Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Word Word

1 Peter 1:23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

The Word "Word"
When we read of the word "word" in this text, we are looking a description that could either be referring to the Bible, the written "word" or Jesus Christ, the "living word". (Psalm 119:105; John 1:1).  The word "word" that is used for both is the Greek word "logos", from whence we derive our English words "logic" and "logical". The term "logos" (word) refers to the characteristic of both the Bible and Christ that serves to reveal the otherwise invisible God.   The Bible fully and accurately brings to us the will, words and voice of God.  Jesus Christ fully and accurately makes known the Person, Power and glory of God. 

The relationship between "The Written Word" and "The Living Word"
The Bible, the "written Word of God", points and centers upon "The Living Word" Jesus Christ.  Jesus speaks of the the Old Testament scriptures as pointing to Himself. (Luke 24:44)  Likewise, Christ came to fulfill the written Word.   The Holy Spirit says in 1 Peter 1:10-11 - "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow."   Thus the ministry of God's "written Word" and the majesty of God the Living Word cannot be separated. 

What you think about the Bible, you think about Jesus Christ
John 1:1 states - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  Psalm 119:105 tells us  "Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path."  As we have already witnessed, both are intregal to the other.  In more ways than you and I realize, what we say about the Bible, we end up saying about Jesus Christ.  Conversely, what you say about Jesus Christ, you say about the Bible.  We know this by the commonality shared between Jesus Christ and the Bible:

1. Jesus Christ is Fully Divine and Fully Human as One Person. (Colossians 1:16, 2:9)
    The Bible is s fully Divine and Human Book. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21)

2. Jesus Christ is the source of the Christian life. (John 11:25)
    The Bible is responsible for the beginning of the Christian life. (James 1:18)

3. Jesus Christ leads and guides believers. (John 10)
    God leads and guides believers through the Bible. (Psalm 119:124)

4. Jesus Christ is without error in His humanity or Deity. (1 Peter 1:21-22; Heb 7:26)
    The Bible is without error in its literary and Divine qualities. (Ps 119:96; Proverbs 30:5) 

Furthermore, there are passages that use the word "word" in such a way as to make it possible to refer to either Jesus Christ (The Living Word) or the Bible (The living Word)

1 Peter 1:23 above could either be referring to Jesus Christ as the living and enduring Word of God (John 1:1, 14) or the Bible as the Living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:25)  Another text, Hebrews 4:12, though easily referring to the Bible's qualitiy as a living book, could easily too refer to Jesus Christ the Living Word.

To say that the Bible has errors, or that the Bible is not sufficient is to say the exact same thing about Jesus Christ.  May we prize the scriptures, since in doing so we prize Christ, the Living Word. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Great debate: Is the Bible or the Quran God's word

1 Kings 18:21 Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people did not answer him a word.

Debating which is the Word of God - the Bible or the Quran
Years ago I got involved in a ministry whose purpose was to bring the claims of scripture and Jesus Christ to Muslims.  A handful of other Christians and myself met with Mosque leadership to plan what would be an open forum "debate" on an agreed upon topic.  The first topic was to be "Which is the Word of God, the Bible or the Quran?".

The night of the debate had come.  30 other Christians came with me as we entered into the main part of the Mosque.  Men and women were separated.  The main room where we held the debate had a table, a moderator, the speaker for the Muslim side and myself, representing the Biblical position.  I remember praying to God for wisdom and guidance, since the Muslim speaker was a professor at a university.  Both of us each had twenty minutes to present our case, with 20 minutes following for discussion and question and answer.

An unexpected question: what is Betelgeuse?
After each of us had spoken, the moderator opened up the floor for questions.  About 100 men were present, and many of them asked the Muslim speaker and myself several questions.  Then a little boy of about 8 years of age raised his hand.  The moderator acknowledged him, and he asked this obscure question: "Does the Bible or the Quran say anything about Betelgeuse (bee-tle-joose)?"

The moderator looked at the Muslim speaker?  The Muslim speaker shrugged his shoulders.  I began to pray, as well as those fellow Christians who were in the crowd.  Then the little Muslim boy asked the same question again!  The moderator looked puzzled?  The Muslim speaker also was uncertain of the meaning of the question.  As I prayed, God brought to mind Job 38:31 - "Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, Or loose the cords of Orion?" 

The Bible alone had the answer to their questions
As I thumbed through my Bible, I aksed the Moderator if I could respond to the boy's question.  I pointed out that the text was speaking about the constellation Orion.  I also asked the boy if the mysterious "Betelgeuse" was in reference to a large Red Super Giant Star in the constellation Orion?  The little boy vigorously shook his head in the affirmative.  I told the crowd that in that constellation, there is evidence of stellar activity wherein the gravitational pull of the stars fights against the hot gases pushing against them.  God began to reveal how the Bible described this constellation accurately. 

By the time I had finished, every Muslim was shocked that the Bible had answered a question that the Quran could not address.  For the next three hours every believer in the crowd was surrounded by Muslims asking questions about the Bible.  I can recall hearing comments such as "I did not know the Bible had so many answers" or "I was told all my life that the Bible had nothing to say".  Truly that night God elevated His word above the Koran, demonstrating the Bible to be the Living book of God, and the Koran to be nothing but a book of men. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Bible is in a class by itself

2 Timothy 3:15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Why is the Bible so special and unique?
Over the past few days we have been exploring the exclusivity of the God of the Bible, noting that there is only one way to Him, since He is by nature the God of truth.  Some may object and ask why such statements can be made, since the Bible would of course argue for the exclusvity of Christianity over against other religions.  Is the Bible unique in the the world of all other religious books?  Lets find out three reasons why the Bible is in a class by itself - and thus is the Word of God.

1. The Bible was composed over a longer period of time, by more authors, than any other religious book
As a piece of literature, both from antiquity to modern times, no other book has had more human authors than the Bible.  40 different authors are responsible for the literary side of its composition.  Furthermore, beginning with Moses in 1446 b.c up to the Apostle John in 96 A.D, from Genesis to Revelation repesents roughly 1500 years!  No book knows of such a length of time to complete! 

Despite the length of its composition, the Bible displays remarkable unity of message and flow of thought.  Its wonderful purpose is the glory of God, its work is the salvation of God and its wonderful focus is the Son of God.  It was written by farmers, poets, kings, prophets, statesmen, theologians, preachers, historians and other types of men.  The diversity of human authorship, and unity of thought, demonstrates the Single Divine Author breathing out each word - God Himself.  The Bible for sure is a book written by men, however it is a book that is Divinely originated from God.  It is not a religious book, it is a revealed book.

Other religious books suffer from lack of unity and diversity
When you survey other "so-called" holy books, you will note that they were written by one person, or unknown people of unknown or questionable character, or within a limited time and circumstance.  Books such as the Quran or the Book of Mormon were each written by one man - displaying a very limited point of view.  Furthermore, both also display lack of unity in their message and composition. 

2. The Bible was composed on three continents and in three different languages
Did you ever think of the Bible, in terms of its literary traits, as being a multi-cultural book?  It is a book of the far east, written in the languages of Hebrew and Aramaic.  Its settings are as diverse as the deserts of Egypt to the courts of the Kings of Persia to the roadways of Israel.  It is a book of European thought, written in the language of the Greeks.  In the Bible, East meets West, and Eternity meets History.  On the cross, the Bible tells us that Jesus' title: "King of the Jews" was written in three languages of Greek, Aramaic and Latin.  God was revealing the fact that from this specific book - the Bible, and from that specific Savior, Jesus Christ, would come forth His command for all men everywhere to repent.

The limitations of other religious books
No other book, claiming to be God's revelation to the world, has these traits.  The Koran, the book of Islam, was composed in the land of Arabia, in Arabic - a book that is time bound and geographically limited.  The Book of Mormon is a North American book, built on the fable of Native Americans being the descendants of the Jewish people.  Outside of North America, the Book of Mormon quickly demonstrates its inability to be a book binding the consciences of all men. The point being that the Bible alone, as a literary work, qualifies to make claims on people everywhere.  By virtue of its Divine authorship, the Bible alone is God's tool for converting the hearts of men and women. (Psalm 19:7; James 1:18)  No other book can do that.  The Bible is the living book of God, whereas all others are dead letters of men.

3. The Bible has hundreds of fulfilled prophecies, no other religious book as even one example
The Bible is a book full of predictive prophecy that can be shown to have fulifllment in history and archaelogical records.  By the time Jesus Christ died on the cross and raised from the dead, over 330 prophecies from the Old Testament had been fulfilled.  Fulifilled prophecy is the chief mark of Divine inspiration, since human beings are bound by the present, and can only recount the past.  The ability to accurately and with detail forecast future events can only have one explanation - A Divine One. 

Nostradomas has nothing on the Bible
When you survey the other books of the other religions of the world, you will not find one example of fulfilled predictive prophecy.  Everytime I see shows about Nostradomas, I shake my head, knowing that 60% of what he wrote was wrong on predictions or too vague.  Every so-called event he predicted is read back into after the fact.  According to Deuteronomy 13:13-18 and Isaiah 41:21-23, if a man gets the future right less than 100% and points people in another direction other than the True God of glory, that man is 100% wrong!  If anything, the Bible is a book in a class by itself. Its prophecies were always 100% right and highly specific!  The alone can be called "The Word of God".  It is in a class by itself.    

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why truth matters for now and eternity

Jude 3 "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."

As solid as the case is for the Bible's argument for the exclusivity of salvation, we still have the issue of 51% of people in American churches denying such a reality.  Why?  I submit that the issue revolves around the denial of truth itself. 

How Western culture has changed its view of truth in the past 200 years 
Pilate asked Jesus in John 18:38 "what is truth?"  Many observers have termed our culture to be a "post-modern" culture.  Post-modernism implies the passing of a period of time called "modernism".  Modernism or "modernity" was a movement beginning over 200 years ago that asserted the ability of human beings to individually arrive at discovery of "objective, universal truth".  Positively Modernity still clung to the idea of "objective truth" outside of the observer, however in doing so, the movement replaced Biblical revelation and enthorned human reason as the chief way of knowing such truth. 

Post-modernism suggests that such a quest is futile, and prefers to say that there is no "universal truth", but rather "truths" that are held by separate communities or groups of people.  As a philosophical response to the "individualism" of modernism, post-modernism not only throws out the "baby" of certainty in knowing ultimate truth, but also the "bathwater" of ultimate truth itself. 

People who deny ultimate truth are still making a statement about ultimate truth!
In one respect the value of post-modernism lies in the fact that truth statements do not arise out of a vacuum or out of a "neutral" vantage point.  Yet to say that truth is nothing more than "truths" or "what is true for you is not true for me" is itself futile, since that statement itself concerns a univeral view of truth! Post-modernism is fraught with the absurdity of denying such a thing as universal truth by asserting that universally, truths are only true in given communities of people! 

Truth is the foundation of morality, ethics, faith
If we deny truth, the basis for all moral action is uprooted.  Author Tim Keller in His Book "The Reason for God" points out that people who deny objective, moral values will at the same time get angry over injustice.  If "injustice" is deemed by all to be wrong, then there has to be a universal sense of justice.  The Bible itself affirms this system of morality and ethics as being the Law of God written in the human conscience. (Romans 2:15) 

Without universal standards of right and wrong, the possibility of Christian faith itself would be eliminated.  In order for the Gospel to be effective, the Law of God has to be involved in showing the sinner there fallen sinful condition.  The Holy Spirit uses the Law of God written in the Bible and on the conscience to bear witness to man that he falls short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:10-23)  The Gospel demands that all men repent, and come to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Peter 3:9) 

Truth is both universal and exclusive
Unless we assert the universality and exclusive nature of truth, the biblical teaching on God being a One-way God will never be embraced.  The Holy Spirit brings home to the heart, and the mind, compelling demonstration that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.  Could it be that what is missing in our American pulpits is a lack of conviction on the truth of the Gospel, as well as the need for truth in the gospel?  Frankly, the Biblical portrayal of the Gospel itself to be the only saving message that is The Truth, since it speaks about The One who is the Truth - Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The One way God in the New Testament

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

We saw yesterday that the God of scripture is a very exclusive God.  By the revelation of the tabernacle system and priesthood in the Old Testament, He was was showing salvation to be exclusive and one way.  Today we will be exploring the New Testament to determine how clear the Bible is on the truth of there being only One way to God.

The Gospels are very exclusive in their view of salvation
The Gospel of John quoted above gives us the clearest statement in the Bible regarding the unique way of salvation - Jesus Christ.  In John 14:6, Jesus reveals Himself to be "The Truth".  We had yesterday stated a three-fold argument to explain why it is God is Exclusive in how He deals with salvation:
1. Truth by its nature is exclusive
2. God by nature is Truth
3. Thus it stands that God would be an exclusive God

With Jesus Christ stating Himself to be "The Way, the Truth, The Life", He is further reinforcing the fact that God's One prescribed way in the Old Testament pointed to Himself - the Person who is the One way.  In the New Testament we can state our little three-fold statement in this fashion:
1. Truth by its nature is exclusive.  As we already saw, God Himself is an exclusive God.
2. Jesus is the Truth personified
3. Thus Jesus is the exclusive way

The Book of Acts declares Jesus Christ to be the only way to God
Acts 4:12 plainly states - “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” How much clearer can the Bible be that salvation is not to be found outside of Jesus Christ, the only way to God.

The New Testament Letters (Epistles) declare Christ to be the only way to God
1 John 5:20 asserts - "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."  Here again we find reference to Jesus Christ being "The Truth".  As this title suggests, Jesus Christ is indeed the only way to God.  Furthermore, this verse is a declaration of Christ's deity, the logic is unmistakable:
1. The God of scripture is the source of salvation.
2. Jesus Christ is termed here the source of Eternal Life
3. Thus Jesus Christ is God

The Bible is very clear in its message and wording that God is One God.  He has revealed salvation through one book - the Bible.  God exists as the Father, who sent the Son, who is revealed by the Holy Spirit to be the Way.  No doubt about it, Jesus Christ is the Only Way to God, since in sharing the same nature with God the Father, He is the One Way God. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

The One Way God of the Old Testament

Exodus 23:31-32 “I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you. 32“You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods.

Recent statistics on American churches beliefs about there only being one way to God
The Pew Forum, a research group that conducts surveys on topics related to Christianity, polled 35,000 Americans, many of which were considered "Evangelical".  An evangelical is someone who holds to "The Evangel" (The Gospel) and believes that the event of Christ's death, burial and resurrection becomes an experience in a person's life by grace through faith alone.  When asked whether Jesus was the only way to God, only 49% of those claiming to be Bible-believing Christians believed that to be the case. 

God is exclusively God 
When you survey the scriptures, you discover that the Bible is very clear on the subject of salvation's exclusivity.  As can be seen in the above verse, the Old Testament has God being very exclusive: He and He alone is the only God.  The Jewish people were repeatedly told not to regard the religions around them, since those religions did not advocate real gods - but rather non-existent ones.   God is not merely the greatest among all other gods, He Alone is the One true God, there is not other Savior. (Isaiah 43:10-11)

God is exclusive about salvation
As you read on into Exodus 24-40, The Lord reveals to Moses (the human author of Exodus) the details of the worship and sacrificial system of Israel called the Tabernacle.  Each ritual and piece of that worship center emphasized this point: salvation is only in the God of revealed scripture.  When you approached the Tabernacle, there was only one way of entry.  You could only be made right with the Lord by one method - the shedding of blood of an innocent sacrifice.  There was only one way you could relate to this God - the Priesthood of which He had prescribed.  The three-fold accomplishment of salvation: reconciliation, cleansing and restoration, was in the Old Testament accomplished by One way revealed by God. 

God is exclusive about the book He used to reveal the exclusive salvation
As you can see, the idea of there only being one way with God did not just begin in the New Testament.  We have seen the Old Testament's insistence on there being One God.  Second, that this One God revealed one system through which He prescribed the way of salvation.  In keeping with His method, God also spoke words to one group in the Old Testament - the Prophets, who wrote a series of books in the Old Testament era that were known by the Jews as the Law, the Prophets and the writings.  These books were individually identified immediately after their composition as God's word.  As a collection, the books that our now our current 39 books were a well established "canon" or standard by the days of the return from Exile under Ezra the scribe in 530 b.c.  The Jews for centuries prior recognized the books that were "God's word" versus other writings that either were not His word or were pagan rituals to be rejected. 

God is an exclusive God because He by nature is true
The scriptures are emphatic on God being by nature the True and living God.  He governs His world by justice and righteousness, which are attributes issuing forth from His nature as the True God. (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 89:14).  Therefore we can conclude today's blog with this thought as to why the God of scripture in the Old Testament is The One way God:
1. Truth by its nature is exclusive.  It standardizes what is real and right from what is imaginary and wrong.

2. God is by nature Truth.

3. Therefore God must be and can only be Exclusive.  This explains why He is exclusive in where He speaks (The Bible) and the Way of salvation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Sovereign God of Prophetic History

Daniel 8:1 In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously.

God is detailed when it comes to prophecy and history
Daniel was a Jewish prophet who wrote and lived in Babylonia (modern day Iraq) during the days of Israel's exile in that land.  In the eighth chapter of his book, God the Holy Spirit predicted through Daniel the sequence of events that would occur between the period of the Old and New Testament.  When Daniel mentions "the third year of Belshazzar", he is writing that for a reason.  Belshazzar was the King in Babylonian, where Daniel and the people of God were exiled.  In the third year of Belshazzar's reign, another event was taking place 200 miles to the North of Babylonia at the capital of the Persian empire that centered around the person of a man by the name of Cyrus.

Daniel 8:2 tells us that Daniel was taking by vision to that capital: "looked in the vision, and while I was looking I was in the citadel of Susa, which is in the province of Elam; and I looked in the vision and I myself was beside the Ulai Canal." Cyrus the Persian was first predicted by name some 150 years before Daniel's writing in Isaiah 44:28-45:7.  Before the Persians even rose to power, the Holy Spirit was predicting through Isaiah that God was going to raise up a "shepherd", a "chosen one" named Cyrus, to deliver God's people from the clutches of what would be Babylon.  To not only predict the rise of an empire, but to actually name the leader of that empire truly a mark of God's attention to detail. 

God is Divinely in control of prophecy and history
The contents of Daniel 8:1-5 were written days or months before Cyrus the Persian conquered his own grandfather to take over the Persian Empire.  We have records of antiquity written outside the Bible that confirm the details of fulfilled prophecy.  When Cyrus was born, his grandfather, Astyages the Mede, had a dream that Cyrus would conquer him in his lifetime.  He attempted to send a hit on Cyrus by one of his army officers.  Instead, the officer took the young boy Cyrus to be raised by Shepherds.  That little boy grew up and became King of Persia.  He then in 550 b.c would journey to the North and conquer his grandfather, thus becoming the King of both the Medes and Persians. 

What would had happened if Cyrus' grandfather would had been successful in killing Cyrus?  Prophecy would had been left unfulfilled, undermining God's Sovereignty. Yet when one reads historical records like Josephus' Antiquities, we discover that Cyrus was indeed preserved.  As God revealed in the scriptures, Cyrus did not know Him.  Yet God chose to raise up this pagan King to carry out His desires. 

God Determines the flow and course of prophecy and History
As you read down through Daniel prophecy in Daniel 8:3-5, a vision is recorded of a Ram conquering territory in a "Westward, Northward and Southward direction".  That Ram of course was to be Cyrus the Persian, who would also control the Median empire.  History tells us that the Persian part of the empire was stronger than the Median part, thus the reason for the horns of the Ram being of different lengths.

We also know from reading the history of the rise of Medo-Persian Empire that Cyrus first conquered intrests to the North before moving to the South to secure the breadth of His empire.  Daniel takes the reader some 200 years into the future from where he was writing.  Again we see evidence of God even controling the directions of the where empires were going to spread and where certain peoples would live. 

Applying God's Soveriegnty to your own life
As we close out this blog, we aim to see how all of this big picture detail corresponds to your life.  If God is Detailed, Divinely in control and Determines the course of all things in general, will He not do the same thing in your life?  Romans 8:28 reminds us: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Benefits of the indwelling Holy Spirit

Romans 8:9 "However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him."

God's desire to be in the midst of His people
God the Father dwelt above and among the people
The Triune God's intention from all eternity was to have a people in and through which He could display His glory and love.  In the Old Testament, God revealed the mobile worship center of Israel to Moses that is referred to as "The Tabernacle".  Inside that mobile "tent-like" structure, God the Father dwelt in the "holy of holies" amidst the camp of Israel as they journeyed through the desert.  Thus God was "God above the people" dwelling among them.

God the Son came to dwell with the people
When you come to the New Testament, you discover that God the Father sent His Son, with whom He has shared a common Divine Life from all eternity, to "tabernacle Himself" among people in a body of human flesh.  John 1:14 states - "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." That underlined word for "dwelt" in John 1:14 is a word that could be translated "tabernacled".  Thus in imitation of God the Father, God the Son came to tabernacle Himself among the people not in a building, but rather in a human body.

God the Holy Spirit was sent to be God in His people
When Jesus Christ raised from the dead, He ascended into Heaven in a glorified human body.  As He had promised His disciples in John 14 and 16, The Father would send the Holy Spirit in His name.  The Holy Spirit has with the Father and Son shared the Common Divine Life from all eternity.  When the Holy Spirit came, He came to be God in the midst of every person who would believe on Jesus Christ by grace through faith.  Ephesians 2:20-21 describes this truth - "in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit."

The Benefits of the indwelling Holy Spirit
As one jurneys down from Romans 8:6-17, we discover why the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit is so vital to the Christian individual and to the church corporately.  When you see the benefits of the Spirit's indwelling, you will understand how precious it is for the Christian to have the very life of God Himself living on the inside:
1. Power to live for God  8:6-8

2. Personal experience of Jesus Christ 8:9-10

3. Points to the blessed hope of Christ's return 8:11

4. Provision for victory 8:12-13

5. Personal leading by God Himself 8:14

6. Personal Assurance of salvation through fellowship with God 8:15-17     

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Christian's thought-life

Romans 8:5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.

What do you think about your thought-life?
As the Christian begins to be led by the Holy Spirit, the thought-life becomes a defining area for evaluating whether you and I are led by self interests or the Spirit's leading.  The key question to ask when evaluating your thought-life is: am I governing my thought-life, or is it governing me? 

The soul, the spirit and their relationship to the mind
In Romans 8 we see a contrast between what is called "the flesh" and "The Spirit".  The "Spirit" is the person of the Holy Spirit operating inside of my human spirit (or what is sometimes called the heart).  The "flesh" has to do with the remnants of sin operating in my soul which is composed of my mind, emotions and will. 

As a person you have three parts: body, soul and spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12)  The mind is the "thinker" of your human soul.  Your human spirit is the part of you clothed by the soul that becomes the dwelling place of God's Holy Spirit at salvation. (John 14:23; 1 Corinthians 6:17) The mind is that part of your soul that interracts with the Holy Spirit in your human spirit.  For example 1 Corinthians 14:15 states:  "What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also."  Therefore in the Christian, the Holy Spirit in your human spirit should be able to communicate to your mind as you regularly devote yourself to daily study and thought over scripture. 

Two sources for the thought-life - the self or the Spirit
In Romans 8 we discover two sources for the thought-life - self or the Spirit.  The self is that principle that is at work in my soul that opposes the Holy Spirit at work in my human spirit.  "Self" inclines towards the left-over sin remnants in my soul.  Romans 8 calls the combined activity of the soul following the self as being "in the flesh".  The other resource is of course the Holy Spirit working in my human spirit. 

When I follow the leading of self in the intrest of the "flesh", I am being "selfish" or "fleshly.  Romans 8:5 describes taking what I conclude in my mind to be the greatest good as determining how I will act.  If I conclude it is more advantageous for me to follow the flesh (i.e set my mind on the flesh), that will characterize my life.  However if I conclude that the Spirit and the things of God are of greater benefit, then my life will be characterized with an abundance of "life and peace". (Romans 8:6)

The key to governing your thought-life - setting your mind
To "set my mind" in these verses refers to an intentional decision of the mind.  Everyday I must  choose whether I am going to take the scriptures into my mind or heed the voices and opinions of people (and my own feelings) more than the scriptures.  The Holy Spirit in my human spirit never contradicts the scripture.  If I am regularly giving myself to Bible reading or taking in scripture, I will have a mindset ready to hear God.  1 Corinthians 2:12-13 most effectively communicates this truth - "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words."

Just as I can set my T.V. to certain channels, choosing what I will watch or let into my home, I likewise can do that with my thought-life.  God's Word function's like a T.V remote.  It helps me to discern which thoughts floating through my mind are "fleshly" versus which thoughts are "spiritual".  Know this - through Jesus Christ and the Spirit's work through the scriptures, you can govern your thought-life. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Meet the Holy Spirit

Romans 8:2 "because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."

The Holy Spirit is The Applier of salvation
Romans 1-3 details how sinners have offended God their creator who desires to reach out to them in forgiveness to reveal Himself as God the Father. As God the Father aims to draw sinners to Himself whom He has loved, it is by His grace through faith that they believe upon God the Son whom He sent.  Thus the Father is the author of salvation.

From Romans 4-7 the argument of Romans centers mostly upon the accomplishment of God the Son in purchasing and providing salvation.  Thus God the Son is the Accomplisher of Salvation.  When one enters Romans 8, the Father's plan of salvation and the Son's accomplishment are to be applied to believer's by God the Holy Spirit.  Romans 8:2 reveals to the reader this "Spirit of Life" as the Applier of salvation. 

God the Holy Spirit's Life Giving Ministry
An ancient Christian writer said this of the Holy Spirit, that he knows about God because of Christ and knows of Christ because of the scriptures and knows the Christ of scripture by the Holy Spirit. Were it not for the Holy Spirit, the "Spirit of Life", the Christian life would not be a reality. 

1. The Holy Spirit's ministry in salvation
The Holy Spirit is the "Life giver" of the Trinity.  It is from Him that all physical life on earth derives the breath of life. (Psalm 104)  Moreso it is from the Holy Spirit that the life of faith is granted, convicting sinners and drawing them to be raised from the deadness of sins to a living willingness to choose Christ. (John 1:12-13; 16:8-12; Ephesians 2:1-6; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23)  This miracle of salvation is called "regeneration" or "the new birth". 

2. The Holy Spirit's ministry following salvation, that is sanctification
As the "Lord and Giver of Life", the Holy Spirit also applies benefits of salvation following the commitment of faith.  He continues to indwell the believer, providing internal guidance and power to live for God. (Romans 8:4)  Quite literally the Spirit of God is "God in us", enabling the Christian to experience Christ's ministry as "God with us" as He aims to reveal God the Father as "God above us".  This is the One God of the Bible relating to Christians from the Father, by the Son through the Life Giving Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18)

3. The Holy Spirit makes the event of salvation into a living experience
The Holy Spirit not only gives power to live by, but Romans 8:5 speaks of "the things of the Spirit".  Those "things" are found in the book of which He is the chief Author - The Bible.  From Romans 8:6 onward the Holy Spirit communicates through Paul what those things are: power to live for God, ability to love the brethren, power for prayer and power to endure to the end. 

4. The Holy Spirit is Personally God in us and to us
We must remember that the Holy Spirit is not an "it" but a "He".  Romans 8:16 states that "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God".  Thus The Spirit is a "He".  We also understand that the Spirit is God, since He shares in the same undivided life as the Father and the Son.  Only the Holy Spirit could know and communicate God's mind to the Christian. (Romans 8:27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11)  Therefore let's be thankful that God the Holy Spirit makes Himself available at salvation, for it is through Him, the Giver of Life, that I can know God the Son and live for God the Father. (Ephesians 2:18)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Butterflies, not caterpillars

Romans 8:1 "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death."

The earth bound caterpillar
I used to watch caterpillars all the time when I was a boy.  They always fascinated me in how they could eat and eat all the time.  A caterpillar by nature does two things: eat and crawl on the ground.  It is governed by the law of gravity.  You don't see caterpillars wriggling their way into the air because their caterpillar nature lives on instinct, and only knows gravity.  The "law of gravity" matches quite well with their nature. 

All human beings born into this world are by nature "fallen in Adam".  By nature unconverted human beings proceed along the law of "sin and death".  Like the caterpillar, unbelieving man lives by his desires and only knows one law.

The cacoon of transformation
When I was watching caterpillars, I would sometimes follow lines of them crawling up trees.  I thought perhaps they were doing that to eat the leaves.  However I noticed something strange.  The caterpillars were building these strange nests!  Then without warning, they would crawl into these cacoons and suddenly be gone.  The Creator of Heaven and Earth was drawing them to do that.  Remarkably, in that cacoon, the caterpillar goes through what many would characterize as a violent transformation - what some may say to be a sort of "death".  The body dissolves, and in the course of time, that lowly caterpillar is "transformed" into a butterfly - what biologists call "metamorphosis".

Romans 12:2 tells us as Christians: "do not be no longer conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...."   That underlined word in the Greek is the word "metamorphize".  Quite literally, when a person is converted by grace through faith, they are transformed.  Their former propensity to "only want to sin" is changed to a desire to "want to sin no more".  The law of the Spirit and life becomes the primary law of their new existence.

The Butterfly lives by the "law of lift"
Unlike the caterpillar, which lives only to eat and crawl on the ground, the butterfly lives to soar and be among the fragrance flowers of God's creation.  It's wings are designed to take advantage of a second law written into the creation - "the law of lift".  The law of lift enables butterflies and airplanes to overide the prevailing force of gravity.  The butterfly is a marvel of creation, whose design values the fluttering of wings and the currents of air. 

Similarly as we see in the verse above, "The Spirit of life in Christ" has freed me from the law of sin and death.  The currents of God's grace enable the flying.  As a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), I am to excercise myself in the fluttering of the wings of my faith through prayer, God's word and weekly worship with God's people. (Hebrews 10:24-25)  As a new creation, my growing desire is to flutter among those things which emit the fragrance of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)  The Holy Spirit Himself works inside of me to live as a butterfly of sorts.  Yes gravity will tug on me, I will feel its alluring force urging me not to fly. However I must remember that as a butterfly, I do not have to live as I formerly did - as a caterpillar. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why Temptation?

Romans 7:24-25 24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7 is an incredible chapter that helps Christians to come to terms with the daily reality of the battle that wages between the new nature in Christ and the left over remnants of indwelling sin.  We dealt yesterday with why it is that God willed to permit the Christian life to have to deal with sin (and for that matter spiritual warfare)  We concluded that God wants the Christian to learn what it means to desire Him.  Victory will never be desired unless it  goes from a concept of the mind to an experience of life. 

Today's blog deals with an issue that is closely related to but distinct from the Christian's battle with indwelling sin, namely the daily experience of external temptation. 

When you are tempted, remember Christ was tempted
Temptation is not sin.  Many times when Christians are in situations where they are enticed to thing, say or do something contrary to God's will, they immediately feel like they have sinned.  If that were the case, then Christ Himself would had been guilty of sin.  Hebrews 4:15 notes - "15For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."  To be tempted by sin is one thing, to give into it is quite another matter.  Christ never once sinned in thought, word nor deed (1 Peter 2:22), yet He was tempted relentlessly by the world, the physical limitations of human nature and the Devil Himself. (Please note Matthew 4).

When tempted, remember that Satan tempts, but God tests
1 Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." Temptation's direct agent is the Kingdom of darkness working against the believer through the world system and the flesh.   James 1:13 plainly states - "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone."

Now we know from scripture's testimony that Satan is the tempter.  Genesis 3 for example has him tempting the man and the woman in the garden of Eden.  To tempt in the original Hebrew and Greek carries with it the idea of: "persuading someone to pursue a course of action for the sake of their destruction."  Whereas the concept of Divine testing in the original languages communicates: "purifying someone in a course of action for the sake of their strengthening".

Christians experience temptation to learn how to be overcomers, just like Jesus
The Holy Spirit by Peter states in 1 Peter 2:21 - "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps."  What was the pattern of Christ's life?  He was tempted just as we were, and He overcame such temptations by means of prayerful dependence upon His Father and the scriptures.  Now we know that Christ was sinless, which distinguishes him from all true Christians.  However, in common with all true Christians, Christ demonstrated what chosing not to sin nor giving into temptations looked like.  

As God, Jesus Christ could not sin.  As man, Jesus Christ would not sin.  In the temptation record of Matthew 4, Christ overcame the Devil by means of prayerful dependance upon God the Father and the scriptures.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, when He was praying "not My will, but Your's be done", Christ was agreeing with the Father in His humanity what He had already agreed to do in Eternity with God that Father - go to the cross.  As God, Jesus Christ could not thwart the Divine will of the cross.  As man, Jesus Christ would not run away from the cross.  He went willingly. 

In these examples, Christ laid the cornerstones for Christian victory.   As Christians have victory moment by moment, over one sin at a time, they progressively experience what Jesus did consistently and without fail - victory.  Even if we do fail (which thankfully Jesus never did fail), we know that when we confess our sins, He is just and faithful to forgive us all our sins, and cleanse is from all unrighteousness. (1John 1:9)  In Christ, God sees me as a winner! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why Christians have to deal with sin and the enemy

Romans 7:22-23 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.

Yesterday we explored the Gospel's Boxing ring in the Christian.  At salvation, though sin's penalty is removed, and even though in sanctification sin's power to dominate is removed, scripture and experience demonstrate that the presence of sin is not removed.  With all that Paul presents in Romans 6 about the victorious Christian life, it would seem that Romans 7 throws cold water on the point of the Christian gaining any ground in the Christian life.  However let me remind the reader of what was stated a few days ago: that in order to live the victorious life of Romans 6, I must needs learn what victory is all about through the conflict of Romans 7 in order to experience the victory of Romans 8. In today's blog we want to outline some reasons why God chose to let the battle against sin and the enemy be a crucial feature of the overcoming Christian life.

1. Sin(s) are a reality in the Christian life, but not a necessity
1 John 1:8 states - "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us".  The presence of sin in the Christian life is not debated by scripture.  If anything, Paul's point in Romans 7 is to explain and acknowledge that fact.  The battle between my new nature in Christ and the left over remnants of sin in my life is a reality.  However, to say that I have to sin is another matter.  Gravity is a force in my life that I encounter everyday.  However as tempting as it may be sometimes to sleep in that extra fifteen or twenty minutes, if I fail to rise out of bed, its not because I had to give into gravity, but because I wanted to. 

2. God willed the enemy to remain here on earth so that we may learn victory
John 3:8 tells us that Jesus had come to destroy the Devil's work, however it is clear that the Devil (and by extension his network of demonic forces) were left to roam about freely on this planet. (1 Peter 5:8)  The fact that the possibility of my sinning is present too,  raises the question: Why?  1 John 4:4 tells us concerning our everyday spiritual battle:  "You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world."  Only when I am in situations where I am desperate for His presence, and see the shortcomings of my strength, will the power of Christ become more dear to me as I live daily for Him in Him.   I will learn to not tie myself too closely to this world's system nor fall for the schemes of the enemy. (Ephesians 6:1-11)

3. God willed to permit the remnants of sin to remain so that we may want to live for Him and not merely "have to" live for Him
Like wise concerning my daily responsibility to rein in the remnants of sin in my soul, 1 John 5:4 states - "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith." If I did not learn what it is like to want to live for Christ amidst hostile forces, all my Christianity would be is an "I have to" approach to godliness.  Faith is not faith unless it is tested. 

4. Wrestling in the Christian life works in us love for God, since love is a choice, not a duty
Notice what trials and temptations do for the Christian.  1 Peter 1:6 "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials".  Romans 5:3-4 "3And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope".  And one more, James 1:2-3  "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  Notice those underlined words?  These affections are produced by wrestling in the faith.  The affections of afflictions are ingredients needed for cultivating love for God. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Christian life's boxing ring

Romans 7:14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.

The idea of victory must pass through conflict in order to experience victory
A wise pastor once told me that in order to understand the idea of the victorious Christian life in Romans 6, you have to grasp the conflict of it in Romans 7 in order to experience the victory of Romans 8.  As we come to The Holy Spirit's ongoing discussion of the victorious Christian life through the pen of Paul, we see Paul sharing his pre-conversion life in Romans 7:7-13.  Recognizing who he was before Christ, Paul changes the tenses of his verbs from "things that were" to "things that are now" in his life.

Do Christian's have to sin, or do they choose to sin?
As we look at Romans 7:7-13 and Romans 7:14-25, we see two pictures: Pre-conversion life and Post-conversion life.  In Romans 7:14-25 Paul is describing his Christian life as a boxing ring, wherein two opponents are sparing with one another.  There is "the law of sin" or "the old man, nature" (7:23) versus "the law of my mind", the "inner man" or the operations of the new nature in Christ. (7:22)  As you go down through this verse, Paul describes the interior of His Christian life in relationship to sin:

7:15 "For I am doing the very thing I hate"
7:18 "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not."
7:19 "For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want"
7:22 "for I joyfully concur with the law of God in my inner man"
7:23 "but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war..."

Clearly there is conflict, a 12 round all and all out fight.  The underlined phrases tells us that sinning for the Christian  is a matter of choice.  To sin as a Christian is not "I have to", but rather "I want to".  Even the Great Apostle Paul dealt with this inner boxing ring. They are by position, and are by experience, counting themselves dead to the voice of the sin still resident in their flesh. (please read Romans 6)  However that voice that needles daily in their "old man", if not dealt with and regarded as dead by the believer, will as it were get off the cross and attempt to live. The fight is on, however in the context of Romans 6,7 and 8 we discover one important truth about this boxing match in the Christian life.

Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world
Paul's argument, though showing the boxing match between "the old man" and "the inner man", reveals that the inner's man is much stronger and more skilled than the old man.  The Holy Spirit says through the Apostle John in 1 John 4:4 "greater is He that is in you, and he that is in the world".  The argument carries on into Romans 8 and we read in Romans 8:2 "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death."  

So is there a boxing ring in the Christian?  Undoubtedly!  Are the opponents evenly matched? Hardly.  My inner man has with Him God the Holy Spirit, living in and through me and expressing Himself by way of my mind, emotions and will.  Even though the presence of sin is still in me, it is weakened and its power to utterly imprison me was taken away.  The argument of Romans 6 for the victorious Christian life requires the conflict of Romans 7 to demonstrate that victorious Christian living is a real thing and not a fiction of some pious imagination. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What are the purposes of God's Law

Romans 7:7 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.”

Good cop, bad cop

I'm sure you have watched T.V cop shows that depict two detectives or two police officers interrogating a suspect in a "downtown" questioning room. One cop plays "good cop" - trying to be the suspect's friend for the purpose of gaining the needed information or confession. If that tactic doesn't work, the one cop leaves and his partner comes in and plays "bad cop", wherein more aggressive, threatening means are used to scare the suspect into a confession. Both scenarios illustrate different uses of man's law to achieve a given purpose: acknowledgement of the truth. God's Law too has various uses for accomplishing various purposes, as will be demonstrated in today's blog.

Is the Christian not obligated to God's law?

Some people are under the impression that when one becomes a Christian, the law is no longer needed. They will cite passages such as Romans 6:14 that states at the end: "you are no longer under law, but under grace". Furthermore, they will also appeal to 1 Timothy 1:9 - "realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers." Now the question is: "once a person believes on Christ by grace through faith, are they exempt from the law of God?" To answer that question, we need to first of all look at the purposes of God's Law.

The Three uses of God's law in the Bible

Just like man's law, knowing how the law functions in different cases will result in a clearer understanding of the biblical relationship between law and grace. 1 Timothy 1:8 gives us this principle: "But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully".

The Law's First Use: Discourages Human Rebellion

Romans 2:14-15 states - "14For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." No matter where you go in the world, there is a universal sense of right and wrong. Why is that? Because the law of God, as revealed on the tablets of stone in the ten commandments (Exodus 19-20) were already inscribed upon the conscience of man. Even after the fall, man's moral nature retained the testimony of God's law on the heart. Thus God's law functions in one sense to curb the tide of social evil.

The Law's Second Use: Demonstrates the sinner's need for Jesus Christ

Whereas the 1st use of the law operates everywhere and all the time, this second use of the law is more evident in the context of the Holy Spirit's call to sinners in the gospel. Paul states plainly in Galatians 3:24 - "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." When sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is vital to first share the bad news of man's condition through the law. It is by the light of the law that we come to know that sin is sin. (Romans 7:7) When Jesus was sharing the Gospel with the rich young ruler in Mark 10, He used the law. The man's rejection of the testimony of the law revealed He was not ready to receive the grace of God through Jesus.

When Paul is writing here in Romans 7:7-13, he is referring back to his pre-conversion days. The law of God came. He thought he was doing good as a religious leader. However when the law revealed him to be an enemy of God, he wanted to inwardly rebel and reject that testimony. However the Spirit of God worked through the needle of the law to prick Paul's heart, preparing it for the scarlet thread of the Gospel to point Paul to Christ. It is this second use to which 1 Timothy 1:9-10 speaks of, revealing the law's use in the realm of evangelism.

The Law's third use: Delighting the Saint in Christ

When Jesus came, He fulfilled the Law of God. (Matthew 3:15). Thus at saving faith, not only is the righteousness earned by Christ's death credited (imputed) to the believer, but also the life that He lived. The Ten commandments function to point us as Christians to Jesus Christ, since it is He who is living His life through us by the Holy Spirit's work. (Colossians 1:27) Its not that I aim to live by "law keeping", rather I can live the Christian life because the requirements of the law are deemed fulfilled in me. (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Law for the Christian shows us what delighting in Christ should look like

As Christians, though we are saved by grace through faith apart from the law, our salvation is not a faith that operates lawlessly. The Holy Spirit's fruit of attitudes and actions do not conflict with the intent of God's moral law. (Galatians 5:22) When Jesus summarized the entire law in Matthew 22:37-39 as loving God and loving my neighbor, He was showing that God's love, working in and through me, is pictured by the truth of the ten commandments. When He preached His sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, the foundation for all ethics in the New Testament, He used the law of God as His base. Christ fulfilled the ceremonial and civil commands of God's law in Moses, however the moral intent of the law in the ten commandments were revealed to picture Christ in written form.

If anything, ten commandments point to the need for Grace to live the Christian life

The the ten commandments function to show me what should be operating in my Christian life, since they reveal what Christ was like. If anything, Christianity exceeds the law. Law keeping would be concerned about: "what I have to do to get by", whereas Grace filled living goes further and says: "Why would I want to live for the Lord, since He is living in me so that I can live for Him." Delighting in God and not merely rule-keeping was the original intent of the law. As Paul reveals elsewhere in Romans, the Law could not make people delight in God. The Law demanded delight, pointing to the Grace of God in Christ - who alone through the Christian could fulfill God's desires.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Gospel's fugitive

Romans 7:13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.

When blue and red lights flash in the human soul
In the heart of every human being lies a function of the soul that Romans 2:15 describes as the "conscience".  The conscience tells us when we have overstepped the boundaries of God's law.  Its like those people who are driving 10 miles above the speed limit and know that even though they are doing wrong, yet their destination, their agenda is more pressing than obeying the governing authorities.  Thinking that they are nothing more than a good citizen committing a minor traffic violation, unbelievers continue to "drive" through life.  It is then that the Holy Spirit pulls out and the lights of conviction come on and the sirens of Divine judgment blare.  

When the Holy Spirit places you under arrest - Romans 7:1-13
The Holy Spirit's job is to bring the sinner to justice - for the sake of Mercy.  In the light of God's Law, the sinner finds out that he has been a wanted man.  He is guilty of crimes against the King and his escapades and identity in his father Adam led to the death of the King's innocent Son.  Through the flashing lights of the law the Holy Spirit reads my rights through the Gospel.  The fugative blurts out: "I refuse the court appointed attorney, since I have my own, thank you very much!"  Paul here in Romans 7 is showing how unbelievers are in the eyes of God's law.  The sinner mutters to himself: "I'm a good person, I'm a good kid, I go to church, just who does He think He is, He's got no proof that I did it!"  The Law's work according to Romans 7:7 is to take the Holy Spirit convicted sinner in before the Judgment seat of God.

A fugative from God made a family member - Romans 7:14-8:1
At first the sinner may fight and defend himself - however as Holy God brings evidence and cross examination, it is clear that they are not only a law breaker, but guilty of treason against the King.  Alas the Law of God shuts the fugative's mouth - no defense. (Romans 3:10-20)  The rehearsed speech is a joke.  God knows all and sees all.  Satan, the only attorney that the sinner had been looking to, is really the enemy. (2 Corinthians 4:4) 

Suddenly the courtroom door flies open and in steps the defense attorney - The Son.  The very One whom the fugative had done violence against - is alive!  Will they run, will they hide, as their father Adam, a fugative in the Garden of Eden, had done?  No.  Something is different here.  That fugative at one point was me.  When I was that fugative, I was overcome by the Son's grace, His love in contrast to my vileness and filth.

Grace through the Law convinced me of my deserved condemnation - a fugative deserving justice!  By grace through faith I threw myself on the Mercy of the Court.  Grace through the Gospel revealed the Son's nail-scarred hand reaching down to me.  I reached up and by faith embraced the One whom I formerly hated. This marvelous Savior picked me up, and placed His own white robe around my shoulders.  The gavel of God thundered on the bench and His sentence was declared over the rest of my life - case dismissed!  The Fugative is no more - you are free to go - my son!   Romans 8:1 states - "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Gospel's two types of husbands

Romans 7:1-2 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.

Sin - the Horrible Husband (Spouse)
Romans 7 is going to explore the conflict that exists in the life of the Christian.  Before getting to that main theme, Paul chooses to illustrate the reality of sin and the reality of Christ through the illustration of marriage.  The Gospel always begins with the bad news before proceeding to the good news. 

When you and I are born into this world, we are, as it were, wedded to sin.  As we grow and develop, this spouse comes to more and more dominate your life.  In using the analogy of marriage, Paul states that as long as unbelief operates in the human heart, the marriage to the sinful self will become more and more loveless.

Sin's chief function in the life of the unbeliever is that of dominion.  By tracing the argument back to Romans 6:14, we discover that the Christian is set free from the "dominion" or the "necessity" to only sin.  Like a bad marriage, sin abuses, takes over and demands.  In the life of the unbeliever, self is always crying "I want" and never "I'll give".  Sin shouts "mine" and never "His".  Sin will gladly wear a three-piece suit and go to church and be religious, just as long as the cross is not mentioned. 

Christ the Good Husband (Spouse)
Paul teaches that as long as the first "husband" of unbelief is alive in my heart, I am bound to that "bad marriage".  A loveless, lifeless marriage is like a walking death.  This is Paul's point - to show His readers that Good Husband - Christ.  Therefore whenever the Spirit comes calling, I by grace through faith believe and the former life, the former "husband" is declared legally dead by God.  Death can only be declared at the cross.  When I embrace the cross, my so-called marriage to unbelief in Christ is over.  The former husband dies at the cross. At that point I'm set free to embrace Christ. 

Now what kind of spouse is Christ?  Romans 7:4 explains "Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God."  He brings me new life.  He brings you flowers in the form of righteous living.  He brings to light His love letters called the scriptures.  He clothes you in new garments called His righteousness.  He is building for you a new home in Heaven. (John 14:1-6)  He loves you no matter what. (Romans 8:32-37) 

Romans 7:6 sheds even more light - "But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter."  The New Husband, Christ, makes all things new.  The shame, regret and hurt of your former "marriage" to sin is erased.  Now that old husband will attempt to come back and convince you that you need to go back.  However you need to say to your old self that you are Christ's, and that Christ is yours, and that you are in no way going back. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How to spell G.R.A.C.E

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

What is grace?  Grace is God doing for you what you otherwise could never do for yourself.  It is His favor to the unfavorable, His love to the unloveable, His kindness to the cruel, His fellowship extended to His enemies and His mercy to His foes.  Who are those unfavorable, unloveable, cruel foes born into this world at enmity with Him?  Those who have not yet trust in Him by grace through faith.
How Grace is spelled prior to conversion
Prior to the cross grace is nothing more than an idealized principle.  The author of this blog was at one point an enemy of God. (Ephesians 2:1-3) When I think of Grace coming to me prior to salvation, it could be spelled out in this fashion:
G = God
R = Reaching
A = Across to
C = Comfort
E = Enemies

Salvation's grace includes the giftings of faith and repentance, whereby the sinner is persuaded by the Holy Spirit that they are that enemy, and that God reaching out to them is the only source of comfort they'll find to escape the wrath to come. (Galatians 3:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:24)  As a ten year old boy, that grace was brought to me, convincing me of my awefulness and Christ's awesomeness.  God came to me with faith and repentance in grace whereby I truly believed upon Him and repented of my sins. (Acts 26:17-18)

How grace is spelled after conversion
The event of salvation in a person's life is truly amazing.  In my Christian life Grace went from being an idealized principle to being revealed as an Individual Person - Christ.  Following the conversion experience, grace in the life of the Christian is spelled:
G = God
R = Reaching
A = Across to
C = Cherish
E = Evermore

Grace is not only something that leads me to chose Christ in conversion and transformation, Grace is the Person of Christ taking my now transformed life and leading me to live for Him.  Grace takes a slave to sin and make them a son.  Grace takes tragedy and turns it into a trophy for God's glory.  Grace takes despair and transforms it into hope.  In the final analysis, grace is really spelled JESUS, before and after conversion.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Roman's Road - and where it leads

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What is the Roman's Road?
The Book of Romans' chief aim is to explain how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation. (Romans 1:16-17)  For years observant Christian teachers have discovered that key verses in the book of Romans can be used as a tool to walk a person through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Below are the string of  verses used in this evangelism tool that is referred to as the "Roman's Road":

Romans 1:16-17 = The Power of the Gospel
Romans 1:18; 3:23 = The bad news of the Gospel
Romans 6:23 = The results of rejecting the Gospel
Romans 5:8 = God's Love in the Gospel
Romans 10:8-10 = How to Receive the Gospel
Romans 12:1-2 = Living the Gospel every day

One thing to change about this presentation
This particular method of sharing the gospel is effective because it tries to follow Paul's argument for the power of the Gospel and its ability to convert the unbelieving heart to a heart of faith in Christ.  I have even used this tool from time to time in my conversations with unbelievers.  However if I were to change one thing in this presentation, it would be the way in which Romans 6:23 is used. 

No doubt Romans 6:23 tells us about the "wages" or "expected results" of sin - death.  Furthermore, Paul is contrasting "sin" and "eternal life".  However the question that needs to be asked is: "does this passage address believers or unbelievers"?  In the context of Romans 6,7,8 the overwhelming answer is that the verse is addressed to believers.  It is a warning to not be influenced by the still lingering remains of the sinful inclinations that reside within the Christian.  Though the Christian nature is designed by God to "sin no more" (see yesterday's blog), the presence of indwelling sin beckons and tempts the Christian to consider disobedience as a second option. (thus the point of Romans 7)  If a Christian never had to worry about ever sinning again, the warning about the "wages of sin" would not be issued. 

Revising the Roman's Road method
Being that Romans 1-5 is dealing with the journey one makes from unbelief to faith, and being that Romans 10 occurs within a context wherein Paul is appealing to his fellow Jews to be saved, I would propose the following revision of the Roman's Road:
Romans 1:16-17 = The Power of the Gospel
Romans 1:18; 3:23 = The bad news of the Gospel
Romans 5:8 = God's Love in the Gospel
Romans 10:8-10 = How to Receive the Gospel

Where the Roman's Road leads
By using this "revised" method, the verses dealing with the journey from unbelief to faith are used in accordance to their context.  Following an actual profession of faith, I would then bring in Romans 6:23 and Romans 12:1-2 to explain to the new convert the "now what's next" part of their faith commitment.  Romans' aim is to show the power of the Gospel that not only leads to salvation, but also how the power of the Gospel enables one to live the life of salvation. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Christian's driver's license

Romans 6:14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

The day I received my driver's license
When I was sixteen years old, I attempted twice to acquire my driver's license.  On the third attempt my parents, sister and Grandmother came with me to the driver's training course for moral support.  As they were watching outside I maneuvered my dad's 1984 Pontiac Pariseene Station Wagon through the slolam course of cones and "invisible cars".  When the test concluded, I got out and the officer informed me that I had passed!

What a thrilling day as my family watched the driver's instructor print out and hand me my driver's license.  My dad even handed me the keys and I got to drive the whole family home.  We were driving around the town after lunch and I decided to take a side street to go the "scenic route".  My family was talking and we were all laughing when suddenly my mother screamed at me "Mahlon!".  Brakes screached and we all stopped 5 feet from a concrete wall - the street was a "dead end".  Needless to say my dad took over the wheel and I learned the true purpose of my driver's license - the right to drive right, and to not drive recklessly!

The Christian life is where God gives you the license to "sin no more" or "live rightly for Him"
When we read what Paul writes in Romans 6:14-23, we discover that sin "is no longer the master" or "the one who is to call the shots" for the Christian life.  In Romans 6:14 we are told why - "because you are not under law, but under grace".  Many people have mistakenly interpreted that verse to mean that as a Christian, I am not obligated to follow any commands, and thus grace gives me the license to sin.  Nothing could be any further from the point of the passage.

In the context of Romans, when Paul speaks of being "under the law", he is referring to a particular function or certain activity of the law.  The law does three main things in the Bible: it curbs disobedience, it shows me condemned and it pictures what should be operative in the Christian life through Christ.  Being that Christians are declared "right" by God through faith, they are thus not subject to condemnation.  Also too, grace sets them free to "live the Christian life" by God's power that before was being demanded by the law.  Therefore though I am saved by grace through faith apart from law keeping, my subsequent faith in Christ is not a lawless, reckless one. 

Before Christ, I could not live for God.  All I knew to do was "freely sin".  However following conversion, the Holy Spirit sets me free to "sin no more".  This is not some sort of "sinless perfection teaching", since the Bible still advocates my need to confess my sins following conversion. (compare 1 John 1:9-2:2).  Rather, in the Christian life I am set free to willingly choose obedience to God's will.  I am given a "license" to live rightly for God in Christ, or stated negatively - "a license to sin no more".    In short, though I'll never reach the point in this life of never sinning again, yet the last time I sinned I did not have to, but rather chose to. 

Why Grace is not a "license to sin"
Paul explains what he means in Romans 6:14 by further elaborating on the "Christian's driver's license".  In Romans 6:17-18 we read: "thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."  Or how about later on in Romans 6:22 "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life."

By the ongoing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Christian is free to "obey God from the heart" (6:17) and desires to be "enslaved to righteousness" (6:18).  Furthermore, the Christian life is designed by God to yield ever-increasing godliness or "sanctification". (6:22)  Far from being a license to sin, grace sets the Christian free to "live rightly for God".

Illustrating the "Christian Driver's License" - John 8:11
Some of you may be familiar with the episode of the woman caught in adultery who was brought to the feet of Jesus by the sneaky underhanded Scribes of the Pharisees. (John 8:1-11)  For our purposes here I want to focus on verse 11b where Jesus tells the woman - "....I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”  When he says "sin no more", He is saying quite literally in the original language - "stop your ongoing sin pattern".  This woman had clearly gotten herself into a lifestyle that functioned as a revovling door in her life.  Christ told her that now as His follower, this woman not only had the obligation, but the Grace available to get out of her ongoing bondage.  He literally told her to "sin no more" or "now you have the freedom to leave your sinful lifestyle and live rightly for me". 

As a friend of mine once said: "Jesus can take your 'have to's' and make them into 'want to's".  The Christian life gives you the license to not go down the side streets of temptation and have near-head-on collisions with walls of sin.