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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Must We Seek God

Should a person seek God?  Many men and women believe there is a supreme being we call God and yet they feel no need to seek God.  With them God is God; he is just and good and is love so he will save them as long as they live what they consider to be a reasonably good life.  They do not concern themselves with reading or studying the Bible, with worship, or obedience to God's specific commandments.  They go through life on auto-pilot as far as God is concerned.

Whether they realize it or not this approach to salvation is an attempt to be saved by the works of man--it is an attempt to work your way to heaven based on personal goodness, a self-defined goodness.  It reminds one of Rom. 10:3, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God." (NKJV)  It attempts to make God conform to man's judgments rather than man conform to God's judgments.  Man ends up judging God rather than God judging man.  God, if you are really good you will save me is the idea.    

The reality is it does not work that way.  Man does not get to pass judgment on God nor bully God into saving him.  "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,' says the Lord.  'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" (Isa. 55:8-9 NKJV)  God will remain God and you and I will remain flesh and blood, just human beings who are here for a short while on earth and then pass on into eternity over which God rules.

What does the Bible have to say about seeking God?  It condemns those who fail to do so.  Paul says, "For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.  As it is written:  'There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.'" (Rom. 3:9-12 NKJV)  Did you note there is none who seeks after God in this passage and they are all in sin; there are none who do good, not by God’s standard? 

David in Psalms 10:4 said, "The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts." (NKJV)  I take David's statement where he says "God is in none of his thoughts" to mean that such a man never considers God in anything he does.  God is in none of his plans, is never considered in the man's decision-making, etc.  We find such a man described by Jesus in the New Testament in the parable of the rich man whose ground yielded such a plentiful crop that he knew not what to do with it all as described in Luke 12:16-21.

This man decided to tear his old barns down, build bigger ones to store the crop, and then "eat, drink, and be merry." (Luke 12:19 NKJV)  God called him a fool (verse 20) and said his soul would be required of him that very night.  Jesus finished the parable by saying, "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:21 NKJV)  This man had excluded thoughts of God from his life.   That man has relatives alive on earth today.

There are only two classes of men--those who seek God and those who do not.  All mankind fits into one classification or another.  In the Psalm quoted above, David said that the wicked does not seek God.  That necessarily means if a man is not a seeker after God it puts him into the only other category that exists, that of the wicked who do not seek God.  If God is "a rewarder of those who diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6 NKJV) what then becomes of the man who does not seek God at all? 

Jesus sought God his father for he said, "I do not seek my own will but the will of the father who sent me." (John 5:30 NKJV)  This was the opposite of the rich man who tore his barns down to build bigger to hold his crop without seeking God's will in his life.  One cannot seek God's will without seeking God.

It is God's will for a man that man seeks him, all of mankind.  James made that clear in reference to the Gentiles by quoting the words of the prophets in Acts 15:15-17, "And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:  'After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down.  I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord who does all these things.'" (NKJV)  We now live in that dispensation of time when all men may seek the Lord it being God's will that they do so.

A little later in Acts 17 Paul speaks of God as having made of one blood all men "so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:27 NKJV)  Why should we seek him?  Paul says in the next verse, "For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17:28 NKJV)  God is truly a person's father whether all are willing to recognize him as that or not.  A man ought to seek his father had he not?  (Yes, the devil can become one's father, John 8:44, but we enter the world as God's offspring.  The devil did not bring us into the world.)

"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalms 53:1 NKJV)  God is looking, “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.” (Psalm 53:2 NKJV)  Want to know what a fool does not do?  A fool does not seek God. 

In the normal course of a week, you and I will meet up with any number of people who are totally indifferent to God.  They are not seeking God in any way, by any measurement.  They are not necessarily all unbelievers but they are at best indifferent toward God and are not seeking him.  They may be good men and women as the world measures such things but the God who runs their life is the God of self.  The one who makes the rules by which they live and by which they determine what is right from what is wrong is themselves.  They set the rules for their life, not God.

Remember earlier when I quoted Paul from Acts 17 concerning seeking God?  I said that the reason was that we are God's offspring (Acts 17:28) and that a man ought to seek his father, but this section of scripture also gives another reason.  What?  God is going to "judge the world in righteousness." (Acts 17:31 NKJV)  Men must therefore repent. (Acts 17:30)  The man who is unwilling to seek God will never repent, and will thus be condemned.  Repentance is not just being sorry for a wrong done but forsaking it and turning to God.

The Bible teaches us to seek in order to find (Matt. 7:7-8).  One will never find God without looking for him.  True, many believe they know God who have not sought him.  What a man thinks he knows and what he knows are often two different things.  How can you know God when you never read nor study his word, when you don't even know what he has said?

Who is the man God commends?  Jehu said, speaking of King Jehoshaphat of Judah on God's behalf, "Nevertheless good things are found in you, in that you have removed the wooden images from the land, and have prepared your heart to seek God." (2 Chron. 19:3 NKJV)  King Jehoshaphat was commended for having prepared his heart to do what?  To seek God.  God commends such a man. 

Can a man find God if he seeks him?  He can if he seeks with all his heart.  Jeremiah, in writing to the Jewish captives in Babylon, said, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel … And you will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart." (Jer. 29:4, 13 NKJV)  David commanded the people to "set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God." (1 Chron. 22:19 NKJV)  God is not a God that is hard to find or a God that does not want to be found but he does seek people who truly desire to know him.  

Jesus came into the world seeking us.  "For the son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10 NKJV)  God calls all men by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14).  He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).  He desires that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).  God is not hiding or making himself hard to find if we really desire to find him.  We will find him if we want to.  However, a person who is half-heartedly seeking God is a person who in reality does not really want to find God.

Why would a man not want to find God or only half-heartedly seek him?  The answer is quite simple.  By its very nature, the God-man relationship must be one where man must submit to God.  Submission is the roadblock for those determined to be their own decision-makers and be their own boss.     

Here is a description of the kind of personality who will find God.  "O God, you are my God; early will I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you." (Psalms 63:1 NKJV)  When we long for God with all our being we will seek diligently and in seeking we shall find (God's promise--Matt. 7:7-8) and in finding we shall be blessed. 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Jesus Defines Repentance

The Bible clearly teaches that repentance is a command of God to all men (Acts 17:30) and that if we fail to repent we shall perish (Luke 13:3, 5).  It is essential then that we come to a proper understanding of the meaning of repentance.  What does it mean to repent?  Jesus tells us and we can find no higher authority on the subject than Christ himself.  Let us hear what he has said.

“The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” (Luke 11:32 NKJV)

The book of Jonah where we are told about this is a very short book of only 4 chapters so it is not hard to find out what the men of Nineveh did which Jesus calls repentance.

Nineveh was a city God described as a wicked city (Jonah 1:2) to which God sent Jonah to give them the message that in 40 days Nineveh would be overthrown (Jonah 3:4).  Now note the first response to this message.

“So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.” (Jonah 3:5 NKJV)  Now belief is not repentance but it is a prerequisite to it.  Where there is no belief there will be no repentance, it is impossible.  One might quit a sin for any number of reasons (health, reputation, family, etc.) without repenting.  We say it is hard to get people to repent and so it is but why?  One of the biggest reasons is failure to believe God, what he says in the scriptures. 

What must one believe in order to repent?  He must believe God is (Heb. 11:6).  He must believe he stands guilty before God (Rom. 3:23, 1 John 1:8).  He must believe he is a condemned man in his present state (Rom. 6:23).  Belief is thus a necessary prerequisite to biblical repentance.

There are two or three passages in the New Testament that put repentance before belief (Acts 20:21, Heb. 6:1, Mark 1:15).  I will make a comment or two and go on without going into a long excursion on these passages.  Where the passages address a Jewish crowd one must remember the Jewish people had believed in God for generations.  They had sinned against God.  They needed to repent of that and then believe something new to them – faith in Jesus.  Jesus was new to the world.

The second comment I will make in passing is that the order of the wording does not necessarily imply that the one action preceded the other.  Paul, in Rom. 10:9, puts confession before faith, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (NKJV)  Do you think Paul meant to imply that confession is to come before faith?  How would that work?  How could Jesus be Lord if God did not raise him from the dead--if you did not believe that he did?  So we see that faith precedes the confession even though the word order is what it is.  Faith must precede repentance if there is to be repentance.

Now back to Nineveh.  The faith of the people of Nineveh was so strong that they had no doubt that what Jonah was telling them would come to pass.  They saw themselves as a doomed people.  They were confirmed believers that disaster was about to befall them.

Having believed they then humbled themselves before God.  All put on sackcloth from the least to the greatest (Jonah 3:5), they fasted (3:7), they cried to God (3:8).  One of the hardest things for a man to do is humble himself before God and man.  To admit sin is belittling to the proud.  

Pride is a great destroyer of people and is something every person has to deal with in their life.  Pride is one of the things God hates (Pro. 8:13).  It is a forerunner of shame (Pro. 11:2) and comes before a fall (Pro. 16:18); it will bring a man low (Pro. 29:23).  Those who are proud cannot humble themselves and confess they have sinned and repent.  They will pay for their arrogant spirit.  The men of Nineveh will not be of their number.   

What more did the people of Nineveh do?  Jonah 3:8 says the King decreed that “every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” (NKJV)  What did they do?  They ceased doing evil.

Let us summarize the events that transpired here in a city that Jesus said repented.  Here is what we have seen:

(1)  People heard a message from God condemning them and believed it.

(2)  This brought godly sorrow to their hearts.

(3)  They humbled themselves and sought God turning from their evil ways.

This sums up the process of repentance from beginning to end.  Today when we hear the gospel message if we believe it we see we are in a condemned state before God.  We are convicted in our hearts of our sins.  Believing this brings sorrow to our hearts.  If we are then willing to humble ourselves before God, seek him, and turn away from evil to do good, as defined by God in his word, we can rest assured that we have met the requirement for repentance for we have fulfilled all the things the people of Nineveh did and Jesus said they repented.

How long does it take to repent?  It takes just as long as it takes you to be convicted in your heart and then determine with your will to cease your sin and turn to God in faith and obedience.  Repentance is not reformation of life for reformation of life is a result, or fruit, of repentance.  Repentance is a matter of the heart and a determination of the mind or will.

One can hear a single gospel sermon and repent immediately if the heart is good and honest and tender toward God.  Thus we have those 3,000 who repented on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 after hearing Peter’s sermon.  The Bible says of that day and of that preaching that when the people heard it “they were cut to the heart.” (Acts 2:37 NKJV)  They saw themselves as condemned before God and were ready and willing to repent.  This Peter told them to do as well as be baptized for the remission of sins. (Acts 2:38)

So, how long did it take them to repent?  Not long.  Just as long as it took to hear the preaching, believe it, be pricked in the heart, and as a result create a willingness of heart to seek God and turn away from evil.  The time it takes to repent depends on the hardness of the heart.  There will never be enough time for some hearts.  For the good and honest heart it will not take long.

I want to deal very briefly with a few common misconceptions before closing.  Many believe that sorrow for sin is repentance and that the giving over of the will to God is faith.  Neither is true.  Godly sorrow for sin leads to repentance and is not repentance itself.  “For godly sorrow produces repentance.” (2 Cor. 7:10 NKJV)  I might add not all sorrow for sin is godly.  Prisons are full of people who are sorry for their sin because they got caught but God and his will has no part in their thinking.

The giving over of the will to God is often called faith but God calls it repentance.  True, the giving over of the will is based on faith but is not faith itself but rather repentance.  We ought to call Bible things by Bible names as it allows us to reason more correctly.

Reformation of life can also easily be misconstrued as repentance.  You can turn away from doing evil for various reasons.  Men quit adultery for fear their wife will find out and their marriage be destroyed.  Others quit cheating on their taxes for fear of getting caught.  The list could go on.  This kind of reformation of life is not repentance nor does it have anything to do with repentance.  God is left out of the picture.  All concerns are over worldly matters and relationships, not God.

Repentance is repentance from sin and thus God is always in view in true repentance.  He is not in view in reformation of life for worldly reasons.

True repentance results in a reformation of life growing out of faith and a seeking of God.  It means necessarily a turning away from sin to righteousness.  One ends up with a changed life because of a changed outlook.  The proper order of events is godly sorrow first resulting in repentance (a changed outlook – a changed will) that leads to reformation of life.   

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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Work Out Your Own Salvation

As I was thinking about doing an article on this famous passage from the book of Philippians (Phil. 2:12-13) I first did a little Google research to see if anyone else had done so and if so to see what they were saying.  I did find a couple of authors whose work I took a look at.  It seemed to me like both had worked themselves almost into a frenzy trying to deny what the passage clearly states; a person must work out his/her own salvation.  One denied the Greek was correctly translated and made his argument on that basis.

Let me quote the Philippians passage to you so we will have it before us and know what it says. 

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13 NKJV)

Is this a correct translation of the Greek text?  It is according to the American Standard Version of 1901, the English Standard Version, the Holman Christian Standard, the Christian Standard, the International Standard Version, the New International Version, the King James, the New King James, the New American Standard, the New American Standard Update, the NET, and the Revised Standard Version.  There were a vast number of Greek scholars behind these translations so I think the question as to whether or not the text has been correctly translated has been answered.  An argument based on the idea of a mistranslation holds no water.

The other man I was reading after based his argument on verse 13, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure.” (NKJV)  His idea seemed to be that it is not  us working out our salvation but rather God; it is God working, him moving us.  Well, as the kids would say, “Duh!”  How does that negate us working out our own salvation?

Of course, God is working in us to work, to will to do his will, and to do his pleasure.  That is the way it works and always has.  How does he do it?  He does it through his word.  We hear his word and it moves us to obey.  The Spirit of God gave the word, there is power in the word of God (Heb. 4:12), the word is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), it (the word) is the tool the Spirit uses to move us. 

Take the word of God away and there is no work of faith for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17), there is no obedience for there is nothing to obey without the word, there is no works of righteousness (“all your commandments are righteousness”--Psalm 119:172 NKJV), there is no man who works righteousness (obeys God’s commands).  Man is to walk uprightly and work righteousness (Psalm 15:2) if he is to abide in the tabernacle of the Lord according to the Psalmist.

To say that a man is to work righteousness, which means only that he is to obey God’s commands, is a vast cry from saying that man is saved by works or that he is working his way to heaven or trying to get there by works apart from grace.  Man has his choice.  He can either work righteousness or he can work unrighteousness and he will do one or the other as there is no third option.  A man is either going to try and obey (try to be righteous) or else he is going to be disobedient (unrighteous).  It is an either-or matter.

Which of these two men do you think will get to heaven?  Which is going down the difficult way Jesus spoke of that leads to life?  “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:14 NKJV)  Is it the man who is unconcerned about righteousness or the man who is very concerned about it?  It is easy to be a sinner; it is difficult to live a holy, righteous life, an obedient life.

Let us take a look at the larger context of our passage (Phil. 2:12-13) starting in Philippians 2:8 where the text is speaking of Jesus and says, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (NKJV)  The next verse, verse 9, starts with the word “therefore” meaning it ties back to verse 8, “Therefore” (because of this act of obedience by Jesus--DS) God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name.” (Phil. 2:9 NKJV)

But, now note how verse 12, the first verse of our text (Phil. 2:12-13) begins.  It begins with our word “therefore” again meaning all of this has been tied in together thus the broader context within which Philippians 2:12-13 is found.  Jesus was obedient to death (verse 8).  Paul says the Philippians “have always obeyed” (Philippians 2:12).  His admonition then, taken in context, to “work out your own salvation” is an admonition to continue to obey God’s commands in his absence as they always had in his presence.  And, that is what Jesus had always done – obey God’s commands.

But, one must remember this was a choice they could make--to do or not to do.  God was working in them toward this end (via his word) but the admonition has no meaning if God was forcing them to do it.  That is the position they put themselves in who say we are not under any obligation to work out our own salvation--when they say salvation is totally in God’s hands and man has no role to play in it.  The admonition of Paul in our passage is meaningless if it is all left up to God.

God’s word can never be destroyed.  James' statement in James 2:24 will stand for eternity.  “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (NKJV)  That has always been true and always will be.  Man has things he must do if he is to be saved.  The responsibility is not all on God and God alone. 

“He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)  Obedience is to righteousness. (Rom. 6:16)  Jesus says we will be judged by his word (John 12:48).  Are there any commandments in his word?  “He who does not love me does not keep my words.” (John 14:24 NKJV)  Can you go to heaven not loving Jesus?  “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed.” (1 Cor. 16:22 NKJV)  “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3 NKJV)

Peter in quoting Moses’ prophecy regarding Christ in Acts 3 says in verse 23, “And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” (NKJV)  That makes it clear to me.  “Utterly destroyed” are the words.  Who will be utterly destroyed--those who will not hear (meaning heed or obey) his words.  Remember the entire New Testament is the words of Jesus for Jesus himself said of the Holy Spirit who inspired men to write, “He will not speak on his own authority … he will glorify me, for he will take of what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-14 NKJV) 

How men can say we are not to work out our own salvation I simply do not understand.  Obedience does matter and you cannot go to heaven without it.  However, you can be “utterly destroyed” from among the people without it. 

For those convinced that what I have said makes us work our way to heaven hear Jesus.  “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants.  We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:10 NKJV)  If you are an unprofitable servant then certainly you are saved by grace for if you are unprofitable you are also unworthy.   

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