Thursday, January 31, 2013

God's Progressive Revelation about the Tongue

James 1:26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

Yesterday we looked at the Bible study principle of interpreting scripture in light of other scripture.  Today we will consider another vital Bible study tool that like yesterday's, flows from the very character of scripture itself.  The Bible is God's progressive revelation of His mind to man.  I find the Book of James to be such a great Book for demonstrating Bible study tools, since the Book is all about "Living Working Christianity" or "Christian faith at work".  When we can demonstrate the doctrine we believe by experience, we prove we have grasped that teaching by faith.  Today I want us to look at what James has to teach on the tongue. 

Progressive revelation simply refers to how God will reveal an idea, and then expand on that idea in a clearer and fuller way over time and throughout scripture.  Sometimes we will see this over the course of the whole Bible or in a particular Bible book.  Watch what James does in writing to us about the tongue in each chapter of his letter:

1. James 1:26 "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless."

2. James 2:12 "So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty."

3. James 2:15 "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself."

4 . James 3:2 "we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well."

5. James 3:5  "So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things."

6. James 3:6 "And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell."

7. James 3:8-9  "But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way."

8. James 4:11  "Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it."

9. James 4:14-16  "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil."

10. James 5:12-16   "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
13Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."

As you noticed, the underlined words signify various acts you can do with your tongue - both Godly and ungodly.  The Holy Ghost through James' pen progressively reveals in greater detail and depth the simple principle articulated in James 1:26.  We see just how powerful the tongue can be.  May you and I, by the leading of the Spirit and not our selfish-desires, use our tongue to advance the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Comparing James & Paul on the tongue

James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Galatians 5:12 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Scripture is truly its own best interpreter.  The Bible teachers of old used to quote a principle in Bible interpretation that went something like this: "When trying to understand a more difficult scripture, interpret it in light of a clearer scripture."  I have found this principle to be so helpful in over 20 years of studying scripture.1 In today's blog I want to illustrate to you how two scriptures, speaking on the same topic, can function by aid of the Holy Spirit to make plain what He is trying to say to us.  The topic is going to be on controlling your tongue as a Christian.  My test case is going to be James 3 and Galatians 5.  I'll first of all give you a very brief summary of each text, and then trace out some key points of comparison between both, with a final set of applications.

Summarizing James 3 and Galatians 5
James, as we noted yesterday, was the first and earliest book written in the New Testament.  Paul's letter to the Galatian church was the earliest of his 13 letters written (14 if you consider Hebrews to be his as well).  With James and Galatians we see examples of the earliest forms of Christian thinking and doctrine following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  James 3 is dealing with the issue of controlling the tongue, referring to it almost 10 times and illustrating the need to control it several different ways.  Galatians 5 is contrasting the difference between being led or controlled by the flesh versus being led or controlled by the Holy Spirit, as seen at least four times in that chapter. (Galatians 5:16,18,22,25) .  With that brief comparison, we can note that the common link between the two chapters is on the subject of "controlling influence."

James 3 and Galatians 5 in comparison
James is written to a Jewish audience, meaning that in a letter written primarily to Jews, the style of thinking and teaching is going to proceed more like a spiral staircase.  When you go up the "spiral staircase" of a Jewish writing like James, you'll encounter a "truth" and then later on encounter the same truth again, only in a much  deeper way.  James will often introduce a thought and then leave it, only to pick it up once again.  Galatians on the other hand was written to a more Gentile audience.  Gentiles (non Jewish people) tend to think and write in a "straight line" or "linear fashion", meaning they will introduce a subject, explain it, move onto the next subject, explain it, and so on until a conclusion is reached.  If you want to see this illustrated, look at the footnotes below to see a visualization of the two ways of thinking.2   With that in mind, we can now compare James 3 and Galatians 5:

James 3:1-12                                                   Galatians 5

James 3:1 Warnings to teachers        Galatians 5:1-14 Warnings  about mishandling God's word           about false teachers who did
through their speech                          mishandle and misguide
                                                           God's people by their speech
                                                           & teaching

James 3:2-4 The Spirit led tongue     Gal 5:16,18 22-25 The
                                                           Spirit-led believer

James 3:5-8 The Carnal, unbelieving   Gal 5:15, 19-21 The Carnal,
tongue                                                   unbeliever

James 3:9-12 The Compromising      Gal 5:15, 26 The
tongue                                                Compromising believer
                                                           (carnally minded Christian)

Defining key biblical terms such as "carnal", "flesh", "self", "the human spirit" & "carnal Christian" can greatly aid in seeing the connections between the two passages as you glean the interpetation and application.3 

Applying the truth derived from our study of James 3 and Galatians 5
First and foremost, Galatians 5 gives us an overview of three spiritual conditions that are defined throughout the Bible: Carnal unbelievers, Spirit led Christians and Compromising Christians.  James 3 gives us a more specific picture of these three, noting how each will sound when they use their tongues. 

Secondly, James tells us that a Spirit-led Christian's tongue will be self controlled, functioning like reigns on a horse or a rudder on a ship. (James 3:1-4)  Though the presence of sin remains in a Christian following conversion, they do not have to be subject to the self-life's cries for saying whatever first comes to mind.  Galatians 5:16 plainly tells us that when we are led by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:22 also)  Only the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the natural, carnal desires that otherwise cannot be tamed by human means.

Thirdly, James moves onto the tongue of the carnal unbeliever.  None can tame the tongue whether by behaviorial reform or coercion.  Nature teaches that animals can be tamed, however the tongue in its natural setting is untamable. (James 3:5-8)  In Galatians 5, Paul describes the out of control tongues of the unbelieving false teachers (Galatians 5:1-6) as well as the nature of the unbeliever's heart that is producing the destructive speech. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Then finally, James describes the sad case of the compromising Christian who tries to talk both ways: out of his human spirit and out of his soul or carnal nature.  Sadly he is a living contradiction.  Paul too warns those try to sit on both sides of the fence so to speak, noting that a Christian who is careless with his speech will tear down others in the process. (Galatians 5:15,26)

May this brief study today prove to not only be instructive but useful in equaipping you with another tool for study God's Word. 

End Notes__________
1 For those interested, the Latin term for this principle is analogia scriptorum,  meaning "the analogy of the scriptures" or in our modern language: "let scripture interpret scripture".  Cross referencing is perhaps the greatest tool availaablee to the Bible Student, since it uses this principle in its practice.

2 Think of Jewish and Gentile (Greek) styles of writing, learning, teaching in the following ways by using simple letters of the alphabet:

Greek Style of teaching/learning: A,  B,  C,  D ---> Conclusion

Jewish Style of teaching/learning: A,       B,  C,D
                                                           A,  B,  C,D-->Conclusion
                                                               A,B,C,D-->Conclusion again

3 For the reader who is interested, I have briefly defined the terms mentioned above with the blog with verse references.  

Flesh - A similar meaning term referred to in scripture as "the flesh", refers to the overall location of activity that is carried out by the "carnal" attitude. The flesh can refer to the physical body or human soul. This is Paul's emphasis in Galatians 5.

Carnal - First, to be "carnal" refers to an attitude of unbelief operating out of the fallen presence of sin in our soul. I see James touching more on this aspect of the "natural" unredeemed human being. Admittedly this category is borrowed from Paul's letter to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2-3, but that in itself only serve to prove how one scripture aids in interpreting another.

Self- A third term, "the self" refers to that power or principle that wants what it wants, when it wants and how it wants. The self is the sinful me, utilizing my soul's mind, emotions, will and conscience to carry out the carnal attitude through the activities of the flesh. Non-Christian people are 100% carnal, operating and interpreting life out of their soul's mind, emotions and will. Their spirit, which is their innermost part, is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, rendering them uninterested in God or the things of God. (1 Corinthians 2)Jew
is, B,  

The human spirit - The "spirit" is that innermost part of me wherein the Spirit of God indwells. To be "spiritual" means I am operating out of my "human spirit" that is indwelled and informed by God the Holy Spirit.
The Carnally minded Christian (carnal Christian) A "carnal Christian" is a Christian who, though indwelt by the Holy Spirit in their human spirit, has nevertheless chosen to rely on the left over remnants of sin in their human soul. Thus they will live a "reverse hypocrisy" - meaning that they willfully act opposite of what they truly are (a new creation in Jesus Christ). A carnally minded Christian will be more influenced by the self operating in his soul than the Holy Spirit operating in his human spirit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Bible's Four Heavens

Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Revelation 21:1 "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea."

The term "heaven" or "heavens" is mentioned over 500 times in the Bible.  When the Bible speaks about "heaven", we must be aware of the fact that at least four places are being referred to by that one word "Heaven".  In today's blog I want to outline for you the scripture's teaching on what I call "The four Heavens".  In Genesis we see mention of the first three and in Revelation we see reference to the fourth place the scripture calls "The New Heavens". 

1. The First Heaven - The Earth's atmosphere or sky
When the Bible says God "created the heavens and the earth", the word "heaven" in the text is rendered plural - telling us that there are multiple heavens.  In Genesis 1:8 we see reference to what is termed "The first Heaven", the sky - "And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."  Quite literally the word translated "firmament" comes from a Latin root, which in turn is a translation of the Hebrew original that means "a stretched canopy or covering".  Much like when you pitch a tent and have to stretch the canvas over a frame, God took the atmosphere of Nitrogen, Oxygen and other gases and stretched them around the globe he had made.  Already He had set the earth rotating about its axis as it was illuminated by His glory.  With the first heaven, the sky, now in place, Earth would be ready for the Sun He would create on day four and the birds He would create on day five. 

2. The second Heaven - The Universe
Genesis 1:1,8,9 mentions the first heaven - the atmosphere and the sky.  In Genesis 1:14 we see the first reference to what can be termed the second Heaven or "universe" - the domain of stars, planets, moons and space itself.  Genesis 1:14 states - "And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens, to divide between the day and the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years".  God had already created the space in which the earth was suspended.  In continuing the stretching forth of the universe, God made the sun, the moon and later on the stars. Astronomers estimate our earth and moon, along with the seven other planets and other objects going around the sun, with their attendant moons, are sweeping through our Milky Way Galaxy at 500,000 m.p.h.  Our Galaxy is composed of over 100 billion stars, with over 100 billion galaxies populating our universe.  This is but a sample of what the Bible and science has to say about this much larger second heaven - the universe.

3. The Third Heaven - God's Throneroom
As we travel through Genesis, we see another 30 or so mentions of the word "heaven" with most references to either the first heaven (sky) or second heaven (universe).  In Genesis 28:12 we read: "And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to the heavens. And behold, angels of God ascended and descended upon it."  Though scripture up to this point indirectly alludes to the existence of a distinct realm in which God occupies as Sovereign and Lord over His creation (Genesis 2:1-3), as well as the existence of angels, yet this verse shows the activity of the third heaven touching down here on earth.  According to John 1:51, what Jacob saw was none other than an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ.  It is in 2 Corinthians 12 that the Apostle Paul refers to this realm as the "third heaven" (hence the reason for terming the first two realms as "1st heaven" and "2nd heaven").  More could be said but for now we must move on to the the fourth major type of realm, a realm that is referred to as "the New Heavens".

4. The "Fourth" place called Heaven -  The New Heavens
Admittedly the the "New Heavens and New Earth" described in many Old and New Testament passages is a realm that is in one sense future to us.  Its main time of manifestation will occur when Christ has ruled and reigned for 1,000 years and sets up the Great White Throne Judgment.  We can also say that when we as Christian's experienced the New Birth, that greatest of all realities described at the end of the Bible is being "previewed" in us, since the Bible describes the Christian as a "new creation in Christ". (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Bible tells us in Revelation 20-21 that following this judgment, the first three heavens will be done away with, and in their place a New Heaven and a New Earth will be established by God.  It appears that God will somehow transform our current world and perhaps the third Heaven into that incredible reality spoken of at the end of Revelation.  However it could very well be too that God does away with this present order completely and re-creates a whole new earth and a whole new Heaven.  More could be said on these two thoughts, but I want to hasten onto the main point of Revelation 21.

The point of Revelation 21 is that the New Heavens and the New Earth are no longer spearated from one another.  The Glory of God will indeed flood the New earth and Heaven will touch down upon our planet.  Just as the second heaven exceeds the first, and just as the third heaven far exceeds the second in beauty and grandeur, this "new Heavens" will exceed them all, being that it will be saturated with God's unending glory.  Furthermore, the "New Heavens" will saturate the "New Earth" with God's unending glory, literally fulfilling His ultimate will of "the earth being filled with His glory". (Habakkuk 2:14)

May your thoughts and mind be raised to the heavens to marvel at the Lord and His glory. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Past, Present and Future Hope

2 Peter 1:1Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

As I think about the text we just read, the intended audience is described as “those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours”. In today's blog I am going to share some thoughts on the three kinds of hope that are made available through “the faith of the same kind” spoken here by Peter.  When you believe in God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ by the leading of the Holy Spirit, what occurs? What three kinds of hope become yours at saving faith as provided by Jesus Christ, the Christian's living Hope?  Note these three thoughts:

1. Past Forgiven.  2 Peter 1:1-2
2. Power to live presently.  2 Peter 1:3-10
3. Promise of future heavenly home. 2 Pt 1:11-12

A Testimony of hope
I recall one time talking to someone about their need to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of the their sins.  I quoted Romans 3:23 -  “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In that verse we are told that in the eyes of God’s law, we were born dead sins and tresspasses, morally guilty and spiritually separated from God.  I then told them that unless they agreed with the testimony of scripture, they would die in their sins and live a Christless eternity in Hell.  The Spirit of God began to deal with the person and they suddenly realized that it was time to “receive that faith” spoken of here by Peter.  The following three kinds of hope became their's and can be yours when you by grace through faith trust in Jesus Christ...

The Past is forgiven.  2 Peter 1:1-2
God grants grace and peace.  Grace is God doing for you what you cannot do for yourself.  Peace is what takes place between you and God the moment you acknowledge by grace through faith the awfulness of your sin and the awesomeness of Jesus Christ.  Past sins are forgiven. (Eph 1:7)  But notice also....

Power to live presently.  2 Peter 1:3-10
These verses tell you what fruit you should see in your new found Christian life.  All the things listed hear speak of “addition” and “progression”.  According to 2 Peter 1:5-10 you add to your faith:

moral excellence-->to moral excellence, knowledge--> to knowledge, self control--> to selfcontrol, perseverance--> to perseverance, godliness--> to Godliness, brotherly kindness--> to brotherly kindness, love.

Onward and upward progression as a result of adding to your faith leads to multiplied blessings.  When a person believes in Jesus Christ for their salvation, the hope of a forgiven past is granted through justification.  However we have to realize that present hope is also given in the form of power to live the Christian life in an onward and upward progression - or sanctification.  The overall message of 2 Peter 1:3-10 is to "add to your faith".  The question is - how do you practically do that?  Let me make some practical suggestions:

1. In order to access that power, one first needs to read their Bible daily, such as 1 John or a Proverb a day out of the Book of Proverbs. 

2. Developing a daily prayer life is the second cornerstone to accessing power for Christian living. (1 John 5:13-15) 

3. If you are a Born-again believer who has not yet been baptized, let me urge you to get that completed.  Take the first major step of Christian obedience through believer's baptism, since obedience is how faith goes from standing still to walking forward.  Baptism comes after your salvation commitment, since in your new Christian faith you want to go public and set the tone for the remainder of your Christian life: faith moving forth in obedience. (Romans 6:4-11; Galatians 3:27) 

4. Then fourthly, join a local church, get involved, pray for your pastor and be a blessing. (Acts 2:38-42; Hebrews 10:24-25; 13:17) 

In thinking on the above provisions given by God for living an effective Christian walk: The Bible, prayer, believer's baptism and the local church,  I ask you: have you had your past sins forgiven through Jesus Christ?  If so, is your profession of faith characterized by power? Do you not realize that in accordance to our text here, you have been given everything you need for life and godliness.  

Now becoming a Christian not only sets you straight for the sweet by and by but gives you the power to live for Jesus in the nasty now and now.  Believing in God through Christ’s shed blood through the Spirit’s leading guarantees your past forgiven and power for present living and notice thirdly…

3. Promise of future heavenly home. 2 Pt 1:11-12
True believers in Jesus Christ will persevere.  Furthermore, an entrance is supplied for them into the Heavenly reality that is being prepared for them by Christ. We read in John 14:1-3 - “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."

How past, present and future hope can be yours in Jesus Christ
Dear friend, my question to you is this: Are you ready for eternity? James 4:14 states – “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”  Would you like to be ready? Read Ephesians 2:8-9  "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."  Romans 10:8-10 gives us the step by step way to believe on Jesus Christ:  "But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." Trust in Christ, receive Him by faith, and you too will have three hopes: the past forgiven, power for present living and promise of a future heavenly home.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Seeing and Knowing Jesus More - P2 of 2

John 21:7 "Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea."
In yesterday's blog we noted some general observations about how John aims in his gospel and in John 21 to show you and I the importance of seeing and knowing Jesus more. Today I want us to draw out some specific applications from John 21:1-17. How is it that Jesus makes Himself more clearly known to His disciples and you as a follower of His by faith?  We discover that Jesus is more clearly known in the following ways, namely...

1. In obedience He is known more clearly. 21:1-7a
Recently I heard Dr. Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church at Dallas, TX, point out that only in obedience will we be able to understand and know the Lord better. Isn't that always the case? Imagine what would had happened if Peter and the disciples had not heeded Jesus' instructions? They knew there was a man standing on the shoreline, but did not yet recongnize him to be Jesus. (John 21:4) Furthermore they heard a voice call out to them, but it had not yet dawned on them that it was the voice of their Master. Yet as soon as they cast that net as Jesus instructed, John 21:7 states: "Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”

2. By His Word we draw to Him more nearly. 21:7b-10
As soon as the Apostle John (the one whom Jesus loved) declared the words "it is the Lord", the demeanor of everyone in the boat changed. Catching fish was no longer the priority. In fact, Peter dove right into the water to draw more nearly to His Master. (21:7) With the other disciples following suit, it demonstrated that already, albeit in an ackward way, Peter was performing his role as the leader of those early disciples. As they brought the boats and the nets full of fish onto the land, Jesus already had some fish cooking. The words John spoke were God's words, since they were meant to be written by divine inspiration some 60 years after the scene of this event. The word of God needs to be heard regularly by His people, since it excites and strengthens faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As we give ourselves to the scriptures, we will naturally desire to draw more nearly to Jesus.

3. When He mends us, He is loved more dearly. 21:9-17
Peter's heart was carrying regret over the denials he had done on the eve of Jesus' crucifixion. He needed restored and mended. Jesus needed to recreate the events of Peter's denials in order to transform pain in to healing. Note the comparisons between the events surround the three denials in John 18 and the events recorded here in John 21.
1. Charcoal Campfire in John 18:18, same in John 21:9
2. Dimly lit sky, since it was dusk into night John 18, dimly lit sky of early morning in John 21
3. Three denials in John 18, three affirmations of love in John 21
Jesus whole point was two fold: restoration and deeper love. Jesus first of aimed to restore Peter by giving him his purpose: "tend my lambs" (John 21:15); "Shepherd my sheep" (John 21:16) and "Tend my Sheep" (John 21:17). Then Jesus taught Peter the lesson of having deeper love for his Master by using different Greek words for love to capture nuances of close love (21:15, 16) and abiding love (21:17). Only when you and I have been broken hearted and have allowed ourselves to be mended by the Master will we love Jesus more dearly.  Only when you had something and have been reduced to nothing and have no one but Jesus Christ  do you realize you have everything you could ever need or want. 
Dear friend, may you and I today see and know Jesus more nearly through obedience, more clearly by His Word and more dearly through His mending of our hearts.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Seeing and knowing Jesus more - P1 of 2

John 21:1 After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way.

Some general observations about John 21:1-17 will be made before getting into the specific applications.  For today I want us to note generally how John urges us to see and know Jesus more.  The first general observation about what we see in John 21:1-17 is that....
How John's Gospel makes Jesus more clearly seen and known
John's purpose in writing his gospel is spelled out for us in John 20:30-31 "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."  Time and time again we John referring to the signs that Jesus did, the predictions he made and the conversations He had.  Half of John's Gospel (John 12-21) is devoted to the final few weeks of Jesus time here on His earth as He would go to the cross, rise from the dead and appear to His disciples. 
Among the many other features we could point out about John's Gospel, one of the words we find repeated throughout are the where He speaks of making himself known or "manifested".1   The purpose of Jesus "manifesting" Himself or making Himself more "seen and known" was to reveal His glory. (John 2:11, 21:1,14)  According to John 21:14, it was the third time Jesus made a post-resurrection appearance to His disciples.2 This third appearance in John 21:1-17 will serve to ultimately restore Peter who had denied Him three times during the eve of His crucifixion. (John 18:17-27)  
With that first general observation made, we can now note a second general observation about this text of John 21:1-17, namely....  
 The Lord will often urge you and I to find comfort in being obedient to know Him, which will often mean doing things we're not used to, rather than finding comfort in the things we're normally used to. 
For instance, in our main text of John 21, we see these words in John 21:1 "After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way."  The disciples were still reeling from the events of the past two weeks: Jesus crucifixion, resurrection and appearances to them.  I see Peter and the disciples trying to process all that they have experienced.  Many times people will cling to what they know - in Peter's case it was fishing.  Perhaps that is where you are at right now, in a time of transition, wondering what is going to happen next.  The Lord will often urge you and I to find comfort in being obedient to know Him, which will often mean doing things we're not used to, rather than finding comfort in the things we normally used to. 
The text says: "All night they had fished, and had caught nothing." (John 21:3)  Peter thought he could find comfort and make sense of things in what he knew?  He was a fisherman.  Yet despite all his experience, he was unsuccessful.  This set of events remind us of exactly what took place to Peter when the Lord came to Him at the beginning of His ministry.3 
In tomorrow's blog we will draw out some specific applications from John 21:1-17 as to how we can see and know Jesus more clearly....
End Notes_____________
1. John 1:31, 2:11, 3:21, 7:4, 9:3, 17:6, 21:1, 21:14.
2. The other two instances are recorded in John 20:19-29.  In the first instance the disciples were hiding in fear but hanging on in little faith in John 20:19. When He appeared to them, their faith was strengthened. The second time came eight days later in John 20:26, resulting in Thomas' confession of His Deity. 
3. Peter and his men had been fishing in Luke 5 and lo and behold, they could catch no fish. Jesus told them back then to do what He was now instructing them in John 21 - "let down there nets". I am certain this is why the Apostle John was reminded of that first encounter some three and one-half years earlier, for He says in John 21:7 "that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Chosen, Called and Committed People

Colossians 3:10 "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience"

Preparing a chosen, called and committed people of God
As Moses was preaching to a whole new generation of Israelites, he was in the final year of his 120 year old life. His purpose was to prepare the people for their entry into the promised land - a journey in which they would be taking in the book of Joshua. He also needed to remind them of who they are and whose they are, since God had led there forefathers out of Egypt. As you go through Deuteronomy 7-10, as well as the rest of scripture, you begin to see the redemptive identity of God's people.  For example...
(Chosen People) Deuteronomy 7:6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

(Called People) Deuteronomy 7:8 "but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt."

(Committed People) Deuteronomy 7:12 “Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them."

The New Testament performs a similar function, preparing God's church, composed of true born-again Christians, for life through this world and eternity with the Lord. (John 17; Ephesians 4) In today's blog I want to outline for you what Moses discusses and the rest of scripture explains God's people to be: namely a chosen, called and committed people.

Chosen, Called and Committed People in Deuteronomy
As you may had notice in the verse above, I underlined key phrases that correspond to the people of God's three-fold identity as chosen, called and committed people.  Deuteronomy 7-10 has Moses repeating this identity over and over again.  If you would like to see the details of Moses' argument for this, I invite you to look at the footnotes at the end of this post.1  God's calling of course simply refers to the summons He gives to His people to come to Him, such as His calling out to Adam in the Garden, Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, Israel at Sinai and Jesus' calling to His church.  Ephesians 4:1 tells us to walk worthy of the calling God has given to us.  Commitment is our part.  We have responsibility to do as the Lord commands, to love the Lord our God, share the Gospel and live Godly holy lives. (John 14:15, Mark 12:28-34, Matthew 28:18-20 and 1 Peter 2:11-12)  Those two words "calling" and "commitment" are straight forward ideas - but what is the back drop of them? As we saw already in our opening text, God's choosing or election. 

What is meant by God's election or choosing?
God's choosing of His people simply means He set His affection and love upon them. When God elects people, it means that what He intended to begin, He will finish. Philippians 1:6 states: "I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Ephesians 2:10 notes - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."  In fact, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines election or God's choosing as "The Gracious Purpose of God":

"Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility." Over 130 places in the Old Testament and 75 places in the New Testament refer to God's choosing or Sovereign Election, which functions as the backdrop to salvation, God's choice of Israel over all the nations and Jesus as God's choice Messiah.

What election is not: Two very important points
We have discussed already what election is.2 Now we need to discuss what election is not. First and foremost,  Election is not God choosing or electing some people to go to Hell.  According to Acts 13:46, the people to whom Paul was speaking "judged themselves unworthy to receive eternal life".  Election has everything to do with salvation or vocation, and nothing to do with God actively condemning people to Hell.  Thus the fault of anybody going to hell lies in the decision of that person.3  Secondly, Election has nothing to do with certain babies nor little children dying and going to hell. Everyone from David (2 Samuel 12:23) to Jesus (Matthew 19; Mark 10; Luke 18) teaches of the special grace God has on children prior to the age of accountability. Any person or group that would advocate God sending certain children to hell have greatly mishandled the doctrine of election.

God's basis for election or choosing is His loving merciful purposes
Moses and God's word repeatedly describes God's people as a chosen, or elect people.  As a chosen people, Old or New Testament revelation tells us that the basis for election is God's merciful love. 

1. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 tells us: “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples".  Think of the nations God had at his disposal at the time He chose Israel.3 Yet God chose these people.  Why? Deuteronomy 7:8 says it all: "but because the LORD loved you....4

2. Deuteronomy 10:12 “Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day."  Again the basis for God's choosing of Israel as a people and a nation was based soley on His loving mercy.  This is why even today Israel is often called "God's chosen people".

3. Romans 9:14 "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." Let God be God - that's Paul's whole point in Romans 9. His loving and merciful purposes are the only reasons for His choosing anyone. 

4. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 "but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are" .   Just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, the basis for God's choosing Christians lies not in them, for we had nothing to offer nor contribute.  God's choice of His people had only one basis: His merciful loving purpose of Grace. 

5. Ephesians 1:4 "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love"  God's choice of His people is based upon His loving intent. What He intends to begin, He finishes. 

6. Colossians 3:12  "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." This is a great verse, since in it we see the chosen people of God, holy and beloved, called to be commited to compassion, kindness and humility.

7. 1 John 4:19 "We love, because He first loved us.Can we make it any plainer? Loving mercy is the basis for God's electing choice. 

So then God's choosing or election is rooted in His loving purpose of Grace, and is intended to finish what He decided to begin. 

In scripture, God's choice is the backdrop of His calling, and His calling to us is why we can commit
I find throughout scripture this repetition of choosing, calling and commitment.  As suggested, God's choosing is the backdrop of His calling, and His calling to us is why we can commit.5  No doubt Moses reinforces this three-fold theme as a three-braided rope that reinforces the believer's identity.  Furthermore,  throughout the rest of scripture we see these three themes put together.  Below are some noteable examples with headings....

1. John 15:12-17 Jesus calls His disciples committed, called and chosen people
(Committed people) 12This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14“You are My friends if you do what I command you.

(Called people) 15 “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.

(Chosen People) 16“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. 17“This I command you, that you love one another.

2. The Apostle Paul refers to Christians as Chosen, Called and Committed people - 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15
(Chosen People) 2 Thess 2:13 "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth."

(Called People) 2 Thess 2:14 "It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."

(Committed People) 2 Thess 2:15 "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us."

3. The Apostle Peter calls Christians chosen, called and committed people - 1 Peter 2:9-12

(Chosen People) 1 Peter 2:9a "But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION....."

(Called People) 1 Peter 2:9b "so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY."

(Committed People) 1 Peter 2:10-11 "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."

End Notes
1In fact I find six cycles of repetition within Deuteronomy 7-10. Like any good preacher, Moses is repeating his points to reinforce in the hearts and minds of his listeners who they are and whose they:

Chosen People              Called People           Committed People
Deuteronomy 7:1-7        Deuteronomy 7:8-10   Deuteronomy 7:11-12
Deuteronomy 7:13-16    Deut 7:11-16               Deut 7:17-8:1
Deut 8:2a                       Deut 8:2b-5                 Deut 6-14
Deut 8:15-20                  Deut 9:1-2                   Deut 9:3-5
Deut 9:6-29                    Deut 9:6-29                 Deut 10:1-11
Deut 10:12-15                Deut 10:16-17             Deut 10:19-22

2. God's election in the Bible deals with the salvation of people (Acts 13:48), His choice of Israel as a nation (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Amos 3:1-4) and Jesus Christ as the Chosen One or Messiah who would die and rise again for sin (over 109 Old Testament prophecies testify to this) .

3. Furthermore, God is not willing that any should perish, but all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) and He of course grieves when any person dies in their sins and chooses to reject Him. (Ezekiel 33:11)

4. There was mighty Egypt, the empire of wealth who influence stretched from Northern Africa up into the Northern Arabian Penninsula. There was the gorwing empires of Assyria and Babylon, known for their antiquity and wealth. There were the Canaanites themselves, who had amassed great technology and military presence. However God chose Israel. She was the weakest and least likely to do anything great for God - since the nation had been enslaved. Furthermore, Abraham, the patriarch to whom God had spoken in Genesis 12, was originally an idolater. (Joshua 24:3) His Son Isaac and grandson Jacob were habitual liars. Jacob's sons (with the exception of Joseph) were to one degree or another scoundrels. 

5. Do not think this implies human beings as being robots. Far from it. God's electing choice, as stated in the Baptist Faith and Message, "comprehends the means as well as the ends", which includes human responsibility.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jesus, James & Paul talk about justification

Luke 18:13-14 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14“I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

James 2:24 "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."

Romans 3:28  "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

Paul, Jesus and James at the table talking about justification
Today's blog is about understanding the doctrine of justification as taught by Jesus, James and Paul.  Picture if you will all three of them sitting at the table, having a discussion about this very important doctrine that occupies the center of the Gospel.  Would we find Paul and James getting angry and pointing fingers, with Jesus having to split them up and put them in seperate rooms until the cooled off? Some commentators would say yes, since Paul in the above passage says justification is by faith alone and James seems to teach the opposite.  Let me offer a different suggestion: I believe there would be absolute agreement - and here is why.

Jesus begins the conversation about justification
I could see Jesus begin the conversation by saying: "brethren, do you recall what I taught back in Luke 18?" At this point I could see both Paul and James nodding their heads in agreement.   Jesus continues on in our hypothetical discussion: "as you read those verses, the context is a parable about a religious man and a very sinful man.  The religious man is self righteous, whereas the sinner freely admits he is unrighteous, unworthy of God's grace and yet pleading for God's mercy.  As you both know, the outcome is that the sinner gets up from his prayer a forgiven man, justified before God's sight through faith alone.  Now to prove that this man possessed genuine faith in the God who alone can save, I noted the man's humility and repentant heart.  Why? Because the only way people can tell genuine faith from false faith is by a person's attitudes and deeds.  So James and Paul, tell me what you understand from my teaching on justification? 

James is the first to respond in this hypothetical conversation about justification
In our imaginary conversation we could imagine James responding: "Well my Lord, I know that what you taught was true and consistent, since I grew up in the same home as you, saw your miracles and by your grace as my Lord and God believed upon you.1  From what I can tell, the only way we can tell that the sinner possessed true justifying, saving faith was by the fact he was humble, loathing his sin and walked humbly before God following His prayer.  As you know very well, My LORD, I wrote about this by the direction of your Spirit in my little letter entitled "James".  I wrote that "faith without works is dead".  My point was to show how justification looked and functioned in the sight of men, and that profession of You with one's lips means nothing."  As Jesus listens, he responds: "You have spoken correctly James".  Jesus then turns to the Apostle Paul, who smiles and gives his response in our hypotehtical round-table discussion.

What Paul says about justification in our hypothetical round table discussion about justification
Paul says: "My Lord and Savior, the day you called me, knocking me off my horse, and showing me my fallen condition, frankly I was a lot like that religious man in your parable.  I was self-righteous, a Pharisee of Pharisees.  I am so glad when you called me by grace and I believed on you, you forgave me for persecuting you through how I formerly treated your people.  As I rejoiced to hear you tell that story as Luke, my best friend wrote under the Spirit's inspiration, I realized that the reason that man was justified and declared forgiven by God was due to His simply faith and trust.  God alone knows the heart, and He knows and has deemed faith to be necessary and sufficient to save a person from His wrath.  My whole point, as you well know, is expressed in Romans 3-4 and my little letter to the Galatians.  I wanted to communicate how it is a man is made right in God's sight. Furthermore, I agree completely with what my brother James wrote about in his letter - that the only way we as human beings can know as much as possible another person's genuine faith is by their attitudes.  In fact, I wrote in my letter of Romans 12-16 the attitudes and lifestyle that should arise from a life transformed by the Gospel."

As Paul finishes, James raises his hand to speak, at which point Jesus nods: "My Lord and my God, I agree as well with my brother Paul, since I wrote to about how Genuine saving faith comes from the Father by His word. (James 1:18) Even though what I wrote was meant to emphasize Living working faith lived out in the sight of men, I recognize with my brother that the only way God will receive a person and justify them in His sight is by faith alone."

Jesus offers the final remarks in our hypothetical roundtable discussion about justification
As Jesus listened to Paul and James' additional remarks, He in His full Divine glory nodded His head in agreement.  We can picture Jesus pointing out that what James said and wrote, and what Paul said and write, were not in contradiction, but in full agreement - viewing justification respectively from man's point of view and God's point of view.  Jesus would most likely point out that James and Paul both caught the two things He taught about justification in His parable.  Certainly that sinful man was proven in man's sight to be truly saved or justified by virtue of the fact He walked humbly and in dependence upon God.  Likewise, before God, the man was justified by faith alone, and did not have to perform works or earn favor for salvation, contrasting the religious Pharisee in the parable. 

I hope you found today's blog to be insightful, since God's Word does not contradict itself.  If anything, we always need to read scripture in light of other scripture.  Can we know 100% for sure if another man possesses true genuine faith? No.  But God has prescribed good works as the test that helps us approximate as close as possible what defines true faith from false faith.  Likewise, what is the only way God will justify or credit a sinner with Christ's righteousness? It cannot be by works, since we are now no longer referring to the realm of human judgment.  God has ordained that only by grace alone through faith alone can man be saved.  We are saved grace through faith alone, and our walk from thereon is characterized by a faith that is never alone apart from works. 

End Notes
1 James and Jesus were half-brothers according to the flesh. (Matthew 13:5)  James would by grace through faith believe on Jesus as Savior, Lord and God in human flesh following Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to him as stated in 1 Corinthians 15:7.  We see James gathered with the 120 believers in the upperoom in jerusalem prior to the Holy Spirit's coming on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 1:14)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Faith without works is dead and with works is alive

James 2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

Faith with works is of great benefit, faith without works is worthless
The underlined word in the above opening text of today's blog is a word which in the original Greek conveys the thought of "profit, use, benefit".  The word translated "use" can also refer to that quality which gives an "edge, an advantage, a benefit".  Two scriptures below illustrate how this word is used in contexts where the uselessness of pursuits contrary to the Gospel and Jesus Christ are highlighted:

-Mark 8:36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" Think of the combined wealth of the nation's economies, measured in the untold trillions of dollars.  We would count the acquiring of such wealth to give such advantage and profit.  Yet in light of eternity, no amount of money is worth losing your soul.  If anything, trusting in God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ by the leading of the Holy Spirit is far more profitable, since that alone gives you a benefit that will last for eternity. 

-1 Corinthians 15:32 "If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE."  This statement made by Paul is to illustrate a philosophy that was popular in his day and that is still popular in our own: namely that all that matters is material and physical things.1  Such a way of thinking is of no profit eternally nor for this life.  When you subscribe to such teaching, you are left empty on the inside. 

In short, true saving faith will be of profit, benefit and use to the one who possesses it and those around that person.  James 2:14-21 communicates to us the following important teaching: faith with works is alive, faith without works is dead. 

Jesus teaching about true faith vs false faith 
Jesus' comments in Matthew 7:17-20 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20“So then, you will know them by their fruits." 21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter."  Seven times He mentions fruit.  Fruit is the by-product of a tree or plant.  In order to have fruit, there has to be a living support system composed of roots, a trunk or stem, branches and leaves.  In this instance we would say "faith" is the root" with "obedience" being the fruit.

In John 15:1-5 we see reference to Jesus' speaking about Himself as a grapevine and those who follow Him as being "branches".  In those verses the emphasis is on your manner of association with Christ (i.e "in Christ", "abiding in the vine").  There are those who profess Christ but are not associated with Him in their hearts.  They might be church members or Christians by name.  I've heard the distinction made sometimes between "make-believers" and "true believers".  Those who are not associated with Christ by faith are cut off and thrown away.  Why? True saving faith abides in the Vine - Jesus Christ.  In ancient Israel, grape vines grew along the ground, and often the vinedresser would place the crawling branches upon rocks to allow for continued growth.  If a branch was not bearing fruit, the vine dresser could only conclude that there was no life in that branch. 

Jesus and James teaching on the relationship between faith and works
Just as Jesus used the language of vine and fruit to explain true saving faith versus false faith, James uses the language of cause and effect.  Jesus no doubt taught that saving faith comes from God, is received by man and is by itself necessary and sufficient to begin one's saving relationship with God. (John 1:12-13, 3:16, 3:36; 5:24-25; 6:37,44)  James echoes Jesus, noting that as you plant a seed in the ground by itself, so is faith implanted by God the Father through His word into the soil of a receptive human heart. (Matthew 13:18-23; James 1:18) 

However in the Spirit's quickening work of salvation, once saving faith has occurred, God declares me alive as a born-again new creature, forgiven in justification, a son in adoption and . (Romans 4; 8:16-17; Galatians 4:1-7; John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3, 23)  Following saving faith, the fruit of saving faith will come forth progressively and in stages in a work we call sanctification. (Romans 6:12ff; Galatians 5:16-22)  Works follow true saving faith like little children following their mother.  James and Jesus both emphasized the work of sanctification following immediately from the saving work of salvation. (Matthew 7:13-20; James 2:14-21)

Faith without works is dead, faith with works is alive - the key thought of James 2:14-21
Overtime genuine salvation should prove to be benefitial and profitable to both the believer and those around them. In the above three statements, James notes:

1. Practically it can be illustrated that faith without works is dead. James 2:14-17

2. Biblically it can be illustrated that faith without works is dead, as seen in the lives of Abraham (2:18-24) and Rahab (2:25). James 2:18-25

3. Physically it can be illustrated that faith without works is dead. James 2:26

What James is teaching us here is how we identify true saving faith versus counterfeit faith.  In his remarks in James 2:14-21, James says in James 2:17 "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." In James 2:20 he takes this statement and rephrases it in the form of a question: "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?"  Then he closes out the section with a restatement of his main point in James 2:26 "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."

End Notes____________
1. This philosophy is known as "materialism" or "physicalism".  Perhaps one of the most famous modern proponents of this was the late Astronomer Carl Sagan, who in his massively popular series 'The Cosmos" opened it with these words: "The universe was, is and is all that ever will be".  For the materialist, all that matters is pleasure for the physical body and no accountability to a Creator, since for them no invisible realm exists, nor Creator.