“...that I may gain Christ and be found in him...”—Philippians 3:8-9, NIV1984

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Being Committed to the King

9 And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, son of Ahohi. He was with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel withdrew.  10 He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And the Lord brought about a great victory that day, and the men returned after him only to strip the slain.—2 Samuel 23:9-10, ESV
Woodcut of David pouring out the water that his Mighty Men risked their lives to retrieve for him (see vv. 13-17), byJulius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
David was surrounded by men of valor who were committed to his mission. They were valiant men who risked everything for David, not yielding to fear or criticism or a desire to be popular. They were viewed by many in Israel to be a band of rebels when David was pursued by Saul and later by Absalom. These mighty men didn’t even yield to their own physical exhaustion, but they fought tirelessly for what they believed in, as did Eleazar whose hand was stuck to his sword. Yet, we see that hundreds of years later, another King came with a mission and had a following of committed men who carried out His work even after He left their midst. Their commitment eventually cost them everything, including their lives.

Jesus disciples are an example to us and an illustration of a common theme in the Bible. God often uses a relatively small group of people who are willing to risk everything to accomplish His work. We must ask ourselves whether there is anything preventing us from following Christ and teaming up with others in this same way to accomplish our King’s work.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Flattering Rhetoric or Real Hope?

Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp, Arrestblock-Hof: Memorial to members of German resistance executed on April 9, 1945 By Concordiadomi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
1 After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. 2 And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” 3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” 5 And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.—2 Samuel 15:1-6
Throughout history, evil tyrants always won the hearts of people through flattering rhetoric and promises of hope. Yet, the true people of God were not deceived because they know that any promise of hope that does not have, at its foundation, Jesus Christ crucified and raised again, is no hope at all. It is just more enslavement to the devil’s ideologies.

We must be careful that we are not deceived by false promises of hope spouted by smoothing-sounding men. The best way to protect ourselves is to know the truth by reading and studying the Word of God every day. The Bible addresses every problem known to man, and the devil has his own “solutions” to those problems also. They often look more attractive to our natural selves, because they require less self-sacrifice and less personal responsibility. Trying to address societal problems with an unbiblical solution only makes matters worse and brings consequences. Let us know the truth and apply it!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Courage and Parables

1 And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” 7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”—2 Samuel 12:1-7, ESV
David and Nathan by Matthias Scheits [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On one afternoon while king David was relaxing and neglecting his kingly duties, he decided to go to his rooftop where he noticed the beautiful Bathsheba, wife of Uriah as she bathed. King David lusted after her, committed adultery with her, and then had Uriah murdered in an attempt to justify marrying Uriah’s wife to cover up her conception. It was a simple plan, and it was easy for David to carry out and justify. If this happened today, David would have just urged Bathsheba to abort the baby, and he would not have married her if he was able to get his lustful desires fulfilled anyway.

It seemed like the right thing to do until God removed the blindfold from David’s eyes using the courage of Nathan, God’s prophet, to tell David a parable. Parables are powerful because they communicate underlying principles and truths in a different context from the hearer’s current context, often bringing clarity by the use of extremes. This is probably one reason why Jesus used many parables.

One thing I try to do is to use parables or simple illustrations of a principle taken to more of an extreme to help people understand the truth. The challenge for me is to do this in a loving way. Still, we need to pray for God to remove the blindfolds from people’s eyes. Having the courage to stand for the truth is the most loving thing to do, and it is certainly what our society needs right now—men and women who unapologetically stand up for biblical truth despite how this may offend others or bring insult and slander. Good never results from compromising with anti-biblical ideologies or failing to stand against them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

David and Mephibosheth

Statue of King David by Nicolas Cordier in the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. By Jastrow (Own work (own picture)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
3 And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” 4 The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” 5 Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. 6 And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” 7 And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 8 And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”—2 Samuel 9:3-8, ESV
Ever since I first read this story some number of years ago, I was impressed with the heart that David had for his deceased friend Jonathan, the father of Mephibosheth, and especially that he gave such honor to a person that his society would not have esteemed.

This seems to be a foreshadow of what Jesus would do many years later when He would heal the lame and care for the poor and sick (see Matthew 11:4-6), not because they deserved it, but because His heavenly Father adopted them as His own. They would dine with Him in the Heavenly Kingdom. Like David, Jesus did it because of who their Father was. Other than the foreshadow and great hope that this story presents, it is also an example of the way society is support to work—you and I (not the government or another institution) take personal responsibility for the care of those closest to us.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Nation Headed for Self-Destruction

Maciejowski Bible Leaf 37 3
Illustration from the Morgan Bible of Abner (in green) taking Michal away from Paltiel.

26 Then Abner called to Joab, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?”—2 Samuel 2:26, ESV

When a nation’s leaders do not fear God, it brings self-destruction to the nation. This was merely the beginning of a long and mostly disastrous history of kings in Israel.

The sad thing is this type of thing continues to repeat itself throughout history. Men just don’t learn. Their selfish ambitions create an internal conflict with their religious beliefs. Then they either change their desires or change their view of God.

Yet, the responsibility to provide the solution does not lie with the powers at be. They are often blinded by the god of this age. Providing the solution is the responsibility of the citizens of the nation to influence their neighbors and friends in a way that wins them to faith in Christ. This transforms the nation from the inside out. This does not mean that as Christians, we should neglect our right to choose leaders. We must choose our leaders wisely to ensure our freedom to win others to Christ.

He's Not Dead, Jim!

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,...—Philippians 3:10, ESV
Knowing the power of Jesus’ resurrection means knowing the redemptive power of Jesus over sin and death. His resurrection demonstrates that not even death could be victorious over Him. Since, through faith, we are united with Him in his death, we are also united with Him in His resurrection (see Romans 6:5). This regeneration begins, not at our physical death, but at the moment of our salvation (see John 5:24).

Before our salvation, sin worked in us, defiling us with the things of the world. Considering these things as rubbish (see verses 7-8) removes the temptation and hindrance they bring to knowing Christ and experiencing His redemptive power here and now. It is amazing that we can partake in the resurrection, spiritually now, and then later, in a physical sense on the last day (see 2 Corinthians 4:16). Because of Jesus' resurrection we have the hope of changing and escaping the corruption caused by sin. We have the hope of living news lives now and eternally. We're no longer bound to the sins that have controlled us. Praise be to God who gives us new life through Jesus Christ!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

David and Saul

6 As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” 8 And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul eyed David from that day on.—1 Samuel 18:6-9, ESV 
Little did David know about hundreds of years later when one of his descendants, Jesus, would be hated and persecuted for no righteous reason, but for jealousy. Fools hate and persecute because they are influenced by the devil. They do not know what they are doing (see Luke 23:34). They are influenced by an unseen force that is much more powerful than the visible world. That is why Paul wrote (Ephesians 6:12, ESV), “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Still, we see that David, and later Jesus, respond to such hatred and persecution with mercy, grace, and compassion. They loved their enemies (see Luke 6 and Romans 12). While David certainly committed his share of wicked deeds (polygamy, adultery, murder), ultimately we see that his heart truly sought after God (see Acts 13:22). He had two opportunities to kill his enemy Saul, yet he spared his life, understanding that vengeance belongs to God alone.

While loving our enemies is difficult, I have found that the best way for me to love them and have a heart of compassion towards them is to figure out how I can bless them in words and deed. I have to realize that they are harassed and helpless, under the influence of many kinds of evil forces in the world. They need the grace and mercy of God to transform their hearts, just like I need God’s grace and mercy to transform me into an obedient and loving son of God. And only God knows what blessings will come from our obedience, but often kindness is what leads people to repentance (see Romans 2:4).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Redeeming the Fallen Kingdom

10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”—1 Samuel 8:10-18, ESV
It is always interesting to me to explore the effects of people rejecting God and then creating a worldly institution to give them hope. Each time people do this, it only brings curses, because these worldly institutions are developed by and run by men who are prone to sin. If these men don’t submit themselves to God, time after time, the institutions evolve into vastly destructive forces that try to supplant God. They often redefine civil rights as coming from the government to protect whichever class is most powerful and influential rather than protecting people based on how they were created biologically equal (race, sex, ethnicity) by God. Often the poorer classes (the orphans and the widows) get trampled on the most. If the institutions do submit themselves to God, they can be used by God to show people who they really need to put their hope in—Jesus Christ.

The awesome thing is that Jesus came and redeemed all of the curses that men brought upon themselves when they rejected God. In this case, God described how the nation of Israel will pay dearly for wanting an earthly king. This king would take away property and relationships. Indeed, some of the worst governmental regimes in history have destroyed countless lives (Hitler, Mao Zedong, Stalin, Pol Pot). In contrast, we see in Luke 18:29-30 (ESV), the redemption of kingship in Jesus Christ:
29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
The question I have to ask you and myself is how does God want to use us to bring redemption to human institutions so that they lead others to Christ? Whether these institutions are governmental, educational, scientific, medical, or others, God can use these institutions to reveal Himself to people. Therefore we must choose our leaders wisely, and we must influence the ungodly or they will influence us.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Calling Fathers to Account

11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”—1 Samuel 3:11-14, ESV
All through the Scriptures we see examples of God calling fathers to account for how they raise their children. I vow to do all that I can to make sure that I and my wife are the number one influence in my children’s lives—not the media, not other children, and not other adults. It is my responsibility to make sure that I train my children in the ways of the Lord, to teach them the  “glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done...that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God (Psalm 78:4,6-8, ESV).”

Dads, it's time to lovingly lead your family and be men if you are, in any way, neglecting your family. Young men, it's time to discipline yourselves now so that you are not mastered by anything other than Christ when it is your turn to raise the next generation. Boys do what they feel like doing. Men do what they must do. Be men!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Helping or Hurting? - When Others Are Caught in Sin

1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.—Galatians 6:1-5 (ESV)
It seems to me that this passage addressed the difference between helping someone overcome habitual sin compared to enabling a person to continue a lifestyle of habitual sin. It is not a simple thing, but Paul explained some principles to follow.

We must be gentle and compassionate in helping a person understand that his behavior is sinful and that he has become a slave of sin all over again (see Gal. 4:8-9).

We must be cautious that we’re not tempted to sin in the same as way by helping the person.

We must help others deal with their burdens which may be the result of their own sins or someone else’s. The word “burden” in verse 2 is different than the word “load” in verse 5 in the original Greek manuscripts. It seems that the burden refers more to the overwhelming aspect of being addicted to sinful behavior or living in a world that is affected by sin. Sometimes tragedy happens and people need help dealing with it. The burden may also refer to the emotional turmoil and shame that comes from feeling hopelessly addicted to sinful behavior. Let us be good listeners and ask good questions to help a person understand himself. Proverbs 20:5 (ESV) states, “The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” In any case, people need help with the extraordinarily difficulties of life.

We must accurately assess ourselves. Do we think our own lives are great because we’re burden-free at the moment? Let us be humble and help others rather than think we’re so great and have managed to avoid problems.

Let us examine our own work through God’s standard rather than comparing our work with that of others. God gives each person gifts and abilities and expects us to use those to carry out our normal load of responsibilities that He gives us 
(compared to overwhelming, unexpected burdens). Are we carrying our own load?

Among what is a normal load, each person has the responsibility to work and provide for himself and his family (see 2 Thess. 3:9-11). If a person can work, but does not, my responsibility is to help him escape from his sinful behavior and get back to carrying his own load. This often means providing for his needs for a limited period of time, but never on a long-term basis to enable him to continue in sin and escape the consequences. That is enabling the problem and ultimately hating the person since God often uses the consequences of sin as a means of judgment and discipline to bring a person back to his senses (see 1 Cor. 5:5, 2 Cor. 7:8-10, 1 Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-29).

One resource that I recommend for helping people deal with habitual sin is http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com/.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What Kind of Fruit Do You Produce?

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.—Galatians 5:16-25, ESV
There is a principle at work here that is all over the Bible. You can’t serve two masters (see Matt. 6:24, Eph. 4:17-32). You either decidedly give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, in each moment of each day, or your flesh takes over. That is the default. It may not always be black and white, and it may be a struggle, but you are either headed more toward a spirit-controlled life, or more toward a life controlled by your natural, sinful nature. But if you set out each day with the attitude, “How can I crucify my natural, selfish, evil desires, and instead, do good, love, and serve others?” your life will more consistently look like verses 22 and 23. You will be influential. Your love and service toward others will be contagious. You will change the whole atmosphere of your home, your work, your school, and your church. If you live a life controlled by the Holy Spirit, God will use you to bring the hope of a new life in Jesus Christ to others. You will affect the world!

Please note that I am not implying anything about salvation here other than to say that for one to even possibly live a life consistently characterized by verses 22 and 23, one must be saved (born again, converted) and, therefore, have the Holy Spirit living in oneself.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Keeping the Freedom

7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?—Galatians 4:7-9, ESV
When we repent and believe in Jesus for salvation, we’re no longer slaves to sin. We are sons and daughters of God. We’re finally free to live by the undeserved favor and love of God who supplies us with all that we need to live a life that pleases pleases Him, accomplishes the work that He gave us to do, and gives us satisfaction on the deepest level. Yet so many are deceived into putting the shackles back on. How does this happen? I think the number one reason is that people don’t renew their minds by reading and studying the Bible. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”—Romans 12:2, ESV.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Old Testament and New Testament - How to Know Which Laws Christians Should Follow and Affirm and Defend

There is much confusion among Christians and non-Christians about all of the laws or rules in the Bible, and the short answer to the question posed by the title is that we should follow some of them. There are different types which I will refer to as moral, civil, and ceremonial.

Before explaining the laws, I’d like write briefly about interpretation. I've had a fair share of conversations on web sites and outside in the “real world” to know that Christians have a lot of different ways of interpreting what Jesus (as well as other New Testament writers) did and said and what they meant by their teaching. Non-Christians have even more interpretations. I am writing this assuming you are a Christian, meaning that you are a born-again, saved, converted (whatever terminology that you want to use) believer who has placed your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and not yourself or anything you can do, for salvation from sin both here and now and for all of eternity.

I believe that only one interpretation of Scripture is correct, and we (Christians) should strive to interpret it correctly. Yet, we are human and our minds are limited in our understanding of spiritual and eternal things and are only enlightened as the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth to us (see John 16:13). It’s often a process. We may not find the perfect interpretation of every verse in the Bible until we spend eternity with our Lord. But for the sake of unity and living wisely toward outsiders, let’s at least try to establish our interpretations and convictions on sound reasoning from the Scriptures rather than hearsay, which is the basis of many people’s interpretations, especially those who don’t have a habit of reading, studying, and obeying the Bible. If we disagree with some, let’s at least try to understand the reasons behind the person’s interpretation and acknowledge that some passages of Scripture are not very clear. We show charity and humility to some different possible interpretations of more difficult passages of Scripture. In humility, we understand that our interpretation or parts of it, may be wrong, and that God will eventually correct us (see Philippians 3:15). With that said, I will try to answer this question about laws in the remainder of this article, beginning with the ceremonial laws.

The ceremonial laws that brought the Jews into a covenantal relationship with God in the Old Testament (different from the moral and civil laws) don’t apply to us today (though we may do well to apply some of the principles behind many of those laws). They were made obsolete by Jesus who brought a New Covenant, not symbolized by tablets of stone, but by His blood (see Heb. 8:13, Luke 22:20) based on grace (see John 1:17) through faith in Him (see Ephesians 2:8-9). We don’t need to be circumcised which was the issue in Paul’s day (see Galatians 2). We also don’t need to bring the many different offerings to the altar in the temple. There is no more earthly temple anyway.

The other type of Old Testament laws that don’t apply (at least in their verbatim form) to us as Christians are the civil laws between the Jews. These had a purpose limited to the sovereign nation of Israel which did not remain sovereign for very long as God brought other nations in to humble them, discipline them, and lead to them to repentance. Yet, there are some very good principles from these civil laws that helped shape the U.S. Government’s Constitution and laws. God’s truth and wisdom are woven through all the laws! I will also explain more about the civil laws and their relationship to the moral laws below.

As Christians we should still follow the moral laws, but “should” means nothing unless we understand how to discern which laws are moral and why it matters whether we follow them or not.
First, let’s start with what Jesus affirmed about all of the laws (commandments):
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’—(Matt. 22:37-39, NASB).
All of the laws were established so that the Jews would know what loving God and loving others looks like. The Law also has the purpose of showing us that we’re evil and deserve eternal judgment so that we’ll know that we need the Savior, Jesus (see Gal. 3:24). Yet, Jesus’ affirmation doesn’t reduce the moral law to be defined as whatever we believe to be loving (which is what many believe). Our natural selves keep creating ways to do evil or redefine what is loving and good. Perhaps this why some Christians think marriage between any two or more people who love each other, same sex or not, is good and acceptable!

The reasons given above are some of the reasons why I believe God took great pains to continually elaborate on what the Law is and the consequences of breaking it. First He just gave Adam and Eve one rule (see Gen. 2:16-17) (or two if you want to consider Gen. 1:28) and noted the consequence would be death (spiritual and physical). Then He gave the nation of Israel 10 (see Exodus 20), then more until they reached more than 600 moral, civil, and ceremonial laws.

The reality of our day is that well-meaning “religious” people, and maybe some not-so-well meaning, invalidate much or all of the Old Testament and New Testament moral laws so that they don’t need to change their behavior or lifestyle. Rather, in the case of same-sex marriage and other immoral behavior, they want everyone, especially the civil government to validate their behavior and protect it.

So how do I know which are moral and which are not? This a good question. The way I answer this is by saying that the moral laws were independent of time and place. I think this because the most straightforward interpretation of the moral laws would imply nothing dependent on culture, but on natural order. Take murder for example (one individual killing another out of malice). Murder is against natural order because God created life and intended for it to live. Adam and Eve messed that up for us (and all us would have done the same if we were in the Garden). There is nothing culturally relative about it.

Same sex marriage and homosexuality and whatever-sexuality that happens between two or more people of the opposite or same sex is evil when it is not in the bounds of a committed marriage relationship between one man and one woman. It goes against the natural order of God creating a man and a woman and telling them to be fruitful and multiply in the confines of a committed marriage relationship. Jesus re-affirmed God’s original definition of marriage in Matthew 19:4-6 (NIV1984):

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ [from Gen. 2:24]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
These are self-evident truths that our consciences bear witness to.

Another example of morality being independent of its historical setting is Romans 1:18-32. I know Paul did not refer to morality that depended on culture because his historical basis is (v. 20) “since the creation...” In contrast, often the civil laws had a moral, culturally independent, component, and then a penal component that depended on the government of the people. So the nation of Israel had moral laws with a governmental, penal component. I.e. Adultery was punishable by stoning.

Then I have had several people ask, “If there are moral laws from the Old Testament that Christians should still adhere to, why did Jesus not stone the woman caught in adultery?” This is a great question, and I am encouraged by the fact that some people have really wrestled with this issue.

Here is my answer. The Jews in the Roman Empire during Jesus’ time had their civil penalties invalidated by the Roman government. They were not allowed to put anyone to death (John 18:30-32), and in my opinion, the scenario of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53–8:11 was not even about whether the woman deserved to be stoned. It was really brought to Jesus’ attention to try and trap Him in treason against the Roman government or blasphemy against God by invalidating the Laws of Moses. Jesus could not tell them to put her to death. That would be treason against Rome. He could not say she’s innocent and not deserving death, because she was as an adulterer (and we’re all guilty [see Matt. 5:17-32]). Of course, Jesus in His infinite wisdom completely side-stepped their purpose and caught them off guard by pointing His finger at their hearts. He did not say, “Nevermind the civil laws.” They lived under Roman authority. He did not say, “Nevermind the moral laws.” They lived under God’s authority, and God created man in His image to reflect Him. This is one main reason why we keep the moral laws and don’t say, “Well, I’m forgiven, therefore I have a license to sin (see Rom. 6:1-7).” (Besides if we think that way, we really need to question whether our faith is genuine.)

Aside from trying to reflect the glory of God, another reason why we live by all of the moral laws is because, as I mentioned earlier, all of God’s laws reflect His truth and wisdom. Keeping them is a primary way we show our gratitude and love for Him and know Him and experience His love more fully (see John 14:15; John 14:23; John 15:10; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6). They are the best way to live. They protect us and help us to prosper and receive His blessings in every way.

One last reason that I will mention is related to the reason above and related to living out the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:18-20). The foundation of all of the world’s problems is that man is inherently evil. The only way to overcome this and redeem the world is through the transformation that takes place through people trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. Hopefully our lives, as we strive to live morally, are an example of Christ’s redemptive work in the lost world. Our lives should be living proof that God is true and every opposing man is a liar (Rom. 3:4).

Please feel free to comment on this article for the sake of bringing in other points of view.

The Purpose of the Law

21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.—Galatians 3:21-29, ESV
Paul used a logical argument to help the Gentiles understand that being deceived into following the Jewish Law to obtain salvation (or righteousness) is nonsense. He made the argument that they have already obtained it through faith in Christ, which was the way to obtain it anyway, since God made the promise to Abraham before giving Israel the Law 430 years later. God’s promise was that all nations would be blessed in Abraham. Paul made the point that the Gentiles could not obtain salvation if the Law was intended for the nation of Israel in the first place.

Yet, the Law had an amazing purpose. Its purpose was to show us Jesus Christ. It shows us just how Holy and perfect the living God is and how sinful and imperfect we are. The point is that it is our guardian (v. 24, or tutor, schoolmaster) to teach us that we need the forgiveness that came through Jesus. Paul wrote in Romans 7:7 (ESV), ‘Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”’

Why is it that many religious people still don’t get this today? Rather than saying we must follow the Jewish Law (though some do say that), they often have created their own laws that believers must follow to be saved. Getting baptized by water is common one.

Are you sure that you are relying on faith or trust in Jesus Christ and his finished work (see 1 Peter 3:18) for salvation, or are you still, in some ways, relying on or trusting in your own (or someone else’s) religious law to give your righteousness before God?

This is not say that we don't follow the some of the Law as Christians, but our purpose in trying to follow it as Christians is not obtain righteousness. It is to be blessed and to bless others. Read more about the Law on another post.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Finding Righteousness and Significance

8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,...—Philippians 3:8-9, NASB
This means that our identity as followers of Jesus should be in Jesus. Period. That's the goal. One day this should be true of me (and you if you trusted in Christ for salvation): If you’re looking for me, don’t look for a person with credentials that the world values. Don’t look for a person who is highly esteemed by the world. Don’t look for a person who is wealthy and extravagant. Don’t look for a person who is self-righteous. Look for a lowly, humble servant. Look for a wise person who is not looking for recognition or fame. Look for a person who lovingly sacrifices the pleasures of the world for the sake of helping people know Jesus Christ. Look for a person who is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled.

Even though Paul (the writer of this book), counted his former life of trying to obey the Law as loss, He still valued righteousness. God values righteousness, but it is not achieved through trying to adhere to the Law. It is only achieved on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other way for a human with a sinful nature to be righteous. We can’t trust in ourselves to live outwardly righteously, because even if we could do that perfectly, inwardly we would still have evil desires, and God looks at the heart (see 1 Sam. 16:7).

Therefore, there is no other solution to be righteous by God’s judgment except to be considered righteous because of trusting in Jesus, that he accomplished for us in His flesh what we could not—living inwardly and outwardly righteous and then voluntarily justifying our sins by dying on the cross and rising again so that God did not have to deny neither His love for us nor His justice that our sins earned for us. Since God did that for us, our response is to Count everything else loss compared to surpassing value of knowing Christ. What do you find your identity and value in? What makes your life significant? Many people look to sports, exercise, clothing, appearance, wealth, career, family, children, a romantic relationship, the feeling of usefulness to others, what others think, friendships, and many other things to give them a sense of significance and worth. Looking to these things for significance and self-worth at best will lead to disappointment and depression, because these things eventually fail us and don't satisfy our spiritual needs. At worst, finding significance in any worldly thing leads to a life of detrimental devotion to false gods. Now is the time to examine yourself and ask the tough questions. Ask others what they think you highly value. Leave it behind and pursue a deeper relationship with the Creator and Savior.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Don't Try to Earn Grace

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.—Galatians 2:15-21 (ESV)
If there was anyone who was familiar with the more than 613 laws (the Law) that God gave to Jews through Moses, it was Paul, God’s ambassador to the Gentiles. Yet, Paul clearly explained to the Gentiles that salvation is the same for Jews and Gentiles. It comes through having our sins justified through faith in Jesus Christ—that He justified them by doing what the Law required for sins, that is, dying. When, by faith in Jesus, our sins are justified, our sinful nature has been crucified with Him on the cross (v. 20). The justice that the Law required for sins was accomplished. Therefore the Law no longer has authority over us. Jesus has authority as His spirit reigns in us, and we are able to say “No!” to our sinful nature and yes to righteous living. This same Holy Spirit causes our resurrection on the last day (see Rom. 8:10-11). To say that one must repent and believe and follow certain rules to be saved would be to nullify (v. 21) the completeness of Jesus’ redemptive work and at the same time, give ourselves some credit for our salvation. That is just heresy. To say that we have to follow laws to be saved or somehow earn our salvation also nullifies the grace of God (the undeserved favor of God) which He displayed in Christ dying for us while we still sinners, while we deserved his just wrath, while we were his enemies. As Jesus said, the only work we have to do for salvation is “...that you believe in him whom he has sent (John 6:29, ESV).”

Some churches (or individuals) do the very same thing today that Paul addressed in this passage. The churches have created new laws that members either feel obliged (or are told) to follow in order to maintain salvation or acquire it in the first place. Christians belonging to these congregations may feel like they have not qualified to receive God’s grace when they don’t have a “quiet time” each day or if they have a long list of “unconfessed” sins or if they don’t attend all the weekly services or if they don’t share the gospel enough or invite people to the church services, or get baptized with water, or ____________ (you fill in the blank).

Having the habit of reading the Bible and praying as a daily routine is great. This is great way to get to know the Savior. Being humble before God and confessing sins is great. God lifts us up, and his grace helps us to recover (see James 4:6). Going to church services or doing other “Christian” activities like eating lunch at a Chick-Fil-A chapel (that’s a joke), are all great things to do, but we must be careful as Christians that we don’t make people feel obliged to these things as if they are some kind of New Testament laws which our salvation or favor with God depend on.

We don’t have to do these things, but we get to. When people know who God wants them to be and what He wants them to do, they want to do these things if they believe these activities will help them be and do what God wants. People need this kind of vision. Otherwise they do what feels best (See Proverbs 29:18). They do what’s natural and easy, and those usually aren’t things that will accomplish the Great Commission (see Matt 28:18-20). None of this is to say that Christians shouldn’t follow laws in the Old Testament. You can read more about that in another post.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Examine Yourselves

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!—2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)
True conversion from death to life results in the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, working in us to transform our lives. Our old selves have been put to death, and behold we have been recreated spiritually and are being recreated from the inside out. Our thoughts and our passions are being renewed by the spirit of God so that they are pleasing to Him. We also learn to deal with sinful thoughts and passions, often influenced by our emotions, in a way that pleases God and demonstrates love and grace toward others. In short, these inner changes produce outward changes in the person who has been truly reborn into the family of God.

Why did Paul implore them to test themselves? It seems as though many in the Corinthian church were still committing sexual sins with no sign of a change of mind. Sure, some sins are not easy to overcome, but I think Paul’s biggest concern was that many of them seemed to have little concern over their sexual immorality (see 2 Cor. 12:20-21). They had not decided that they were really sinning against the Holy God. I think Paul’s concern was that they had knowledge of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:5-6), but they had not really applied faith to truly believe or trust in Jesus for salvation.

One can understand facts, like water freezes and becomes slippery on roads or like the death and resurrection of Christ, but when one truly believes in these facts, when he bets his life on them being true, they affect the way he lives. In the former example, he drives much more carefully or uses chains on his tires, and in the latter example, he forsakes and changes his mind (on some level) regarding his love for the evil things of the world and loves God. As he loves God more, his discernment of good versus evil is more accurate, and he loves God more and hates what is sinful more (see Philip. 1:9-10).

Of course a man can not judge another man’s faith. A man can only judge outward appearances. This is why Paul said examine and test “yourselves,” not “each other.” John’s letters (1, 2, 3 John) also communicate very similar ideas.

If there is one thing that I have seen over and over that hinders many from salvation (or at least demonstrating any fruit of salvation), it is their sexual behavior. At some point they realize they have to condemn their own behavior or change what they believe about God. Sadly, many choose the latter, and many so-called Christians (see 1 Cor. 5:11) twist or misinterpret the Old and New Testament to justify their behavior.

Paul was not merely interested in carrying out church discipline on these individuals, he was really interested in their spiritual welfare and edification and more generally, these of the Corinthian church (see 2 Cor. 13:9-11). Therefore, our response to this should be to do the same.