Morality Vs. Salvation

morality

Is Christianity just fancy moralism?  So many Christians today are known for what they do not do and what they oppose.  We don’t drink, we don’t party, we don’t wear skimpy clothes, etc.  And the most holy amongst us are known more for what we do do instead of what we do not do:  we go to church, we give money (or little bags with snacks and a Bible) to the homeless, we volunteer, etc.  Is that the foundation of Christianity?  Did Jesus die on the cross so that we can clean up our lives and feel better about ourselves?

Moralism is as old as creation. The very first people, Adam and Eve, had two sons – Cain and Abel.  Abel loved God and offered sacrifices from love and Cain was jealous because he wanted God to accept his sacrifices, and instead of getting his heart right he murdered his Abel.  As soon as God handed down the Law of His expectations, there were people who set out to keep it in their own strength for their own glory.  God has been exceedingly clear about His expectations of humanity:  both on the heart level and on the outward – or pragmatic level, and human pride has always lent some to the effort of self-approval through keeping the law.  Morality.

It is also true that the Old Testament is centered on the Mosaic Law of God, and the New Testament is full of commandments for Christians saved by grace.  There is no doubt throughout the entirety of Scripture that man’s problem is sin – we are all condemned to death and eternity in Hell because of our sin and when we come to God for salvation through Jesus Christ, we are still commanded and expected to stop sinning (Rom 6.23, Gal 5).

The end goal, however, is not moralism.  God is not primarily concerned with our actions, He is primarily concerned with our hearts.  This has been true since the beginning.  When Cain killed Abel and interacted with God, God was not primarily concerned about his actions of offering a poor sacrifice and killing Abel, He was concerned about his heart:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, [will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

– Gen 4.6-7

When God gave the Law to Moses for the Hebrew people to observe, the first and primary commandment was to Love God with everything and to not worship other gods or idols.  The first three of the ten commandments, in fact, deal specifically with this command.  He sums up the whole Law thus:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4-5

And the summary of the entire Bible proclaiming the truths about the end times lists those sinners who will be condemned to Hell, even in light of salvation by grace alone through faith alone:

“But for the cowardly and [unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but we have similar lists throughout all of the New Testament which exhort Christians to stop sinning.

Compounding the issue of moralism is the prevalence self-acceptance and self-realization in western thinking.  Philosophy has lent us to believe that there are no true absolutes, that we all have autonomy to determine our own paths, and that there is truly no right and wrong.  Lying is acceptable in certain situations, murder in others, deceit against immoral persons or governments and even theft to care for the less fortunate.  No longer are there black and whites, but everything is a shade of grey and we are left to determine our own way.

Moralism, fundamentally, is looking to an outward standard and attempting to attain that standard in our own strength and power.  It can be based on aversion (avoiding certain activities) or action (preforming certain activities).  Either way, it is a person proving his righteousness by his actions.  Self-realization, fundamentally, is looking inward to realize who one is at the core and development of a life system based on one’s own valuation of right and wrong.

Salvation, however, is neither of these.  The Law was given to us to show that we can never keep God’s law perfectly and therefore never be moral or good enough to earn His favor.  Paul teaches us, in fact, that the entire point of the Law is to reveal our sinfulness and therefore the frivolity of trying to keep it in our own strength:

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”

– Rom 7.7-8

Scripture also teaches us that the heart is deceitful above all else, that we are Spiritually dead apart from Jesus, that there is none righteous and none who seeks after God in his own strength and that we are all fundamentally wicked (Jer 17.9, Eph 2.1, Rom 3.10-12).  Therefore, self-realization and determining our own truth leads us only down the wide path of destruction (Matt 7.13-14).

What does all of this mean?  Simply put, it means that we – in and of ourselves – are neither capable of being good enough nor able to prove ourselves by our logic and making peace with our decisions.  We need a savior.

Thankfully, salvation is the answer.  Salvation is that work of God whereby we are Spiritually awakened, we are changed at the core level and transformed into new beings.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

Once we have been Spiritually awakened and empowered by the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the Spirit begins changing us such that we keep the commandments of God because we love Him and want to please Him, rather than trying to prove ourselves or simply be good people.  We are no longer students, sitting in class learning a lesson and proving ourselves on a test, we are now children who love our father and long to please him by obeying what he says to do.  We do not fear a bad grade, we fear disappointing our father.

This reality teaches us that morality is not our internal realization – God has established a perfect standard and He expects us to obey, but He enables us and drives us to obey it by transforming our hearts to be willing to submit to His leadership and direction.  We are therefore compelled by the Spirit within us to please God, not driven by our need of approval or self-validation.

It is by this reality only that we are given commands.  And Paul clarifies for us beautifully that the works of the flesh are sinful, but our obedience is purely the works or “fruit” of the Spirit living in us:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.19-23

People who practice the sinful deeds will not inherit the kingdom – because they are sinful and sin deserves damnation.  But we will only truly discontinue these sins and live in righteousness when we have been transformed at a heart level and given Spiritual life, and thus the Holy Spirit can live through us and exemplify all of those righteous attributes.

So what does this mean practically?  How do I get Spiritual life and live by the Spirit?  How do I stop trying to prove myself and live in freedom, aiming to please my Father?

Jesus teaches us that our Spiritual and eternal life begins at the moment we are born Spiritually (John 3).  When we hear the Gospel and long to be made right with God, we confess our sins, begin the process of repentance and are given the Holy Spirit.  If you have had a longing to be made right with God, have confessed your sins and are experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you have Spiritual life!  The Holy Spirit is alive within you.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of sin and righteousness (John 16.8).  Therefore, as we are reading the Scripture, understanding God’s hearts and desires, the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin in our lives and push us on to change.  We will know at a heart level that God is displeased with our laziness, with our lying, with our selfishness and with our pride.  He will then, through promises in Scripture, enable us to change.

This will be a lifelong process.  As long as we are in our human bodies, our sinful nature and our flesh will wage war against the Spirit.  Sin is pleasurable and desirable, and we will give in to it.  But the Spirit will convict us of it and the love that we have for God will drive us long for change and obey.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

We will fight sin on the heart level, on the actions level, and we will need tools to help us along the way.  Replacement tactics work very well:  when we are tempted to sin, we purposefully turn to God instead.  When we are tempted to look at pornography, we stop and pray or call a trusted friend to chat.  When we are tempted to go out drinking or partying, we call our Christian friends and gather together for wholesome entertainment.  When we are tempted to have an affair or fool around with a girlfriend before marriage, we turn to our spouse or go out on group dates to hold us accountable.

We can also utilize fighter verses when the sin is mental or emotional.  Are you fighting fear?  We can claim the promises of God that we have nothing to fear – even if we should die we would be in the presence of God and the troubles of this world will be over!  Are you fighting depression?  We can claim the promises of God that we are His beloved children and He has given everything so that we can be saved.  Are you fighting doubt?  We can claim the promises of faith, provision, or whatever specific doubt we might have.  Thus it is important to be in the Scripture daily and to have accountability in wise friends and mentors who can push us on in these truths and disciplines.

God is ultimately concerned about our hearts and the drive to please Him because of our Spiritual transformation.  Our morality is worthless because we can never be good enough.  Our self-realization is also worthless, because apart from Him we are Spiritually dead.  God Himself will give us Spiritual life and when He transforms us from the inside out, we will be driven by a love for Him to please Him by obeying Him.  We cannot obey Him, however, if we do not know the Scriptures and understands what He wants from His children!  So let’s get busy about loving and knowing God.  Let’s be transformed and work on pleasing our father, not trying to earn His approval.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.'”

– John 14.23

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If you can be talked into it, you can be talked out of it.

convince

Salvation is a mystery.  Pretty much everyone would admit that the story of Jesus, being fully God and fully man, living a perfect life and dying to save the world, then raising from the dead and returning to Heaven sounds pretty fantastical.  Like a fairy tale.  Absurd perhaps?  C.S. Lewis called it the “true myth”, because of its moral affect on our lives like myths – however having the glorious aspect of being true.  Almost too good to be true.  Most people at some point in their Spiritual journey will doubt the faith – either in light of life circumstances or because the story just sounds too story-like.

In spite of the mystical nature of the Gospel story, the historical reliability of the Bible has been proven throughout the ages.  Nothing in Scripture has ever been disproven, and continued research such as archaeological digs and finds have regularly confirmed facts about the Bible that were doubted as truth beforehand.  Thus we have disciplines like apologetics – studying logic and fact to systematically answer questions of those who would doubt the reliability of Scripture and the truth of the Gospel.

Apologetics are extremely helpful.  They can offer logical explanations to normal doubts, they can silence critics, and then can explain truths that are interwoven.  Logic, fact and reasoning, however, are not enough to lead someone to salvation.  The simple fact is,

Anything you can be talked into, you can be talked out of.

We might bow up at the idea, thinking our scientific fact and experience will never change our perception of reality.  But philosophy, our interest in the unexplained supernatural world and experience have taught us that even those things we believed unalterable at times are disproven, i.e. the world is not flat, the smallest particle is not the atom, and the sun does not rotate around the world.

So what is it, then, that sets Christianity and salvation apart?  Is the evangelist not trying to convince people that we are all sinful, we all are condemned to Hell, but we can be saved by the grace of Jesus?

Yes.  And no.  The evangelist (all Christians) do in fact believe all of those things and [should] set out to proclaim the Gospel to all people and make disciples.  Jesus has commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 128.18-20), Paul shows us by example the proclamation of the Gospel and tells us to share at all times (2 Tim 4.2), and Peter tells us to be ready in every  circumstance to talk about and explain our faith (1 Peter 3.15).  However, while we are proclaiming the Gospel to every person we meet, we recognize the fact that God alone causes growth.  He softens hearts, he awakens the dead, He gives “New Birth”.

Salvation happens fundamentally when we are born Spiritually.  Before we meet Jesus, before we recognize our sin and confess it and repent from it, we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1).  We, as Christians, cannot look at a dead person and tell them to come to life – try though we might.  We, as Christians, cannot breathe life into a skeleton.  We, as Christians, cannot change the nature of a being.  Spiritually dead people are physically alive, but have no Spiritual life.  Thus, Jesus teaches us that in order to be saved we must be born again (John 3):  the first birth is physical and the second birth is Spiritual.

We have no say in our birth.  It just happens.

Before we meet Jesus, and before we are born again, we are enemies of God and we hate the things of God (Rom 8.7, James 4.4).  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to love Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to submit to Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to turn to Him.  There are none righteous, there are none who seek after God, and there are none who will turn to Him unless God breathes Spiritual life into them and transforms the desires of their hearts (Rom 3.10-12).

In order to be born Spiritually, however, we must hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God has decided to utilize Christians in His plan to bring salvation and new life to the world.  He does not need us, but has decided to allow us the blessing and honor of serving Him.  Thus He commands us to share, and through that obedience He gives the gift of faith:

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

 – Rom 10.17

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [faith] is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 – Eph 2.8-9

God gods us the gift of faith after we hear the Gospel.  We get to play a beautiful part in the salvation experience, but we neither affect someone else nor ourselves.  Thus Paul clearly says,

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.6-7

It has been said that our role as Christians and evangelists and even apologists is to get out there and find the Corneliuses.  Cornelius was the first non-Jew that God started drawing and had Peter lead to faith.  Cornelius was a Roman who had taken on many of the Jewish teachings, and God was stirring in his heart such that he was giving alms (money) to the Jews and prayed to the Jewish God.  He was not yet saved, however, because he had not heard the Gospel – so God revealed his intention to save Cornelius and his family to both Cornelius and Peter.  Thus Peter went with Cornelius’ servants to meet him, he preached the Gospel to the entire household, and they all believed (Acts 10).

God does not always tell us who He is planning on saving, or in whom He is already working, so we must obey His command to preach the Gospel boldly and at all times, and trust Him for the Spiritual birth, transformation and growth.  We go out and look for those people in whom God is working, and we do that by sharing with everyone.

This should give us the highest of hopes.  No matter how good of an apologist we are, not matter how good a preacher, friend, evangelist, or debater, the results are ultimately no in our hands.  If the results were in our hands, a better friend, debater, or speaker would be able to talk that person right out of the faith.  Because there will always be someone smarter, someone more clever, or facts (or theories) twisted in such a way as to change someone’s mind.  But God transforms us from the very nature of our being, and once we have been born Spiritually, we cannot be UNborn.  The growth, the fruit, the results are all in God’s sovereign hand, and of those He has chosen and given birth, He will loose none.

“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

 – John 6.39

Therefore, we have no reason to fear.  God will keep secure those to whom He has given life.  If you are alive Spiritually, you cannot die Spiritually.  And when we share the Gospel with our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers or whomever, it is not our responsibility to save them and cause growth – it is only our responsibility to share and follow up with discipleship after God brings new life!

Fruit is not optional

fruit

When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.  This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the conversion experience.  Jesus calls it the new birth, where we gain Spiritual life added to our physical life.  When we meet Jesus, and are given Spiritual life, our Spiritual walk becomes an ongoing battle between our flesh and spirit:  we are dying to our sinful habits and sinful ways, while growing in Spiritual and godly ways.  Paul says that the two are always at war with one another:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

Paul and Jesus clarify this by defining our actions as “fruit”.  Jesus says that a tree is known by its fruit – good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matt 7.18, Luke 6.43).  Paul goes on to explain what the different (good and bad) fruit are:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.20-21

The deeds of the flesh, or the bad fruit are those things that come naturally to us and are displeasing to God.  The fruit of the Spirit, however, are the exact opposite:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

The person who is Spiritually alive, and being made more like Christ will be marked by all of these characteristics.  We will struggle with and fight against the deeds of the flesh, but we are not marked by them.  When we are tempted to envy, to fight, to go out and get drunk or give in to any worldly pleasure, the Holy Spirit convicts us and even if we give in on occasion we will repent of those sins and fight against them.

Jesus says that He is our source and our life.  He uses the imagery that he is a vine, and Christians are branches that grow off of the vine.  We are extension of Him, and we depend on Him for our sap, structure and support.  Without Jesus Christians cannot survive.  He provides everything that we need to survive and thrive.  Interestingly enough, however, He paints a grim picture in terms of our fruit production:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

– John 15.1-2

This teaching echoes the sentiment of the parables of the sower and the seeds.  The seed of the Gospel will be sown in four different types of soil:  the hard road which cannot receive it at all, the rocky ground where it will grow but be scorched by the sun, amongst the weeds where it will grow but be choked out, or the fertile soil where it will grow and produce fruit.  The rocks in the soil are the persecution that cause some to turn away from the faith and the weeds are the cares and pleasures of the world that cause others to turn away.  Those people who hear the Gospel and receive it, yet are either distracted by a love for the world or chased off by persecution cannot bear fruit.  They were never true believers with deep roots and productive lives.  They were branches that were seemingly connected to the vine, but proved themselves dead by not producing fruit.

Therefore Jesus says He will cut them off and throw them into the fire.

This simple fact teaches us that we can text ourselves by our fruit.  Sometimes people ask, “How do I know if I am saved?”  or  “How can I know if I was born again?”  The answer is simply, “Are you Spiritually alive?”  We can know if we are Spiritually alive by examining the fruit of our lives.  Are we marked by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?  The term utilized in the Scripture is the singular form of fruit.  Therefore, all of these characteristics are necessary.  We cannot have just one or two, we must have them all.  Or are we marked by the deeds of the flesh (plural, therefore any of them)?

Our cultural love affair with tolerance and acceptance has tempted the church to make peace with sin.  Gross sins that Jesus says will render us fruitless, therefore dead, therefore unsaved.  We believe that since we are better than some, that since we have trained one another to placate ourselves, that we are all “ok”.  I went on a prayer walk this weekend with some friends and we got into conversation with two men.  We told them that we were out praying over the neighborhood and asked if there was anything we could pray about for them, and they said, “No thanks, we will be fine”.  Unfortunately, apart from Christ, none of us will be fine.  The standard is not societal acceptance or creature comforts, it is Godly perfection.  We cannot attain Godly perfection, therefore we need to be covered in Jesus’ righteousness and through His enabling, produce the fruits of the Spirit.

The point is simple.  Fruit is not optional.  A healthy branch will produce fruit, and a branch that produces no fruit or bad fruit is already dead and will be cut off.  Let’s check our fruit today.  How would people characterize you?  How would God identify your heart and driving passions?  Are you at war with your flesh and dying to sin?  Or are you coasting, assuming that you will be ok?  Let’s not toy with eternity.

Is anything too difficult for the Lord?

difficult

As Christians, we believe that God is sovereign, and Lord over the universe.  We comfort ourselves with promises like Rom 8:28, that “all things work together for good for those who love God”, and we regularly [mis]quote verses like Phil 4.13 when getting ready to set out a new adventure:

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

We know that nothing is too difficult for God.  He created the entire universe by commanding the occurrence.  He has defeated armies, He has stopped the sun, and He parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through on dry land.  I find it very interesting, too, that many of the patriarchs had wives who were barren.  Abraham was married to Sarah who was barren.  His son Isaac married Rebekah who was barren.  And Isaac’s son Jacob married Rachel who was barren!

God, however, touched all three women and gave them children.  The crazy part about these stories, however, is that Sarah was 90 years old when she had Isaac (Scripture even says she was “beyond child bearing”).  Rebekah was approximately 72 years old when she had Jacob and Esau, having been barren for 20 years, and Rachel was 36 years old when she gave birth to Joseph, after being barren for 14 years.

Yes, Sarah was by far the most dramatic example of God’s sovereignty and hand in “unnatural” childbirth, but even Rachel was barren for 14 years.  Anyone nowadays who has struggled with infertility would have most likely adopted or given up the dream of a family after a few years, let alone fourteen!

But when the Lord was appearing to Abraham and Sarah and promising a child, both of them laughed.  It seemed the impossible when He made the final promise that within the year Sarah would have a baby, and they were 99 and 89 years old.  His response is simple and profound:

“Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

– Gen 18.14

Is anything too difficult for the Lord?  We have heard the Bible stories often enough that we mentally assent that God can defeat a giant with a single stone.  He can bring plagues on Egypt when they disobey His command.  He can raise people from the dead.  But how often do we think of Him as having intercessory power over infertility or a job search?  What are the things for which we long the most, or over which we stress?

Job hunts tend to be intense.  We compromise what we want and desire because we need something to pay the bills, and then when we are in our new roles we tend to be unsatisfied and longing/looking for something more.

Unexpected bills and budgets can leave us fretting, when the bank account just cannot keep up with the Jones, or the medical bills rolling in.

Failing health can cause immeasurable stress.  Many of us live for years with a sense of invincibility but then they find cancer, a blood disorder or a heart disease and we are suddenly left facing the reality of death and our inability to live forever.

Nothing is too difficult for the Lord.  He can put us in the most impossible situations and provide a miraculous escape.  He can leave us wanting and pursuing something that He will only fulfill after a seeming eternity of effort.

God has reasons for all of these trials, and we know that they will work out for our maturity and good, and also for His glory.

God never promises to give us everything that we want and that we ask for.  He does, however, promise to meet those needs He sees – which will lead to our good and His glory.  Sometimes that will mean providing and preforming the impossible!

There is nothing too difficult for God.

Is God Always Kind?

kindness

People nowadays think that they have the ability and freedom to make God be who we want Him to be.  We think our freedom of religion means that we can choose and say with authority how God acts, who He is, what He thinks and feels.  Fortunately for us, Scripture tells us everything that we need to know about God.  Perhaps the most glorious truth about God is that He is love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

– 1 John 4.7-8

But we have culturally defined love in a way that does not apply to God.  We value tolerance, independence and freedom more than truth, and we have bought into the deception that we can define truth by our experience and opinion.  Thus, we have taught ourselves (and deceived ourselves) that love means tolerance, affirmation, and unconditional approval.  We know that God is love, and therefore everything that He does is loving.  But is everything that He does kind?

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

– Rom 11.22

No.  Everything that God does is not kind.  He regretted that He had made mankind just a few generations into the existence of the world, and He killed everyone who was alive by a flood – except Noah and his family.  He destroyed cities and nations to establish His authority and punish sin.  And even Jesus went into the temple and out of anger threw over tables and chased people out of the temple with a whip.  If someone came into your office with a whip and overturned your desk and chased you out of the building, would you think that a kind action?  I am confident that would not strike me as kind.  We can be confident that Jesus is love and that He was driven by a zeal for God and for the temple, and thus acted towards those who were defiling the temple.

Therefore, we understand Romans more fully.  It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom 2.4).  And it is His mercy that continually works in us maturity and becoming more like Christ (Phil 2.13).  Therefore, if we remain in God and obey His commandments, we remain in His kindness.  But His severity is the opposite of his kindness and is the consequence of disobedience and not walking with Him.

Consider Ananias and his wife Sapphira.  They were a part of the Church, they were involved, and they sold their property and gave a portion of the revenue to the Church but lied and said that they had given the entire profit to the church.  God struck them both dead on the spot.  This is not an act of kindness, this is severity.

God is love.  And when we know God, when we make him the Lord of our lives, keeps us in His kindness and mercy.  If He is not our Lord, Scripture defines Him as jealous, a consuming fire, almighty and righteous judge who will not let one sin go unpunished.

It is sort of like expectations when you enter into a romantic relationship.  When you get married and move in together with your spouse, everyone realizes that they had expectations that were not met.  Perhaps your father always took out the trash or filled up the gas tank on the car for your mom.  Your husband might not have been taught that that was his responsibility, and this will cause tension between a couple.  Perhaps your mom cooked three hot meals a day and did your laundry, but your wife cannot cook or has no interest in doing the laundry.  This will cause tensions in your relationship.  You have to get to know who your spouse is, what they value, what they enjoy, what they expect and what they want to do.  Before we come to God for salvation, we [can] have a warm fuzzy expectation of who God is and how He acts.  We can expect Him to do certain things and to not do others.  But when we make Him the Lord of our lives, we are going to realize that our expectations might have been wrong.  The difference here is that between a husband and wife we should find a compromise.  With God, we submit.

So, instead of pouting and starting segregate groups with people who just agree with us, let us turn to Scripture and let us allow God to say who He is, to express how He thinks, and submit to that.  We do not want to be shocked on judgment day that we never truly knew Him!  And let us evaluate our lives, and recognize that God is kind to His children, and severe to those who never repent from their sins.  And let that drive us to urgently share the Gospel and hope of salvation with those who do not yet have it!

If I had enough faith…

deliverance

And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

– Matt 17.20

We all know this direct quote of Jesus.  We hear it and it leads us to doubt our faith.  Why do I not have enough faith?  Do I have enough faith for this or for that?  I used to live next door to two elderly men who were twins, in their late seventies, who were both mute.  I regularly wondered if God were to ask me to pray over them for healing if I would have the faith.  Why have we never seen a physical mountain get up and move?

We do not have enough faith.

At least that’s what some people want us to believe.  There is an extremely dangerous wolf in sheep’s clothing teaching Christians that having enough faith will mean that we can escape hardships.  We will not get sick.  We will not suffer loss.  We will be happy, successful, healthy and confident.  If I am sick, it is because of my lack of faith.  If I do not succeed, it is because I do not have enough faith.  If I suffer persecution, I need more faith.

Interestingly enough, however, the Scripture teaches us that our faith is not the determining factor in the situations in our lives.  Rather, it is the sovereignty of God.  Consider James and Peter:

Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.  And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.  When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.  So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.  On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison.  And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands.  And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”  And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.  When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.  When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

– Acts 12.1-11

Herod took James and had his head cut off.  Here, the second martyr for the faith, was arrested, imprisoned and killed.  Seeing that it pleased the Jews, Herod planned to do the same to Peter.  Peter was arrested, imprisoned, and God decided to miraculously intervene and save him.  Did Peter have more faith than James?  The answer is quite simply, no.  God saw fit to allow James to be put to death for the cause of Christ, and He saw fit to save Peter, this time at least.  The angel was not the fulfillment of Peter’s faith, he was the servant of God.

The faith chapter itself gives us some very clear insight into the topic.

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection;

– Heb 11.32-35a

This is the kind of faith we like, right? They conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, escaped the sword and even received the dead back to life.  That is mountain moving, folks.  Right?  Notice here, that verse 35 is only half of the verse.  What is the rest of it?

Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.  And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

– Heb 11.35-40

Did you know that the prophet Isaiah was sawn in two, while still alive?  And this passage tells us that it was by faith that he was sawn in two.  So how can it be, that in verse 34 some were rescued from the sword by faith and yet in verse 37 some were put to death by the sword?  It is because faith is not the guarantee of an easy life.  Faith does not rescue us from torture or persecution or sickness or difficulty.  Faith is the sustaining force that carries us through the good times and the bad.  God is sovereign over the situation, whatever it is, and faith says, “I trust you God, whatever you decide to do”.

If you are in Christ, if you have faith and salvation, we can rest confidently that nothing that happens in our lives is judgment for sin.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

Jesus bore in His body the punishment for all of our sins.  Now, there may be consequences to our decisions.  There may even be ramifications.  But there is never judgment.  God does discipline us, but He is not punishing us, He is bringing about our sanctification or obedience (Heb 12.6).  When we stray He will set us straight.

And in the same light, His blessings are not directly correlated to our faith.  There may be times that we fail because of a lack of faith, just like the disciples who could not cast out a demon, but God does not bring about our success or happiness by the measure of faith we have.  God is sovereign and faithful in the good times and in the bad.  He uses peace times for His glory and He uses persecution and suffering for His glory.  We need only to trust Him.

God can give you the faith to live well and to die well.  Scripture says that we will all die.  Scripture also says that all who desire to live godly lives will suffer persecution.  There will be times that God delivers us from trials, and there will be times that God takes us through trials.  There may even be times that we die at the hands of those who hate us and who hate God (just like Jesus did), but we can endure it all through faith.

So examine your heart today.  Are you asking for God to release you from your current situation?  Or are you asking for Him to sustain you and allow you to glorify Him through it?  Are you grieving your circumstance and accusing yourself for not having enough faith?  Or are you exemplifying faith by trusting God’s hand in it?  Ask Him for faith today, ask Him to help you glorify Him through your situation, and trust Him.  No matter what, trust Him.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

fear

The Bible is full of tensions and and truths that we must study and try to understand in our daily walks with the Lord.  Mutual responsibility (God’s sovereignty and our accountability), the coming of the Kingdom of God (Jesus has brought salvation in part, but it will be completed in fullness when He comes the second time), and the like.  But one that regularly leaves people in different camps is how we best relate to God:  Is he almighty judge?  King?  Or father?

Scripture teaches all of these truths, and to try to pick one out as better than the other or as our primary method of relating to God is dangerous at best and detrimental to our faith at worst.  If you think of Jesus as your “homeboy” as the tee-shirt suggests, you are in grave danger of disrespecting the king of the universe.  Jesus will not be snowboarding with you on the New Earth, He is king and judge and will reign from His throne (Matt 19.28).  But if you only think of Jesus as the eternal judge, you miss out on His tender, loving side by which we know we have been adopted as sons and we can crawl up in His lap and call Him “daddy” (Rom 8.15)

Should we fear God as the king, and as the judge?

Yes.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

– Matt 10.28

And, No.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

– 1 John 4.18

There is a tendency in our culture to choose to elevate grace above all other attributes and gifts of God.  God’s grace is indeed glorious and deserving of our praise.  It is by grace alone that we have any hope for eternal salvation (Eph 2.8-9).  But we must be diligent, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, not to cheapen grace.  God’s grace is not an excuse for us to live however we want, we must be diligent to fight sin in our lives (Rom 6).  It is by grace that we are forgiven, but we cannot crawl up in God’s lap if we have unrepented sin in our lives (Matt 5.22-24).  He cannot and will not look on wickedness (Hab 1.13), and if we go on sinning after we receive salvation we prove ourselves to not be saved (Heb 10.26-27).

But yet, it is by grace alone that we are saved and we can not and will not earn favor with God by obedience.  We only love because God loves us, forgives us and welcomes us into His presence, and when we understand God’s love, we are not to fear Him.

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.  We love, because He first loved us.  If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”

– 1 John 4.16-20

Consider this today, that the king of the universe who will judge all without partiality and without leniency has offered you salvation through the life, death and resurrection of His son.  He will adopt you as children, but the proof that we have been adopted is our obedience.  Love Him.  Know Him.  Call Him father, daddy even.  But do not become so comfortable as to think that He will excuse you and accept you irregardless of how you act.  Prove yourself to be His follower by loving and obeying Him.  Everyone who encountered any heavenly glory immediately fell to the ground and covered their eyes in fear.  We will have the same reaction on that day when we meet Him.  But He will welcome those who have abode in Him as beloved children.  Wrestle with the balance of love and fear.  Do not let one win out over the other.  God deserves to be revered and respected as well as loved and cherished.  Seek His face today.