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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Abraham's Faith (Faith Accounted for Righteousness)

Every person who truly believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is interested in having what we might term "saving faith."  The Bible is clear we need such faith in order to have salvation for Paul tells us "by grace you have been saved through faith." (Eph. 2:8 NKJV)  If you omit the faith you omit the grace.  We are “justified by faith." (Rom. 5:1 NKJV)

The only question then to be resolved is the nature of the faith that saves.  We know its object (Christ) but need to know the characteristics of saving faith.  In Rom. 4 Paul says Abraham "is the father of us all" with the reference to all who believe. (Rom. 4:16)  He says in Galatians, "only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham." (Gal. 3:7 NKJV)  And, then finally, "So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham." (Gal. 3:9 NKJV)  If we can learn the nature of Abraham's faith and then copy it in our own lives we too will be blessed.

In Romans 4:3 Paul talks about Abraham's faith quoting a scripture found in Gen. 15:6, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (NKJV)  The context in Gen. 15 is God's promise to Abraham that "one who will come from your own body shall be your heir" (Gen. 15:4 NKJV) and that his descendants would be as the stars of heaven, impossible to count them for their number (Gen. 15:5).  Abraham believed that and it was "accounted to him for righteousness." (Gen. 15:6 NKJV)

It is easy here to be led astray by carelessness as a student of the Bible and come to the false conclusion that up to that point in time Abraham was a lost sinner and this is the first time God accounted to him his faith for righteousness.  This was not a conversion experience for Abraham. 

The truth is Abraham believed God, walked with God, and was in obedience to God long before this event, a thing which we now set out to affirm from scripture.  Bear with me for a few paragraphs for this is important.  Stephen in Acts 7 said, "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.'" (Acts 7:2-3 NKJV)

Note that God had chosen Abraham for he could have just as well have appeared to any one of thousands of other men but he chose Abraham telling him, "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 12:2-3 NKJV)

Note that God actually "appeared" to Abraham at that early stage of his historical record (Acts 7:2).  He was 75 years old when he departed Haran for Canaan (Gen. 12:4).  When he arrived in Canaan the Lord appeared to him again, promised to give the land to Abraham's descendants, and Abraham built an altar to the Lord there (Gen. 12:7).  From there he moved on to Bethel where it is said, "he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord." (Gen. 12:8 NKJV)

Thereafter Abraham went to Egypt for a time and then returned to Canaan to the place of his first altar to the Lord and it is said at that time that again "Abram called on the name of the Lord." (Gen 13:4 NKJV)  After Lot had separated from Abraham the Lord God spoke again to Abraham and said, "All the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever." (Gen. 13:15 NKJV)

We next read of Abraham building another altar after having moved to Hebron (Gen. 13:18) and then read of Lot's captivity and rescue by Abraham and later of his meeting with Melchizedek king of Salem ("priest of God Most High" – Gen. 14:18).

Finally, we come to chapter 15 where "the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." (Gen. 15:1 NKJV)  Note that this is stated in Gen. 15:1 and is before Gen. 15:6.  This will be the vision where God tells Abraham that he shall have a son from his own body who will be his heir, that his descendants will be as the stars in multitude being impossible to count (Gen. 15:4-5), and where it is said, "And he believed in the Lord, and he accounted it to him for righteousness." (Gen. 15:6 NKJV)

What has been the point in following through all of this chronologically?  It is to point out that Abraham had long been a man of faith and had been so for years before it was ever said in Gen. 15:6 that Abraham's faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Abraham had been walking with God by faith and God had been communing with him, talking with him, and making promises to him for years.  I want to emphasize that and then ask a question.  Do you believe, based on your reading of Gen. 12, 13, and 14 and the first verse of Gen. 15 that Abraham was a lost sinner condemned in God's eyes before Gen. 15:6?

As the writer of the book of Hebrews said it was "by faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would afterward receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a foreign country." (Heb. 11:8-9 NKJV)  By the time Isaac was born Abraham was 100 years old (Gen. 21:5).  He had left Haran at the age of 75.

When God said to him, "I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward" (Gen. 15:1 NKJV) that was before it was said of Abraham that God counted his faith for righteousness.

The point Paul was making was not that this was a conversion experience for Abraham in Gen. 15:6 but rather that Abraham was saved, as all are, by faith that God counts for righteousness.  That is true for a man or woman at any and all points of time in life if that person is a saved individual.  It was just as true of Abel, Enoch, and Noah (men before Abraham's time) as it was for Abraham.  All three of these men are listed along with Abraham in what we often call the Bible's hall of fame for faith chapter--Hebrews 11.

Does this mean that the promise of a son and Abraham's faith in that promise was of no particular importance?  Not at all!  Quite the contrary!

Abraham's faith was so strong that he believed God was able to do what appeared to man to be impossible.  The original promise to Abraham of a son (in Gen. 15) was made quite a number of years before Isaac, the son of promise, was born.  In the time between the promise and the birth of Isaac, Ishmael had been born and was at least 13 years old by the time of Isaac's birth.  Read Gen. 17.

God appeared to Abraham when he was 100 years old and again promised him a son (Gen. 17:15-21) and then appeared to him again only this time Sarah was within hearing distance and overheard the promise of a son also (Gen. 18).  She was 90. (Gen. 17:17)

By man's way of measuring the possible, it was an impossibility due to advanced age for Abraham and Sarah to have a son but Abraham believed God as did Sarah.  "By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude--innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore." (Heb. 11:11-12 NKJV)  Rom. 4:19 tells us Abraham "did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb." (Heb. 11:11-12 NKJV) 

A second instance of this man's faith in the impossible, believing only because God had spoken, is found in Heb. 11:17-19.

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'in Isaac your seed shall be called,' concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." (NKJV)

God had spoken, God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and thus Abraham's faith in God was so strong he was even willing to obey this command to offer up his son Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:2) while still maintaining faith in God's promise.  The promise was that in Isaac your seed shall be called meaning God would have to resurrect Isaac from the dead if he was going to be sacrificed as a burnt offering.  Abraham's faith in God keeping his promise was so strong he was going to sacrifice Isaac in full faith God would resurrect him from the dead.   

So what have we learned about this great man of faith that would be applicable to us today?  One lesson is that which we have just talked about--we ought to believe whatever God has said no matter what, no matter how incomprehensible or unreasonable to us the command or declaration he makes may be.

Faith requires obedience when a command is given.  A failure of faith always leads to a failure to obey which is the reason the children of Israel never entered the Promised Land.  "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?  So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." (Heb. 3:18-19 NKJV)  Had Abraham not obeyed would we be talking about his faith?  To ask is to answer.

What really matters for a man of faith is not what we think about what God has said but what he has said.  We can get to reasoning with the word of God to the point where we can convince ourselves that God did not really mean what he said in a commandment or in a statement.  Abraham just believed and obeyed no matter what.

A second lesson we learn is that faith comes by hearing God's word.  What Abraham believed was what he heard, what he was told by God.  He did not come to conclusions by way of human reasoning.   Men have faith today in all kinds of things not found in God's word and have convinced themselves it is of God.  What Abraham believed was what he heard.  What we are to believe today is what we read in the word of God--the New Testament.  That is how God talks to us today.  That is how we hear him today.

Personal opinion is passed off for faith in the time in which we live.  The "it seems to me" or "I can see no wrong in it" has replaced the book, chapter, and verse word of God in our lives and worship.  Again, this is not the faith of Abraham.  "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17 NKJV)  If there is no book, chapter, and verse for a practice it is opinion, not faith.

A last lesson I take from a study of Abraham's faith is that it was a perpetual faith.  It was not here today and gone tomorrow but was a continual walk with God throughout his life.  Sinless he was not for he was a man but he did believe God.

Many believe in God to save them but they don't believe God, don't believe parts of his word, don't believe some of the things he has said they should or should not do.  Is that faith like Abraham's?  When a person is like that can it honestly be said they believe in God if they don’t believe him, don’t believe his words? 

Faith in the case of Abraham was never a matter of does God exist.  He made himself known to the extent it was a matter of knowledge, not faith, as it related to his existence.  It was impossible to not believe that God was.   Faith came down to trust and obedience.  In the final analysis, is that not always the case?  Is that not the true measure of faith?

James says, "And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'   And he was called the friend of God." (James 2:23 NKJV)  James referred back to the same passage Paul did in Rom. 4:3--the passage being Gen. 15:6.  Paul used the passage in reference to a time prior to Isaac's birth while James used it in reference to a time some think to have been around 30 years later--at the time Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.  Whatever the exact time there is no doubt there were many years in between the two points of reference.

Well, when was Abraham's faith accounted to him for righteousness?  Who was right--Paul or James?  Since they both wrote by inspiration it is obvious both were right.  At any point in time in a man's life when he is believes and obeys what God has required of him he is a saved-by-faith individual.  He is a person whose faith is accounted for righteousness.  However, when more is required more must be believed and obeyed.  Time moves and is not static.

Abraham was a saved man before he was required to sacrifice Isaac but what if he had failed to believe God and obey God when the command to offer Isaac was given?  A man can lose his salvation.  Our faith must always be strong enough to lead us to obedience to what we know God has commanded if it is to be accounted to us for righteousness.  Faith that will not obey is not saving faith.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

God's Willingness to Forgive

There are people who feel God is so full of loving kindness that he will readily forgive us of any and all of our sins if we just ask him.  All we need to do is pray and ask.  We may be kind of sorry about whatever transgression we committed, sorry about judgment at least, so feel we must ask God’s forgiveness but the truth is if the same set of circumstances were to arise again we would do the same thing all over again.  Somehow we feel we were justified in the act we committed considering the circumstances.  Nevertheless, we feel obligated to ask for forgiveness. 

We tell ourselves the temptation was too great and thus God understands even though he has said in his word through Paul the apostle, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:13 NKJV)  We thus go on living pretty much the way we would have had we never obeyed the gospel except that we go through the exercise of asking God’s forgiveness from time to time.  We never really repent from the heart. 

I do not want to leave the impression that committing the same sin more than once implies that we have not repented.  It can be very tough to resist the temptation of a sin that we are attracted to.  If we could only commit a sin once but then if we did it a second time God would not forgive us who could be saved?  However, remember, forgiveness is dependent on true repentance.  

What I have been talking about is an attitude, an attitude of recklessness and carelessness, an attitude of almost indifference to righteousness, an attitude of no real commitment to battle sin.  Just do it and then ask God to forgive and all is well.  

I believe the Bible teaches that a man might commit the same sin many times and God would still forgive him provided his attitude was right, the sorrow genuine, and the repentance true from the depths of the heart each time.  So, we are not keeping count of how many times a particular sin might be committed and God still be willing to forgive but we are talking about an attitude that is often found.  Rest assured if your sin breaks your heart and, as a Christian, you ask God’s forgiveness he is merciful and will forgive.  If you are determined to fight the temptation when confronted again, even though you might fail, God will forgive. 

Another attitude we sometimes see in men is the attitude that my sins are so great or so numerous, and perhaps my sins have hurt so many people, God could not possibly forgive me.  Since we are talking about Christians we are talking about those who have wandered away, become involved in sin, and have separated themselves voluntarily from their brethren.  So, we see two groups--one feeling that God will forgive without a thought about my state of mind or spirituality and the other thinking God will never forgive.  Both are in error.  I believe a study of Manasseh, king of Judah could prove profitable for both groups. 

I want to give you an account of a man so evil that we are horrified as we read about the things he did.  I read from the English Standard Version of the Bible about King Manasseh of Judah as found in 2 Kings 21:1-12 and 16. 

“Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem.  His mother’s name was Hephzibah.  And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.  For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.  And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, ‘In Jerusalem will I put my name.’  And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD.  And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with wizards.  He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.  And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the LORD said to David and to Solomon his son, ‘In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever.  And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.’  But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.  And the LORD said by his servants the prophets, ‘Because  Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:  Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.” 

And then verse 16:  “Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” 

What does one say about such a man?  What can one say?  Manasseh was the personification of evil.  Can you imagine giving your son up as a burnt offering to an idol?  Add to that the Bible says he “shed very much innocent blood” to the extent he had filled Jerusalem with it from one end to another. 

Why did God drive out the nations from the land which Israel was promised during the days of Joshua often destroying from the face of the earth every man, woman, boy, and girl?  Here we are told in verse 2 (2 Kings 21) it was because of their “despicable practices.” (see also Deut. 9:4-5 and Deut. 18:9-12)  Yet, here we are also told that Manasseh did “things more evil than all that the Amorites did.” (2 Kings 21:11 ESV). 

He made the house of the Lord into a house for idol worship.  There was seemingly no type of idol or heavenly body that he would not worship.  The Bible says “he worshiped all the host of heaven.” 

And then we also have this that he led many, many others into sin for which they would be very severely punished.  No matter what we may think about our own sin I think most of us would do about anything and everything in our power to not be responsible for leading others into sin, for being the cause of their sin.  I know we are that way with our children but I also think we feel that way about others.  No Christian desires to bring harm or hurt to others and certainly not sin which, if unrepented of, would lead to their eternal spiritual condemnation. 

If I repent of sin in my life and yet I have been responsible say for leading my children into sin of which they do not repent how do I live with that?  It would be tough. 

Here we have a man, Manasseh, so evil that our human nature might well lead us to say that we don’t want to see such a man saved.  We want him punished.  We almost hope God will not forgive him for we want to see him punished.  He deserves it. 

However, if we are honest we all know the Bible teaches us that we all deserve to be punished.  We deserve a beating (using the word figuratively); we do not deserve salvation; we ought to be punished for our sins.  “There is none righteous, no, not one.”  (Rom. 3:10 NKJV) 

Let us be honest and face the truth.  I think in about everyone’s life we often do things we know we should not and yet we do it anyway.  We sin.  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)  John was writing to Christians when he said that. 

David Lipscomb made a comment I believe is true.  He said, “I doubt if any man ever lived a day without sins of omission or commission.” (Questions Answered, by Lipscomb and Sewell, page 241)  We often overlook the sins of omission.  They can be as willful as sins of commission. 

Solomon in his prayer of dedication of the temple, speaking to God of God’s children, said “if they sin against you--for there is no one who does not sin.” (1 Kings 8:46 ESV)  That would include you and me.  Solomon then asked that God forgive them upon their repentance (read 1 Kings 8:46-50).  

You and I are no more deserving than Manasseh.  We too often make ourselves out to be someone when we are no one.  We are better than the other guy, so we say to ourselves.  It is laughable when we do such a thing for it is like two thieves comparing themselves.  You are a worse thief than I am for I only stole $100 but you stole $500.  Well, big deal.  The truth is if we could all load our sins up into a truck, every sin we have ever committed, we would not want anyone to climb up and look into the truck bed to see them. 

I used to fear when I was young that there might not be any hope for me when I committed a sin that I was conscious of.  I had read the Hebrews 10:26-31 passage and quite honestly misunderstood it.  The Hebrews passage means exactly what it says but at the point of repentance there is a change. 

Until I repent I remain guilty of the willful sin of Heb. 10:26.  However, when I repent I am no longer trampling the Son of God underfoot nor making light of his shed blood.  At that point in time I am exalting Christ the Son of God and counting the blood of the covenant a wonderful, glorious thing, not a common thing.  Instead of insulting the Spirit of grace I am praising it and giving God glory for it. 

I ask you why did Jesus die on the cross if he was determined to condemn us the very first time we committed a sin knowingly after our gospel obedience?  He may as well remained in heaven had that been the case for who could be saved?  If I believed that was the way it is I would not even bother to type another line for what would be the use.  I would already be condemned without remedy and that some decades ago.  

Under such a scenario there would be no motivation for trying to live the Christian life.  It would be one strike and you are out so eat, drink, be merry, and get ready for hell.  The New Testament teaches when we sin we can repent of our sin, seek God’s forgiveness, and go on and live a life of hope.  I am a willful sinner only as long as I am willfully sinning. 

But, my original point was that you and I have been guilty even after our conversion of sinning, of doing things we know we should not do but doing them anyway.  It does happen.  The fleshly nature of man is weak.  We should not despair.  God will forgive.  It is not hopeless.  Let us take one more look at Manasseh.  

As evil as Manasseh was he repented and God forgave him.  How great is God’s grace?  Can it be measured? 

I read from 2 Chron. 33:12-13, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom.  Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.” (ESV) 

Manasseh had been taken into Assyrian captivity, taken to Babylon, where his afflictions led him to seek the Lord.  When he did with his heart God heard him.  Was his repentance genuine? 

The Bible says, speaking of his return to Jerusalem after his repentance, “And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the LORD and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city.  He also restored the altar of the LORD and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel.” (2 Chron. 33:15-16 ESV) 

God said in the book of Ezekiel 18:21-23, “But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.  None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live.  Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the LORD GOD, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” (NKJV) 

David, a child of God by birth, wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Psalms 86:5 (NKJV), “For You, LORD, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.” 

I don’t know who is going to be in heaven as far as individuals go.  I cannot name names.  That is not my position.  But I think of two kings, Solomon and Manasseh.  One was a great king for a long while but the Bible teaches that in old age he became an idol worshipper.  The other was as evil a king as one can imagine but in his later years turned to the Lord his God.  When we come to the end of our life how do we want to die?  Do we want to be worshipping God and serving him?  In what state will you and I die? 

Manasseh was a child of God by physical birth into God’s chosen people Israel under Judaism.  You and I are God’s children by means of the new birth.  As God’s child we should never give up on ourselves or other Christians no matter how far away we or they may stray.  God will forgive if we will repent.  

One final thought and then I close.  Do you think Manasseh would ever have had his eyes opened and been led to repent had things continued going well with him and his people?  Setbacks, problems, difficulties, and troubles in our life if used properly can lead us to where we need to be if we will allow those things to humble us to the point of seeking God.  

Seek God and he will forgive.  You cannot be so bad but what God’s grace will be sufficient for you.  Seek God for he is kind and gracious and a forgiving God who takes pity on his children.  Praise his name. 

“Kings of the earth and all peoples;

Princes and all judges of the earth;

Both young men and maidens;

Old men and children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

For His name alone is exalted;” 

(Psalms 148:11-13a NKJV) 

Passages for further emphasis -- Joel 2:12-13, Ezekiel 18:21-23 and 27-28

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

If Miracles Have Ceased--the Implications

Have miracles ceased?  They have if we are talking about the kind of miracles performed by Jesus, the apostles, and those possessed of spiritual gifts in New Testament times.  The purpose of those miracles was to confirm that the word spoken was from God.  Such confirmation was needed.  Put yourself in the shoes of those living back then.  Here one comes into your midst claiming to speak for God.  Is he delusional, a madman?  Is he a charlatan?  Why should I give him the time of day?

People speak of blind faith.  The kind of faith the Bible demands of men is not blind faith but faith built upon reason, based on the word of God, confirmed by miracles.  I believe not because I am naive and will believe anything and will buy bridges in deserts but rather because God said, "come now, and let us reason together." (Isa. 1:18 NKJV)  I have done that--reasoning based on the word of God confirmed by miracles.

Why was the tomb of Jesus empty on the third day?  Why could the Romans not find the body of Jesus?  Why did they not even look for it?  What profit was there to be had in preaching Jesus as did Peter and the other apostles if they knew they had stolen the body and hidden it?  Was there money in it?  Was there power?  Was there security in doing so or danger?  Why did those 12 men put their lives on the line to preach the gospel?  Faith built on reasoning with the truth, a truth confirmed by the greatest miracle of all--the resurrection of Christ, is not emotionalism.  The unbeliever cannot explain the empty tomb nor can they explain the lives of the apostles.

The word spoken, however, would have little effect upon men in a day and age when revelation was not yet completed, indeed was just beginning to be given, without miracles accompanying it.  The people living in places like Asia (modern-day Turkey), Greece, and other remote locations knew nothing of Jesus originally.  His life, his death, his resurrection was not broadcast over TV, all over the Internet, and was not in newspaper headlines.  We have to put ourselves back in their time to understand what their situation was.  When a man like Paul arrives in your village the question is who is this man?  What is he talking about? 

The Bible thus says that after Jesus gave the Great Commission in Mark 16:15-16 the eleven, that soon became the twelve, "went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs." (Mark 16:20 NKJV)  Paul spoke of the signs of an apostle.  He said in speaking to the Corinthians, "In nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing.  Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds." (2 Cor. 12:11-12 NKJV)  In his first letter to them, the Corinthians, he says of his preaching that it was, "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." (1 Cor. 2:4-5 NKJV)  "Power" is a reference to the miraculous.

The writer of the book of Hebrews speaks of the same sort of thing when in talking about the preaching of the gospel message by those who had heard Jesus says, "God also bearing witness (with them--the speakers--DS) both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will." (Heb. 2:4 NKJV)  So we clearly see the purpose behind miracles, signs, wonders, gifts of the Holy Spirit, the miraculous in general, when the word was being preached to people who knew it not.

The Bible also gives us a second reason or purpose for spiritual gifts in the New Testament church.  After a person became convinced of the truth of the gospel and obeyed it what then?  He cannot order a Bible or New Testament from Amazon or Abebooks or go to Wal-Mart and purchase one.  Not only that but the New Testament has not yet been given in its entirety.

The complete revelation of the New Testament, the Bible calls it the new covenant, occurred over the course of a few decades in the first century, not instantly in a year or two.  The books were in the process of being written and delivered.  How do the members of the church know how to live?  How do they know right from wrong?  The answer was spiritual gifts given by God for the purpose of instructing the church in righteous living. 

Paul says of these gifts, "the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." (1 Cor. 12:7 NKJV)  He is talking about spiritual gifts.  Whatever your gift was (he gives a list of them in 1 Cor. 12:8-10, see also verse 28) it was to be used to profit everyone, not just yourself.  "Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel." (1 Cor. 14:12 NKJV)  Edification means to build up spiritually.  "Let all things be done for edification." (1 Cor. 14:26 NKJV)

Understanding the purpose behind miracles and spiritual gifts helps one greatly in understanding a passage written by Paul found right in the middle of his discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14, a passage where he declares that there will be an end to spiritual gifts not when Christ comes again but before then.  I refer to 1 Cor. 13:8-13.

"Love never fails.  But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.  When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.   And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:8-13 NKJV)

Let us note some things from this passage.  Paul says plainly that prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, and knowledge (talking about miraculously given knowledge) will vanish.  The question then becomes when.  Can we find out?  Yes!

Something will abide after these spiritual gifts have ceased.  What will that be?  Faith, hope, and love.  What does that mean?  Well, for one thing it means that if hope still abides after spiritual gifts are gone the spiritual gifts will be gone before Jesus returns to earth.  We still "hope" after the gifts have vanished but why am I hoping if Christ has already returned and I am now in possession of that for which I had been hoping?  Once you have received that which you were hoping for you do not continue to hope for it--there is no need.  Do not let anyone tell you that spiritual gifts are going to last until Jesus returns.  This passage destroys that false doctrine.  One must understand that prophecy, tongues, and inspired knowledge as spiritual gifts were representative of all spiritual gifts in that all were to vanish, not just those three.

That which "is perfect" in the passage is the final total revealed will of Christ--the completed revelation of Christ--the New Testament in its totality of inspired teaching.  Again, revelation was not all given in a single day or a single year.  It was a matter of a gradual revealing of the truth over a few decades in the first century until all was given that was to be given.  Perhaps reading 1 Cor. 13:10 will help you see this when read from another translation, "But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away." (1 Cor. 13:10 ESV)  Spiritual gifts were the partial, completed revelation was the "perfect."   

One has to bear in mind that the word "perfect" often means "complete" in New Testament usage and this passage is an example of it.  The International Standard Version of the Bible translates 1 Cor. 13:10, "But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will be done away with." (ISV)  The New Living Translation has it as follows, "But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless." (NLT)  Full understanding came when full revelation was complete.   

Another passage teaching the same thing is Eph. 4:11-15, "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ." (NKJV)

Note that apostles and prophets were to be only for a time--note the word "till" in verse 13.  When would the "till" arrive?  We can figure that out.  We have enough information to do that.  Note that when that time arrives we will no longer be children tossed about by every wind of doctrine.  This tells us that when the "till" comes ("we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood" - Eph. 4:13 ESV) that false doctrine will still be taught but we will no longer be carried about by it.  This means we are talking about a time prior to the return of Christ for upon his return false doctrine becomes a thing of the past.  So again we prove that miracles, spiritual gifts, etc., are not to last until the return of Christ.  They are gone before his return.  So again do not let anyone tell you that miracles and spiritual gifts are to last until Christ's return.

But one might object to this argument on the grounds that if this be true then it would also eliminate evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  Yes, it would--those miraculously qualified to do the work by being the recipient of a spiritual gift.  One needs to bear in mind, however, that with the completed revelation of Christ to man one no longer needed spiritual gifts to qualify or enable him for that work. 

Also, beware lest you be led astray thinking that since what is called Christendom today is divided that "the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God" never arrived.  Yes, that has been lost today but that does not mean they never had it say back in 120 A.D. (just using that date as an example).  Believe it or not there was a time when things were not like they are today.

The unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and how to obtain to mature spiritual manhood in Christ are found in the pages of the completed New Testament.  Outside the New Testament you can know nothing of or about Christ or of the faith aside from some Old Testament prophetic utterances.  If you are carried about by false doctrine you need not be.  That is what you have a New Testament for--so you will not be led into false doctrine and can know the truth if you really want to know it. 

What are the implications of miracles having ceased?  Let me say to start that the implications are so great that some religious bodies will never accept it as fact for the simple reason it would destroy them as a religious body.  If a religious group's very existence is dependent on the continuation of miracles that is an exceedingly strong incentive to fight for them and argue for them and not accept New Testament teaching on the subject.

Remember the purpose of miracles was to confirm the word.  If you still want the world to believe you are a source of revealed authoritative teaching and preaching, teaching that cannot be found in the pages of the New Testament (emphasis here), received directly from God, then you must have miracles to confirm the word.  You cannot have the Catholic Church without miracles can you?  If they want to hand down law and claim God's authority for it then they have to have God performing miracles among them.  No choice about it.

The Catholic Church claims authority and teaches many doctrines that cannot be found in the pages of the New Testament (I think they will agree with me on this).  Why should any man believe them?  There is only one reason--miracles.  They must make the claim of miracles being performed among them and do their best to get people to believe they are genuine.  They will never accept that miracles have ceased.  If you are Catholic logic requires that you believe in modern-day miracles.  The miracles confirm that God is among them approving of them and their teaching.  They must have miracles to maintain their authority.  They will have their miracles with no New Testament passages bothering them.

One must remember the Catholic Church believes authority resides with them and not solely with the New Testament.  They are not willing to accept the New Testament alone as the final authority in religion.  This is not news to anyone familiar with the Catholic Church.

Pentecostal groups have a different motivation.  As far as I know they have not tried to get humanity to think that God hands down law today through them, law not found in the New Testament, but they have misunderstood the New Testament.  Their existence does depend on the continuation of miracles and spiritual gifts.  All know this who know anything about them.  If miracles have ceased they are left high and dry, out in the cold, and have taught false doctrine.  They must fight against what has been taught in this article.  If miracles have ceased, as I have been teaching, then where does that leave Pentecostalism?

One must remember that doctrine does not exist in a vacuum.  Every doctrine has implications.  As we all from time to time examine our beliefs we would do well to see where our thinking leads.  We must accept the implications for we really have no choice unless we are to throw all logic and reason out the window.     

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Saturday, January 14, 2023

If We Died With Him—Died How?

2 Tim. 2:11 is another often overlooked passage on the teaching that baptism is essential for salvation.  It reads, "For if we died with him, we shall also live with Him." (NKJV) How does the Bible teach that a man dies with Christ? 

“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." (Rom. 6:3-8 NKJV) 

What if, however, we do not die to sin in baptism (we refuse to be baptized)?  The text says, "He who has died has been freed from sin."  Thus if there is no death to sin in baptism there is no promise of life for there is no freedom from sin.   To refuse to be baptized for the remission of sins is a dangerous, even deadly, thing—a thing that holds no promise of life.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Finding Truth

How can one find and know the truth of Christianity that comes from God in a world that is divided over that truth to the extent that today we have thousands and thousands of denominations because they cannot agree with one another over what that truth is?  Many no longer think it is possible to know the truth in any absolute sense.  It is just a matter of individual opinion is a common thought.  Consequently, it is not unusual to hear sentiments like as long as you believe in Jesus and are sincere that is all that matters and any church will do, just find the church of your choice.

It is easy enough for the sincere seeker after truth to just throw up his/her hands in despair and give up but the Bible makes it clear that truth can be known and that it does matter what one believes and obeys.  Jesus said "to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" (John 8:31-32 NKJV)  Abiding in the word of Jesus is thus essential to (1) being a disciple of Jesus and (2) to knowing the truth.  It is also essential to salvation for Jesus said, "If anyone keeps My word he shall never see death." (John 8:51 NKJV)

All the words in our New Testament are the words of Jesus, not just the red letter words.  The word Jesus spoke and gave to man was God the Father's.  Jesus himself said so.  "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me." (John 14:24 NKJV)  John the Baptist was speaking of Jesus when he said, "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure." (John 3:34 NKJV) 

Jesus made other statements to this effect as follows:  "The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority." (John 14:10 NKJV)  "I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him." (John 8:26 NKJV)  "As My Father taught Me, I speak these things." (John 8:28 NKJV)  "You seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God." (John 8:40 NKJV)  "But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me … He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God." (John 8:45-47 NKJV)  In his prayer in John 17 he says, "I have given to them the words which You have given Me." (John 17:8 NKJV)  That which Jesus spoke and taught came from God the Father.

When Jesus had ascended back to heaven the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles and prophets but the Spirit himself did not initiate new teaching but merely took of what was Jesus' and gave it to man.  This is clearly taught in John 16:12-15 where we have Jesus speaking and saying, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.  All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you." (NKJV)

Jesus still had many things to say but he would not be saying those things now while still in the physical body but they would be spoken by the Holy Spirit who was going to take "what is Mine and declare it to you."  When Jesus said in John 14:18, in speaking to the twelve, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (NKJV) he was speaking of coming to them via means of the Holy Spirit (read the statement in context—John 14:16-20).  This is the very thing he did on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

The New Testament is God's word; it is Jesus' word; it is the Holy Spirit's word.  Paul declares that he received what he preached by revelation of Jesus.  "But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.   For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ." (Gal. 1:11-12 NKJV)  At the same time he made clear that the words he spoke were from the Holy Spirit.  "These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (1 Cor. 2:13 NKJV)  Just 3 verses later he says, "We have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor. 2:16 NKJV)  To have the Holy Spirit is the same as to have the mind of Christ which is the same as to have "the Spirit who is from God" (1 Cor. 2:12 NKJV) which John the Baptist told us earlier God gave Jesus "without measure." (John 3:34 NKJV)

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NKJV)  It is God's word which is truth for Jesus said in prayer to the Father, "Your word is truth." (John 17:17 NKJV)  It is that which makes free from sin (see John 8:31-32 quoted in the second paragraph of this article).  It is that by which we shall be judged for Jesus said, "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him--the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day." (John 12:48 NKJV)

Jesus has defined love of God and what that means when he said, via the Holy Spirit speaking through the apostle John, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." (1 John 5:3 NKJV)  He again says, "This is love, that we walk according to His commandments." (2 John 6 NKJV)  We find similar statements in the Gospel of John where Jesus speaks directly.  "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me." (John 14:21 NKJV)  "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word." (John 14:23 NKJV)  Jesus is "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)  To obey Jesus one must obey the truth, the word of God, the words of Jesus whether spoken directly by him or indirectly by means of the Holy Spirit speaking through the apostles and the New Testament prophets.

Now it is time to make an application as it applies to the subject of finding truth in divided Christendom.  Where can truth be found?  The answer is simple—in the words of Jesus which is the New Testament, all of it.  But, it is often said we cannot agree on it.  We disagree with how passages are to be understood.  True, we do, but one must understand that truth is truth.

If you and I are reading the same passage and you say it teaches one thing and I say it teaches another that is not going to affect the truth of the passage one way or another; it will not change the truth one iota.  You may be wrong; I may be wrong; we both may be wrong; but, make no mistake about it, there is truth in the passage to be discovered.

There is no such thing as a separate truth for you and a separate truth for me out of the same passage.  At least one of us has to be in error and maybe both of us.  God will judge us by his word (John 12:48) which requires a correct understanding of it if a man is going to believe it and obey it.  We are foolhardy when we go off and say in our hearts that you see it one way and I see it another and we are content to leave it at that.

It is a direct command of God to, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:15 NAS)  If we fail to do that--accurately handle the word of truth--then we simply become another blind leader of the blind which Jesus says will end up with both falling into the ditch.  It means disaster.

I say this without reservation; most people never learn the truth because they never study the truth.  They are far, far away from being diligent about personal Bible study and being a workman at doing it.  They may know well what it means to be a diligent workman studying a college course but they have never put forth that kind of effort into Bible study.  They do not like to read or study the Bible, they find it boring or they would rather do other things.

Peter said that Paul wrote some things hard to understand "which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16 NKJV) so scripture can be twisted and turned to teach what it does not teach but again to do so means destruction.  One must educate himself not in what men say the scriptures teach but in the exact wording of scripture so he knows for himself what it teaches.  The Bereans "searched the scriptures daily." (Acts 17:11 NKJV)

How many people today are almost solely dependent on their preacher for their religious instruction?  If their preacher was a blind leader how would they know it no more than they study for themselves?  One is going to have to want to go to heaven if he/she is going to get there.  Studying, serious study, is a part of the want to process.  One comes to understand the scriptures correctly the same way he comes to understand any other academic subject—by study.  It was God who said, "Come now, and let us reason together." (Isa. 1:18 NKJV)  You have to know what he said before you can reason on it.

Jesus taught that a man can know the truth but there was a stipulation—"if anyone wants to do his will." (John 7:17 NKJV)  Here is the whole verse with Jesus being the speaker, "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority." (John 7:17 NKJV)  Many New Testament doctrines are rejected today because men do not want to do God's will.

One of the most prevalent is that of marriage, divorce, and remarriage for causes other than that given in Matt. 19:9—the cause of fornication (sexual immorality in most modern-day translations).  A divorce and remarriage for any other reason is adultery.  Likewise some religious groups today want to legalize in their religious body homosexuality, that is to declare a practicing homosexual a faithful Christian.  Others desire to place women in positions of authority over men in the church.  Is the Bible unclear on these subjects?

Hear the New Testament on the subject of homosexuality, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor. 6:9-10 ESV)  As for women in leadership roles in the church over men Paul said, "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.   And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." (1 Tim. 2:11-12 NKJV)

What is the point?  One cannot know the truth unless he wants to do God's will just as Jesus said in John 7:17.  Jesus said the same thing using other words in Mark 4:24, "Then He said to them, 'Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.'" (NKJV)  If one is not willing to obey the truth (use it) what makes him think he is going to learn the truth?

Such a man will read a passage of scripture in a different way than will a man who is willing to accept and obey what is said.  He will justify himself by twisting the scriptures and declare his twisting to be the real truth.  Because he does not like what he hears and does not want to obey it he declares he hears something in the passage that an honest-hearted man would never hear.

In a similar vein all those religious bodies who declare themselves to be Christian but are willing to step outside the bounds of scripture for justification and authority are merely seeking to set up the commandments of men as equal to the word of God.  There are today all kinds of governing bodies that make rules and regulations, laws and commandments, for their faithful just by the vote of those elected or appointed delegates to their various conventions, etc.  At least the Catholics are honest enough to admit that they do not derive their authority solely from the Bible.  Some of the denominations ought to fess up too, just as many of them as have national conventions or governing bodies that set their doctrines.

If one needs reminding of what God said about teaching the doctrines of men then here is the reminder, "'In vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matt. 15:9 NKJV)  The problem was, "'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.'" (Matt. 15:8 NKJV) No single man or group of men has the right to make a single law for God.  We live in the kingdom of God and kings rule in kingdoms.  The church is not a democracy where we vote on what we will believe and practice.

Finally, tradition plays an awfully big role in leading people away from the truth.  Jesus, in speaking to the Pharisees and scribes, said, "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men." (Mark 7:8 NKJV)  Again, "He said to them, 'All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.'" (Mark 7:9 NKJV)  Does anyone think that kind of thing came to an end at the end of the first century?

The key to detecting this today within a group is the phrase, "you reject the commandment of God."  One can see the commandments of God by reading the New Testament.  When one or more of those commandments are no longer being followed by a religious body that ought to tell you something about them and a good place to start looking is at their traditions and how they are ruled.

If I was to tell you all you needed to know the truth was your New Testament you might find that hilarious in view of all the conflicting beliefs that men who claim to follow it have come up with.  Yet, if I was to tell you the truth could be found somewhere else I would be in conflict with what God has said and would find myself fighting against God.  The truth is found in your New Testament, because it is the word of Jesus, but it takes a good and honest heart to find it and accept it.  The real test of whether or not a man or woman has found the truth is found in 1 John.

"Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him." (1 John 2:3-5 NKJV)

Are you doing that?  The congregation or church of which you are a member, are they doing that or have they rejected some of God's commandments and set up some of their own traditions?  Read your New Testament and you decide.  I hope you are able to do that with a good and honest heart but be careful for God has said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9 NKJV) 

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