Christ our Coming King: Part I

pexel chickenThere have been many end of the world predictions over the years.  But possibly the most interesting of all doomsday predictions came from a chicken.  Apparently there was a hen in Leeds, England back in 1806 that became known as the prophet hen of Leeds when she began laying eggs with the words “Christ is coming” written on them.  People traveled from far and wide to visit this prophetic hen.  However the whole thing was uncovered as a hoax when it was found out that the owner of the hen was using corrosive ink to write on the eggs and then reinserting them back into the hen, to be laid later.

Many people are interested in talking about the end times.  There are actually many passages in Scripture that deal with this topic.  Acts 1:6-11 is a very familiar passage that contains Christ’s ascension to Heaven and a challenge to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.  However, this well-known passage actually begins with a question about the end times.

In Acts 1:6 the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b, ESV)  Typically when we look at this passage we tend to gloss over verse 6, but when we recognize this starting question it takes us deeper into the context of what Jesus is saying.

Remember, the disciples had an unclear idea of what exactly the Messiah had come to do.  They had grown up hearing these prophecies of the coming Messiah and the interpretations that suggested that he would be a conquering hero or a political or military leader who would return the kingdom of Israel to prominence.  They then saw firsthand the miracles he was capable of and they gave up their lives to follow him.  But then he was crucified and died and they were probably pretty confused, until he rose again and displayed authority over death.  When you combine what they had seen of Jesus with what they expected of the Messiah, it is easy to see how they might have expected him to establish his kingdom right away now that he had risen.  But they were still missing pieces to the puzzle.

In verse 7 Jesus basically answers their question by telling them that the timing of his kingdom is really none of their business.  That is not what they were supposed to be focused on.  And that is not what we are supposed to focus on either.  Many times we are in such a hurry to get to verse 8 that we miss this important answer.  But this helps provide good context for verse 8, because while Jesus says the timing is not our business, he does tell us what is supposed to be our business.  In verse 8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8, ESV)

Our understanding of verses 6 and 7 doesn’t drastically change our understanding of verse 8, but it does add an extra emphasis.  We may not know when the end is going to come, but we do know what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime.  This is a pivotal verse in the Bible.  It is kind of like an outline for the rest of the book of Acts as we see the disciples basically living out these words in the rest of the book as the Gospel spreads to the world.

After saying these things Jesus then ascended to Heaven and the disciples were left standing there watching him go.  Then all of a sudden a couple of messengers showed up and asked the guys why they were just standing there gazing at heaven.  And then they tell them that Christ is coming back.  It’s like they were implying that the disciples should stop standing around and get busy doing what he had told them to do.

It may seem weird to take a passage that focuses on Christ’s ascension into Heaven and use it to talk about Christ our Coming King, but the context is clear.  Christ’s is coming again.  Ever since he left, we have been living with his imminent return.  We don’t know when he will return, but we do know that he is coming.  We see that stated right here in this passage as well as in many other places in Scripture.

Christ did not just come to earth, live a good life, do all those miracles, die for the sins of mankind, rise again and then just ride off into the sunset at the end of the story.  He left with a plan to return.  He is coming again.  The story is not finished yet.  And when he comes he will be ushering in his kingdom.  So Christ is not only our Savior, and our Sanctifier and our Healer, he is also our Coming King.  We can look forward to his return and to spending eternity with him, but talking about his return should not focus us on standing around watching for him to return, or arguing about when the end of the world is going to come, it should spur us on to do what he wants us to do while he is gone.  All of this provides context for verse 8.  So let’s let the fact that Christ is coming again, spur us on to be his witnesses to a world that desperately needs him.

Christ our Healer, part 2

pexel healingMovies like “Fletch Lives” and “Leap of Faith” poked fun at the stereotypical, televangelist, faith-healing frauds, but for many people the images in those movies are what we picture when we hear someone talk about healing.  There have been a lot of abuses and misuses of healing in the church and on television and for that reason many people have abandoned the idea of healing altogether.

In James 5:13-16 we find a very clear outline of what healing is supposed to look like within the Church. “13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16, ESV)

There are a lot of different responses we might have when we are suffering.  We might whine, complain, grumble worry or get discouraged, but James is suggesting that when we are suffering we should turn it over to God in prayer.

Then James moves on to good times.  So often we are quick to blame God for the bad things in life and yet very slow to give him credit for the good things.  It is almost like we expect things to always be good and so we only really take notice when something goes wrong.  Making a point to give praise to God for the good things helps us maintain a right focus on him.

After talking about times of suffering and times when we are cheerful, James moves on to talk about what we are to do when we are sick. He tells us that we are to call for the elders to pray for us.  Notice that there is a difference between what we are to do when we are suffering compared to when we are sick.  I don’t believe that James is saying that we are to sit and try and deliberate about what our trouble is so that we can decide whether we are to pray for ourselves or call for the elders.  I believe that James is suggesting a next step that we can take.

The word that James uses here to talk about those who are sick can also mean weak.  Regardless of why we are suffering we should bring our needs before God in prayer.  We also might reach out to our relatives and friends or put something on the prayer chain so the church can be praying for us.  But James seems to be suggesting a next step we can take when those problems continue or we need a special touch.  He tells us to call on the elders.  This is not simply referring to those who are older than us, but to those who have been specifically set aside for a position of authority within the church.  These people are called to be overseers who care for the spiritual needs of those within the church.

In this passage James points out a very specific process for seeking Christ for healing.  He says that we are to call the elders to pray for the person and anoint them with oil.  This is not some kind of magical spell or incantation.  There is not some specific maneuver that needs to be done in the right way to bring healing.  Healing does not come from using the right kind of oil, or saying the right words in the prayer, or having the oil applied in the right way or anything like that.  The healing comes from Christ.

Notice how James specifically points out praying and anointing in the Name of the Lord and that it is the Lord who will raise him up.  The Lord is the one who does the work.  Healing should focus us on Christ, not on some person and not even on our own ability to believe strongly enough.  Any healing service that takes the focus off of Christ and puts it on some person or some special process is a problem.  Christ is our healer.

Notice also that confessing our sins is mentioned in this passage.  Sometimes our sickness or suffering is a direct result of our sin.  There are very real consequences for our sin and sometimes God might allow bad things to happen to us as discipline or just as a natural consequence of a wrong we have done.  God also may allow sickness into our lives in order to get our attention and to help us see something in our lives that needs to change.  So if we are refusing to acknowledge our sin and are determined to ignore what God wants for us, then there is no way we should expect his healing.  So it is important to take the time and see if there is some sin that needs to be dealt when we seek healing.

However, sometimes sickness is not related specifically to some sin in our life that has not been dealt with.  Notice that James says if he has sinned he will be forgiven.  That word “if” suggests that we can be sick and not have some sin that needs to be forgiven.  Sometimes we just get sick, because we are living in a broken world.  Even when we are healed from a sickness we will eventually get sick again and eventually we will die.  Sickness, pain and death are a natural part of living in this broken world.  That means that sometimes we just get sick.  But when we are sick it is a good time to pause and seek God and to let him reveal to us anything he might want to reveal to us.

This process for healing includes examining our hearts and confessing sin and having the elders pray for us and anoint us with oil.  That is the process, but notice that it begins with a request from the one who is sick.  This, in and of itself is an act of faith, so let’s not take it lightly.  It is not simply a last ditch effort or a whim, it is a specific decision to trust in Christ as our healer.

James gives us a clear process for approaching Christ for healing and it looks very different from what was pictured in the movies I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.  We do not need to abandon healing because of the abuses we have seen, we simply need to get back to the biblical foundation for healing like we see in this passage.  So my challenge for us is to utilize this process that God has laid out for us.  If we are sick, we should call for the elders of the church to pray over us and anoint us with oil in the name of the Lord.

Christ our Healer

pexel hand outIn the Christian and Missionary Alliance Statement of Faith we find this sentence: “Provision is made in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the healing of the mortal body.”

To understand the Biblical foundation for this belief we turn to Matthew 8 and find a story of healing. “14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.” (Matt. 8:14-16, ESV)

Notice that when Jesus touches Peter’s mother-in-law not only is she healed immediately, but she is also healed completely.  Apparently in this area of Israel Malaria was common.  We do not know if that is what she was suffering from or not, but imagine if she did have Malaria.  Even if she had been healed of the fever it still would have taken her some time to recuperate.  But in this story she immediately gets up and starts to serve them.  That is amazing.  Jesus didn’t just take away the sickness, he gave her complete health and rejuvenation and strength to the point where she was immediately able to get up and start serving her guests like a good Jewish mother in law would probably do.

There is a completeness to the healing work of Jesus that is powerfully shown in this example.  Jesus doesn’t just take away what is wrong, he brings life.  And word must have spread because soon a crowd had gathered to seek a healing touch from the Lord.

That is a powerful story, but it also provides important context for verse 17: “17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”  (Matt. 8:17, ESV)

This verse suggests that there is more to this scene than just the healings that are taking place.  This is the fulfillment of a prophecy about the Messiah.  This is a declaration of who Jesus is.  And it is referring to Isaiah 53, which is known as the passage on the suffering servant.

“1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a] And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men; a man of sorrows,[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e] and as one from whom men hide their faces[f] he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:1-6, ESV)

This passage is a prophecy about the coming Messiah and it is easy to see Jesus in these words. Nobody would have looked at Jesus as he was growing up in Nazareth and said, look there is the Messiah.  There was no pomp and circumstance.  He was just the son of a carpenter.  And after he came out and began his ministry he was despised and rejected.  He had his life threatened and he was constantly under attack from the religious leaders of the day.  Eventually he was arrested and unjustly tried and convicted.  Then he was beaten and placed on a cross where they drove nails into his hands and feet and hung him up to die.  And on that cross he took our sins upon himself and died as a sacrifice for the world.

This passage in Isaiah 53 seems to be focusing on what Christ would do on the cross when he was beaten and pierced and killed while carrying the sins of the world on his shoulders.  Even the phrase “bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows” from verse 4, has us picturing the cross.

But if Isaiah 53 is pointing toward Christ’s work on the cross, why is it connected to Matthew 8 which is a story about Jesus’ healing ministry?

When we look at verses 4-5 of Isaiah 53, we see that it is our sicknesses and our pain and our sin and our punishment that he takes upon himself, while he is stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised and wounded.  And it is because he went through what he went through, while carrying all of our stuff that we get to enjoy what we see at the end of verse 5 which says, by his wounds we are healed.  That healing is complete.  Christ died and rose again in victory over sin and the curse that sin brought.

Now let me point out that because of sin, we are living in a broken world.  We treat sickness as if it is the main problem, but sickness is actually a symptom of the brokenness that has come as part of the curse of sin.  Healing sickness is actually like healing a symptom.  In Matthew 8, Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law, but she would have gotten sick again after that and eventually she still died.  Sickness is simply a symptom of the brokenness caused by sin.

While he walked this earth Jesus chose to care for the symptoms of living in a broken world, like hunger, sickness, and evil spirits.  But while he chose to address some of the symptoms he was always moving toward the main focus, which was the victory he would bring through his work on the cross and through the grave.  Things are not going to be perfect until Christ returns and wipes away this broken world and brings a new heaven and new earth.

In Revelation 21 we read: “1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4, ESV)

That is what we look forward to.  One day sickness and death will be no more. But what about today? What do we do with the stuff we face right now in this broken world?  Are we stuck just looking forward to our future in Heaven?

Christ could have just walked this earth, completely focused on the cross, and ignored the symptoms of this broken world that were all around him.  But he didn’t.  He chose to stop and listen and touch and heal those in need.  Even though those healings were just temporary and he was just addressing the symptoms, Jesus still chose to heal.  Why?

Last week I was at a national youth convention for The Christian and Missionary Alliance.  As part of that convention my son Jacob and I attended a seminar led by Ken Castor.  During that seminar Ken asked the audience to shout out some things as volunteers wrote them on a giant white board.  One of the things he asked for them to shout out was things that Christ does for us.  People yelled out: he healed; he forgave; he died; and other things Christ has done.  My son Jacob just quietly said, he stopped.  And I turned to him and asked what he meant by that.  He told me that when people cried out to Jesus as he was passing by, he would stop and listen to their need and touch and heal them.  And I was like, you know what, he’s right.  That’s something that Christ did.  He stopped.  Why did he stop?  He stopped because he loved them.  He had compassion on them.  And that is still true today.  When we cry out to him Christ still stops and listens to us and touches us.

As we continue on through Scripture we see that healing was an active part of the ministry of the early church.  And down through history that has continued.  Sure there have been plenty of abuses and we have gotten off track from what it was intended to be along the way, but Christ is still our healer.

He still stops when we cry out to him.  He listens and cares about what we are going through and he touches us.  I don’t know why he sometimes chooses not to heal.  But I do know that Christ loves us and he is still our healer.  It is not our faith that heals us, it is not some guy in a fancy suit, it is not prayer or oil or the ability we have to believe, it is Christ who heals.  Through the cross he established victory over sin and death and everything that goes with it.  He came to bring us life.  And even though he no longer walks on this earth in flesh and blood, when we cry out to him, he still stops because he loves us.  Christ is still our Healer.

 

 

Christ our Sanctifier, Part II: Our Response

sanctifierThis is part 2 of a 2 part blog on Christ our Sanctifier.  If you have not read the first part, you may want to read that first and then come back to this one.  The first part focuses on recognizing that Christ is the one who sanctifies us and this second part focuses on our response.  If Christ really is our Sanctifier then how to we respond to him?  Does he just do this in our lives and we have no part to play?

Paul addresses this in Romans 6.  He begins with an interesting question about whether or not we should sin more so that grace may abound.  In other words, if it is amazing that grace covers a small amount of sin, then grace would be seen as even more amazing if the amount of sin was greater, so why not just keep on sinning.

Paul stands strongly against the idea that justification through Christ gives us a license to sin more.  Christ didn’t die to give us the freedom to sin, but rather freedom from sin.  We still have the capacity to sin, but sin has lost its power against us and we are freed from slavery to sin.

In the I Corinthians 1 passage, that we looked at in part I of this blog, we were reminded of the word redemption.  That word actually carries with it the connotation of being bought out of slavery.  Like slaves who have been freed, we too have been freed from slavery to sin.

But some slaves after they were freed, continued to live as slaves.  Slavery was all they knew for so long and they just didn’t really understand how to live in freedom.  We are the same way.  We too have been set free, but sometimes we still choose to let sin be our master.

Paul challenges us to realize that after dying on the cross Christ rose again in victory over sin and death and we share in that victory.  That is a promise for us for the future as we look forward to Heaven, but it is also a promise for us now.  In Christ, we can have victory over sin.

And that brings us to our response to Christ our Sanctifier.  There are two pieces to that response.  In Romans 6:11 Paul writes, “11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11, ESV) 

The word here translated as consider in verse 11 is actually a mathematical term.  It could be translated as count and can also mean something along the lines of reckon or to take into account.  So we are to take into account that we ourselves are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.  We are to look at our lives that way.

sancifier part 2In part 1 of this blog I introduced this sanctification graph that you saw at this top of the article to try and illustrate sanctification for us.  Here is the next part of that graph.  Let’s pick things up with the crisis moment.

In the Christian and missionary Alliance we talk about a crisis moment.  That simply represents that decisive turning point when we decide that we want Christ to be the Lord of our lives.  We want to be set apart from sin and set apart to Christ or using the words in this verse it is that moment when we choose to reckon ourselves as dead to sin and alive to Christ.

That is part one of our response.  Paul goes on in verses 12 -14 to point out a progressive day by day component that also exists.  “12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Rom. 6:12-14, ESV) 

These verses suggest an ongoing moment by moment and day by day living out of that crisis moment.  It is us time and again choosing to be set apart from sin and set apart to God.  I love the imagery in these verses.  This is a powerful way of viewing sin.  Paul is telling us to stop offering our eyes to pornography, and to stop offering our lips to gossip, and to stop offering our fists to anger, and so on.

This is not about trying harder to stop sinning, it is more along the lines of yielding.  Actually the word used for present in verse 13, is the Greek word that means to yield.  This is us submitting our lives to Christ as Lord and to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes when we think of Lordship as Christians we look at it as submitting our lives to Christ as master, and we look at the alternative as being free to do whatever we want.  But in reality this is talking about shifting from one master to another.  Rather than being mastered by sin, we are yielding to Christ as our Lord.  There is a decision implied in this concept, but also there is power.  We are not relying upon ourselves, but on the Lord to work in us.

We are still going to have ups and downs.  There will still be times when we are living this out and times when we are not, but there is a power implied that is beyond us as we are relying on Christ to do this work in us.

So let me share with you how this has played out in my life.  I became a Christian at an early age.  I grew up in the Church and was a good Christian boy, but I did not really have a deep walk with Christ.  My relationship with him was very superficial and I was more of a Jesus user than a Jesus follower.  I wasn’t terrible, but I was stuck in some sins like lust and pornography and overall I was struggling with my identity in Christ.

In my late 20’s I was sitting at a railroad track, waiting for a long train to come by.  I was feeling overwhelmed and discouraged in my relationship with Christ.  I called out to Christ at those railroad tracks that I wanted him to be the Lord of my life and that I needed his help, because I couldn’t do it on my own.

That was my crisis moment.  Then I needed to live that decision out moment by moment and day by day.  I started to get serious about not offering my eyes to pornography and my mind to lust and I started yielding my life more and more to Christ’s work and his will for my life. And I started to grow.

I still had my ups and downs, but the trajectory of my sanctification changed that day.  There is a definite upward trend that is there now that was not really there before that moment.  Sometimes it is hard for me to see the progress in the midst of the moments of life, but I can look back and see growth over time.

God has helped me to see victory over sins that used to enslave me.  He has helped me grow in Christ likeness and the fruit of the Spirit.  You can ask my wife and she will tell you that I am a very different man than I was when we got married.  I still am not perfect, but I am on a deeper walk with Christ than I was before that moment on those railroad tracks.  And Christ is doing a work in me that I could have never done on my own.  Christ is my sanctifier.

 

Christ our Sanctifier, Part I

pexel bible1Did you know that Western Union originally rejected the telephone, saying in an internal memo in 1876, “The device is inherently of no value to us.”  In 1903, the president of Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company, saying “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.”  In response to David Sarnoff’s urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s, his associates said, “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”

Sometimes really smart people make poor decisions simply because they think some really great idea is foolish.  In I Corinthians 1:17-31 Paul talks about how the gospel seems like foolishness to those who have rejected it, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

From an earthly perspective the message of the cross makes no sense.  How could a man who was put to death on a cross be of benefit to anyone?  Why should someone stop going their own way and follow this Christ who had been put to death?  But the message of the cross is not just some instruction about how to live, it is about accepting the sacrifice of someone who died, to bring us abundant life.

Actually the way this is written in the Greek suggests that those who are perishing are destroying themselves, while those who are being saved are saved not by what they do, but by what is being done for them.  The message of the cross is not instruction for how to live, but life-giving power for those who believe.

Paul talks about how the Jews were looking for signs and yet when Christ came they missed him because he was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting.  So to the Jews, Jesus was a stumbling block.  They thought there was no way he could be the Messiah.  So they killed him.  Meanwhile, the Greeks were seeking wisdom.  They had the great philosophers of the day desiring to know answers to the great questions of life and the universe.  These great philosophers studied the world and applied their wisdom to life. To them the idea of Jesus was folly.

Man is very arrogant.  We naturally think we know everything and can handle anything.  We are taught from an early age to be independent.  But God turned things upside down when he sent Christ.  Through the work of Jesus Christ our sins can be forgiven and we can receive eternal life and this is a free gift that we simply receive by faith. To those who are willing respond to this seemingly foolish message and to proclaim their need for a Savior, God gives abundant life.

And notice what Paul says in verses 30-31, “30 And because of him[e] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor. 1:30-31, ESV)

So Paul is writing to a Christian group.  He is addressing the church.  And he reminds them of what has happened in their lives through Christ.  He speaks of Jesus Christ becoming wisdom from God to us.  This contrasts with the wisdom of the world.  The wisdom of the world does not have the power to save us, but Christ does, and therein lies true wisdom.

Then Paul talks about what happens in us through Christ by using three words: righteousness, sanctification and redemption. The word righteousness basically means to be put in right standing with God.  We are declared righteous by God, because of the sacrifice of Christ.  The word redemption refers to being bought back.  It suggests a ransom and that a price was paid for us.  It has ties to the concept of slavery and being bought out of that.  The word sanctification means to be separate or set apart.  Specifically in this context it would be set apart from sin and set apart to God.  It refers to our holiness or the process of holiness in our lives.

I want to dig into this word a little more.  So let me try and illustrate it visually for us.

sanctifier

 

 

Imagine if this graph represented our sanctification, as if we could quantify it.  The top is 100% fully sanctified and down at the bottom is 0, representing someone who is going their own way, doing their own thing, not set apart for God at all.  That doesn’t mean that they are a bad or good person, but specifically whether or not they are set apart from sin and to God.

At the point of conversion, when we receive Christ into our lives, there are some things that happen to us immediately.  One of those things is that we are declared righteous, justified, or sanctified in God’s eyes because of the work of Christ.

In other words, when God looks at us, he sees us as clothed in Christ’s righteousness rather than covered in our sin.  So at that moment we are placed in the position of sanctified based on Christ’s work in our lives.  One day when we get to Heaven, we will be given new resurrected bodies and things will be like God intended, completely perfect and we will be glorified.

But between now and then, if we are honest with ourselves, while we may realize that God sees us right now positionally as sanctified, that is not the actual condition of our lives.   We know that we are not perfect.  We still sin, we still mess up, we are still not fully set apart from sin and set apart for God all the time.  If we looked at the actual condition of our lives, and how much we are living like Christ, it would probably be more along the lines of a rocky up and down kind of following of God.

The question is, do we want more than that?  I think in the church today we almost treat Christianity as if it is about praying a prayer so that when we die we will go to Heaven rather than Hell, but it does not really make that much difference in our day to day lives.  So we are okay with an up and down following of Christ.  However, if we are truly disciples of Christ, then that means that we are supposed to be in the process of becoming like the one we are following.  That is what Christ has called us toward.

And we are not just looking ahead to eternal life in Heaven, God has promised us abundant life right now.  He wants us to be victorious as we walk through this life, experiencing victory over sin, receiving his blessing and best for us today.  He wants us to be walking in a newness of life that he has for us that I think many times we fail to grasp as Christians.  And the only way for us to walk in that newness of life is by relying on the work of Christ who sanctifies us.  Sanctification is not about cleaning up our lives and doing a better job of being a good Christian it is about relying upon the work of Christ in us.  He is our sanctifier.

Think about the context of this passage.  Paul has been pointing out throughout the preceding verses, the folly of man’s wisdom compared to the power of God.  Just as we could never save ourselves we also cannot transform our lives into Christ-likeness.  We need Christ to do that in us.  Christ is not done with us at the point of conversion.  He doesn’t stop with salvation, but continues on in our lives.  He is our Sanctifier.

That flies in the face of earthly wisdom.  This world would say that it’s up to you.  You need to work hard.  You need to get it done.  You need to try harder.  It is foolishness in the world’s eyes to rely upon Christ as Savior or Sanctifier, but that is exactly what we need to do.

So what is our response?  If Christ is our Sanctifier, how do we respond to him?  That’s a great question.  Check out the next blog to find out more.

Christ our Savior

pexel cross 1For the last forty years the Heimlich maneuver has been synonymous with the abdominal thrust procedure for saving someone from choking. This method is named after a surgeon from Cincinnati named Dr. Henry Heimlich who apparently published this idea in an essay in the Emergency Medicine journal in June, 1974.  Over the years this maneuver has been used to save the lives of many people who were choking.

But did you know that Dr. Heimlich never actually used the maneuver to save someone from choking until just a few weeks ago at the age of 96?  He was apparently having dinner at his retirement home when a woman nearby began chocking and for the first time he used the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of this 87 year old woman.

What does it mean to save someone?  It basically means to rescue someone from harm.  In Titus 3:3-7, we read: “3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7, ESV)

Notice that Paul begins with the words we were.  He doesn’t say they are, but we were.  We were foolish, we were disobedient and so on.  He is describing himself and Titus, and all followers of Christ, before we became followers of Christ. This helps us identify ourselves with those around us who do not know Christ and reminds us of who we are without grace.

And then we see one of the most wonderful words in all of Scripture.  The word “but.”  That word carries with it a whole lot of implication.   Paul says this is who we were, but then Christ came into the picture. And he connects the word “but” with the goodness and loving kindness of God.  He points out all of the stuff about who we used to be and then the word “but” is there because God loves mankind so much and he is so good that he worked redemptively for us by sending Jesus.

Then Paul points out that we are saved not by what we do, but by what has been done for us.  We could never earn salvation.  We could never have been good enough on our own.  Actually without Christ we were enemies of God, going our own way, as if he didn’t even exist.  But God saved us, because of his mercy.

God rescued us from sin, from guilt, from death, from hell, but he also saved us from being separated from him.  We were created to live in fellowship with God.  Sin messed that up, but through Christ God restored the opportunity for that relationship to be restored.

Paul points out that we are saved through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.   That’s kind of confusing, so lets break it down.  We were unclean because of our sin, and that separated us from God, so we needed to be washed.  But that washing is combined with regeneration and renewal.  The word regeneration basically means rebirth.  It implies something that was old being reborn.  Renewal refers to being made new.  The Holy spirit washes our sins away and gives us new life in Christ.

This is not something we could ever have done in our own lives.  We cannot wash ourselves from sin.  We cannot give birth to a new nature in us.  We need to have this done for us. And that is what the Holy Spirit does.

It is also beautiful to see that phrase poured out on us richly.  That gives us the image of a generous God who is lavishing us with his love, kindness, and mercy.  He is not being stingy.  He is not holding back.  He is not treating us as our sins deserve or giving us just a little bit of grace, he pours out this amazing grace on our lives.

And then in verse 7 Paul brings in the word justified.  This is a legal term that basically means to be declared righteous.  It is as if we are standing in a courtroom awaiting a guilty verdict that we deserve and the judge declares us not guilty. One of the things that happens in our lives through the work of Christ is that his sacrifice covers our sins, so that when God looks at us, rather than seeing our sin, he sees Christ’s righteousness and we are declared justified in his sight. We also become heirs who are welcomed in to the family of God and are given the inheritance of eternity with him in Heaven.

So when we talk about Christ our Savior, this is what we are referring to.  Jesus died on the cross in order for us to be saved.  And make no doubt about it, we needed rescuing.  We could not save ourselves.  Christ is our Savior.

Let me illustrate it this way…

savior1Way back in the beginning with Adam and Eve, God created things good and perfect.  We even get the sense from the book of Genesis that God walked with man in the Garden.  God created man to live forever in fellowship with him.

 

 

Butsavior2 sin entered the picture and broke that fellowship.  Sin wrecked the perfect good reality that God had
created.  And man was separated from God.  Like verse 3 said, we were going our own way, astray from God, slaves to sin separated from God.  And as we know from Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. We were faced with an eternity of separation from God.

 

savior3But god loved us so much that he sent us a Savior.  Jesus died on the cross, so that our sins could be washed away, we could be declared righteous, and we could be made new, brought back to a right relationship with God and given the hope of eternal life.

 

 

savior4So how do we receive this gift?  How do we respond to this message?  In Romans 10:9,10 we read,  “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9,10, ESV)  

 

That is our response.  We need to admit that we believe that Christ came to save us and that we want him to be our Savior.  That’s it.  If you are reading this post and have some questions or if you have responded to this Gospel message and would like to talk with someone about it, please email me at office@riveralliance.com

 

Father Abraham

pexel faithAbraham is one of the most famous fathers mentioned in the Bible.  According to my best calculations, Abraham or Abram as he is first called is mentioned 287 times in the Bible, including about 73 times in the New Testament alone.  He is all over the place.  Typically when talking about him we might turn to the book of Genesis which chronicles his life, his early calling from God and the way he followed God toward the promised land.  Or we might check out the book of Hebrews where he is talked about in several verses in chapter 11, which is considered the faith hall of fame.  But I want to look instead at a letter from Paul to the church in Galatia where Paul mentions Abraham a few times as he talks about faith.

Apparently the Galatian church had run into a problem.  Some Jewish teachers had infiltrated the church with some bad theology.  They were encouraging the people that in order to be Christians, they not only had to accept Christ as Savior, but also had to conform to the Mosaic law.  It is like they were combining salvation by Grace with salvation by works.  But in Galatians 3 Paul is challenging them to not go back to trying to be justified by the law after having been justified by faith.

Paul actually calls them foolish.  He is not saying that they were mentally challenged or that their IQ was not high enough.  That would actually be a different Greek word.  The word he chooses to use suggests that they had the capacity to understand, but were choosing to act in a way that didn’t make sense.  They were being irrational.  He even asked who bewitched them.  As if they must have been hypnotized or someone cast a spell on them for them to believe something so confounding.

Paul was fighting a battle in the early days of Christianity.  The church was struggling to define their theology of salvation.  When the Gospel was being spread solely among the Jews it was a different kind of battle.  They were already in the tradition of following the Mosaic law and they recognized that the law could not save them, but that Christ could.  So they responded to the Gospel.  But then when the Gospel started to be taken to the Gentiles and they began to believe, some of the Jews were taken aback by the way that the Gentiles lived.  The Jews wanted the Gentiles to change their behaviors in order to be saved.

So what is so bad about that?  Is it wrong to expect that when someone becomes a Christian that they should be living differently?  The problem is that the church in Galatia was in danger of moving in the direction of a doctrine that combined grace and works.  But if we can work hard enough to earn salvation, then it is no longer grace.  Grace is receiving something that we didn’t or couldn’t earn.

We need to recognize the importance of sound doctrine.  As Christians we do not all need to go to seminary or become theologians, but we all need to know what we believe.  There are plenty of theological points that we can ponder and debate, but there are some, like our doctrine on salvation, that form the foundation of what we believe.  We need to protect those foundational points because others might seek to tear them down by adding or taking away from what we believe.   For the church in Galatia it was legalism, for us it might be universalism. We need to hold on to the Gospel and not waiver from sound doctrine.

Paul is setting the Galatians straight and he uses Abraham as an example.  Take a look at verses 6-9:  “6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:6-9)

Notice that the verse says counted to him as righteousness.  That word doesn’t mean earned, but more like credited.  Paul is saying that Abraham wasn’t declared righteous because of circumcision or following the law.  Abraham didn’t even have the Mosaic law yet.  That law wouldn’t come for hundreds of years.  Abraham was declared righteous because of faith, not because of what he did or didn’t do.

And the same is true of us.  Look at how Paul says that those of faith are sons of Abraham.  Have you ever thought of yourself as a son or daughter of Abraham?  When I was growing up I sang the song, “Father Abraham” at camp.  I knew the song, but nobody ever explained it to me.  It didn’t make any sense.  As far as I know I am not even part Jewish, so how am I a son of Abraham?

Notice that in verse 8 Paul uses the phrase, “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.”  This is a very important verse for the Biblical Foundation of the Gospel.  I teach on this verse in day three of my Biblical Evangelism class at Crown College.   This verse references a passage that is a well-known point in Abraham’s life.  It is referencing Genesis 12:1-3 where God calls Abram to follow him and gives him some promises.

One of the promises that God makes is that he will bless all the families of the earth through Abram.  So from early on God set aside Abraham and his descendants to use them to declare himself to the world.  And in Galatians 3:8 Paul refers to that and calls it the Gospel.  Down through the ages one of Abraham’s descendants would be the messiah, Jesus.  And through him salvation would be offered to the whole world.

So often we treat the Old Testament and New Testament as if they are not part of the same story.  But God has one story throughout Scripture.  This passage shows us that even way back in Genesis 12 God had a plan for saving all of mankind through the work of Christ, a descendant of Abraham.

And as Paul points out in Galatians 3:9, if we have faith in Christ and are followers of his, then we have this connection with Abraham.  He is our father too.  He is the father of all those who would one day, eventually believe in Christ.  That is how we are sons and daughters of Abraham.

And as sons of Abraham, we too should carry on that role of being a blessing to all nations. We are God’s people and he wants to use us to declare himself to this world.

And like Abraham, we are declared righteous because of our faith not because of what we do.  Abraham is an amazing example of obedience.  But he was declared righteous because of his faith and the same is true of us.

That is why Christianity stands out so much from all of the other religions in the world.  Everyone else is expected to earn their salvation, but we are expected to receive our salvation by grace recognizing that we could never earn it.

So let’s stop trying so hard to earn it.  I know so many Christians who are worn out and tired and who feel like failures.  I want to remind us today, that we don’t earn a thing.  Christ is our Savior.  He is the one who did the work, and he is the one who is still at work transforming our lives.  We can stop striving so hard to be good Christians.  We can stop judging ourselves so harshly and comparing ourselves with those around us.  We are saved by Grace that is received through faith, not by works.  Christ is our Savior!

 

 

 

Traps and Snares

pexel trapOne of my best friends in college was a kid named Eric.  He was a country boy from the farmlands around Lancaster, PA.  We were very different.  He grew up hunting and fishing, hanging out in the woods and living on a chicken farm and I grew up playing games at the video arcade and hanging out at the mall.

At one point Eric had to take a speech class and one of the assignments was to give a persuasive speech.  Eric came up with the bright idea to do a speech on trapping animals.  He wanted to talk about how using traps to catch animals was actually a very humane way of capturing them.

He decided that the best way to do that was to bring a trap to class and during his speech he would set it off on his own hand to show that it was not that bad.  Unfortunately he did not practice that part and so he found out in the middle of the speech that it hurt a lot worse than he thought it would.

No doubt there are some traps that are much more humane than that trap that Eric used in speech class.  But no matter how non-lethal a trap is, the purpose is still the same.  The purpose of a trap is to lure and ensnare an unsuspecting victim.

In Luke 17:1-4 Jesus talks about traps.  He is not talking about the physical ones like Eric was referring to in his speech, but about spiritual traps and snares in the form of temptation and false teaching.

In verse 1 Jesus tells his disciples that temptations to sin are sure to come.  That means that we should expect temptation to be a normal and regular part of our lives.  The original Greek version of the phrase “temptations to sin” in this passage actually uses the word skandala which means something along the lines of a snare or a trap.  It is translated as stumbling blocks in the New American Standard Bible.  In other words it is referring to the things that trip us up and cause us to fall.

That is an accurate word picture for us.   Think about it like a snare laid out on the ground in our path that is specifically there with the purpose of tripping us up.  Because of our sin nature we see those traps as desirable, or harmless, but the concept of a trap or a snare is that it’s very purpose is to cause us to fall.  We need to recognize temptation for what it is.

We also need to realize that Satan wants us to trip and fall and that he is actively trying to destroy our relationship with God.  We need to be aware of his schemes and the traps and snares that he intentionally puts in our way.

When those temptations arise we have the opportunity to choose to follow what we know to be God’s will for us or we can embrace the temptation and move into sin.  The more we choose to follow God’s will and turn away from sin, the more we are going to get to know God’s will and be able to recognize those stumbling blocks and snares for what they are.  Unfortunately the opposite is also true. The more we choose to ignore God’s will and choose to give our bodies over to sin, the less we are going to be able to understand God’s will and the more likely we are going to be fall into those tempting traps.

While we are saved by grace and not by our ability to stay away from bad things, choosing to ignore God’s will and give ourselves to sin, leads us down a path away from God.  Sin is a harsh slave master.  Temptation looks all nice and pretty and desirable, but it is a snare and it leads to slavery.

Jesus goes on in verse 1 to specifically challenge us to not be the ones leading people into those snares.  When I was younger I watched movies that contained nudity.  Over the years I started specifically staying away from those kind of movies because I know that is a temptation that I should avoid.  However, when I was younger, not only did I watch those movies, I also watched them with friends or with my younger brother.  That means that I was not just exposing myself to temptation, I was exposing them to it as well.  And in this verse Jesus is saying woe to those who would do that.

In verse 2 he goes on to point out that it would be better to have a millstone hung around his neck than to cause a little one to sin.  A millstone was a heavy, flat stone that was used to crush grain.  Imagine for a moment the terrible death these words are illustrating.  And yet Jesus is saying that it would be better for that to happen than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

I look back at my life with a lot of regrets for what I was like in high school, college, and early adult life.  It was not that I was terrible, but I probably had more bad influence on people than I had good influence and I didn’t even realize it.  I probably had heard this verse, but I never really connected the dots to myself.

We need to recognize the role we play in the temptation of others.  In verses 3 and 4 Jesus goes on to point out that it is not even enough for us to just not have a negative influence on others, we have to take it a step further.  Jesus challenges us to confront our brothers when they sin.  This means that if we see one another sinning we are not supposed to ignore it, we are to confront one another.  We don’t do this to condemn them, but to lead them to repentance.  And if they repent we are to forgive them, even if we have been wronged in the process.

These verses are a powerful reminder of the important role we play in one another’s lives.  Imagine us all walking on a path together like some kind of giant nature hike.  As we walk, we need to recognize that there are traps and snares all over the place that would trip us up and cause us to fall.  We need to be watching out for them, not just for us, but for one another as well.  We need to point out the traps as we walk and we need to be especially making sure that we are not the ones leading people into those traps.   Then, if one of our brothers falls into a trap, we should be there alongside them to help them out and to help them get back on their feet.  It is like we are walking this path together, and we care for one another along the way, helping each other on this journey of following the Lord.

 

Discerning God’s Will

pexel one wayI was recently asked a question about discerning God’s will.  How do we know what God wants us to do?  I believe that Romans 12:1-2 is a great passage to help us answer that question.  In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul uses the word therefore in verse 1.  That is important because we need to pause and connect what he is about to say with what has been said.  Now the word therefore in this case actually marks a transition not just from chapter 11 to chapter 12, but from Paul’s overall direction up until this point to what he is going to talk about through the rest of this letter.  In the first 11 chapters of this book Paul has been focused on doctrine and now he is challenging them to put that into practice in the way that they live for Christ.

He also uses the word appeal.  That word can also be translated as urge or exhort.  He is challenging them with a bit of authority.  It is stronger than just asking.  So considering all of this great stuff about God that they have learned in the first 11 chapters, Paul now challenges them on how they are to live.

He begins by telling them to present their bodies as living sacrifices.  Let’s break that down a little bit.  A sacrifice is basically offering, giving up or dedicating something.  Like in the OT when the people would bring a lamb to be sacrificed on the altar.  But Paul here is talking about a living sacrifice.  That means that it is still something that is given or dedicated, but it is not killed like the OT sacrifices were.  The living sacrifice he is referring to here is our bodies.  So putting all of this together, Paul is talking about our lives being given or dedicated to God.

Notice also that Paul tells them to present their bodies as living sacrifices.  That might seem like they are to work really hard to be a good Christian, but that word present can also be seen as offer or yield.  I would suggest that yield is a great way for us to understand what Paul is talking about here.

The word yield means to give way or submit.  So yielding our lives to the Lord as living sacrifices would be like submitting ourselves to him and his plans for us rather than our plans for ourselves.

Paul then goes on to talk about not being conformed to this world.  The word there carries the idea of us being squeezed into a mold.  We are constantly being bombarded by messages from this world about what we are supposed to look like, want, desire, believe, feel or think about things.  And much of what the world suggests is contrary to God’s will.

But Paul is saying, don’t let that stuff corrupt our thinking.  Don’t let the world dictate what we believe or think.  God has something better for us.  God is calling us away from this world and toward him.  Rather than being conformed by this world, he is calling us to a transformation.

You know the word for transformed there is the word from which we get our word metamorphosis.  The way this is written suggests a continual renewing of the mind.  He will give us a new way of thinking that may not make sense to this world, but God’s knows what is best for us and he will show us a better way.  This continual renewing of our mind then will lead us into God’s will.  The more we yield to his plans for us, then the more we will be able to understand what God really wants for us.

So let’s get back to the original question.  I know this is the big picture answer.  It is kind of a long term approach to answering this question, but this is how we know God’s will.  It is through choosing moment by moment and day by day to yield our lives to God that we get to know his will.

The problem is typically when we ask this question, it is that we want to know God’s will right now about a particular situation.  Paul is describing much more of a long term process.  He is pointing out to us that we need to grow in this area and it will take time of gradually, more and more being able to discern his will.  If we are not yielding to God moment, by moment and day by day, then it is going to be hard to know his will for a one time event.  So the first thing that I want to impress upon us is to start with these basics.  Let’s begin yielding our lives to God as living sacrifices, choosing his way instead of our own and over time we will be growing in our discernment of God’s will.

But I am not totally sure that that answers the intent of this question and I think there is also something here for the times when we want to know the will of God as we make decisions in our lives.  Notice this idea of not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Too often when we are faced with a decision, the main things we consider are the things of this world.  Most of the time we make decisions based on the same way the world makes decisions.  We tend to weigh the pros and cons like finances, happiness, future possibilities and things like that.

We need to stop letting worldly priorities dictate our choices and instead earnestly seek Gods will.  You know there are plenty of things that we know to be God’s will that we choose to ignore when we are trying to make a decision. Sometimes I am faced with a choice that makes all the sense in the world, but it kind of steps on some of the things that I already know to be true about God’s will. Many times we choose to ignore those things or compromise them just a little bit, so that we can grab hold of a bigger paycheck or some measure of enjoyment that we so desperately want for ourselves.  When we do that, we are letting ourselves be conformed by this world, rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

I believe that if we lessen the voice of this world and stop listening so much to what this world says is best, and if we focus on the stuff we already know to be true about God’s will,  then while that may not give us a definite answer it is going to narrow things down quite a bit and help us be able to see things more clearly as we try to discern God’s will.

 

 

Does God Contradict Himself?

pexel gravesI was recently asked the question, “why does God contradict himself?”  This person was focusing on how God says, “thou shalt not kill,” but then there were lots of times in the Old Testament where he called for whole cities to be wiped out, which seems a lot like genocide.  Have you ever struggled to put together something you believe about God with the way you see him act in Scripture?

Before I consider the specific example, I think it is important to take a look at the big picture.  In 2 Timothy 2 Paul is challenging and encouraging his young apprentice in his pastoral role, and he wraps up the passage with an interesting quote in verses 11-13: 11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

So Paul seems to be quoting something here, but it is not Scripture.  Some scholars believe it was a saying or possibly even a hymn within the early church.  We don’t know.  It seems to connect with the previous two verses where Paul talked about his own personal suffering in prison.

The first half of this statement connects with the hope of resurrection that awaits us as Christians.  Those who believe in Jesus, have had their sins forgiven, are brought back to a right relationship with God and can look forward to eternal life in Heaven.

The quote then moves on to those who have denied Christ.  This word is sometimes translated disown and suggests a deliberate choice to not follow Jesus as Lord.  So Paul is saying that if we deny Christ, that he will deny us.  If we don’t accept him, he won’t accept us.  Now that sounds harsh, but God has offered his free gift of salvation to the whole world, and those who deny him or turn their backs on that free gift will also be denied.  Those who accept Christ will be accepted, but if you want nothing to do with him, then that is your choice.

But then Paul’s quote moves on to one final point that I think brings out an important characteristic about God that is good for us to consider regarding our question for today.

Paul talks about being faithless.  That doesn’t mean to not have faith, it means to be unworthy of faith.  It means not doing what would be considered faithful.  We are faithless a lot.  We mess up and don’t keep our end of our covenant with God.  We go our own way, do our own thing, and faithlessly fail to live out what we say we believe.

But notice that this quote says that even though we are faithless God remains faithful.  That means he always keeps up his side of the covenant.  And Paul points out that God remains faithful because he cannot deny himself.

This means that God is who he is, all the time.  We talk about how God can do anything, but one thing he can’t do is something that is contrary to his nature.  Who God is, is who God is.  He will always act in a way that is true to his nature.

So what does that have to do with our question for today?  It means that God doesn’t contradict himself.  So we need to take what we know to be true about God and let that influence how we understand the things that don’t make sense.

Now, I understand that actions need to back up words.  I don’t like hypocrites any more than you do.  Sometimes people say one thing and do the opposite and so we tend to judge people more by what they do, than by who they tell us they are.  That is understandable, but it is also not entirely informed. Sometimes we might see someone do something and misconstrue what is really going on.

We see this all the time in situation comedies on television.  They are great at creating circumstances where someone sees someone else doing something but only gets part of the story and it leads to a whole bunch of funny outcomes.

Allowing someone’s actions to dictate what we believe about them is ok, but it is not complete, because we may not really understand what is going on.  If we know their character and we see something that doesn’t fit with that character, we are probably going to give them the benefit of the doubt, because we know them.  We should do the same with God.

I believe that if we hold on to what God says about who he is in Scripture, it is okay to wrestle with the things that don’t make sense.  But we have to do that while maintaining a firm grasp on what God has already revealed to us about himself.

So how about we start with what we see here in 2 Timothy that God does not deny himself.  He will always act in a way that is consistent with his nature.  We also know from James 1 that God is the same, yesterday, today and forever and does not change like shifting shadows.  And in Numbers we are reminded that God does not lie.  So if we believe all of that, then we can hold on to those truths and wrestle with any apparent contradictions we think we see.

So let’s apply that to our earlier example of the apparent genocide we see God commanding in the Old Testament compared to the command to not kill in the 10 commandments.

There is not some simple, easy answer, but let me first point out that technically speaking, the Hebrew word in the 10 commandments could be translated either as kill or murder.  And there is a difference.  Killing in a war or executing a person for crimes he has committed or killing someone while defending yourself from someone are very different than murdering someone in cold blood.  On the flip side, we could look at the word murder referring to unlawful killing.  With that in mind, even if we are against all forms of killing we would recognize the difference between killing and murder.  So comparing what we see God commanding the armies of Israel to do in a war is not the same thing as committing murder which is probably what the 10 commandments are referring to.

But when God has the Israelites wipe out an entire town, what do we do that?  Is God really commanding genocide?  That is a tougher question, but if I hold on to what I know to be true about God I can wrestle with that question as well.

In Exodus 34 God declared to Moses who he is and he said this about himself, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

In that description I see a God who is loving, merciful and gracious, and yet also holy and just and aggressive in his dealings with sin.  Those are both facets of his character.  I think sometimes we only want to think about God as being loving, merciful and gracious.  But that is not a complete picture of God.  It is only in light of his holiness and justness that we can real understand his love and mercy.

God could have wiped us all off the face of this world because of our stubborn refusal to obey him and he would have been totally justified.  What should amaze us more is not when he chooses to show wrath, but when he chooses to show mercy, because we all deserve death.

Now I know that is a very imperfect explanation, but I think we also need to consider that the Old Testament was a long time ago and it was a very different time in the life of man, that we do not understand.   Things have changed a lot over the history of man, through the dark ages and medieval times and then on to where we are today.  And while God doesn’t change, man does and therefore God’s dealings with man, while coming from the same character, look different depending on our viewpoint.  So ultimately I believe God is who he says he is and that he will not contradict himself, and I continue to trust in him even if there are some of the things that I do not understand.

 

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