at sacrificial loss for the benefit of others and the self-disciplining act of restraining the natural greed to eat their own desired fruit off the forbidden tree. Our remains may be cursed ashes or nurturing sustenance for those less fortunate. Work can train this in you and me, or it can cling to the slime.

This listing could go on near endlessly. There are so many ways to work the curse. Under the Old Covenant, blessings were promised and measured by material wealth; not so for the Christian. Our sights ought to be set on our promised inheritance stored up in heaven with the expectation of finding satisfaction now in the “harvest of peace and righteousness”. Whether you get it or not will be shown by how you approach work.

There are so few who realize that such cursed work can be done with eternal blessing. The curse of work should drive us toward God in humble acknowledgment of his discipline of every child he loves. The offered blessing of work should equally drive us toward expending our effort selectively toward what honors God and restrains our natural tendencies which incline toward cursed territory.

The one who benefits from such training by viewing work for what it should do and for why we are often so pained in the process, are positioned to receive from Christ the hidden manna which can be had without labor or struggle. To those who rebuke your Christian view and approach toward work, you may enjoy Jesus’ response as your own: “I have work to do that you know nothing about”.

To those who chased him down after having been fed without having to do any work, Jesus rebuked and invited with the words: “Work for what lasts”!

Posted in Christian Living | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Refined By Fire

Uncontrolled heat consumes everything in its flame. That is the fate of all material in this universe. However, when controlled, fire can purify certain elements. It can separate incompatible materials and allow what is of great value to be set free for glorious display and use.

Gold is one of those special elements. So are Christians.

Suffering is the fire pot—the crucible of refinement—through which every human must pass. No one gets a free pass around suffering. We all struggle. We all hurt. We all must face the many faces of death.

Suffering is the mirror of sin. It reflects the fires of wrath for sin in people who all exist in natural defiance against a holy God. For the degenerate and wicked, pain and suffering are biological preambles—songs of death—that announce the pending destruction of a life that cannot and will not be refined. For the redeemed, suffering is the humbling drum beat of refinement—the pounding pain that announces the removal of what dishonors God, while preserving what is of eternal value.

Nobody likes to suffer. Pain hurts. But it has a useful purpose for those who discover its secret.

Everybody experiences suffering. Death comes to all men, as does all the elements of decomposition upon a temporal body. However, for those who come to truly know Jesus as Lord and Savior, suffering can produce something extraordinary, although most seem to miss it.

When we struggle, we naturally try to find relief. Pain forces us to make a choice. Humanly, that choice is to focus on self, on finding a solution, on getting out from under what weighs us down, on fixing our problem. Money, power, intelligence, and other natural resources provide ways out, but they all lead to dead ends. What is natural to mankind, what is normal in how to deal with suffering, will always lead to the remains of a campfire pit.

Christians are instructed to face suffering with a very different approach. We are called to deal with pain in a shocking and unnatural way. To be refined, rather than consumed with fire, believers are expected to deal with all their struggles in a manner reflective of Jesus as he faced the Cross.

It is preferable to profess faith in Jesus, grateful for what he did on the Cross, but avoid taking up our own personal reflection of that extremely unnatural approach toward life. Unfortunately, it is to the Church that the apostle Paul spoke when writing specifically about how to face suffering, when he said:

“For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Phi 3:18)

When faced with pain, it is not normal to go “as a lamb to the slaughter”, but that is the approach our Lord took. When persecuted, it is not natural to remain silent and go without defending ourselves, but that is what Jesus did. When under pain, it is unthinkable to submit to the point of death, and allow ourselves to repeatedly experience the cross, but that is our daily call.

Suffering does something very unexpected in a faithful Christian. When loss, pain, grief, struggle, rejection, betrayal, or abuse are pushed on us—by others, by Satan, or even by circumstance (like famine or cancer)—there are only two ways through the fire: focus on self or focus on others.

The natural response to suffering is to concentrate our thoughts and resources on ourselves until we can escape the pain. The godly response to pain is to concentrate our thoughts and resources outside of ourselves, like modeled by Jesus. It is abnormal to focus on others, and doubly so when we are in need ourselves.

Godly suffering produces a greater focus and interest on others than on self. That is what separates the gold from the dross. Maturing Christians will shift their focus away from a primary emphasis on self-relief toward a principle concentration on the “interests of others”. The time when that shift is most significant and most tested is when that person is under strain. It is when a person is struggling in pain that their true, deep, heart’s-desire focus is brought into the light. That is when their cross becomes visible.

When you are hurting, is that when you show an increasing focus on others or on self?

It was to deceived believers that the prophet quoted God’s rebuke about the typical response to suffering, even self-imposed religious suffering, which would seem like the most godly:

“For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways…Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please…your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” (Isa 58:2-5)

When we are hurting, whatever the cause, it is natural to have a short fuse—to lash out at others like a wounded animal. But that is not of God.

The secret to godly suffering is to intentionally shift our focus away from being consumed with finding relief and put our thoughts and efforts increasingly toward the benefit of others.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle…Each of you should look not only to your own interests [when suffering], but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phi 1:29, 2:4-5)

You may recall, that while hanging in intense pain on the Cross, our Lord thought and acted with interest toward others, saying: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” He thought of his mother, Mary, and arranged for her future care, while he was struggling to catch his own breath. He allowed himself to be unjustly rejected, abused, and mistreated, in order that you and I could be refined and rescued from the impending fires.

So, when you are struggling, think of Jesus more than yourself. Think of his promises and his plan, and rejoice inside, while the body suffers outside. Put your hope in his salvation, more than in pursuing a solution to what hurts. If you can find relief, great, but don’t allow it to consume your attention or distract you from intentionally allowing suffering as a daily walk of identification with his cross.

Think also of those around you. Push the pain down and elevate the thoughts and expressions of grace toward those you see in need. This doesn’t mean to think of others and never of self, but rather to put a priority on blessing others even to the loss of self-satisfaction and temporary relief. This does not also mean that God expects believers to always allow abuse, for Jesus often hid himself until he believed it was God’s timing for him to expose himself. We don’t honor God by simply being a whipping post. In Jesus’ time on earth, many others died on crosses without any eternal benefit. Godly suffering is about revealing our focus and primary interests away from self and more toward the will of God and the benefit of others. It is when under such strain that the life of Christ is most evident.

There is no greater love, and no greater way for that love to be shown, than to express yourself for the benefit of others at the very moment that your own needs are crying out for relief. Humans are capable of giving and helping others out of excess resources, but it is only through the indwelling of God that a Christian can give away the very relief they need.

It takes amazing grace and a godly faith, like the widow with Elijah, to share your last loaf of bread that might hasten your own end.

It takes great trust in God to “give out of their intense poverty”.

It takes a greater hope in what is promised than holding on to what is here, to rejoice when others take away what we own, or when we refuse to sue others to get our rights.

It takes a biblical Christian to turn the other cheek, when our own lives are being threatened.

It takes a more powerful vision than the American dream, to let go of collecting wealth for the sake of sharing the kingdom of God.

It takes suffering to produce and reveal the truth about God in you.

When under such trials, will you put more effort toward the interests and relief of others than in grasping your own?

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God…Above all, love each other deeply…Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others” (1 Pet 4:1-10)

What does your approach to dealing with your suffering say about what is most important to you? Saving self and concentrating on escaping pain will only fuel the fires. Shifting your attention to the benefit of others for the honor of God will control the flames to purify your eternal value in the glorious presence of Almighty God.

May he give you the strength and faith to endure, fixing your eyes on him and the prize for which he has called you near, and may you trust that all your resources are meant for his use rather than your own satisfaction. To God be all glory, and to you be all that you need!

Posted in Christian Living | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment