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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Abortion - Luke 1 – All You Need to Know

Luke 1 tells you all you need to know about abortion and a woman's right to choose.  Abortion in politically correct liberal speech is referred to as a choice today but I am far more concerned with scripturally correct speech than I am with politically correct speech and I think you ought to be too.  Our concern ought not to be how society views a matter or how those who have gained power view a subject but how God sees it.

I remind you that there was a time when the vast majority of German society was behind Hitler and I remind you there was a day in Jerusalem a couple of thousand years ago when the consensus was that a man who had done nothing other than good ought to be condemned to death.

When a society gets into its head that there is nothing wrong with an act then yes you can have gladiator games to the death and charge admission so people can enjoy watching one man kill another or you can do about anything else you want to do.  (I don't know whether or not they charged admission—does that matter?  I think not.  People wanted to see it whether they had to pay to see it or not.  That is how depraved a society can get.)

What American society or law, or this political party or that one, or this politician or that one, has to say really means absolutely nothing as to whether or not a thing is right in God's eyes.  God does not determine righteousness based on man's thoughts, opinions, or consensus.  Whatever it is whether living together outside of marriage, homosexual unions, abortion, or whatever, it makes no difference what public opinion polls say the majority believe and are willing to accept--not with God.  God does not care.

"'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,' says the LORD." (Isa. 55:8 NKJV)  To the sinner in Psalm 50:21, God says, "You thought that I was altogether like you." (NKJV)  Mistake!  Big Mistake!!  Our Mistake? 

So what did Luke say about abortion that makes God's position on the subject clear?

Luke made it clear that that which was within the womb was a person, not just a mass of tissue.  When the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:19) came first to Zacharias who would be the father of John the Baptist and then later to Mary (Luke 1:26), the mother of Jesus, Gabriel spoke both times as though the child to be born already existed.  He spoke in prophecy but this tells us something in itself.  What?  In God's eyes both John the Baptist and Jesus in the flesh already existed when in fact neither had yet even been conceived in the womb. 

When a person is conceived in the womb has that person not already previously existed in the mind of God?  David said, "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them." (Psalms 139:16 NKJV)  God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, spoke about Cyrus the Great fulfilling God's will in Isaiah 44:28 on through the first part of chapter 45, even calling Cyrus by name (Isa. 45:4), when it would be many decades to come before Cyrus would be born.  Did Cyrus exist in the mind of God prior to his birth?  Was he just fetal matter in the womb after his conception or was he the baby Cyrus?   When a woman conceives whose doing is that if not God's?  (See Gen. 29:31 and Gen. 30:22-23 to find out.  No, don't be lazy, open your Bible and read.)

How many women are trying desperately to have a child but cannot?  If you as a woman have conceived then it was God's doing.  God is the only giver of human life.  He alone can make it happen.  How many times in the Bible does one read of women who gave credit to God for giving them a son?  I do not know but having been a Bible reader of long-standing I know it is many times beginning with Eve in Gen. 4:1 and who can forget Samuel's mother in Sam. 1:19-20 (another must read).  God is in the process of giving life in the womb while man is in the process of taking that same innocent and defenseless life in the abortion procedure.

If conception is of God's doing are we not taking on God when we try and destroy what he has created?

Abortionists call that which is within the womb a fetus (a sterile unfeeling term) in order to not have to refer to that which is within as a baby, as a human being.  Is that the way God sees it?  Elizabeth's fetus was, with God, John the Baptist.  Is there any rational way to doubt that?  The pro-choice people would have said it is just tissue and blood.  God, through Gabriel, said it was John (Luke 1:13).  John the Baptist was in the womb of Elizabeth, not just fetal tissue.  God named him before he was even conceived so it was John who was in the womb.

John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit "while yet in his mother's womb." (Luke 1:15 NAS, see also the HCSB, ISV, NET, NLT, and NRSV translations)  Some translations say "from his mother's womb" (NKJV and others) but if you will look down at verses 41 and 44 you will see that the NAS is most likely the correct translation.  Those two verses read as follows:

"And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." (Luke 1:41 NKJV)   

"For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy." (Luke 1:44 NKJV—Elizabeth speaking to Mary)

So what do we have here, two things.  (a) Elizabeth, speaking by means of the Holy Spirit (see verse 41), says that which is within her is a babe (see verse 44).  It is a baby.  Is it a mass of tissue only or is it a human being?  Pro-choice people do not like to talk about babies.  They much prefer the term fetus.  Shall we use scriptural language or shall we use pro-choice language?  Let us be clear about what is going on.

Had Elizabeth's fetus been aborted a baby, not a mass of tissue, would have died.  That according to Dr. Luke reporting on the words of a Holy Spirit inspired woman concerning the matter.  She said it was a babe (verse 44) as did the inspired writer Luke in verse 41.

Elizabeth, speaking by means of the Holy Spirit says the babe leaped for joy.  Can an unfeeling mass of tissue have joy?  Can you abort this which experiences joy and just say it was only a fetus, just some tissue and blood?

I cannot explain what goes on in the womb, the pre-birth experience, for who can declare the workings of God in creating human life?  David said in Psalms 139:13-14, "For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb.  I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well." (NKJV)

God creates the baby in the womb, he forms the inward parts, he plants the ear and forms the eye (Psalm 94:9).  Shall we take that which God is in the process of creating and destroy his work in progress?  That is what happens in an abortion.  Maybe we ought to get out of God's way, what do you think?  The fact that it is a process means nothing for God has been in the process of making me an old man for decades.  We are all in the process of change everyday of our lives.  There is no such thing as a human body not undergoing continual change.

"Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, 'He did not make me'? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (Isa. 29:16 NKJV)  Who do you think is the potter and who is the clay?  If you do not know read Rom. 9:20-21.  A human life is God’s work. 

Jeremiah was told, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; And I ordained you a prophet to the nations." (Jer. 1:5 NKJV)  If with God we are a person before conception (he knows us before he forms us in the womb) then surely after conception we are a person, not just tissue.  

Yes, God no doubt knows beforehand which child will be aborted and which will not be but it is certain that which is within the womb, the baby (not just tissue and blood), is God's creative process which he is actively involved in.  Do not interrupt God's work and say there is no sin.  If there is no sin in it, and if it is indeed just a choice, then one must conclude God approves of abortion.  No other conclusion could be drawn in such a case. 

If that was true then Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Samuel, and a host of others could have been aborted before birth without sin.  Where is the person that really believes that who calls himself a Christian?

 Luke 1 tells you all you need to know about abortion.  Study and seriously think on verses 15 and 41 through 44.  That which was within the womb of Elizabeth was not something that could be aborted at will with God's approval and that which lay in her womb was more than just a mass of tissue.

I have to close with this, not knowing who might someday read it, sin needs to be condemned but Jesus came to earth to save sinners, not destroy them.  While abortion is a very serious sin it is no worse than the killing of Jesus on the cross.  As many of those people who were responsible for his death who were later willing to believe the gospel, repent of their sins, and be baptized were saved (read Acts 2).

If you have had an abortion God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9) meaning you.  He will freely and fully forgive if you will but obey the gospel from the heart or having already done that prior to your abortion if you will but repent, confess your sin, and ask his forgiveness it shall be granted.  In any case, your aborted child is safe in God's arms.  May God be with you in making the right decisions in your life.   

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Friday, June 24, 2022

Demas Has Forsaken Me

The man by the name of Demas is only mentioned in the Bible three times, all three times by the apostle Paul.  Demas was for a time a fellow traveler and fellow worker with Paul.  He is mentioned in the closing of the book of Colossians, a book written around AD 60, as one who with Paul and others sent their greetings to the church at Closse (Col. 4:14). 

Again in the book of Philemon in verses 23 and 24 he along with Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, and Luke send greetings to Philemon and Paul says these men are his fellow workers or in the old King James language his “fellowlabourers.”  The book of Philemon is said to have been written around AD 60. 

However, by the time Paul wrote his last letter, the book of Second Timothy, dated anywhere from AD 64 to AD 68, Paul says sadly that “Demas has forsaken me” (NKJV) or in the wording of the NAS “has deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:10).  And why--“Having loved this present world”. (2 Tim. 4:10 NKJV) 

One gets the idea that Demas had been with Paul for a number of years and had only recently departed.  Why else mention his departure if it was one of long standing, old news, that had occurred years before? 

We have then a man who had traveled and worked with Paul, sacrificed and struggled along with him, endured the hardship a number of years, and saw with but little doubt the miracles Paul performed, and yet this Christian man fell away.  If under those circumstances a man can fall away then we all can.  If a man can walk with an apostle and fall away, then any person can, and so the threat is real.  And threat it is for to fall away is to be eternally lost if we do not repent. 

Can you and I learn anything from the life of Demas worth our while?  I believe we can. 

Paul says Demas loved the present world.  John says, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If any one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15 NAS)  The greatest battle man will ever have to fight is that of the love of the world.  We live in a body of flesh, a worldly body, and that body by nature is attracted to and desires the things of the world. 

John tells us, “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16 NAS)  What Demas wanted out of the world we are not told.  Was it money, an easier life, respect, or just, in general, to “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Heb. 11:25 KJV)?  We are not told.  In a way, it makes no difference. 

There is no doubt the world has much to offer as long as we live in the flesh.  Who really desires to make their life a living self-sacrifice (Rom. 12:1) every day of the year?  Who desires to always put self second?  Who is it that does not desire respect from his fellow man in this world?  

Christians are not well thought of by most of the world.  We are ridiculed and made fun of and our company is not sought.  As the kids would say no one wants to hang out with us.  Who really desires that?  Who is it that does not desire to achieve great things in this world and be praised by his fellowman and looked up to?   The world offers us the opportunity for worldly wealth and possessions, honor and prestige, and sexual freedom.  Christianity, in this life, offers daily self-sacrifice. 

Paul says, 1 Cor. 4:9-13, in speaking of the apostles (in the broad sense of the term): 

“We have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.  We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor.  To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless;  And we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure;  When we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” (NAS) 

I am not sure Demas was an apostle, in the broad sense of the term, but he was with Paul here and there and surely saw and/or experienced for himself some of these very things.  Maybe Demas just got tired. 

The world offers worldly honor to those who play by its rules and succeed.  Instead of being reviled, there is praise.  Those successful in the world do not go hungry.  They are not clothed in rags; they are not persecuted; they are not slandered. 

I tend to think, but cannot prove it and do not bind it upon you, that Demas just got tired.  I do not believe he wanted to go off to commit adultery, cheat, lie, and steal.  I don’t think he left because he wanted a first-century equivalent of a three car garage and a multi-million dollar home.  I don’t think he quit and left Paul and God because he wanted to be rich and famous.  I think he left because he wanted out of the line of fire, wanted an easier life, wanted to live in peace with the world, wanted to live much like others of his countrymen.  Certainly, I can be wrong and freely admit this is nothing more than pure speculation on my part, not biblical doctrine.  

We must remember that non-Christians are often honest and hard working people respected in the community even if they are unwilling to give God the time of day.  A worldly person is not necessarily indulging in every sin under the sun.  Most are quite respectable in their own communities.  Nevertheless, their love is for the world, not God. 

What do we learn from Demas? 

(1)  We learn it is easy to quit and lose everything.  Demas sacrificed years of his life for nothing.  All of those years wasted, all of the sacrifice now for nothing and why?  He quit. 

I think most Christians have times in their life when they would like to give up, to quit.  Things are not going good for us, things are bad in the church, and no remedies seem at hand. 

Demas sacrificed it all when he gave up.  We can do the same.  In fact, that is the easy thing to do.  Staying with it is what is hard.  Quit and you have wasted the past and forfeited the future but for a time you feel free, free for you have abandoned all responsibility.  We need to think long and hard before we quit.  Quitters not only do not win they lose everything.  We should learn that.  Quitters in the spiritual realm do not come in second or third.  They lose everything. 

John says, (2 John 8), “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.”  We think it very ill-advised and foolish when one drops out of school before graduating after having put in years of work and losing and wasting all that time, money, and effort for nothing.  How much more significant is the loss, and how much more dire are the consequences when we give up living the Christian life. 

(2)  We learn from Demas that the faith of the best of men can fail.  We never grow so strong but what we can lose our faith.  Some think if we had miracles today people would believe and would automatically become strong Christians with steadfast faith.  I am satisfied Demas saw miracles.  I am sure Paul spoke about seeing Jesus after his resurrection from the dead.  Yet, finally in the end it made no difference with Demas.  It made no difference with the children of Israel who came out of Egypt with Moses.  The miracles did not matter.  If their faith failed ours can too.  Sin doeth so easily beset us (Heb. 12:1 KJV).  

(3)  We learn also that the world has an enormous pull on us and will as long as we live in a body of flesh.  We learn it is not easy to walk with an apostle, a thing we all ought to be doing.  It is a tough, tough road and often a long one and we should not kid ourselves or others.  We should prepare for it.  Unless, as the Bible says, we put on the whole armor of God, how can we hope to survive? 

Paul said in 2 Tim. 4:16 (NAS) concerning his trial, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.”  Are we stronger than they were?  Are we stronger than Peter who denied the Lord three times?  We are, at our best, but weak and feeble men and women prone to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.   

What can we do to keep our faith from failing us?  There is a vast multitude of Christians who have lost their faith and many who have just given up and left God and the church.  How do we survive when we so often want to do as Demas did?  How do we resist the temptation of the call of the world? 

The answer is to build our faith.  How does one do that?  There is a two-part answer to that.  First, we must recognize our need, and understand who and what we are.  We must see our need and our weakness.  A wise man is one who observes, learns, and takes heed.  In the last part of the book of Job God is questioning Job beginning in chapter 38.  Much of that runs along the line of Job can you do this, can you do that, God can.  He is showing Job man’s weakness and need for trust in God. 

For example, God asks Job (38:31-32), “Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, Or loose the belt of Orion?  Can you bring out Mazzaroth (literally ‘Constellations’--NKJV footnote) in its season?  Or can you guide the Great Bear with its cubs?” (NKJV) 

In the New Testament Jesus says “you cannot make one hair white or black” (Matt. 5:36).  We are unable to add a cubit to our stature, unable to add a single day to our life.  “For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14 NKJV)  A mother or dad, a son or daughter, a husband or wife passes away and there is not one thing you can do about it. 

Scientists talk about distances in outer space in terms of billions of light-years.  A look into the clear night sky on a cold winter night when there is no haze and one cannot help but be overwhelmed if he only takes the time to consider what he is seeing.  If we would stop just long enough in our life to consider seriously where all this is leading us we would see our need for Jesus and could develop our faith. 

Faith begins with a man being honest with himself about his own inability to have control and his need for help, help from a power greater than him.  When we see and admit our impotence this leads to the will to believe.  I strengthen my faith by an awareness of what I am (a mortal with very limited power or control) and an understanding of my great need. 

Secondly, to grow faith we must immerse ourselves in the word of God.  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17, NAS)  You cannot believe what you do not know.  The more of the word of God you know, the better you understand it, the more your faith will be strengthened.  One cannot expect to be a casual and occasional reader of the word of God and be strong in the faith.  It does not work that way. 

Paul, in writing to Timothy (2 Tim. 3:15 NAS), speaks of “the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 

We must believe what Jesus told us.  We must believe there is a reward awaiting us.  “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6 NKJV)  It has often been said that Peter walked on the water as long as he looked at Jesus rather than the water and that is true.  We can figuratively walk to heaven if we continue to look to Jesus rather than at the trials and troubles and temptations we are here faced with.  Do you believe?  You have to believe.  Way, way down deep within your heart you have to believe. 

We can believe if we will.  John says, 1 John 5:4, “this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith.” (NKJV)  Paul says faith is a shield (Eph. 6:16), a protection for us.  With it we can “extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one” in the language of the NAS. (Eph. 6:16) 

We often believe well enough in Jesus except when it comes to his love for us as an isolated individual.  We feel He will save everyone else but not us for we just keep on sinning despite our will not to.  If it is not this sin then it is that one.  Isn’t that true of how we often feel?  Do we not at times just feel like giving up? 

But, why did Jesus die?  Did he die so men could be saved by perfect law-keeping?  Did he die so that only those who are really deserving could be saved, deserving because so good and perfect in their law-keeping?  John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 NKJV)  David Lipscomb once said that he doubted that any man ever lived a single day without sin.  Are all men doomed despite the death of Jesus? 

Peter tells us that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NKJV)  When Peter asked the Lord (Matt. 18:21) how many times he should forgive a brother and said, probably thinking he was being generous, seven times the Lord answers, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (NKJV)   The Lord tells us thus that there is no set limit on the number of times we should be willing to forgive.  He is indirectly also telling us that is also the way it is with the Father? 

Isaiah says (Isa. 55:7 NKJV), “Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For he will abundantly pardon.” 

In Luke 17:3–4, Jesus says (NAS) “Be on your guard!  If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent, forgive him.’”  This tells me that if in my life it just seems as though it is one sin after another yet, if I will truly repent, the Lord will forgive me and will forgive you likewise.  We should never give up; never reach the point where we become so frustrated with our own lives that we walk off in despair and hopelessness.  No case is hopeless as long as you care. 

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17 NKJV)  One suspects the greatest danger in life is not that of recognizing sin and unworthiness in one’s life but rather that of not recognizing it.  Remember the two men who went up to pray (Luke 18:10), the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer?  The Pharisee basically prayed along the lines of God I thank thee that I am not a sinner like others while the tax-gatherer prayed “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13 NKJV)  The tax-gatherer Jesus says went down to his house justified, thus forgiven.  The Pharisee left unjustified, unforgiven. 

It is a positive in your life if you feel deep down in your heart that you are unworthy as did the tax-gatherer.  The real threat when our unworthiness pricks our hearts is that we may despair and give up.  Do not do that.  The Bible teaches us in passage after passage that it is the humble man that God will exalt, the truly deep down in the heart humble man, not the man who merely pretends humility. 

Jesus is our only hope in this world.  He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5 NKJV)  In the Phillipian letter, Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13 NKJV) 

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Heb. 4:16 NKJV) 

Let us “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12 NKJV) of God.  Let us gather strength and not become a Demas.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Christianity--Who Rules Reason or Emotions?

A man is either led in life by his reason (one’s rational thought process) or his emotions and which makes all the difference in the world.  A life ruled by emotions is a life destined for disaster, a life where reason is always found in the back seat where it cannot be heard over the roar of the engine of emotion as it propels an individual down the road of life.

When emotions rule your life decisions are made on the basis of feelings with minimal thought being given to truth or reality.  We do not see because we do not want to see.  We are not looking for fear we will see.  Divorce courts, bankruptcy courts, drug rehab facilities, prisons, and even the local hospitals maintain a heavy business because emotion has ruled in way too many lives and reason took a back seat.

We have the same thing in the Christian religion but since Judgment Day has not yet arrived we have not yet been forced to confront reality.  We sometimes wonder why it is that a person cannot seem to see the truth.  Well, you have to have a desire to see it and thus be looking for it to find it.  “Seek and you shall find” (Matt. 7:7 NAS) is the rule, that is the way it works.  But one only seeks when one has a desire to find and if you are satisfied with what you have little seeking will be done.

We do not want to see a reason why we should not marry an individual we have fallen in love with.  We do not see because we do not want to see.  What was obvious to those looking in from the outside whose emotions were not involved is not just hidden from us but willfully so.  Down the road we end up in a divorce.  The same principle applies in Christianity as defined by the hundreds and hundreds of denominations.  We see what we want to see if our religion is emotionally based and eventually, if that is the case with us, it will lead us to disaster.

Truth and reason will always win out given enough time.  Emotion rules for a season, truth and reason for eternity.  God’s word is truth (John 17:17).  It does not matter how you feel emotionally about what he has said.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you like it or would like to see it changed or given a different twist than what it seems to have.  Truth is not dependent upon how one feels about it.  It stands on its own regardless of what the world thinks about it.  I use the following as an illustration for a point I want to make.

Many who say they are Christians today want to see women given what they perceive to be a greater role in the church but Paul said, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” (1 Tim. 2:12 NKJV)  They say Paul’s prohibition was a cultural thing and thus relates only to that time when Paul lived but Paul gives the reason for his command.  He says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” (1 Tim. 2:13-14 NKJV)  If that was the reason for the command, and Paul speaking by the Holy Spirit says it was, then it was not a cultural thing and is still binding today for those historical facts can never be changed.

Am I concerned with the role of women in the church in this article?  No, but I am making a point using that issue as an example.  Emotions lead us to desire a greater role for women in the leadership and assemblies of the church.  It is not God’s word that does it.  But mark this, if your religion is emotion based sooner or later you will have what you desire no matter what the Bible says.  With that being the case, many denominations now have women preaching and in leadership positions.  Jesus said of God’s word that it was truth (John 17:17) but in emotion based religion truth must take a back seat and really does not matter for emotion rules whatever the issue. 

An emotion based religion is a religion that will in time no longer see the need for Bible authority.  Nevertheless, they will still call themselves Christians.  Paul said, in Col. 3:17, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (NKJV)  It is a little hard to see how one can do a thing in the name of the Lord Jesus about which the Lord Jesus has said nothing.

To do a thing in the name of the Lord Jesus means by his authority thus if he has not spoken on the matter he has not given his authority.  If as a student in a high school a teacher has given you authority, either a written word or a spoken word, to leave class you have authority to leave but if not and you are found in the halls you are in trouble.  You acted without authority.  So it is in Christianity but why is it we are able to see the principle so readily in our daily life but not in our religion?

John says, “Any one who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9 NAS)  The side margin note in the NAS translation says the literal Greek behind the text “goes too far” is “goes on ahead.”  To go ahead is to go beyond Christ’s teaching.

Thus, in different words, John is saying the same thing Paul said in Col. 3:17.  You cannot be doing as you please, adding to God’s word, taking from it, going outside the book of authority that you have--the teaching of Christ, the pages of the New Testament.

But, when emotions rule scriptures like these do not matter.  We will do what we desire word from God or no word from God and we will say whatever it is we are doing is to God’s glory and he will be pleased.  Jesus said, “God is spirit; and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 NAS)  “Thy word is truth.” (John 17:17 NAS)  We say by our actions it doesn’t matter for our word is also truth as much as his word.

We become God and make the rules by which we will live and worship.  Truth, reason, and objectivity are tossed out the door while emotions (subjectivity in all its purity) are embraced.  Many people will tell you today they no longer need scriptural authority in Christianity and that they are free to do as they see best and that is exactly what they are doing.  However, scripture is the only way God gives authority of any kind to man.

I think one writer put it best several decades ago when he said, speaking of one religious body, they are ruled not by what the Bible says but by what it does not say (G. K. Wallace).  If the Bible does not specifically say not to do a thing they feel they are free to do as they please.  It is emotion based religion.  It is a religion that does not live by a Bible.  It is a worship of man and man’s desires.  If we are to be ruled by what the Bible does not specifically condemn, by what the Bible does not say, then the door is wide open to all kinds of extra-biblical practices.  We can do anything we please as long as we cannot find a “thou shalt not” for it in scripture.  Theoretically, we could incorporate all kinds of dances, performances, and plays into our worship because the Bible has no “thou shalt not.”

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.  But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.” (Matt. 15:8-9 NAS)  They would never admit to making commandments and would say it is a lie if you said they were doing so.

However, what if the leadership decides that next Sunday we will have a special worship service where each one present will come forward, light a candle, and kneel at the bottom of a picture of Jesus before returning to their seat.  Would that not be commandment making?  You can find no authority for it in the New Testament and yet your leadership has said we will do this.  The leadership is forcing this upon you.  It is as much a commandment of men as is anything the Pharisees ever dreamed up and it is going on every Sunday all across this nation in one way or another in worship services, the same general sort of thing in a thousand different manifestations.  We dream something up and we do it and we say God is pleased and not a word about the activity can be found in the Bible.

We say it is okay, I do not mind.  So what?  What does that have to do with it?  The question is does God mind?  We say no because he knows we are doing it out of love for him.  The trouble with that is he said, through John the apostle, “this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3 NAS)  One of those commandments is that we worship him in spirit and “in truth.” (John 4:24)  There is not a word of truth to be found in the New Testament with regards to what it is we want to do on our special Sunday.

I could probably not give a better Bible example of the destructive nature of emotions ruling in religion than the case of the Jews who refused to believe in Jesus.  Their emotions ruled them, overrode all reason, and ended up destroying them.  There was no reasoning with them.  The miracles of Jesus were to them like water off a duck’s back.  So Lazarus was raised from the dead.  So what?  But that is the mindset you get into when you are dealing with emotion based (or should I say “emotion ruled”) religion.  You will never change a person whose religion is based on emotion for reasoning with them is out of the question.  They do not think with their minds but with their feelings.

Saul, who became the apostle Paul, was a perfect example.  If Jesus had not directly intervened miraculously on the road to Damascus it is exceedingly doubtful he would ever have been converted.  He could take an active role in seeing people put to death without remorse due to the hold his emotions held over him in his blind allegiance to Judaism (see Acts 26:10, Acts 23:1).  Stephen’s death at the hands of an emotional religious mob also comes to mind as another example.  The mob was blinded by emotion.

Later on Saul, now having become the apostle Paul, would say of the Jews, “they have a zeal for God” (Rom. 10:2 NAS) in reference to the Jewish nation.  He would go on to say, “But not in accordance with knowledge.” (Rom. 10:2 NAS)

We can learn from that passage if we will.  We associate zeal with deep emotions.  No one is zealous who does not have deep feelings.  But according to this passage which must rule--zeal or knowledge, the emotions or the mind, which needs to be given top priority?

The reader should not misunderstand what I am saying in this article.  I am not saying emotions in religion are bad.  They are good.  Man is an emotional creature.  God made us that way.  He too has emotions.  (Did you ever hear anything in the Bible about grieving the Spirit or God being sorry he made man?)  The central theme of this article is not that emotions are bad and the lack of emotions is good but only that emotions cannot be the ruling force in the life of one who would live a Christian life pleasing to God and be saved in the end.

In speaking to Judah through Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 1:18 the Lord said, “Come now, and let us reason together.” (NKJV)  That is what we ought to do and must do (use the head, not the emotions) if we are going to do God’s will and be saved on the last day.

There is always hope for man as long as there is a Bible provided the man will go to the Bible and let it talk to him versus the man talking to the Bible.  Sometimes we just ought to shut up and listen, hear and heed, but you cannot do that with emotion based religion for it must speak and have its say.

Jeremiah, the prophet of old, said, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” (Jer. 10:23 NKJV)  That pretty much closes the door on any allowing of our emotions to rule our life as far as the word of God is concerned.  There is, however, something outside man that can direct his steps.  What is that?  The word of God.  Let us all allow it to do its work.  If we do so in the end we will reap an everlasting reward.

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Friday, June 17, 2022

Abel's Sacrifice by Faith versus Cain's Sacrifice

Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, is the first person listed among many in Hebrews chapter 11 commended by the Holy Spirit for their faith.  Of Abel it is said, "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks." (Heb. 11:4 NKJV)  Men have long been troubled by this passage trying to figure out why Abel's sacrifice was pleasing to God while his brother Cain's was not.  It is a subject worth looking into.

In Gen. 4:2-5 we read about the offering as follows:  "Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.  And in the process of time, it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord.  Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell." (NKJV)

It is worthwhile to read what followed seemingly not long afterwards in a conversation between God and Cain.  "So the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.'" (Gen. 4:6-7 NKJV)  It doesn't seem like a lot to go on, these few verses, but there is more here than meets the eye when one begins to study a little.

First, I ask the question of how Abel and Cain knew anything at all about sacrifices and/or offerings to God.  Where did such a concept of making offerings to God come from?  How did the idea of such a thing even enter into their minds?  We do not think about things of which we know nothing.  My grandparents died in the nineteen sixties.  How much time do you think they spent thinking about the Internet?  It was impossible for them to even have such thoughts, to conceive of such a thing, and so I ask again where did Abel and Cain get the idea about making an offering to God (the writer of the book of Hebrews calls it a sacrifice)?

The answer has to be such information was supplied by God himself either in direct speech to them or through commandments given to their parents (Adam and Eve) and thus passed on down to them from parent to child.  That God spoke directly with not only Adam and Eve but also with Cain we see from Gen. 4:6-7 and Gen. 4:9-15.  Jesus, in the New Testament, in Luke 11:49-51, includes Abel with the prophets so we know God spoke to him as well.  A prophet was one who proclaimed God's will and not just necessarily one who only fore-told things to come.

Furthermore, I would add that without direction from God how could Abel know it would please God to kill an animal as a sacrifice?  Adam and Eve were directed while in the Garden of Eden to eat of herbs and the fruit of trees (Gen. 1:29) and when driven out of the garden they were to eat of the herbs of the field (Gen. 3:18).  Nothing was said, that is revealed in scripture, about killing animals in those early days of man's existence on earth.  Thus for Abel to take this bold step God must have revealed to him that it was okay to do so. 

We are thus at the point where we (should I say I?) believe God gave directions for making offerings/sacrifices.  I think this can be further confirmed by a passage found in the New Testament--Rom. 10:17.  "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (NKJV)  How can you have faith when you are flying blind without any word from God?  Is an "I think so" or an "it seems to me" faith?  Is that the definition of faith?  That is opinion, not faith.

The writer in the book of Hebrews (11:4) says Abel's sacrifice was by faith.  When one acts by faith in the Bible he is acting in confidence, not in doubt.  He is not guessing or hoping.  Well, how could Abel be so confident about his sacrifice?  There is only one way and that is if he had received instructions from God as to how to sacrifice which would include the procedure for doing so and also what it was that was to be sacrificed so that he would have no doubt about the acceptability of that sacrifice with God.  If you are just guessing or hoping your offering will be pleasing how can it be said you are acting by faith? 

Why is it that there is no text saying that Cain's sacrifice was "by faith?"  Could it be because it was not?  Could it be because Cain had personal doubts about it himself?  Why was it that Cain did not sacrifice "by faith?"  Surely, if Abel was able to sacrifice "by faith" Cain should have been able to do likewise.  Had Cain made a sacrifice "by faith" would God have been displeased? 

The Bible says God "did not respect Cain and his offering." (Gen. 4:5 NKJV)  One has to ask why not?  If both were doing the very best they could why not?  Could it be one (Cain) was not doing the best he could?  God asks Cain, "Why are you angry?" (Gen. 4:6 NKJV)  God's rejection of his offering had made him angry.  God then says to him, "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" (Gen. 4:7 NKJV)  Evidently, then Cain had not done well.  But, he could only know how to do well if he had information as to how that was to be done.  Thus again we see that both Cain and Abel must have had information about making sacrifices (offerings) that would please God and Cain had failed to follow the instructions.

By means of his sacrifice (and the manner in which it was made--by faith), it is said that Abel "obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts." (Heb. 11:4 NKJV)  This was not said of Cain but I ask the question could it have been?  Was it impossible for Cain to make an acceptable sacrifice?  That Cain knew all he needed to know to make such a sacrifice is self-evident.  God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).  Cain's failure was just that--Cain's failure.  He had none to blame other than himself.

1 John 3:12 gives some additional light as it tells us why Cain murdered his brother Abel.  "Cain...was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous." (NKJV)  When God failed to respect Cain and his offering it made Cain mad.  He later killed Abel out in the field due to his anger and jealousy.  The text in 1 John says the motive was "his works were evil and his brother's righteous." (NKJV)  The question is whether this has reference to Cain's sacrifice or to other things?  We do know his anger and lack of love (we could say his hate) drove him to murder.

Rather than find repentance when God spoke to him in Gen. 4:6-7, a time when God was giving him we might say a second chance to do right, Cain goes off instead and commits murder giving full vent to anger, hatred, and jealousy.  He lived not for God or even for his own family.

This is a good time to make a point about faith and what it is.  Faith that is pleasing to God is not faith in God's existence alone.  God even spoke to Cain.  Cain had no doubt about God's existence.  We could go so far as to say he did not need faith in God's existence for he had firsthand knowledge of it.  So, faith that God lives is not saving faith.  There is more to it than just that.  "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe and tremble!" (James 2:19 NKJV)  Do we believe Cain and the demons were saved?  If not we need to continue to study to learn what saving faith is.  It certainly involves more than just believing God exists in the heavens.

The writer of the book of Hebrews says of Abel that he "obtained witness that he was righteous." (Heb. 11:4 NKJV)  Jesus declared him righteous in Matt. 25:35.  He became such by faith.  Abel died a righteous man.  He was a man of faith who heard God's word, believed it, and obeyed it.  There is no saving faith where a man simply hears God's words with the ear and then goes off in disobedience doing his own thing.  A man of faith trusts God's words for God spoke them and thus they are trustworthy.  In obeying them one is obeying God and manifesting faith in him.

We do not know what all Abel knew about sacrifice to God but we do know he followed by faith what he had been told and did not deviate from it for his trust was in the one who had directed him.  The lesson for today--trust what God has told us in his word and do it for in doing it we will be "by faith" acting as did Abel.

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Friday, June 10, 2022

A Good Conscience

A clean or we might say a good conscience is essential to a person's sense of well-being.  One can never depend on his/her conscience as an infallible guide for that is not the function of the conscience.  Nevertheless, violate your conscience and the result is guilt, self-deprecation, and sorrow.   

The conscience is that which is within us that pricks us, perhaps troubles us would be a better way of putting it, when we do that which we consider to be wrong.  Generally speaking, we knew the deed was wrong before we committed it but went ahead, violated our conscience, and did it anyway.  We then feel guilt and shame, unhappy with ourselves.  Also, it is not always just what we do that condemns us in our conscience but often things we know we should have done in helping others but which we let slide and failed to do when we knew we should have stepped in and acted.

Of course, we have to remember that having a good conscience by itself does not mean we are right with God.  If so in ages past those who worshipped idols, offered human sacrifice, and even cannibals in the distant jungles of Africa and Southeast Asia were justified.  Their cultures said those things were right and thus their conscience did not bother them by participating in such acts.

Paul while persecuting Christians even to the death had a good conscience at the time he was doing so.  He said, in reference to that time, "Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them." (Acts 26:9-10 NKJV)

The conscience then to be of value to us must be trained in righteousness, trained in God's word for it is truth (John 17:17).  No one strictly following God's word would ever do anything to another but what was beneficial and good for that person.  God is love (1 John 4:16) and his word is based on that love.  Thus the conscience to be what it ought to be must be trained based on correct teaching--the word of God.

The Bible teaches we must act in good conscience and to do otherwise is sin.  "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin." (Rom. 14:23 NKJV)  Why is a man condemned if he eats?  Because he doubts whether he ought to be doing it and thus cannot do it with a clear conscience.  If he goes ahead and eats thinking it might be wrong he violates his conscience.

There is a lesson in that passage we must learn and live by.  "Whatever is not from faith is sin."  The passage is thus not just about eating meats that were condemned under the Law of Moses, now made clean under the law of Christ, but about all of our life and actions for the word is "whatever"--whatever is not from faith, whatever cannot be done with good conscience.

Paul is admirable in that he could say, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." (Acts 23:1 NKJV)  Not many can in all truthfulness say that.  Was he saying he had not sinned and did not need Christ?  No, he was only saying he had always done what he thought was right at the time when he was doing it including even when persecuting Christians.

The goal for all of us is to so live as Paul did in the matter of conscience.  Our goal ought to be as he said his was when he said, "I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men." (Acts 24:16 NKJV)  However, we should not despair if we fail to live up to such a high standard.

Peter denied Christ and I think we would all agree he knew at the time he should not do it and had previously declared he would not.  He at a later date withdrew from eating with the Gentile Christians at Antioch fearing the Jews who had come up from Jerusalem for a visit (Gal. 2:11-12).  It is hard to see how Peter did either of these sins without violating his conscience which is to say he knew better before he did either.

We can be forgiven of sins committed in violation of conscience.   We should not despair.  Yes, there is danger of searing our conscience by continually violating our conscience but that is another article.  The point here is to not give up because you have fallen short in the matter of maintaining a perfectly clear conscience all the days of your life.  Don't you think David knew what he was doing was wrong in the matter of Bathsheba and her husband Uriah while he was doing it?  I think we all expect to see both a forgiven Peter and David in heaven.  If they could be forgiven of such grave sins in violation of conscience surely we can be forgiven also of our sins in violation of conscience.

The exact phrase "good conscience" is found 6 times in the New King James Version of the New Testament in Acts 23:1 (previously mentioned above), 1 Tim. 1:5, 1 Tim. 1:19, Heb. 13:18, 1 Peter 3:16, and 1 Peter 3:21.  It would be good to take a quick look at the 5 verses not yet mentioned.

1 Tim. 1:5, "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith." (NKJV)  The kind of love God desires comes from a heart that is pure, a faith that is sincere, and a conscience that is good.  Our goal in our Christian life is to grow into being just that daily and continually--pure in heart, sincere in faith, and good in conscience with love for God and one another.  It is a picture of God's purpose for us.

1 Tim. 1:18-19, "Wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck." (NKJV)  Paul couples a good conscience with faith.  A good conscience denotes faithfulness without which faith is shipwreck.  On such a ship one cannot be saved thus the once saved always saved doctrine is in error. 

All Bible teaching is that faith leads to obedience.  When you or I violate our conscience we either willfully disobey God's law knowing what we are doing is wrong or we do that which we think may well be sinful and are willing to take the chance thus displaying a heart that is not pure toward God which relates back to the 1 Tim. 1:5 passage.  In either case, we sin.  If the desire is to be saved by faith then one must have a good conscience toward God which means one must be obedient to God for how can one be knowingly disobedient and maintain a good conscience?

Heb. 13:18, "Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably." (NKJV)  Can one live honorably and at the same time live with a guilty conscience?  Do you want to be an honorable person?  If so you must live in good conscience in your life refraining from all things that would violate that conscience.  Part of the definition of an honorable man is one who has a good conscience. 

I think it would be good to point out also that the writer in this passage when he said "we have a good conscience" was saying we have lived faithfully as best as we have known how for otherwise there would have been no good conscience.  Thus one sees again that faithfulness (obedience) ties in directly with a good conscience.

1 Peter 3:15-16, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience." (NKJV)  Is this not a command to keep a good conscience?  Seems like it to me. 

Furthermore, it implies beyond doubt it is essential to have a good conscience if one is to be able to give an honest defense of the hope he has.  Without a good conscience, where is the hope?  One loses a good conscience by sin and where there is sin there is no hope unless and until the sin is repented of, God’s forgiveness is sought, and the conscience is cleansed. 

1 Peter 3:21, "There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (NKJV)  How can baptism be the answer of a good conscience toward God?  Most say that even though God commanded it (John 3:5, Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, etc.) baptism is not really necessary.  Most would say, "I can have a good conscience without it."  Well, if so, it may well say more about how your conscience has been trained than anything else. 

Peter associates baptism with a good conscience in this scripture and none can deny that.  A good conscience is essential to salvation, baptism is thus essential to salvation.  On a practical level, it matters not whether baptism is an "answer" of a good conscience as per the NKJV or an "appeal" for a good conscience as per the ESV and the NAS (and which I think beyond any personal doubt is correct) the bottom line is baptism and a good conscience have been tied together by the Holy Spirit in this passage and only God can untie the two. 

If baptism is an answer of a good conscience the passage teaches that a good conscience leads one to be obedient and be baptized.  If baptism is an appeal for a good conscience it means one is baptized in order to obtain a good conscience knowing God commanded it.  In either case, the failure to comply with baptism is an offense against God and conscience (assuming one's conscience has been trained properly by God's word).    

The exact phrase a "pure conscience" is only used two times in the NKJV of the New Testament--in 1 Tim. 3:9 and 2 Tim. 1:3.  Here is a quick look at those two verses.

1 Tim. 3:9, "holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience."  This is listed in its context as being one of the qualifications for being appointed as a deacon in the church.  It just adds to the evidence already gathered here and presented that God expects his people to live with a good or pure conscience.  There can be no acceptable service to God without such a conscience.

2 Tim. 1:3, "I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day."  This is Paul once again telling us he lived his life in a way to always have a good conscience.  Compare this with what he said back in Acts 24:16 already discussed here.

We ought to live our lives every day so as to have a pure conscience.  A good conscience is a wonderful blessing and one which we are in control of--a blessing we can have just by reaching out and taking it.  I equate it to peace of mind which is far superior to turmoil of mind.  The conscience tells us, when properly trained, to repent when we sin.  Only by doing so and doing what God requires for our reconciliation can peace and contentment be found.  Truly the conscience is a gift from God if we will properly train it by God's word and then honor its role in our life.  When your conscience pricks your soul thank God it is doing so for it is nudging you toward repentance and salvation and then peace.

Please do not despair if you have sinned and your conscience troubles you, if you think it is too late for you to ever have a good conscience again.  Please go to your Old Testament and read the historical accounts about David and his sin with Bathsheba.  Read about his repentance and how he was cleansed of his sins, the sin of adultery and murder.  Then read Psalm 51, a psalm of David concerning this matter.  Remember we have all been there.  We have all fallen short of God’s glory but it is his desire to restore us if we will only allow it.  You can still have a good and pure conscience if you will allow God to do his work in your heart and life.  Do like David in his repentance and God will cleanse you and make you whiter than snow.

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Thursday, June 2, 2022