Romans 8:13: Putting the deeds of the body to death by the Spirit

I got an email asking how we put the deeds of the body to death by the Spirit. My answer got a lot of positive response on Facebook, so I am sharing it here too:

In my experience, drawing strength from the Lord requires spending time with him. I get on my knees, and I tell him what I am struggling with. My confessions are without excuses, and I call sin what it is. If I failed to talk to someone out of cowardice, I don’t say I was nervous or shy. I tell God I need some core attitude changed. I need the Spirit of love, power, and a sound mind because today I took the coward’s route. I don’t condemn myself for this, though I mourn a bit. I dealt with condemnation at the cross. I know that my flesh cannot please God. All of me needs to be crucified. Whatever I have done, it is the life of self, and it needs to be overthrown by submission to the power of God.

As I write these words, they don’t seem clear or heartfelt. When I am on my knees praying, however, they are real. He gives me grace and peace. I stay on my knees till he sends that grace and peace. When I fail to do so, I find my life is weak.

The other super important thing is confessing your faults to others. You can confess your specific sins to God in naked honesty with trembling and conviction because he saw your sin anyway. To your brothers and sisters, confessing your faults is enough unless you have specifically offended that brother or that sister. You need their prayers. You need them to check on you. You need their advice about battling those weaknesses. Those should be people who know and understand you so they can speak to you clearly. Mature Christians can help even if they don’t know you because they know humans in general. Hopefully a mature Christian will speak to you by the Spirit and in love.

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“Biblically Sound” Denominations in Light of the Judgment

Someone asked me which denominations are biblically sound. I wrote this answer.

I don’t think a “denomination” is biblically sound. I believe that, biblically, the church is all the Christians in my town. It would be awesome if we had one bishop in our town who met with all the elders of each local congregation to serve and shepherd and teach the Christians of our town in both homes and meeting houses. That, of course, is not happening anywhere. Therefore, my opinion, for whatever use it is, is that the best thing you can do is find a church, and other Christians on a personal level, who do what the Bible says: “Consider one another to provoke to love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, but exhorting, and so much the more as you see The Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). On a personal basis, the Bible says the same thing: “Exhort one another day by day, while it is called ‘today,’ lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). On the last day, we will be judged by our works, not by our denomination, nor by our theology. We will be judged by what we do, not what we say, nor where we go on Sunday. This is said so often I can’t list all the places, but here are some: Matthew 7:21; 25:31-46; John 5:28-29; Rom. 2:5-8; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17.

Thus, what you and I need is not a denomination. We need the Scriptures to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17); we need grace to deliver us from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14) and teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Tit. 2:11-12); we need to be created in Christ Jesus so that we can do the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10); and we need the Holy Spirit to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law (Rom. 8:3-4) and not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:8-9). And, as already said, we need our brothers and sisters to exhort us day by day, and we need to do that for them, so that none of us are deceived by sin. In our gatherings, we need to “consider one another” so that we know how to “provoke to love and good works.” This cannot only be done by clergy. This must be done by “one another” even when we gather on Sunday mornings.

With that in mind, you have to pursue individual Christians every bit as much as finding a Sunday morning place to meet. Many people nowadays meet in homes so that they can do these things. Don’t be deceived, though. We have a war to fight. We do not put on spiritual armor for nothing. There are principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in heavenly places that do not want you to continue to the end (Eph. 6:10-18). As Justin Martyr wrote, “The evil demons subdue all those who do not make a strong opposing effort for their own salvation” (First Apology, ch. 14). That effort must be based in walking by the Spirit, hearing or reading the Scriptures, receiving God’s grace, trusting Jesus, and helping one another in love.

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A Christian Perspective in a Divided and Divisive World Where All Lives and Black Lives Matter

My thought is that there is way too much politics infecting our Christian thinking. I know of a guy, though, who has said what I would want to say, but better than I ever could. I can’t condense his words.

I did not listen to the whole service that is in the video below. I listened only to Pastor Schackelford’s sermon, beginning at 37:57 of the video. (Actually, I also listened to the song that begins at 34:30 and loved the vibrato in that woman’s voice.) In fact, I only want to point you to about 20 minutes (ending at 57:40). The rest is great as well, but those 22 minutes and 43 seconds say what I would want to say about our current political situation.

I have embedded this video beginning at 37:57. If that is not working, you can go straight to Youtube. I saw this sermon originally on the Ellendale Baptist Church (Bartlett, TN) Facebook page.

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Jude 3: Over-Agonizing for the Once for All Delivered Faith

Dear saints,

Jude, our Lord’s brother, commanded us long ago to epagonizomai for the faith once for all delivered to us. Epagonizomai means to “over agonize.” In Colossians 1:29, Paul said he was agonizomai, agonizing, with God’s energeo, God’s energy, to present every man perfect in Christ. Jude puts epi, over, in front of that agonizomai. We are to “over agonize” for the faith.

What is the faith? To borrow a phrase from Tertullian, a writer from Carthage around the year 200, everything turns to its original for classification. The “original,” the very first faith that we know, is recorded in Acts 2:38-48:

  1. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.

Peter said, so long ago, that this promise of the Holy Spirit was for those who heard him and …

for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God might call.

We are far off, but the Holy Spirit is a promise to us who have believed in Jesus and been baptized.

  1. “He solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!'”
  2. Those who “received the word” were baptized and “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer.”

Look at those phrases! “Solemnly testified”; “kept on exhorting them.”

The apostles spoke and the hearers “received” and “continually devoted themselves.”

The result?

Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe, and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. All those who were together and had all things in common, and they began selling their possessions and property and were sharing them with everyone, as anyone might have need. Day by day, continuing with one mind in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they were eating their meals with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with the people.

And the result of this Holy-Spirit-inspired behavior?

The Lord was adding those who were being saved to their number every day.

No wonder Paul “agonized with God’s energy” to present us complete in Christ! No wonder Jude exhorted us to “overagonize” for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

This was not revival. This was not “re-“; it was the original. This was vivification, life coming to earth from the Holy Spirit. “Re-” vival is the restoration of that life.

Notes

“Agonize” is not the best translation of _agonizomai_. I am not trying to correct our Bible translations. “Fight” or “strive” in the sense of trying to win is the correct translation, but “agonize” is the right picture. We are supposed to picture a wrestler agonizing to throw his opponent to the ground, or a sprinter trying to nip his opponent as he crosses the line (reference). It is that effort Paul was giving to make us complete in Christ. It is MORE than that effort that Jude wants us to give in fighting for the original faith.

The original shines through in Acts 2:42-48. It was not forced. It was not communism nor mandatory daily banquets. It is the “of course” result—the fruit—of a fervent people (Rom. 12:11), set on fire by the Holy Spirit to love one another (Rom. 5:8), and zealous to do the deeds (Tit. 2:13-14) they were created in King Jesus to do (Eph. 2:10).

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The Uniqueness of John’s Gospel and Letters

In John 4 today, I am reminded of how unusual John’s Gospel is. When Jesus is talking with the Samaritan woman, he comes right out and says that he is the Christ (v. 26). In the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus is careful to prevent anyone from knowing he is the Christ until the last week of his ministry, which led to his being killed. (The admonition not to tell anyone he is the Christ, found in Matt. 16:20 is in all three synoptic Gospels.) Basically, riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey was his announcement to everyone that he was the King; the Jewish leaders would have been very familiar with Zechariah 9:9.

As an aside, what kind of leaders wait around for the arrival of a prophesied King, then make it a rule that anyone claiming to be that King is blaspheming? (see Luke 22:70-71).

Anyway, Jesus’s regular announcements that he is the Christ in the Gospel of John makes me think John spent most of the Gospel talking about the last week of Jesus’s life. (John 13-17 is all from one night.) The problem with that is the early Christians say John wrote his Gospel to cover the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, which the synoptic Gospels did not cover (Eusebius, AD 323, Church History, Bk. 3, ch. 24). Thus, John lists the miracle of the water and wine as the first of Jesus’s miracles, and the healing of the nobleman’s son as his second miracle.

That is not the only unusual thing about John’s Gospel. One important unusual thing is his use of “eternal life.” John is the only New Testament author to teach that eternal life is a current possession. For all other New Testament authors, eternal life is a reward after the judgment (yes, in Paul’s letters, too). Another is his persistent use of the Greek present tense, a tense which indicates “this is what is going on currently.” Thus, John 3:16 really should be translated as …

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that whoever is believing in him [currently] should not be destroyed, but be having [currently] eternal life.

This is true in 1 John as well, where 1 John 3:9 should be “He who is born of God is not sinning [currently].”

Now, I know that those of you who have read to this point will ask, “What are you saying?” My answer is that I am not saying anything; I am telling you what John said.

I am suggesting, though, that we should be careful about how we interpret John, or we may contradict the rest of the New Testament.

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Bible Contradictions: Copyists’ Errors or the Word of God?

There are contradictions in the Bible. The reason that most churches’ statement of faith says that the Bible is “free from error in the original manuscripts” is because they know that the Bible is not free from error in the manuscripts we have available. To most, that is not a problem because all or almost all contradictions are chalked up to copyist errors.

One early Christian, though, thought there was something much better to do with contradictions and with puzzling verses that seem to make no sense. His name was Origen and, admittedly, he was a controversial guy. Though brilliant and highly respected in his time (A.D. 220-250), he was prone to wild speculation, and later councils condemned him. The condemnations, though, were probably not so much for his actual teachings but because two centuries later a group of “Origenists” arose promoting a false view of the Trinity, which was still a hot topic at the time.

Anyway, controversial or not controversial, the wisdom of this approach to contradictions in the Bible is apparent. Origen wrote:

Since, then, it was the intention of the Holy Spirit to enlighten those holy souls who had devoted themselves to the service of the truth with regard to these and similar subjects, the following purpose was kept in view. … For the sake of those who either could not or would not give themselves to this labor and toil by which they would deserve to be instructed in … things of such value and importance, [God purposed] to wrap up and conceal … in ordinary language—under the covering of some history and narrative of visible things—hidden mysteries. (De Principiis, Bk. IV, Ch. 1, par. 14; brackets in original)

Note: All the quotes from Origen in this post can be read at CCEL.org/fathers.

Origen is saying here that truth is for the diligent. As Psalm 25:14 says, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant.” Or, as the writer of Hebrews says, all who have faith know that “the Lord is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). He is also saying that because truth is for the diligent, the most valuable and important truths are hidden beneath the surface, not lying in plain sight for the casual or lazy reader of Scripture.

Jesus gave a similar reason for speaking parables, saying, “I speak to them in parables because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear nor understand” (Matt. 13:13).

He goes on:

But if in all instances … the logical connection and order of the Law had been preserved, we would certainly not believe … that anything else was contained in it except what was indicated on the surface. So for that reason, Divine Wisdom took care that certain stumbling blocks, or interruptions, to the historical meaning would take place. He did this by introducing into the middle certain impossibilities and incongruities. (De Principiis, Bk. IV, ch. 1, par. 15)

So Origen says that there are impossibilities and incongruities (i.e., contradictions) in Scripture that are meant to stop the diligent student and cause him or her to look more deeply into the spiritual meaning of the narrative. One example that he gives is the devil taking Jesus on a high mountain to see all the kingdoms of the world.

How could it literally come to pass, either that Jesus should be led up by the devil into a high mountain, or that the latter should show him all the kingdoms of the world (as if they were lying beneath his bodily eyes, and adjacent to one mountain), i.e., the kingĀ­doms of the Persians, and Scythians, and Indians? (De Principiis, Bk. IV, ch. 1, par. 16; parentheses in original)

This example reminds me of a customer service call I took from a lady living on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. I told her that I had heard that a person can see five states from that mountain. She answered, “Yes, you can, with binoculars and a good imagination.”

There is no mountain in Israel, or anywhere else, from which a person can see India and Egypt at the same time. Origen is telling us to stop and contemplate the spiritual truth being revealed in passages like this. Those impossibilities are God reminding his diligent and spiritual disciples to look below the surface.

Bible Contradictions

The contradiction that led me to write this today is found in 2 Kings 8:25 and 9:28. There you will find two different years for the beginning of King Ahaziah’s reign. The two dates are only one year apart, and it is entirely possible this really is a copyist’s error. It has been more than 2500 years since those chapters were written, and we have no Hebrew manuscript more than a thousand years old with 2 Kings in it. That is 1500 years of copies. It is no surprise a little error like that could come in. In fact, it is a surprise that there are not many more such errors.

I doubt we need to dig deeper into the beginning of Ahaziah’s reign. Rather, that minor copyist’s error reminded me of Origen’s teaching. I write much more extensively about this idea at https://www.christian-history.org/bible-interpretation.html. I do want to discuss Bible contradictions just a bit further here, though.

A much bigger error that has to do with Ahaziah’s reign is in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ. You can see a list of the kings of Judah at Bible-history.com. Note that Ahaziah was the son of Jehoram (or Joram). Matthew, however, says that Joram was the father of Uzziah (Matt. 1:8). Maybe this was because Uzziah was also called “Azariah,” (2 Kings 15;; perhaps “Uzziah” was short for “Azariah”?), very similar to Ahaziah, and Matthew (or a list he was using) mixed them up. No matter what the reason, Matthew confused Ahaziah and Azariah, and so he left out Ahaziah, Joash his son, and Amaziah his grandson. So there were not fourteen generations from David to the exile in Babylon, but seventeen (Matt. 1:17).

Now one response to this “incongruity” is to bury our head in the sand and never mention it, hoping no one will notice. Since we are Christians, spiritual and powerful children of God, and not ostriches, I do not recommend this response. I recommend Origen’s response, digging deeper. This is hard to do. It is terrifying for those who believe the Bible is “free from error in its original manuscripts” to face a real contradiction from the original author of a Bible book. Matthew’s oversight is an error. It is a big error. Matthew counted his generations wrong in order to get his three fourteens (1:17).

I hope you are glad that I told you this rather than a scoffing atheist telling you. Now you have time to prepare.

I wish I could give you some great Bible interpretation when I found this contradiction. I did not get a great Bible interpretation out of it; I got a great spiritual truth. (For those who need a good explanation for the inconsistency, here are some given in commentaries.)

I found the contradiction in Matthew at a time in my life when I was getting back in shape and jogging a lot. I had a favorite logging trail to run on, and I ran a few hundred yards down the trail and curled up in the grass, calling out to God. There were several other difficulties I had run across through the previous year, mostly because I was doing a lot of apologetics. As I lay there on the ground, I told God I had to let go of things that I had treasured and defended. I could not argue for or believe a Bible without contradictions anymore.

The most astonishing peace came over me, truly a peace that passes understanding. It was every bit as puzzling as the joy that came over me a few years later when I was told I had leukemia. In that moment, lying there in the grass, I realized that I believe with a deep-down, unshakable belief that has nothing to do with the accuracy of Scripture and everything to do with the power of God. I had doubted some of the most important things I have ever believed, and neither God nor I cared about it. He was the great supporter. My power and the source of my life comes from him. His support is unshakable. I got up with a faith greater than I had ever had. Further, I was free. All the atheist attacks on the faith, all the scientific evidence for evolution … none of it mattered. I was at peace with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I knew him and was owned by him, and nothing else mattered.

Those commentaries I linked will give you some possible explanations for Matthew’s factual error. I no longer care. The books of the Bible have been gathered, and inspired by God, to reveal his will and ways to us so that we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Today, I have a much higher, stronger, and more spiritual view of the inspiration of Scripture than I have ever had. This is all true despite the fact that I believe Matthew, inspired by God, made a historical mistake.

That may not be a satisfying answer for many of you, but by the power of God, it has more than satisfied me.

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Aphiemi: Release or Forgive?

It is hard to forgive someone who did not repent. It is hard to understand even why we should. In fact, some who have wronged us are happy to have wronged us and are not looking to be forgiven.

We need to learn a new and biblical word for forgive. That word is “release.” Yes, the Greek word _aphiemi_ can mean forgive, but only as an extension of its real meaning, release (see https://studybible.info/strongs/G863). Thus, in Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us to pray (more correctly translated), “Release us from our debts, just as we release the ones indebted to us.” After Jesus teaches the prayer, he then says, “If you do not release men from their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father release you from your trespasses.”

“Trespass” is a really cool Greek word that is literally “sidestep.” I think it can carry the meaning of “I really didn’t mean to slip into that” (see https://studybible.info/strongs/G3900). Either way, with both debts and someone that has trespassed (think, on your land), you can release them without forgiving them in the English sense of the word. Forgiving a debt does not mean you feel bettter about having lost the money. It means telling the person that they don’t have to pay you back. (If you are prone to not forgiving debts, you MUST read the parable of the unforgiving steward in Matthew 18:23-35.)

It is the same with someone trespassing on your property. You may have a sign saying “trespassers will be shot,” and you may be really angry, but in most cases people are satisfied not to shoot trespassers, but just to run them off. They have “released” the person from the trespass even if they have not forgiven them in the normal sense of the word.

I think this an important concept. Even though we have offended God much worse than others have offended us, God is kind toward us, always offering us release. He offers not to punish us at all if we will repent.

He will only do this, however, if we do this for others, and it is something we can do! It’s okay if you’re still angry. You can release those who have offended you from your wrath and from your retaliation. You may still feel bad, but you will have pleased God, and I’ll bet he will go right to work on your feelings. You also won’t feel stupid for forgiving someone who doesn’t care about being forgiven anyway, or who may deny that there is anything to be forgive for. What Jesus is getting at is that just as the Father has released you from the punishment for your many transgressions, you must release others from punishment for their few transgressions against you. Stop praying against them and pray for them. You may still have to stay away from them because they are evil or a bad influence or simply because they suck the life out of you, but you can pray they be released from all punishment from you or from God.

I hope that’s clear. I get asked all the time about how to forgive someone who does not want to be forgiven. Think release, not forgiveness.

Thank you to en.katabiblon.com and StudyBible.info for being complete Bible resources for the Greek New Testament!

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The Sufferings of Christ

I already published a quick post this morning, but I have to add this as well.

Last night and this morning both, I told God that while I understand the cross mentally and theologically, I do not feel it like I have heard others feel it. I believe that a greater depth of feeling would strengthen me in both loving and following Jesus. I could use a jump start in my faith at this time.

My wife and I are moving our bedroom from one room in our house to another for complicated reasons. In the process, I am greatly reducing my bookshelf space. After choosing the books I definitely want to keep, I had space for all but one book. almost three inches thick. To keep it meant taking several others out. My wife helped me choose a small amount of extra space, but I while I had it out, I decided to browse the book. It is called A Heritage of Great Evangelical Teaching, and it has excerpts from Martin Luther, John Wesley, Dwight Mood, Charles Spurgeon, and others (1996, Thomas Nelson, Inc.).

I opened it randomly, this 3-inch thick book, to page 116, where an article called “A Meditation on Christ’s Passion” begins.

This sort of thing is not coincidence, it is a God incident. Unlike some, I do believe in coincidences, but it is important never to miss a God incident.

The article is by Martin Luther. I do not know what you think of Martin Luther, but if you read only his writings from 1517 to 1525, you would love him. If you read only his writings from the 1540’s, you would find him the most hateful of persons and a scoundrel. This writing is surely from the 1520’s because it is kind toward the Jews. There is a footnote acknowledging Luther’s changing attitude toward the Jews during his lifetime, from evangelist to a Hitler-esque hate.

Leaving that behind, here are some of the words God gave me in answer to my prayers.

“They contemplate Christ’s passion aright who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience. This terror must be felt as you witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners, so much so that he was unwilling to release sinners even for his only and dearest Son without his payment of the severest penalty for them. Thus, he says in Isaiah 53:8, “I have chastised him for the transgressions of my people.” If the dearest child is punished thus, what will be the fate of sinners? It must be an inexpressible and unbearable earnestness that forces such a great and infinite person to suffer and die to appease it. And if you seriously consider that it is God’s very own Son, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, who suffers, you will be terrified indeed. The more you think about it, the more intensely will you be frightened.

“You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. In Acts 2:36-37 Saint Peter frightened the Jews like a peal of thunder when he said to all of them, “You crucified him.” Consequently three thousand alarmed and terrified Jews asked the apostles on that one day, “O dear brethren, what shall we do now?” Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts.

“For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and ever more painfully! When Christ is tortured by nails penetrating his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer the pain they inflict and the pain of even more cruel nails, which will in truth be the lot of those who do not avail themselves of Christ’s passion. This earnest mirror, Christ, will not lie or trifle, and whatever it points out will come to pass in full measure.

“Saint Bernard [of Clairvaux] was so terrified by this that he declared, ‘I regarded myself secure: I was not aware of the eternal sentence that had been passed on me in heaven until I saw that God’s only Son had compassion upon me and offered to bear this sentence for me. Alas, if the situation is that serious, I should not make light of it or feel secure.'”

Those are powerful nails. I must be honest and confess that I do not believe that the sufferings of Christ prove that sinners should be tortured eternally. I consider it an outrageous and evil thought that sinners should be punished eternally for temporal sin. Immortality is a reward for the righteous (Rom. 2:6-7; Gal. 6:8-9). Only God is inherently immortal (1 Tim. 6:16), and he gives immortality to the righteous, not to the unrighteous. The doctrine of the immortal soul is not in the Bible but comes from Greek philosophy. God does indeed punish the unrighteous after death as indicated in the parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man and as warned when Jesus said that God can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will “perish” rather than “have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). They shall “reap corruption” who live according to the flesh rather than reaping eternal life as those who will who sow to the Spirit and do not grow weary of doing good (Gal. 6:8-9).

That said, every other point by Martin Luther is powerful for me, and I will continue to meditate on it. I have known these facts before, but now I will drive them into my heart that the feeling of my heart may match the knowledge in my head. May God give me grace, and I give him praise for his quick response to my prayer and even more so for sending his Son to suffer what I was worthy to suffer. I praise him too for forgiving me for being the cause of the Son’s anguish and the Father’s greatest sorrow.

One More Paragraph from Martin Luther

From the same chapter of the same book, page 118.

“For the evildoers, the Jews, whom God judged and has driven out, were only the servants of your sin; you are actually the one, who, as we said, by his sin killed and crucified God’s Son.”

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Luke 17: Faith and the Kingdom of God

Today, in Luke 17:6, I read, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell the sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

As I have been reading through Luke, I have been noting Jesus’ idea of faith. When the apostles were in the boat during the storm and Jesus was sleeping, he awoke and both Jesus and his apostles were surprised. The apostles were surprised he could command the waves and sea, and Jesus was surprised at their little faith. Later, Jesus goes up on a mountain with Peter, John, and James, and when he comes down, he finds that the other apostle had met a demon they could not cast out. Not only is Jesus surprised by this, he is frustrated, and cries out, “Faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?”

Those words terrified me. If that was faithless and perverse, then what condition am I in?

Luke 17 has something else to help with this, I think. Jesus statement about the mustard seed is a response to the apostles’ request for more faith. The mustard seed statement is followed immediately by a teaching about serving God. When a master comes in from the field, the servant does not sit down and eat; he first feeds the master, then later eats himself. Even so, Jesus says, his servants should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what we have been commanded to do.”

In all of this, I hear, “You are in control of your faith.” It only takes tiny faith to do amazing miracles, but the mustard seed is not just tiny. Like all other seeds, it is meant to grow. So, our faith can grow as we throw ourselves into serving Jesus. When we put ourselves aside and focus on him, not only will all our needs be met (Matt. 6:33), but our faith will grow. We will become less and less perversely faithless as we serve him because faith comes from the Holy Spirit, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32).

Further down in Luke 17, Jesus praises the faith of a leper. Ten lepers, practicing social distancing because they were unclean, called to him while standing far off from him. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest. As they went, they were healed. One of them, a Samaritan, ran back to fall on his face and thank Jesus.
Interestingly, Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed?” This is an example of Jesus’ faith. How did he know that the ten were cleansed? He just trusted. They were far off when he told them to see the priest. They turned around and left, but he knew they would be healed on the way by faith. Then, when the Samaritan come back, Jesus told him, “Go your way, your faith has healed you.”
Despite Jesus’ frustration with the apostles’ faith in particular, he is gracious about crediting others for their faith. The interesting thing, though, is that the next event is being asked about the kingdom of God. Jesus says that it does not come with observation, but it is … and the Greek here can mean either “it is in your midst” or “it is within you.”
Today, though, I realized the main point is not whether the kingdom was in them or in their midst, but that the kingdom of God does not come with observation. Don’t stand around looking for it! Go get it! I am pretty sure the kingdom of God was on earth in the form of Jesus at that time, so I think he was saying, “Here I am in your midst,” not “the kingdom is within you awful pharisees.” (The pharisees asked the question.) The point, though, is that they were waiting around for the kingdom, and here it was right in their midst. Forget looking, grab it! Believe it! Get it! The kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Pour yourself out! Say, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what I was commanded.” Go get more. Pursue Jesus more. Lay hold of more faith. Jesus is the King of the kingdom! We must lay hold of him!

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Why It Matters That You Can Lose Your Salvation

Sometimes my blogs put me in awkward position. I almost don’t want to write this post because I am tacking on to the sermon of a friend. His sermon was great, his exhortation timely, and his delivery of the sermon anointed. He is a caring shepherd like few I have every met. If you had to choose him or me as a shepherd to follow, you should choose him.

Nonetheless, we have a subject we disagree on. This post is not for him; it is for you. I am sure he is among those who do not shrink back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Heb. 10:39). Nonetheless, we all need to know that it is possible for us to fall away. Why? First because it is biblically commanded (1 Cor. 10:1-12; Rom. 11:19-22). Secondly, … well, let me explain.

My friend said many true things in his sermon. We cannot earn our salvation. Everything we have, we have received by faith. We were chosen by him, predestined in him, and saved and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.

I don’t want to refute him; I want to add to what he said. A great passage to begin with is Romans 6:22-23. It describes the pattern of salvation:

“But now being made free from sin, and made slaves to God, you have your fruit to holiness …”

This we agree on. Once we are saved and mad slaves to God, holiness is the fruit of the gifts and power he gives us through the Holy Spirit and grace.

“… you have your fruit to holiness, and the end: eternal life.”

Again, we would agree here. Holiness is a fruit, a result of simply being attached to the vine that is Jesus Christ (Jn 15:1-0). We even agree that no one gets eternal life without holiness (cf. Heb. 12:14).

Where we disagree is that not all true branches of the vine bear fruit. John 15 says there are branches that are in the vine, but they don’t bear fruit. Those branches will be cut off and thrown into the fire.

Some argue that this is just pruning, not being cut off. Those who say so misunderstand that the vine gets stronger from pruning, but the branch dies. Prune an apple tree according to gardening instructions some day. Then look at the huge pile of branches you cut off. They are not going to get better. There is no recovery for those branches unless they are grafted back into the tree. No pruner does that, however. He takes the branches and throws them in the fire (says Jesus in John 15).

Despite that disagreement, we do agree on the rest of that passage:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Eternal life is a gift. There is no way we could “earn” it my our suffering and efforts, which we endure by God’s power and want to endure because of the free gift of salvation that he gave to us when we believed in Jesus. From front to back it is his work. We “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” only because “God works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Php. 2:12-13).

Surely the question must be asked, “If it is God’s work from front to back, then how could we possibly lose our salvation?”

The answer is, “Because we are a stubborn and rebellious race, even after we receive God’s great gifts.” That is why we are warned over and over to continue in the faith by “making every effort.” Let’s sample just a few of the multitude of verses in the New Testament.

  1. 2 Peter 1:3-11 has to be the most majestic of those passages. After describing our salvation in the most glorious terms, he gives us things that we must “give every effort to.” If we do not do those things, we become blind and forget that we were purged from our past sins. If we “do these things,” then, and only then, do we make our calling and election sure and gain an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
  2. Colossians 1:21-22 gives a glorious description of what happens to Christians when we appear before Jesus. Because he reconciled us, not our own work, he will present us holy, without blame, and “unreproveable” in his sight What an amazing work! But it will only happen if we continue in the faith, steadfast and grounded.
  3. It is always funny to me that Paul is so often quoted to support eternal security apart from our own effort, when he himself disciplined his body daily so that he would not be “disqualified” after having preached to others (1 Cor. 9:27). “Disqualified” is the same word in Greek that he uses in 2 Corinthians 13:5, where he tells the Corinthians to examine themselves to be sure they are in Christ, unless they are disqualified. Yes, it is easy to say that 2 Corinthians 13:5 is telling the Corinthians to make sure they were ever Christians in the first place, but it is very hard to make 1 Corinthians 9:27 say that Paul thought he might never have been a Christian in the first place. If that is what 1 Corinthians 9:27 means, then we all need to wonder whether we were ever saved because if Paul wasn’t, none of the rest of us are!
  4. Romans 11:19-22 seems irrefutable to me as well. God has cut Jewish people off the one tree of his kingdom, and he has grafted us Gentiles in. He warns us there that if God cut off the native branches, he will cut us off too if we don’t continue in his goodness. What are we going to argue against this? Those branches that were grafted in weren’t really saved? No, we are branches, just like the branches of the vine in John 15. We Gentiles are grafted in “against our nature,” and I am certain all of us experience that. Just like Paul had to discipline his body and bring it into subjection, so do we! It is a fight, and like Paul, we must not consider ourselves to have attained, but keep pressing forward if we hope to attain to the resurrection of the dead (Php. 3:8-15).
  5. Both letters of Peter are my final example. Both letters are packed with warning. Every time Peter talks about the great gifts of God, he warns us about our part in walking in them. Though he tells us we are “kept by the power of God,” he means the same thing Paul means by that phrase. If we will “make every effort” and “discipline our bodies to bring them into subjection,” then God will make sure we win that battle. It is his power, not ours, but if we shrink back from the effort, it will be to destruction. After Peter tells us of the great work of God in us in 1 Peter 1, he goes on to tell us of what we must do in verses 13-17. Then he goes again into all God has done for us, which gives us no excuse for not “laying aside all malice, guile, hypocrisies, envy, and malicious speaking” (2:1). Thus the warning in 1 Peter 1:17 that God will judge us by our works. It is not possible to cover all of 1 Peter in this list item, but there is a reason that Peter writes that God “sets his face against those who do evil” (3:12), or that “the righteous are scarcely saved” (4:18). Of course, 2 Peter speaks for itself. It needs no commentary in the context of this post.

I could write these things all day. There are dozens of passages like this. In Revelation 3, Jesus tells the church in Sardis that only a few of them have undefiled robes and that only those will walk with him in white. Then he reminds those with spiritual ears that we must overcome so that our names are not blotted out of the Book of Life. In seven letters, he uses “works” or “deeds” a dozen times! How many of us write letters like Jesus?

It is true that those works are not any works. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. Those works are God’s will, and he is guiding us like a loving Father along that path. Nonetheless, we must hear the warnings of Scripture not to get tired of doing those works. Even when they are done the Spirit, we can grow weary and fail (Gal. 6:8-9). We must fight to go forward, and God will ensure you win. Shrinking back, though … giving up, growing weary, settling in, coasting, and growing comfortable, those are scary places when the assurance of your calling and election depends on “doing these things” and “making every effort” (2 Pet. 1:10). If God frees you from the corruptions of this world, beware entangling yourself in them again! (2 Pet. 2:20-22).

This isn’t a very exciting post, I know. So let me tell you the results of this kind of teaching because I also teach on the great and precious promises of God quite often.

We discuss things like this in our church, and our church meetings are all discussions. We only rarely have teachings with one person up front teaching. When we do, our members quickly say, “Well, of course.” If asked what they are hearing from me, they say, “If you started on this course, you have to keep going even if it’s hard. You have to keep going forward. God has given us the Holy Spirit and grace to make sure we can do that. It is only right that we would be judged for not doing it.”

There is not a spirit of fear in our church, and there is an important reason why. They know they must continue in the faith, so they have sought God for the means to do so. In doing so, they have found him faithful. So will you.

To preempt your comments, my dear and honored friend Jon, I have no idea why you wonder whether you are making every effort when you face the kind of battles you face. Blessed are those who do not [feel], yet believe anyway. If anyone presses and wrestles, it is you. Our God is a merciful God, and if he has made your trail unusually difficult, then surely he will give you unusual rewards for having traversed it. You are ahead of us who “feel” it, not behind.

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